transcending silence... 2006 Issue

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Performative Violence as Catharsis: Analyzing Feminist Expression and Representation within Cultural Texts

 

leigh vandebogart*

 

Abstract

Revenge and retribution for violence against women is portrayed in various feminist cultural texts, though such “radical” views are, by far, not the accepted politic of much of the feminist community. Yet, such violence within feminist cultural texts is not always counter-productive to the larger “feminist movement,” but instead extremely empowering and cathartic for many readers. Through my analysis of three feminist cultural texts - Diane DiMassa’s collection of graphic novels HotHead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist, Valerie Solanas’ S.C.U.M Manifesto, and Pat Califia’s novel Doc & Fluff - all of which depict extreme violence against men as acts of retaliation and retribution, I hope to illuminate the ways in which such literature is cathartic, healing, and empowering for many women, and should be embraced as such.

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Sections

I. Illustrated Violence within Hothead Paisan

II. Performative Violence and SCUM

III. Violent Dystopia: Doc and Fluff

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American society is imbued with violence.  One needs to look no further than the way women are subject to many types of violence in their everyday lives.  One of the most common threats of violence against women is that of rape.  For many women, rape is a constant source of anxiety, fear, and violence – and for many women, a reality. [1] This reality both implicitly and explicitly controls women, and leads women to arrange and rearrange their own lives and schedules to ensure they aren’t put into “dangerous situations.” Many more women don’t have the option of rearranging their lives – they simply must live with the constant brutality of their “loved ones,” who create incredibly dangerous and often inescapable personal lives, situations and environments. This control, self-inflicted or otherwise, shows the extent to which rape has become an increasing problem. Yet, it remains a problem that is routinely ignored and blamed upon the survivor, creating an oppressive environment in which women seldom want to press charges, get medical exams, or divulge the event to people in their lives, no matter how close of a relationship one might have with others. 

While rape, misogyny, and violence are everyday realities for many women – often amid the countless violent acts based on other oppressions involving class, race, gender, ability, age and other factors – many feminist authors and activists have a pacifist framework in place for responding and reacting to such violence and degradation.  A common thread within many feminist publications and subsequent theories is that of responding without reacting – being proactive in peaceful ways instead of succumbing to the perpetrator’s level.  While this is certainly helpful for many women, there cannot just be one way one should and can adequately respond, especially while still being considered a feminist.  For many women, being proactive is not enough.  Some women want and seek revenge. 


Revenge and retribution for violence against women is portrayed in various feminist cultural texts, such as Diane DiMassa’s collection of graphic novels The Complete Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist, Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto, and Pat Califia’s novel Doc and Fluff, though such “radical” views are, by far, not the accepted ethos of much of the feminist community.  Yet, such violence within feminist cultural texts is not always counter-productive to the larger feminist movement, but extremely empowering and cathartic for many readers.  This is shown within panels of Hothead itself, the performative nature and utopian vision of SCUM Manifesto, and the storyline and resolution of Doc and Fluff, as well as within literary criticism, reviews and interviews surrounding the representation of violence within such cultural texts.  Ideas and themes of revenge can be represented within cultural texts, including comics, essays, novels and music, to convey the idea that performative violence is cathartic [2] and thus useful for many people, especially women who are working through and reckoning with their own abuse and the violence inflicted upon them and their bodies. 


Illustrated Violence within Hothead Paisan
[Return to "Sections"]

The Complete Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist is a very intense collection of comics, or, one might argue, a collection of graphic novels.  First, the reader is introduced to the character of Hothead Paisan, a caffeine-crazed, vengeful, violent "punk dyke" who watches too much television, and who is constantly trying to combat all the instances of oppression she and so many other women encounter in day to day life.  Diane DiMassa, author and illustrator, describes Hothead in her first issue, in a disclaimer that allows the reader to see this character, first and foremost, as a comic book figure.  From this introduction, DiMassa makes it clear that this fictional character is a manifestation of rage, a performance piece within ink.  Yet many people react with extreme aversion to the collection.  Anne Thalheimer, in writing about the comic, points out that men are often uncomfortable with the antics of Hothead.  After Thalheimer asked her class what they thought of the text, she recounts a male student saying, “with some disgust, ‘I stopped reading when she started cutting off penises.’  In short, he stopped reading after six panels.  Many men seem to have little problem expecting women to read comics where women are abused and objectified, but turn the table and those same men begin to get a little nervous." [3] When women appropriate male roles, especially such traditionally masculine behaviors as violence, this displacement of the male signifier often sets people at unease, and they react accordingly.


The happenings within Hothead are violent, filled with rage and the enacting of retribution.  Women within the comic are given a voice and a space to retaliate against their abusers, attackers, oppressors, and rapists.  One of the more volatile and disturbing sequences within Hothead is when a woman, Roberta, testifies against her three rapists. Hothead then kidnaps the men, tortures them, pulls their spinal cords out of their assholes, and castrates the main offender. (see image) The court trial Roberta is put through is over-the-top, though it is incredibly grounded in an all-too-common reality for many women. She is asked questions by the male lawyers and judge like, “‘Did you sit with your legs crossed or uncrossed?’ ‘Do you enjoy dancing?’ ‘How tight were your pants?’” while the three rapists, morphing into haphazardly-drawn clowns, protest, “‘She let me pay for dinner! If that ain't a yes, what is??’ ‘And she only struggled for about … 25 minutes!’” and “‘She flirted with us!’.” [4] Of course, Hothead comes to the rescue to take revenge after witnessing the trial. Hothead kidnaps the men, then brings Roberta to the empty building where they’re shackled, and the two women confront the three rapists. With Roberta at her side, Hothead lists the reality Roberta lives with as a consequence of the rapes, though they got off free: “[Roberta] doesn’t date anymore cause she doesn’t trust anyone … She can’t stand to be TOUCHED at all … She’s in therapy twice a week for, you know, depression, guilt, suicidal thoughts, lingering terror and general emotional shattering … She’s MOVED and changed her phone number … And … oh yeah! She cries herself to sleep every fucking night!." [5] Then Roberta speaks, voicing her rage, the injustice of the rapes, and the satisfaction released with Hothead’s retribution.


While this may be one of the more difficult pieces within the text, it certainly serves an explicit purpose.  The representation of such extreme and even fantastical violence is portrayed in such a way that it becomes therapeutic for many readers.  For many women, the rage Hothead expresses is taboo – even within the feminist community. As Animal Prufrock, an artist and activist who staged a musical version of the comic for the Michigan Women’s Music Festival in the summer of 2004, states, “The lack of rage in women based on the horror we are forced to live in/with in this patriarchal world is beyond belief." [6] Prufrock goes on to say, “I’ve been rereading the comics and they are spot on … the community misses having such a laser-sharp harpoon aimed tightly [at] the patriarchy. We need to be pissed off at what’s happening and not afraid to tell it like it is.” [7] The type of rage women can find and relate to within Hothead often inspires feelings of release, a cathartic knowledge that they’re not alone in fantasizing violently, or alone in identifying with such violent fantasies. Hothead is not anything more than a representation of such fantastical rage and revenge, intended to be a sort of therapy. DiMassa has explicitly said that Hothead is intended to be therapeutic and cathartic. She states, in response to whether or not she views the comic as a catharsis, “Absolutely! A therapist made me do it! It worked for me, and I wasn’t thinking anybody else would ever see it (the initial stuff) but as it turned out the most often stated response I get is ‘Thank you for saying what I am thinking. What relief. Providing relief for angry queers in a homophobic, hateful world? I’ll take it!." [8]

The cathartic nature of the panels within the collection of Hothead Paisan is even discussed within the collection itself. DiMassa includes a series of panels in which she, as the author and illustrator, speaks to an outraged lesbian reader, Fran. Though Fran makes a case for being nonviolent, ultimately she realizes that she appreciates and is empowered by the violence and the revenge within Hothead Paisan. A common critique, which is also voiced constantly within the collection of comics by characters such as Roz and Hothead’s cat, Chicken, is that perpetrating the same violence will only beget more violence. In one series of panels, Roz’s lover, Alice, argues with Hothead, “‘Take hold of these simple facts: violence breeds violence! Racism breeds racism! You don’t go out and imitate the behavior you’re trying to stop, because then you add to it!!! YOU SEE?’." [9] Alice’s stance is later countered, where Hothead battles with those who hold similar views to Alice. A woman says, “‘I don’t believe in violence,’” and Hothead retorts, “‘That’s lovely, but it won’t stop it from happening to you!’." [10] It is this type of internal dialogue that mirrors the external discourse of feminism and lets the reader know that there is no right or wrong answer, but a gray area in which there are few solutions to be found. As Inga Muscio points out in a review of Hothead,

The dialogue between good (Roz, God, Chicken) and evil (Hothead and the individuals she summarily eliminates) results in a pristine catharsis. Hothead presents a rare opportunity to view the ugliness in our society without a sense of victimization. [DiMassa] documents every form of hatred alive & well in this ‘juvenile delinquency world,’ giving us readers the chance to really see our roles as peace lovin’ souls. Many women (and men) need Hothead to precisely point out that we are not crazy – this world really is a difficult place to thrive. [11]

Yet, DiMassa constructs a fantasy world that is empowering and cathartic for many, not unlike Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto, through which women can enact retribution for the wrongs the patriarchy makes them experience and suffer.

Performative Violence and SCUM [Return to "Sections"]

Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto [12] is not a piece to be taken literally, but instead is a piece to be critically evaluated and understood as a satire that critiques American society and therein creates a fantasy realm into which one can escape.  The SCUM Manifesto is a satirical, imaginative piece in which Solanas creates a futuristic world where women can reign and destroy men. The fantasy begins in the opening sentence, "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." [13] This imaginative vision of the future is constructed by Solanas through satirically portraying and criticizing the traditional gender roles prevalent in America, eventually creating a commentary on the role and spaces of inside and outside, much like the space DiMassa constructs within her series of panels in Hothead Paisan.

The fantasy world Solanas invokes in her Manifesto begins with the rejection of all things "male" and the embracing of all that is "female."  In doing so, Solanas analyzes the traditional gender roles that have been socially constructed and created in America, and in the process inverts these assumed roles.  She asserts that men and the construct of masculinity are defined in opposition to what is commonly read and seen as "feminine" – but reverts this opposition, and states that what is read as male are truly female characteristics, appropriated by men out of their own insecurities and insufficiencies.  As the male has power in society, he creates socialized gender roles; what he despises in himself he creates to be the character traits of women.  Yet, in Solanas' fantasy world, these traits are reversed and restored to their "rightful" owners.  She envisions women taking back what men stripped of them, and reclaiming their "true" femininity.

This role reversal has an impact on the way in which violence is portrayed in the text, for violence is typically seen and understood as "masculine." The idea of women appropriating masculine, violent roles inspires a dissonance between gender roles and criticism of the betrayal of such roles. As Judith Halberstam states, "Women, in other words, long identified as victims rather than perpetrators of violence, have much to gain from new and different configurations of violence, terror, and fantasy." [14] Women have too long been identified in the role of the victim, rather than being identified as empowered individuals who can fight back and wield violence on others. The matriarchy Solanas creates in her manifesto is a space that can give women the place to fantasize, to express and identify with their violent thoughts and imaginings without actualizing that violence in "real life."

There is the fantastical theme throughout Solanas SCUM Manifesto, which creates an idealized, largely impossible version of a world.  The utopian society she describes is one in which women have refuge from men and their abuse, as men are no longer needed.  Solanas imagines a world in which aging and death will be completely eliminated, where reproduction is antiquated because women will be able to live indefinitely.  The creation of a matriarchal society is not just a utopia, but is a "magic world" for Solanas. [15] This fantasy creates a space for many women who may feel outside of the realm of the patriarchy, and as if they do not belong.
Not only is the dream of having a matriarchal society a fantasy for Solanas, but so is how the vision of how the matriarchy is to be achieved. The dream of SCUM, the Society for Cutting Up Men, is violent and retributive and one of the chief ways the matriarchal utopia will be realized.  Yet, it is complete fantasy.  Solanas argues that with half of the country's population rioting and reacting against their social status, the subsequent result would naturally be an upheaval in which men would be displaced in favor of women.  "A completely automated society can be accomplished very simply and quickly once there is a public demand for it.  The blueprints for it are already in existence, and its construction will only take a few weeks with millions of people working on it." [16] The very notion of anything so widespread being accomplished in a couple of weeks is, in and of itse
lf, a fantasy, because social movement and change is an incredibly long and drawn out process.  Yet Solanas envisions the revolution being as violent as necessary; the killing of men would be commonplace to ensure their diminished place in society, and even their eventual nonexistence.  This fantasy is achieved through Solanas' use of the satirical and the impossible, for she constructs a vision of a utopia, which is largely unrealistic and based on the very patriarchy she is criticizing. 


These fantasies, both of DiMassa and Solanas, heavily engage the viewer as well as the subject. Solanas' SCUM Manifesto does differ slightly from DiMassa’s work in this aspect, for her fantasy world is directly affecting her before it is affecting an audience.  While Solanas and DiMassa have similar themes and constructs, there are differences between the two. While Hothead takes revenge on those who are actively racist, sexist, and violent, Solanas is taking a type of preemptive stance in which she claims (nearly) all men are worthless animals and should be exterminated. This essentialist argument, which constructs an important binary that can be understood as “men are bad” and “women are good,” is not one to be taken lightly in the analysis of Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto. However, this essentialist argument is just one way in which Solanas is reconstructing the essentialism so prevalent in the sexism and misogyny women experience in American society – daily, women are bombarded with messages that they are not as good as men, that they are not as worthy, and that many of them (lower socio-economic classes, women of color, queer women) are sub-human. In her manifesto, Solanas is reverting this prevalent claim in her fantasy realm and turning this against men, satirically creating a world in which men have to endure their own harsh treatment that they inflict upon women in the “real world.” Solanas created this satire of modern America for her own escape, for her own idealized image of what the future could look like if the tables were turned.  This piece, for her readers and audience, allows them to escape into such a world and imagine with her.  Whereas her piece did not have specific subjects other than herself, it provided an audience with a way to escape the realities of their worlds and their lives, into a space where they could take revenge and infringe on the space and the bodies of the perpetrators of abuse, rape and violence.


The audiences both DiMassa and Solanas were working for might be called a "counter-public" [17], as well as the audience they were hoping to attract in creating a space for a subversive culture.  The counter-public rejects the mainstream in favor of building a subversive, sub-cultural identity that is recognizable as such.  This building of a subculture allows those who are participating within the subculture to be "insiders," perhaps for the first time in their lives.  DiMassa and Solanas worked largely within and against the boundaries of insider versus outsider, trying to expand and reshape the lines of community through fantasy.  By creating a version of a matriarchy, Solanas is constructing a subculture.  Those in SCUM are a certain type of women, a subset of the general population as she sees it.  Not only is she rejecting men as defunct and worthless, she sees SCUM as a select few working toward a better future.  She describes SCUM as, "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 free-wheeled to the limits of this 'society' and are ready to wheel on to something far beyond what it has to offer." [18] This definition automatically and explicitly defines the boundaries of inside and outside within SCUM Manifesto, railing against the constructed boundaries of inside and outside within mainstream society, and the constructed gender roles of women, which is to be the opposite of all the characteristics she lists, especially "violent."

Both Solanas and DiMassa, working with different types of performative medium, construct their own sense of inside and outside to create a subculture, to create and sustain a belonging.  As people who were viewed as marginalized -- both queer, substance abusers, Solanas a sex worker -- they were outsiders in their lives.  Through their art, through their ability to construct fantasy, they created a counter-public sphere that allowed them, and others like them, to transgress the "normal" boundaries of society and enter a fantasy world in which they belonged.  This construction of space has an enormous effect on one's audience, who immediately feels like they can "get it" and that they belong. Wendy Hesford elaborates on the space of inside and outside created by such revenge fantasies, stating that to read fantasies constructs a social space for many survivors and women, “a kind of common catharsis among friends.” [19] For many women there was no space previous to Solanas’ manifesto, distributed in 1967, that allowed them the option of imagining themselves as violent and still functioning women, and even feminists. These reactions are evident within Solanas' manifesto and the reactions it often receives.  People who view it as hate-speech and obscene are often those who are displaced by its fantasy world – they are no longer in control within the boundaries of her futuristic version of a matriarchy.


The realm of fantasy creates a space where one can escape, where one can feel as though one belongs.  This space of the insider is a space both DiMassa and Solanas' work on reclaiming for others like themselves.  This engagement in a counter-public not only creates a sense of inside, but also implicitly constructs a sense of identity for the now-insider.  Their fantasized, idealized pieces offer ways to escape oneself and engage in "parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses, so as to 'formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests and needs.'" [20] Whereas before that person might have existed solely as someone who was marked, who was marginalized, they are now accepted within the realm of the counter-public and allowed to constitute an identity that is representative of what they desire. 


Violent Dystopia: Doc and Fluff [Return to "Sections"]

Much like the fantasy worlds constructed within DiMassa’s Hothead Paisan and Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto, renowned author Pat Califia [21] creates a similar fantasy world within the relatively unknown novel Doc and Fluff.   This interesting novel portrays a dystopia in which women have formed communes for their own safety from extremely violent and abusive men.  The reader is introduced to Doc, a butch dyke who occasionally rides with a biker gang called the Angels to cut deals with the leader of the group, Prez, but who is mostly a loner and has ties to the commune where she eventually finds sanctuary, the Harpy Farm.  Fluff is introduced a few pages after, and runs away with Doc, though she is considered Prez’s “lady.”  Both parties, Doc and Prez, are highly upset when they discover they’ve both been tricked, though Doc learns of the abuse Fluff put up with and decided she could not be “returned” to Prez.  They head to Harpy Farm for safety, where they await the inevitable showdown.  Meanwhile, Prez loses control and his violence escalates.  He takes out his anger and loss of control on one of the women within the Angels, Tina, nearly killing her. After Tina is brutalized, a few other women in the Angels decide to seek refuge with her and travel ahead of the gang to Harpy Farm, where they know they can seek help and medical attention.  Harpy Farm is a source of power, for it is sustainable, completely run by women, and stable.  The High Priestess of the commune, Raven, decides with the help of everyone in the commune, that revenge is the best way to combat Tina’s near death and Fluff’s torturous abuse.   The final act of retribution against Prez is a stomach-turning fantasy inverting male dominance and the patriarchy, and illustrates the fact that not all men within this futuristic, fantasy world are acted against – in this case, just one man, Prez, who transgresses boundaries and is “deserving,” in the eyes of many of the characters, of the vengeful violence enacted upon him by the Harpies. 
Pat Califia carefully details a woman-only space, the Harpy Farm, in the futuristic story of Doc and Fluff, much like the woman-only space created in Solanas' manifesto.  In Doc and Fluff, the Harpy Farm is one of the only positive spaces for women in the novel, and serves as their home, sanctuary, and salvation.  After Tina is brutally raped and mutilated by Prez, her friend Carmen brings her to the Harpy Farm.  It is this matriarchal commune that nurtures Tina back to life, under the leadership of Raven.  The Harpy Farm then becomes symbolic of safety, goodness, and strength in the face of a violent and hateful world.  In the introduction of the novel, found in its second reprinting in 1996, Califia acknowledges the violence used within Doc and Fluff, stating:

Doc and Fluff is a violent book, but it is not any more violent than the world in which I live ... Canadian authorities have claimed that this book is dangerous, even hate speech, because it contains explicit descriptions of violence against women.  Why is a book by a lesbian author singled out for suppression while true-crime books by male writers that contain much more vicious descriptions of misogynist violence are not halted at the border?  I suspect it is the vengeance that women in this book take for the rape, rather than the rape itself... [22]

This passage shows the way in which violence as retribution against rape and misogynistic violence are viewed in mainstream society, and even in a large percent of the feminist movement.  Violence is always read and understood as negative, even when it is acted through the motivation of retribution for women, who endured rape and other types of assault by men.  Califia acknowledges this reality, going on to say that “In feminist fiction it has become acceptable for women to write about violence, but only in a rather narrow and restricted way.  We can describe with impunity the dreadful things that have been done to us.” [23]  Indeed, most feminist writing focuses on coming to terms with the fact that one is a survivor and is healing oneself.  While this is highly necessary and very positive, most feminist writing ends there.  There is a glaring lack of how to reconcile the rage so many women often feel toward their abusers and attackers, which can lead to an unhealthy way of dealing with such rage, or a feeling of not belonging to the feminist community or movement any longer, for one’s feelings are not supported by the literature and ideals of the majority of the community and movement.  Califia expresses this sentiment: 

Whenever I read about incest or child abuse or a woman who is beaten by her husband, I feel as if I am left hanging, waiting for another shoe that never drops.  I want to know what she did about it.  Perhaps my notions of retribution are rather biblical, but I feel strongly that when we name the perpetrators of heinous acts, we have only taken the first step toward ending the violence ... In fiction, at least, I wanted it to be possible for women to exact their own vengeance.  I did not want them simply to howl at the moon and display their scars.  I wanted them to be able to inflict wound for wound, terror for terror, and blood for blood. [24] 

Many readers may interpret the acts in Doc & Fluff as gruesome, even over-the-top, and may construe such ideas of revenge as religious, yet Califia makes clear in the introduction of Doc and Fluff such violence is not simply derived from any religion or religious source, but rather from experiences with various facets of life.[25] Abuse, rape, incest and misogynistic violence are horrors women live with constantly, and Califia illustrates in her dystopia that one of the sure ways to end such horrific violence is to turn the tables on the male perpetrator and react with equal violence.  This is most clearly shown in the culmination of Prez’s torture, which he was made to endure for raping, mutilating, and nearly killing Tina.  The Harpies, women from the Harpy Farm, forced Prez to suck on the hot exhaust pipes of his own Harley, a disgracing “violent parody of cock-sucking” [26] which was commonly known among bikers in one of the first steps of avenging Tina.  After crucifying him, the Harpies reenact one of the ways Prez mutilated Tina, by severing one of his nipples with the same knife he had used on her. This mirroring of violence is often portrayed in revenge fantasies, and is often sexualized, especially if the retribution is for sexual assault or rape.  This is shown in DiMassa’s panels of Hothead Paisan, but perhaps most explicitly shown within Doc and Fluff. The Harpies go on to the final act of torture against Prez, which can be read as rape.  Raven and the Harpies catherize Prez, feeding battery acid through the tube lodged in his penis.  This extreme depiction of graphic violence is one that can be read as extremely cathartic for many women, especially women who have been sexually abused.

Califia’s Doc and Fluff can be seen as expressive of performative violence in many ways, much like DiMassa and Solanas’ work. The novel depicts a fantasy world, a dystopian, violent future wherein women exact revenge for the harm done to them, purging themselves of bodily and psychic violence. The construction of an alternate world is a common theme through these three pieces. While it is not so apparent in Hothead Paisan, it is nevertheless implicit in the world Hothead is trying to create. The main character of the collection is not just aiming to kill rapists and misogynists to make her world a better place, but to make the future a better and safer place for women to come. This envisioning of the future invokes a realm of fantasy that Solanas and Califia use in their work. As Judith Butler states:

Moreover, fantasy is a part of the articulation of the possible; it moves us beyond what is merely actual and present into a realm of possibility, the not yet actualized or the not actualizable … Fantasy is not the opposite of reality, it is what reality forecloses, and, as a result, it defines the limits of reality … The critical promise of fantasy, when and where it exists, is to challenge the contingent limits of what will and will not be called reality. Fantasy is what allows us to imagine ourselves and others otherwise; it establishes the possible in excess of the real; it points out elsewhere, and when it is embodied, it brings the elsewhere home. [27]

This excellent point illustrates the way in which these three authors are working against “reality” and working toward a fantasy to provide catharsis and relief to women suffering in their own present realities. Fantasy provides a realm that is not yet possible, but not something that is impossible – simply events that have not yet taken place. It is within this realm, according to Butler, that the imaginable and the “unreal” can take shape and wherein fantasy constructs its own reality, its own space for people unsatisfied with the “real.” Through these heavily violent fantasies, Califia, DiMassa, and Solanas are working toward what they all envision is a better, safer world – a world in which a woman can embrace characteristics of what is seen as traditionally masculine and transgress those boundaries for her own self-preservation and the safety of others.

These fantasies do bring to light the question, what is to come after catharsis? The works of DiMassa, Solanas, and Califia are all examples of how fantasy can be embodied within cultural texts and provide spaces for women and others to feel release and a sense of safety. Catharsis, then, takes place within these cultural texts – and so begins the process of healing. While it does not end with the reading of these pieces, such performative spaces allow not only the audience or the reader to experience fantasy while engaging and interacting with that text, but marks and impresses upon that reader or audience the purging feeling of release. Healing takes place within this space – or, at least, the beginning of healing. Allowing a space for rage is, for many women, more than just cathartic – it is the inspiration for healing, for knowing that they can live with the knowledge that there is a place for them. Because these fantastical works are not ephemeral, there is always the possibility for women and survivors to revisit these texts and the space where they can express their rage and see that rage reflected.

 

Notes

1. Though violence, as well as sexual abuse and violence – especially in its manifestation of rape – is a serious problem and issue for people of every gender, I use the label “woman” exclusively in this paper, as it reflects the language used throughout the various texts I am analyzing. (Return)

2. I use “cathartic” in this essay to invoke the meanings and feelings of words such as release, cleansing, purifying and purging. All of these words are connotative of a restorative and refreshing change from such built-up and often repressed negativity and pain. (Return)

3. Anne Thalheimer, “Rage Against the Sex-Gene.” PopMatters. Available from World Wide Web: <http://popmatters.com/comics/hothead-paison.shtml> (accessed April 1, 2006). (Return)

4. Diane DiMassa, The Complete Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. (San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1999): 211-212. (Return)

5. DiMassa, 211-212. (Return)

6. Margaret Coble, “Musical Based on Lesbian Comic Book Debuts at Michigan Womyn’s Musical Festival.” Lesbian News (July, 2004): 38. (Return)

7. Coble, 38. (Return)

8. Personal e-mail with DiMassa ( December 4, 2005 ). (Return)

9. DiMassa, 171. (Return)

10. DiMassa, 335. (Return)

11. Inga Muscio, " Reviews: Lethal Weapons.” Lambda Book Report. (July-August, 1999), 21. (Return)

12. Solanas has been heavily criticized for her violent fantasy she constructs within her manifesto, especially after shooting Andy Warhol in 1968. While this is a very real and devastating use of violence, I believe Solanas did not intend for others to use the SCUM Manifesto as an inspiration for “real” violence. Though this is not specifically stated in her piece, I view the manifesto as strictly fantasy and performative. She surrendered herself to the police after she shot Andy Warhol, stating that she did so because he “had too much control” over her life, and owed her money for her work ("Valerie Solanas," Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Solanas> (accessed December 4, 2005). Her actions, while erratic and violent, were in no way indicative that they were fueled or in support of her manifesto. Later on, in a Village Voice interview in 1977, she vehemently denied SCUM Manifesto was a piece to be taken seriously. Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCUM_Manifesto> (accessed April 1, 2006). (Return)

13. Solanas, Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCUM_Manifesto> (accessed April 1, 2006). (Return)

14. Judith Halberstam, “Imagined Violence/Queer Violence: Representation, Rage, and Resistance.” Social Text. (Winter, 1993) No. 37. pp. 187-201. 191 (Return)

15. Valarie Solanas. 1967. The SCUM Manifesto [online]. Available from World Wide Web. < http://womynkind.org/scum.htm> (accessed April 1, 2006). (Return)

16. SCUM Manifesto. (Return)

17. Jonathan Flatley, “Warhol Gives Good Face: Publicity and the Politics of Prosopopoeia.” PopOut: Queer Warhol. Eds. Jenifer Doyle, Jonathan Flatley, and Jose Esteban Munoz. (Durham: Duke University Press), 1996. 105 (Return)

18. SCUM Manifesto. (Return)

19. Wendy S. Hesford, “Reading Rape Stories: Material Rhetoric and the Trauma of Representation.” College English, (November 1999), Vol. 62. 202. (Return)

20. Flatley, 105. (Return)

21. I refer to “Pat” Califia throughout this essay and use female pronouns, for the publication(s) of Doc and Fluff preceded Califia’s transition to “Patrick,” identification as trans, and living in the “male” gender. Califia is renown for writing about “controversial” issues within the feminist community, such as BDSM, sex work, and violence. (Return)

22. Pat Califia, Doc and Fluff. (Los Angeles: Alyson Publications,1996): xxi (Return)

23. Califia, xxi. (Return)

24. Califia, xxi. (Return)

25. Many people do see acts of retribution as instances of biblical proportion, and this religious imagery is echoed in the way in which Prez is crucified and tortured by the Harpies.  Yet the violence in Doc and Fluff and so many other works is not about the right to enact violence based on religious texts like the Bible.  Instead, these works revolve around the notion of violence as vengeance for the health, the sanity, and the right of the women within these fictional and fantastical worlds.  (Return)

26. Califia, 287. (Return)

27. Judith Butler, Undoing Gender. “Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy.” (New York: Routledge), 2004. (Return)

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Bibliography

Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. “Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy.” New York: Routledge, 2004.

Califia, Pat. Doc and Fluff. Los Angeles: Alyson Publications, 1996

Coble, Margaret. “Musical Based on Lesbian Comic Book Debuts at Michigan Womyn’s Musical Festival.” Lesbian News, July, 2004.

DiMassa, Diane. The Complete Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1999.

DiMassa, Diane. "Hothead Questions." Personal e-mail ( December 4, 2005 ).

Flatley, Jonathan. “Warhol Gives Good Face: Publicity and the Politics of Prosopopoeia.” PopOut: Queer Warhol. Eds. Jenifer Doyle, Jonathan Flatley, and Jose Esteban Munoz. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.

Halberstam, Judith. “Imagined Violence/Queer Violence: Representation, Rage, and Resistance.” Social Text. Winter, 1993, No. 37. pp. 187-201.

Hesford, Wendy S. “Reading Rape Stories: Material Rhetoric and the Trauma of Representation.” College English, November, 1999, Vol. 62.

Muscio, Inga. "Reviews: Lethal Weapons.” Lambda Book Report, July-August, 1999.

Solanas, Valerie. 1967. The SCUM Manifesto [online]. Available from World Wide Web: <http://womynkind.org/scum.htm>

Thalheimer, Anne. 1999. “Rage Against the Sex-Gene.” PopMatters. Available from World Wide Web: <http://popmatters.com/comics/hothead-paison.shtml>

Wikipedia. "Valerie Solanas," Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Solanas> (accessed December 4, 2005).

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leigh vandebogart is currently a senior at the University at Albany. Interested in the Women's Studies program at the University, Leigh transferred from Wells College and Schenectady County Community College. She is majoring in Women's Studies and looking into graduate work in the same field after graduation. Leigh is part of the Women's Studies Teaching Collective and is looking forward to further involvement in the field of Women's Studies, both here at the University at Albany and elsewhere. (Return)

Edited by: Marielle McKasty and Sara Querbes

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