The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol)
by Breanne Fahs
The Feminist Press, 2014, 352 pp.
Late last year former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly visited Brown University to deliver a lecture on “proactive policing,” a tepid euphemism for a stop-and-frisk policy that primarily targeted black and Latino youth. Lying in wait was a group of students who had assembled to protest Kelly and his policies and who booed and shouted until the commissioner decided to leave the podium. When the students’ victory reached the social justice media circuits, the left divided. Many celebrated the protests; others believed the shout-down was a low blow and undermined efforts to curtail police abuses. Several high-profile progressive commentators, including Nation columnist Katha Pollitt and MSNBC host Chris Hayes, issued rebukes, with Pollitt declaring, “It’s fashionable on the left to mock liberalism as weak tea—and sometimes it is. But you know what is getting rid of stop-and-frisk? Liberalism.”
When the radical writer Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol in 1968, a prominent segment of second-wave feminism underwent similar fractures over the utility of this extreme action. In a new biography of the would-be Warhol assassin, author Breanne Fahs documents how the National Organization of Women fissured in the aftermath of the shooting. Ti-Grace Atkinson, then the president of NOW, rallied to Solanas and enlisted prominent civil rights attorney Flo Kennedy to handle her defense. NOW’s founder, Betty Friedan, on the other hand, condemned Solanas’s actions and warned Kennedy in a telegram to “desist immediately from linking NOW in any way with Valerie Solanas. Miss Solanas [sic] motives in Warhol case entirely irrelevant to NOW’s goals of full equality for women in truly equal partnership with men.” Stoking the flames of this rift was Solanas herself, a wildly irascible malcontent who lashed out even at those trying to help her. From jail, three months after her arrest, she wrote Atkinson:
I know you, along with all the other professional parasites with nothing of their own going for them, are eagerly awaiting my commitment to the bughouse . . . I want to make perfectly clear that I am not being committed because of my views or the “SCUM Manifesto”. . . . Nor do I want you to continue to mouthe [sic] your cultivated banalities about my motive for shooting Warhol Your gall in presuming to be competent to discourse on such a matter is beyond belief. In short, do not ever publicly discuss me, SCUM, or any aspect at all of my care. Just DON’T.
Solanas, who penned the vitriolic SCUM Manifesto, has long functioned as a kind of mythical misandrist in the collective imagination of the feminist movement. The vision of radical social uphea...
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