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The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote Scum (and Shot Andy Warhol)

by Breanne Fahs

Pub Date: April 22nd, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-55861-848-0
Publisher: Feminist Press

A sympathetic biography of a troubled and troubling woman.

On June 3, 1968, Valerie Solanas (1936–1988) shot Andy Warhol, almost fatally wounding him. That act and her writing of a feminist manifesto titled SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) made her a cult heroine in her own time. Fahs (Gender Studies/Arizona State Univ.; Performing Sex: The Making and Unmaking of Women's Erotic Lives, 2011, etc.), believing Solanas to be a brilliant and “startling prescient,” faced considerable challenges in working on this biography: Solanas’ mother burned her daughter’s papers after Valerie died, and many who knew her refused to talk with Fahs. “Valerie famously rejected, alienated, and repeatedly threatened to kill nearly every friend she had,” writes the author. A polarizing figure, Solanas was championed by such feminists as Ti-Grace Atkinson and Florynce Kennedy, the lawyer who defended her for attempted murder, but was reviled by others. The National Organization for Women, founded in 1966, was divided about associating itself with her. A radical faction interpreted Solanas’ act as revolutionary, “a symbol of women’s rage.” Liberal feminists, focused on abortion rights reform, saw the enraged, violent Solanas as “NOW’s worst nightmare.” For her part, Solanas vehemently rejected expressions of solidarity. “SCUM is for whores, dykes, criminals, homicidal maniacs,” she wrote to Atkinson, who had praised the manifesto. “Therefore, please refrain from commenting on SCUM + from ‘defending’ me. I already have an excess of ‘friends’ out there who are suffocating me.” Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic after the shooting, Solanas descended ever more deeply into madness, spending her last 20 years in and out of mental hospitals. She claimed that a transmitter had been planted in her uterus and that an entity she called "the Mob" was after her. She died impoverished and alone.

As Fahs portrays her, Solanas emerges less as “a woman who detected a spirit of collective anguish” than as a woman destroyed by her own overpowering demons.