“Manifested” Explication & “Manifested,”
a Stage Realization of the SCUM Manifesto
by Marianna Hiles
“Manifested” is a short play based on the 1960s radical feminist text, the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas. The characters, general setting, and other theatrical details within the play are of my own creation, but the majority of the set design, dialogue, and themes are influenced by and based on the text of the manifesto. Accompanying the play is a detailed explication that provides a history of the document, describes how my creative decision-making was tied to the manifesto, and outlines the specific passages that shaped the direction of “Manifested.” The explication also highlights how I encountered the SCUM Manifesto and details my experience of attempting to create a play that is true to Solanas’ vision for the future of feminism and of society.
Key Words: radical feminism, violence, theater, script, play
“Manifested” is a short play based on the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas. The characters, general setting, and other theatrical details are of my own creation, but the majority of the set design, dialogue, and themes are taken directly from Solanas’ work. In this explication, I will describe the meaning behind some of my choices and why they matter to the stage realization of the SCUM Manifesto. I recommend reading the text of the play before engaging with the following section in order to understand the relevance of this explication within the broader context of the production.
The SCUM Manifesto is a document written by Valerie Solanas and published in 1967, recognized primarily for its radical feminist and misandrist themes. It additionally proposes a deconstruction of capitalism, the institution of an automated society, and a rejection of sexuality. The manifesto and the author herself gained public attention after Solanas was arrested for the attempted murder of artist Andy Warhol in 1968. Upon inspection of the apathetically violent and bitter document, critics were appalled, and many used it as an excuse to demonize the entire feminist movement. With its aggressive and unapologetic tone, SCUM represented everything that they assumed and despised about the allegedly man-hating, bra-burning second wave feminists. Despite its general unpopularity at the time of publication, the manifesto endures as a text of academic interest and as a crucial centerpiece of modern radical feminist discourse.
I encountered the SCUM Manifesto in this academic context and recognized it as a fascinating foil to the non-revolutionary, reformist feminist pieces that were typical of the time period. As I read her words, Solanas’ mandate to take action seemed to reach through the page and latch onto a creative instinct within me. All of a sudden it become necessary for me to breathe new life into SCUM and to replicate the manifesto’s emphatic message in a new medium.
As I wrote “Manifested,” I sought to provide an unbiased representation of the SCUM Manifesto. To the best of my ability, I attempted to exclude my opinion from the narrative in order to remove myself from the audience’s interpretation and judgement of Solanas’ work. I wanted the text to speak for itself as much as possible, with hardly any trace of my perspective attached to it. This explication was crafted in order to clarify how I imprinted the essence and the message of the manifesto into my stage realization of the work.
The first choice of mine that merits explanation is the trigger warning for physical and verbal violence. The SCUM Manifesto itself contains several calls to violence, including the mandate to “kill all men who are not in the Men’s Auxiliary of SCUM” and the desire that all males who wish to be considered more feminine get their genitals cut off (73, 40). In addition, Solanas’ explanation of her own female SCUM force contains the following description: “dominant, secure, self-confident, nasty, violent, selfish, independent, proud, thrill-seeking, free-wheeling, arrogant females who consider themselves fit to rule the universe” (71). Much of the violence of “Manifested” is conveyed verbally, in the dialogue from Poppy, Margeaux, and Celine. Although most of the acts that they have committed are done offstage and are conveyed through their dialogue, these women see no issue in having carried out these actions and in including them in casual conversation. My goal in staging these instances of physical and verbal violence was to actualize the violence in the text of the manifesto and demonstrate to the audience what it might look like in real life. It is one thing to write about this violence as Solonas did; it is another thing to see it through, to actually enact it on other human beings.
The next choice of note is the encouragement of colorblind casting. I made this choice in order to reflect how race is not a notable feature of the SCUM Manifesto. Solanas’ work assumes a level of colorblindness, either actively or passively relying on the belief that race would have no effect on the creation of the SCUM group or the aftermath of its completed vision. Her text does not focus on any intersections of gender and race, and therefore, neither does mine. The characters in “Manifested” instead represent the generational components of the female-centered society that has been achieved. Margeaux is the eldest of the roommates, the one who most clearly understands and despises the world before SCUM and who most relished in dismantling it. Celine is younger than Margeaux and is more content to live in the present than complain about the past, but she is just as passionate and potentially even more motivated to rid the world of men than her elder roommate. Poppy is the youngest of the three women and is eager to prove her commitment to a female-dominated society, mainly to make up for the fact that she wasn’t old enough to help bring it about in the first place.
I included a handful of subtle references to the events that led up to “the rise of an all-female world” and events that contributed to the creation of the setting in which the play takes place. The occurrence that Margeaux and Poppy refer to as the “fuck-ups” is referenced from this line: “SCUM will keep on destroying, looting, fucking-up and killing until the money-work system no longer exists and automation is completely instituted” (Solanas 77). As briefly noted by Margeaux in the first scene and later by Poppy, the “fuck-ups” were a series of violent events that began the forcible end of the patriarchy and which took place seven years before the events of the play. For the amount of violence that Margeaux, Celine, and women like them are assumed to have enacted during this time, they are jarringly cavalier about how they refer to it. Poppy, who was too young at the time to participate herself, idolizes Margeaux and Celine for their role in the “fuck-ups” and similarly expresses a flippant attitude towards the brutal treatment of men.
The mandate for the automation of society comes from several places in the SCUM Manifesto, including this line:
A completely automated society can be accomplished very simply and quickly once there is a public demand for it. … its construction will take only a few weeks with millions of people working on it. Even though off the money system, everyone will be most happy to pitch in and get the automated society built . . . the complete institution of automation [is] basic to all other SCUM reforms; without [this] the others can’t take place; with [it] the others will take place very rapidly. (78)
As demonstrated by Poppy and Margeaux’s continued employment, the complete automation of society has yet to be completed at the time that this play takes place. The lack of monetary incentive, the limited workforce (due to the attempted elimination of men), and the abundance of public services that would require automation seemed reason enough for it to be incomplete seven years after the “fuck-ups.”
Scene two of “Manifested” begins with a detailed description of the characters’ apartment. As is most likely apparent by their quite specific nature, the decorations in the living room are significant. Each represents a relic of the past society (our current one) and is therefore meant to hint to the audience that the world of the play is different from the one they know. For example, the “papier-maché object or collage made of paper currency” is meant to be evocative of Solanas’ desire for “the total elimination of the money-work system” and the devaluation of paper currency (43). The idea for “framed paper printouts of famous paintings that have been doodled over by someone else” was inspired by this passage:
The veneration of ‘Art’ and ‘Culture’ — besides leading many women into boring, passive activity that distracts from more important and rewarding activities, from cultivating active abilities — leads to the constant intrusion on our sensibilities of pompous dissertations on the deep beauty of this and that turn… The true artist is every self-confident, healthy female, and in a female society the only Art, the only Culture, will be conceited, kooky, funky, females grooving on each other. (60, 61)
The “stuffed toy eagle or… taxidermy eagle” is symbolic of how America as the audience knows it was killed and given a new, albeit a very different, life by the women of SCUM.
The character of Fran is representative of the conforming AMAB (assigned male at birth) population in the wake of the “fuck-ups,” or the institution of Solanas’ vision from her manifesto. Fran is referred to by they/them/their pronouns by other characters in the play to demonstrate how they are viewed as not quite male (on account of their desire to be more feminine or even to be female) but certainly not female. Fran and persons like them are striving to follow the many suggestions made by the manifesto to improve the remaining men in society, including this one: “When the male accepts his passivity, defines himself as a woman…, and becomes a transvestite… he fulfills himself as a drag queen… and gets his dick chopped off” (Solanas 40). In the eyes of the women, these individuals are better than the non-conforming AMAB population, which is represented by the unnamed man that Poppy and Margeaux encounter on the street outside their apartment building. Men like him have rebelled against the actualization of SCUM and, as demonstrated, have been subjected to intense violence because of their choice.
Finally, much of the second scene is dedicated to highlighting the contradictions that punctuate the SCUM Manifesto. The one that drew my attention the most was Solanas’ claim that “the only wrong is to hurt others,” which contrasts sharply with the violence that encompasses the rest of the text (54). I wanted that final scene in particular to illustrate how these contradictions have painful consequences for those who attempt to rationalize them as well as for those who are not in a position to be able to refute them.
Before writing this play, I had not anticipated how emotional I would become during its formation. Although it is so widespread and normalized in the manifesto itself, actually visualizing these scenes and their inherent violence took a toll on me. In attempting to stage the world that Solanas envisioned, I found myself reacting how I might have reacted if I were to have experienced the “fuck-ups” and their horrific treatment of men firsthand. Because I was so personally and emotionally affected by what I have written, I cannot say that I completely, unreservedly enjoyed the experience, but I do believe that this adaptation is necessary. At the risk of exposing my pretentiousness, I will admit that I found my situation represented in this quote from George Orwell: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand” (par. 15). Regardless of my personal feelings, however, I remain committed to shedding light on the SCUM Manifesto and its implications for the future of feminism through the existence of this play.
A Short Play by Marianna Hiles
*Physical and verbal violence trigger warning
CHARACTERS (colorblind casting is encouraged)
POPPY, a very feminine-looking young adult woman
MARGEAUX, a woman, older than her mid thirties
CELINE, a mid “twentysomething” woman who is FRAN’s sister
FRAN, an AMAB (assigned male at birth) person who is referred to by they/them/their pronouns. They are the young adult sibling of CELINE. Their attire is attempting to be feminine-presenting, non-theatrical drag (ex: wig, some makeup to hide masculine features and accentuate feminine features, feminine clothing)
An unnamed man, (“ragged-looking person”) who POPPY and MARGEAUX encounter on the street. Covered in loose and non-revealing clothing, his gender is initially undeterminable. His maleness is detected from his traditionally masculine features, which may include a deeper voice and an Adam’s apple and/or beard.
POPPY and MARGEAUX sit on the steps outside their apartment building, a weekly ritual after they both return from work. They smoke, drink, or do something else mindlessly during the conversation. Neither simply has anything better to do.
How much progress have you and the ladies made on the… (snaps her fingers as she tries to remember) um…
She looks at MARGEAUX and waits for her to fill in the blank.
It’s a hospital this month.
Right. And last month, it was… the… the food production factory?
She nods her head in disagreement.
Close. Clothing warehouse. But it didn’t take the whole month, remember? We finished early. Everything snapped into place after the initial blueprints came in. We worked so efficiently that it almost felt like we were the damn robots.
Well, shit. I’ve never had a project finish early! Barely even on schedule nine times out of ten. And this time it’s no different. Most girls don’t want anything to do with the sewer system, even if they know that they won’t have to think about it ever again afterwards.
You know, they say once you go down there, swimming in all the liquid crap and blood and severed Adam’s apples and whatever else, that you never really come back up.
What do you say to that, Pop?
Oh, please, the only ones who don’t come back are the robots we install down there and the whiny bitches who can’t handle a little scum.
Probably the same ones who couldn’t handle it seven years ago.
Yeah, you know I don’t fuck with those prissy DGs. And if I were the supervisor, I wouldn’t tolerate their ignorant backtalk bullshit either.
Supervisor Poppy… I can see it now:
She stands and begins animatedly acting out her words, gesturing with her cigarette/drink/other object.
“Get to workin, you daughters of bitches!” “Think I’m bad? You can’t even imagine what it was like being worked to death on less of a dime than the wretched men. The stories I hear from my friend Marg would make you wanna find a poor homeless bastard in the street and knock his teeth out for how he got away with makin the big bucks and harassing every woman he laid eyes on before the fuck-ups.”
She leans against the railing of the steps as she trails off topic.
(as herself once more) Those assholes ran the world for ages.
Ran it right into the ground and would have paid it for a cheap fuck if they could have, from what you’ve told me.
You’re damn right. I would have stuck it to every single one of them if they hadn’t been smart enough to apologize for causing several hundred lifetimes-worth of feminine hell and submit to the rise of an all-female world. And it couldn’t have come soon enough, trust me.
She looks at POPPY and sits back down on the stairs.
If only we could get these robots set up faster. I’ve done my time with the men and I’m ready to kick them to the curb.
I know what you mean. This automation business is taking goddamn forever.
During the fuck-ups, when every woman was making her way to the top of the world, it felt like we’d have robots running every public service in no time. Even though we’re closer than we’ve ever been, it still feels like it’ll take a lifetime.
Maybe it will.
She pauses for a moment, contemplating.
But it’ll still be better than any lifetime I could have imagined before…(hesitates, thinking) What’d that one news reporter call it? I was just a kid, but I remember how much it made me laugh. Just thinking about it now makes me start to lose it. The fucker was so proud of himself for coming up with it too… oh, I got it: “The fall of man!”
MARGEAUX starts laughing hysterically and POPPY joins in. As they laugh, a ragged-looking person enters and begins hesitantly searching the nooks and crannies of the sidewalk (trash cans, gutters, potted plants, mailboxes) for food, trying to remain out of sight. Their back is to POPPY and MARGEAUX.
She notices the new presence and talks quietly aside to POPPY.
Goddamn. Another thrill-seeking female out on the street. I hope the homeless shelter gets their robots soon.
I don’t know, Marg…street folk like her usually got some DG stench lingering on them. Maybe a little time out in the big wide world with no Daddy to help will do her some good.
As POPPY and MARGEAUX continue to stare, the person digs around in a window flower box for something edible. They accidentally sniff too hard and sneeze, revealing a deep, masculine sounding tone.
POPPY and MARGEAUX look at each other, then back to the person who they’ve now identified as a man.
Hey, asshole! What are you doing over there? Think if you can gulp down enough pansies, you might just be one?
He turns toward POPPY and MARGEAUX.
Listen, I didn’t want to bother you, I’m just looking for some food.
And I’m looking for a universe that had the common sense to exterminate all men.
(quickly after MARGEAUX’s comment) Looks like you’re both out of luck, but I’d say her odds are a little higher.
He walks closer to the stairs where they’re watching him.
I don’t want to get into it right now, I was just looking for something to eat. I’ll be out of your hair as fast as you can say –
POPPY interrupts him.
Say what? Capitalism? Patriarchy? Government? Distrust? War?
Nothing you can say will get the memory of your disgusting masculine ooze out of our hair. So you should leave before you have the chance to spread whatever diseases you’ve got on the innocent female population.
The MAN gently walks closer to POPPY, who he assumes is more willing to listen. MARGEAUX stands, moves in front of POPPY, and knocks the MAN to the ground with a kick to the chest. He falls backward onto the curb of the street.
POPPY jumps up, appalled at the man for having walked near her.
MARGEAUX descends the stairs and walks towards the MAN.
Were you about to assault her? Did you really come out here, with a go-get-her attitude and a steaming, shit-sized pile of self-entitlement, and think that you could hurt a woman? After everything we’ve done for your defective excuse of a gender.
She squats to his level. Then, she punches him in the nose.
Did your Y chromosome grab you by the choad and whisper that you should let loose?
She stands quickly and kicks him in the crotch.
Did your shattered ego tell you that for some reason today was the day for you to exact your pitiful revenge on the ones who showed the world who you really are?
For every “enough,” she kicks him again.
That, for you, who has suffered so little, enough was enough was enough was enough was-
POPPY interrupts her.
(shouting angrily) Stop it, stop it!
MARGEAUX turns back at her, momentarily shocked.
I can speak for myself.
She descends the staircase confidently and walks next to MARGEAUX. She addresses the MAN, staring down at him.
If you thought you had any chance at dragging us back where we started, at making any woman your perfect little cock-sucking, cheerleading, self-hating, bimbo bitch again, you were dead wrong.
She aims a kick at his head. Right before it makes contact, BLACKOUT.
The scene opens in an apartment with four separate bedrooms, a small kitchen with a dining table, and a small living room with a cozy chair and a couch situated next to each other. There are some modest decorations around the apartment, some of which might include a papier-maché object or collage made of paper currency, framed paper printouts of famous paintings that have been doodled over by someone else, old and dingy political ads or yard signs, a “We’re hiring” sign, a “flower” bouquet made of sex toys, and a stuffed toy eagle or a taxidermy eagle.
POPPY and MARGEAUX enter the apartment living room from the door that leads outside and both casually pick up leisure activities where they left off when they were last home. POPPY grabs a book and reads it in the chair next to the couch. MARGEAUX works on a pencil sketch at the kitchen table.
CELINE walks out of FRAN’s room into the living room, visibly upset and shaking. Neither POPPY nor MARGEAUX are bothered by CELINE’s entrance or by the ensuing conversation.
(speaking behind her, into FRAN’s room) I… I just can’t do it.
They walk out from their room looking annoyed and non-threateningly, but firmly holding a knife by the handle.
(pleading) C’mon, please. You said you’d help me. Don’t you want me to be as feminine as possible?
Of course I do. Everyone does.
She starts pacing around the room, still at a distance from FRAN.
But I just can’t bring myself to do… that. The only wrong is to hurt others, you know that. And you’re my sibling. I won’t hurt you.
Don’t think about it like that. It’s like a wrong making a right.
They pause to wait for CELINE’s response but speak again before she says anything.
No, not even a wrong. It’s not wrong. It can’t be. It isn’t.
(unconvinced) How can you be sure?
Can’t you trust me?
She stops pacing and looks at POPPY reading, then at MARGEAUX sketching, then at FRAN.
I wouldn’t ever be able to forget seeing you in pain like that. That feels wrong to me.
(suddenly growing angrier) Don’t you get it? I’m already in pain! I know you don’t want to hurt me, but it’s too late. You might not be able to see it all the time, but you can’t keep ignoring it forever.
They offer CELINE the knife, like a peace offering, from across the room.
You can start right now. Please.
She makes eye contact with them for several seconds, but then looks away and sits down on the couch, putting her head in her hands.
I won’t do it.
They stride briskly toward the couch, pointing the knife accusingly at CELINE.
(yelling sadly) Goddamnit, Celine! You said you’d do it, so don’t be a fucking Daddy’s Girl!
Upon hearing the words “Daddy’s Girl,” POPPY and MARGEAUX look up from their activities.
CELINE looks up from her hands and stares at FRAN for a very brief moment, then stands and walks up to her sibling.
FRAN recognizes what she’s about to do, flinches preemptively, and drops the knife, but doesn’t move away.
Don’t do that, you know it’s for your own good.
She slaps them in the face forcefully.
(assertively and angrily) Now, you damn well know that you have no right to say that. And you should also know by now that you’re supposed to treat us like the superior sex we are.
FRAN vigorously shakes their head in agreement, their eyes trained on the ground in shame.
Don’t forget that we let you live here. We tolerate all the shit-stinking leftovers from your toxic masculinity bullshit. We even let you wear our skirts just so you don’t get your ass beaten in the street. How could you have possibly forgotten how much you owe us? Owe me, especially.
She grabs FRAN’s face and forces them to look her in the eye.
Look at me. I’ll say it one more time, so make sure your ears are fucking open: No means no, you insecure, pussy envying, self-absorbed, emotionally undeveloped animal.
She lets go of FRAN’s face. They shrink down, but don’t move away.
Their anger is gone, replaced with fear and sadness. Like a dog that’s been kicked, they’re reserved and almost shattered.
(quietly) Then, what am I supposed to do?
Jesus, just cut your dick off by your goddamn self! I shouldn’t have to lick the ground to clean up your mess. Again, you seem to forget that I’m not the walking abortion, I’m the one who lets it keep walking. Take responsibility for your own deficiency for once. I’m done playing mama for you.
Yeah, lay off it, Fran. Your sister saw enough knobs during the fuck-ups. It’s no wonder she ended up taking out as many guys as she did.
And unless you’d like to join them, I suggest that you take your sister’s advice and fix your problem (she glances between FRAN’s legs) yourself.
(seriously and sweetly) If it’s too much trouble for you, a little birdie told me that the friendly suicide centers don’t have much of a line this time of year.
I assume that happens when your customers can’t come back for more.
She laughs heartily, and POPPY laughs along, somewhat less enthusiastically.
CELINE snickers slightly and returns to the couch, her reprimanding complete. She kicks the knife towards FRAN while walking away from them.
Seeing her calm down, POPPY and MARGEAUX return to their activities.
She sits in the spot on the couch nearest to POPPY’s chair and begins reading over her shoulder. After a few moments, she realizes that FRAN has not moved from their current position. She stops reading and turns her head to them.
(passive aggressively) You can go now.
FRAN starts walking back to their room sullenly, without acknowledging or picking up the knife at their feet. CELINE watches them walk away and, before they completely leave the living room, addresses them again.
Aren’t you forgetting something?
FRAN turns around slowly and comes back into the living room to pick up the knife. Once it’s in their hands, they again turn toward their room and walk in that direction.
That’s not what I meant.
In the doorway to their room, FRAN stops. Facing the interior of their room, they take a deep breath. Then, they turn back to face CELINE one final time.
(in a sad monotone, as if they’re reciting from a script) Thank you, sister, for reminding me why I’m so fortunate to live here with you and our other perfectly immaculate female roommates. I only hope that I can soon cease to be a nuisance and a burden and a worthless non-individual, so that I can avoid causing you pain that you do not deserve from anyone, especially from (hesitates) men like me.
Yes, we can only hope.
She turns back to POPPY and resumes reading over her shoulder.
FRAN remains in their doorway, closing their eyes and trying not to cry as CELINE gives her attention back to POPPY. This lasts only a moment. Then, they open their eyes, stare at a spot on the opposing wall with intensity, take several audible deep breaths, and clutch the knife tightly. After a time, they look from MARGEAUX to POPPY to CELINE, lingering for a few seconds on each of them. With enough resolve finally built up, they enter their bedroom and close the door.
Orwell, George. “Why I Write.” The Orwell Foundation, The Orwell Foundation, 1946, https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and-other-works/why-i-write/.
Ronell, Avital. “DEVIANT PAYBACK: The Aims of Valerie Solanas.” SCUM Manifesto, Verso, 2015, pp. 1–33.
Rowe, Desireé D., et al. “Negative Affect, SCUM, and the Politics of Possibility.” Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies, vol. 20, no. 2, Apr. 2020, pp. 176–181. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/1532708619879204.
Solanas, Valerie. SCUM Manifesto. Verso, 2015.
Third, Amanda. “‘Shooting From the Hip’: Valerie Solanas, SCUM and the Apocalyptic Politics of Radical Feminism.” Hecate, vol. 32, no. 2, Nov. 2006, pp. 104–132. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=24306896&site=eds-live.
Acknowledgement: A special thanks to Josh Bedford for his support and assistance and to Dr. Herles for trusting me to bring this text to life.