Manifesto This: A Case For Being Angry Again
Internet feminism reclaimed beauty and traditionalism. But on whose terms? We revisit Valerie Solanas’ incendiary SCUM Manifesto to find out.
In ‘Manifesto This,’ we dialogue with a radical text to dream of a better world.
Thanks to internet culture – and internet feminism – we’ve reclaimed many things. Beauty. Make-up. Skincare. Hyperfemininity. Traditionalism. But on whose terms? In this installment, we reclaim anger – real, white-hot anger – by revisiting Valerie Solanas’ incendiary SCUM Manifesto.
I. “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.”
Life in this society is boring because gender imposition within all aspects of culture is endlessly repetitive and boring. Life, gender, femininity, as a cis woman in a neoliberal world, is devoid. From right under our noses, our agency to decide what femininity is and who can participate has been snatched by Sephora, Instagram, and corporations vying for attention. Then, having been willing and unwilling collaborators in this pyramid scheme, we’ve begun to tack feminism as an afterthought onto everything we do despite ourselves.
The money system demands a frivolity and shallowness from us for buying its wares in order to assert our gender. It calls this empowerment. The advertisers portray depth in this enterprise of lip tints and skin sticks.
But, thanks to the internet, femininity today has turned into an exercise in strategic visibility. Be seen, but not too much. Be seen, but in these particular ways. Don’t be seen now. Be seen then. Be seen to be smiling. Be seen to be crying. Be seen to not want to be seen. But always, unfailingly, be seen. Even if it is not to be seen. All this is valid. All this is feminist.
Visibility is the end in itself – and it’s a stultifying process. In claiming diverse visibility as feminist – through documented self-care, documented beauty – we forget to overthrow the system that asks us to be visible in order to be known. We forget to ask why self-care entails peace – and, by extension, peace with the status quo.
II. “Having a crudely constructed nervous system that is easily upset by the least display of emotion or feeling, the male tries to enforce a ‘social’ code that ensures perfect blandness, unsullied by the slightest trace or feeling or upsetting opinion.”
We are reclaiming everything except anger. And coincidentally, all the things we’re reclaiming are an exercise in conformity. With every makeup tutorial and skincare routine is the constant reinscribing of gender. Of femininity as beauty and of beauty as morality. This is the morality of blandness, of sameness. It’s an erasure of difference, even as feminists have fought tooth and nail to stake themselves to difference. We are being asked to retreat into the shallow pool of aesthetic and sensory pleasantness, where a 10-step routine induces a meditative calm to temper the anger that lies beneath the surface.
Far from sticking it to the Man, we’re giving it to the man. “It” being our money, our validation, our bodies – all in his line of sight. The more Instagram can see us, the more we lose. And the less we can fight it. The dopamine rush negates the anger. That is the point.
In response to our tepid asks, corporations have replaced the word “fair” with “glow,” and we laughed it off but did nothing to ask why they felt this would placate us. Inclusion is a trap laid by hierarchical structures – caste structures – designed to dangle inclusion like a carrot, only providing the illusion of it. And we politely provide our assent in the name of self-love and its pursuit.
III. “(He’s succeeded best at convincing women) that the female function is to bear and raise children and to relax, comfort and boost the ego of the male; that her function is such as to make her interchangeable with every other female. In actual fact, the female function is to relate, groove, love and be herself, irreplaceable by anyone else… In actual fact, the female function is to explore, discover, invent, solve problems, crack jokes, make music – all with love. In other words, create a magic world.”
The wrong people have begun to reclaim anger by asserting the essence of “femaleness.” When we’re not asked to reclaim the color pink or to shop for retinoids in order to fight wisdom lines, we’re asked, by some self-proclaimed feminists, to guard the sanctity of womanhood against “intruders.” A children’s novelist is leading the vanguard in the fight to define the contours of femininity. And with these entities reigning over the discourse, we’re left with but two options to define what femininity means: femininity for the corporations is sameness in beauty; for “feminists” who don’t like trans women, femininity is sameness in pain. Those who have not experienced the pain of growing up as a woman are to be excluded, say the latter. We are asked, by this mandate, to pick at the pain like a scab, refusing to allow healing in the name of claiming a common solidarity, shouting painful stories for public consumption. We are then asked to stake a claim to femininity over the mutual experience of pain in order to keep trans women out. These gatekeepers of femininity, more than anyone else, are the ones reclaiming anger the most – while the rest of us spend time trying to defend this or that lifestyle choice as feminist or radical or both.
Both projects aim to make us all interchangeable, both in our beauty and in our pain. Womanhood is either defined by a skincare routine or by a sad story. Rarely joy, and never play. The play that occurs at the edge of gender is either co-opted by algorithms and beauty industries, or it is stomped out as treacherous to our assigned genders.
As Catherine A. MacKinnon recently said, “For the first time in thirty years, it makes sense to me to reconsider what feminism means… seeing ‘’women’ as a turf to be defended, as opposed to a set of imperatives and limitations to be criticized, challenged, changed, or transcended, has been pretty startling.”
Neither of these options – hyperfeminine visibility or corrosive anger against the “other” – allow any room for a magic world. One where we know ourselves, create, talk, think, and be, without having to assert the point of our being. I don’t want a womanhood that demands either declaring the willingness to be seen or declaring pain in order to belong to, or even have, gender.
IV. “Unhampered by propriety, niceness, discretion, public opinion, ‘morals,’ the respect of assholes, always funky, dirty, low-down SCUM gets around.”
Moreover, in reclaiming beauty for all bodies, pink for all, self-care for all (with conditions and acknowledgements of privilege applied), we’ve begun to ask for recognition as fully whole, functional beings. We’ve not rejected the ideology of recognition itself, which assumes and accepts a higher authority with the power to recognize.
Feminism online has turned into respectability and validation. Sex positivists answer queries about how to have feminist sex, whether sex can be pleasurable and meaningful in a feminist way. Their answer is yes, if everyone says yes and no as they should, and everyone communicates like good communicators. But the answer is never. As Andrea Long Chu says, “No, but who cares?” Chu points out Valerie Solanas’ fundamental dissatisfaction with sex – it’s boring and unimpressive, because a lot of it is with men. We ask them, politely, to do better in a world where they continue to chop and pillage other people for kicks.
Body positivists ask that the slightest “flaws” be considered beautiful, not stopping to consider why some bodies are not allowed to be bodies at all. Positivity for the body comes after it is fed, nourished, clothed, and sheltered. There remain, to this day, in our own country, millions upon millions of bodies that are unfed, undernourished, unclothed, and unsheltered. Where is the positivity for these bodies? Who makes them available? Not the feminisms online. Not in calls for less photoshop on millionaire beauty queens.
Many cease to feel positively about other women’s bodies existing near their own. Earlier this week, a Bangalore residential society prohibited domestic workers from existing outside the spaces allowed to them. Many were on board with this. While some have the ability to ask for their bodies to be cast in positive light, for a spot in the spotlight, others don’t have the right to ask for their bodies to exist at all. Many are on board with this, too.
When feminism is about respectability, it forgets to be revolutionary.
V. “SCUM will become members of the unwork force, the fuck-up force; they will get jobs of various kinds and unwork… SCUM will destroy all useless and harmful objects – cars, store windows, ‘Great Art,’ etc.”
TikTok has begun to ask us to be girlfailures, to be lazy girls instead of “girlbosses.” If the latter was critiqued for exclusion, the former excludes those who cannot afford to be lazy. We cannot, in good conscience, embrace being lazy and call it feminist while women who don’t cook food are killed by their husbands for being lazy. We cannot be lazy in a world where other women must be paid to pick up the tab for this laziness. Laziness is caste. Laziness is class. It’s never been feminist to aspire to power, and it’s not feminist to aspire to laziness. Somehow, in the internet’s feminist echo chambers, we’re asked to aspire to both.
VI. “SCUM will not picket, demonstrate, march or strike to attempt to achieve its ends. Such tactics are for nice, genteel ladies who scrupulously take only such action as is guaranteed to be ineffective… If SCUM ever marches, it will be over the President’s stupid, sickening face; if SCUM ever strikes, it will be in the dark with a six-inch blade.
SCUM is against the entire system, the very idea of law and government. SCUM is out to destroy the system, not attain certain rights within it.”
We can never resist anything on the internet and, by extension, it’s impossible to reclaim anything on the internet. The internet is inert. It asks us to remain where we are, click a few buttons, buy what we need to be seen, airbrush what we don’t want to be seen, but always center the necessity of being seen and appreciated by random, unnecessary, unremarkable people.
I want a womanhood in radical independence – one that allows the assertion of the self in a group of selves, all of whom are different. It isn’t internalized misogyny to desire outside of the sphere of possibilities we’ve been given. But we don’t ask about what’s outside so much as we ask to be let inside. We’ve forgotten to be angry about the fact that we’ve been blindfolded to the difference.
Rohitha Naraharisetty is a Senior Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She writes about the intersection of gender, caste, social movements, and pop culture. She can be found on Instagram at @rohitha_97 or on Twitter at @romimacaronii.