In 1966 Valerie Solanas moved to New York City. At 30, she was already a woman with a difficult past. Growing up in New Jersey, she was molested by her father. She attended college at the University of Maryland, then did a year of grad school in the psychology department of the University of Minnesota.
She worked as a prostitute either during or after college, according to different accounts. Once ensconced in Greenwich Village, Solanas wrote an absurdist and quite filthy play titled Up Your Ass. Then, sometime in early 1967, she wrote the book that would change her life: the SCUM Manifesto.
“SCUM” stood for Society for Cutting Up Men. The Manifesto is a call to rid the planet of men. It opens with this sentence: “Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.” Get rid of money, work and men, and you’d have a society fit to live in.
According to Solanas, men suffer from “pussy envy.” They are the passive members of the race. “He hates his passivity, so he projects it onto women.” In his attempt to compensate for his inadequacy, Solanas’s man dominates the family, the workplace and, through his warmaking, the world. (Not a bad analysis of Bush’s America.) “No genuine social revolution can be accomplished by the male,” she writes, “as the male on top wants the status quo, and all the male on the bottom wants is to be the male on top…. The male changes only when forced to do so by technology, when he has no choice, when ‘society’ reaches the stage where he must change or die. We’re at that stage now; if women don’t get their asses in gear fast, we may very well all die.”
Getting your ass in gear means getting rid of the men. Not all women can be trusted with this charge; only SCUM–“hateful, violent bitches given to slamming those who unduly irritate them in the teeth”–are up to the task. (There were, in fact, no other members of SCUM. Solanas later described SCUM as a kind of “literary device.”) The leap from social critique to a six-inch blade is breathtaking. The manifesto whipsaws you. One moment you’re nodding along with her rage, the next you’re wondering “How did we end up here?” as she talks about ramming ice picks up assholes.
Solanas mimeographed her manifesto and sold it on the streets. (In Mary Harron’s scrupulously researched 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol, we see her charging women a quarter and men 50 cents.) Around the same time, Solanas stormed the gates of the Factory to present a copy of Up Your Ass to Andy Warhol, who refused to produce it. He did, however, let her hang around the Factory for a time, and cast her as a lesbian in his film I, a Man. Solanas, a budding paranoid, hounded him about the play and grew anxious about his possession of the script.
Solanas continued to hit the streets, peddling her manifesto, her body or even an hour of lively conversation, for which she charged just $6. By chance, on some New York sidewalk, she met Olympia Press chief Maurice Girodias, the legendary maverick who published Nabokov, Burroughs and Miller. He signed her up to write a book. Solanas was thrilled by her status as a soon-to-be-published writer, but it wasn’t long before she began obsessing about the seemingly restrictive legal boilerplate of Girodias’s contract.