Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Traces of Feminist Rage

April 18th, 2014 by Breanne Fahs

In the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting quite a lot about feminist rage, in part because I recently participated in a panel at New York University about feminist rage with philosopher Avital Ronell, American Studies scholar Lisa Duggan, and performance artist Karen Finley. In celebration of my new book, the first-ever biography of Valerie Solanas entitled Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol) (Feminist Press, 2014), we came together to think deeply about feminist rage and how anger has a place within feminist thought, pedagogy, and practice. Avital Ronell lit up the room with an analysis of devastation versus destruction, drawing on Heidegger, Lacan, and Derrida, while Karen Finley performed feminist rage by imagining the interplay between a homeless woman on the subway and a punk hipster girl. The evening was topped off by an appearance by Valerie’s friend, Ben Morea, who slammed the university for its elitism and said that Valerie hated universities and wanted nothing to do with them—a rage-filled riotous evening indeed!

Valerie Solanas wrote a manifesto that has continued to perplex, inspire, and enrage its readers. She blatantly expressed rage toward both men and “Daddy’s girls” (and some argue that her rage was more directed toward the latter than the former); Valerie wrote in her 1967 SCUM Manifesto, “The conflict, therefore, is not between females and males, but between SCUM—dominant, secure, self-confident, nasty, violent, selfish, independent, proud, thrill-seeking, free-wheeling, arrogant females, who consider themselves fit to rule the universe, who have freewheeled to the limits of this ‘society,’ and are ready to wheel on to something far behind what it has to offer—and nice, passive, accepting, ‘cultivated,’ polite, dignified, subdued, dependent, scared, mindless, insecure, approval-seeking Daddy’s Girls, who can’t cope with the unknown; who want to continue to wallow in the sewer that is at least familiar, who want to hang back with the apes; who feel secure only with Big Daddy standing by, with a big strong man to lean on and with a fat-hairy face in the White House” (63-64). Not insignificantly, while simultaneously declaring SCUM a “state of mind” and the manifesto a “literary device”—raising questions about whether Valerie understood this work as absurd satire or whether she believed it completely—she strode into Andy Warhol’s Factory and shot Andy Warhol and two of his associates on June 3, 1968 largely because she felt assaulted as an artist and a writer. In a little known fact, she also left a paper bag on Andy Warhol’s desk before she fled the scene that contained another gun, an ice pick, her address book, and a Kotex pad.

That Valerie left a menstrual pad on Andy Warhol’s desk has stuck with me as a curious point for several years while working on this book. Did Valerie merely forget the paper bag accidentally (implying that she may have been currently menstruating and needed the pad in a practical sense)? Or, did this twinning of the gun and menstrual pad signify something larger about her particular brand of rage? Both objects connect deeply to the spilling/shedding of blood; maybe Valerie used the menstrual pad as a conscious imposition of, or symbol around, her feminist rage. Perhaps Valerie meant to remind her victims that women and guns remained bound together, that SCUM would corrode the world with their own menstrual blood.

In any case, the whole incident (and subsequent reactions people have had to the shooting and to Valerie’s anger) made me again reflect on how much distance women often try to put between themselves and their rage. Women generally shy away from their own anger, both as individuals and as a collective force, and this has serious consequences for the advancement of feminist politics. We live in a culture adept at blocking, disallowing, suppressing, and discouraging women’s anger and rage; women know this deeply and often only feel entitled to express rage during their menstrual cycles (a “socially-acceptable” alternative). Women’s respectability and “proper” femininity often hinges, in fact, on denying anger altogether. Perhaps our reactions to Valerie (both our celebratory impulses and our tendencies to reject and discard her) occur because Valerie represents the rage and anger women themselves sense but cannot express or accept within themselves. Ultimately, there must be a place for rage in the contemporary landscape of gender politics and feminism; whether our menstrual cycles serve as a “cover” for it, or whether we just let it rip (in the words of Ti-Grace Atkinson), rage serves a necessary role in challenging oppression and fighting back against the prevailing powers that be.

  

One Response to “Traces of Feminist Rage”

  1. Re: “Women generally shy away from their own anger, both as individuals and as a collective force, and this has serious consequences for the advancement of feminist politics.”

    Anecdotally, I’m not sure this is true of, for instance, myself. (You can’t see it, but I’m laughing now.) Less cheerfully, women’s rage (as men’s) can and does go towards those less powerful than them: children, work subordinates, etc.

    I like the idea of a cool rage, the deft touch, concise. Right now, I’m wondering, who the F is Simone de Beauvoir? How can ONE quote, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” 12 syllables in English, be such a successful thought blocker, across an entire ocean, in the US? How can this be?

    I try to think of the one line I could export, so that after I’m gone, people will still be repeating it, in China for instance, and the cognitive processes of thousands instantly grind to a halt. No, I can’t think of anything like that.

    Is it not also true, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a man?” Might we generalize, with a dash of gender obliviousness (or indifference), and assert: “One is not born, but rather becomes, an adult?”

    No so profound then, I guess.

    I’m specifically thinking of men claiming they are women, or “feel” like women on the inside (?). Brothers, work on expanding your definition(s) of masculinity, on what it means to “become” a man – I see a whole rainbow of “masculinity,” “masculinitIES” (plural) there – no need to try and step in my shoes (woman), because I’m already in ‘em.

    I guess it was “rude” of me to say to one of them, “let me know when you get your first period,” but I doubt his one-word reply: “Shame” was exactly…woman-affirming? Gosh, “shame,” where have I heard that before????? Menstrual shame…hmmm…let me think…shame… menstruation….oh, that thought blocker…

    PS I think it’s terrible Solanas shot people. Maybe her writings ought to be analyzed alongside Unabomber’s writings, and others like that…America is so violent, where does Solanas fit into that picture, feminist or not.

    Also, re: “We live in a culture adept at blocking, disallowing, suppressing, and discouraging women’s anger and rage;” I don’t think this is completely true – I’m thinking of the “Real Housewives” [sic] franchise, the way that women’s anger is entertaining. I think also of stereotypes of “ghetto” or “trailer park” behavior, the Jerry Springer show, with women physically fighting each other…I’ve seen women “go at each other” in real life, physically…I wouldn’t say people’s reaction to them was respect, or admiration…but it wasn’t 100% negative either. So there’s a class aspect to women’s expression (or the lack thereof) of rage…or feigned rage, because it was expected of them?…and people’s (both women and men’s) reaction to it…

    While I’m on a roll: Re: “dependent, scared, mindless, insecure, approval-seeking Daddy’s Girls, who can’t cope with the unknown; [...] who feel secure only with Big Daddy standing by, with a big strong man to lean on…” This seems to describe Solanas’ own feelings toward “Big Daddy” Andy Warhol…I think also of Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy.” Like a lot of the rage is self-directed…

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