Who Is Erin Pizzey and is Domestic Violence a Gender Issue?

Erin Pizzey Inside Women's Refuge

17 Jan 1978, Chiswick, London, England, UK — Mrs Erin Pizzey, a worker for Woman’s Aid, in an overcrowded home for battered wives, London, 1978. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Erin Pizzey is best known for opening the world’s first refuge for battered women in 1971. That shelter was focused on removing victims of domestic abuse from their abusers.

This is what she had to say about those first days:

My work has always been based on the fact that the majority of women and children coming into a refuge are very badly damaged by family violence. But the violence is not always perpetrated by men. Of the first 100 women who came into my refuge, Chiswick Women’s Aid, which was the world’s first when it opened in 1971, 62 were as violent – and some more violent – than the partners they left behind.

Erin is no stranger to violence. She has since admitted that she grew up in an extraordinarily violent home.

In a Mail Online article, she outlines what her childhood was like. She says that her father was jealous, full of rage and verbally abusive to her mother.

I hated my father with all my childish heart – and was truly terrified by him. He was 6ft 4in tall, massively built and had a huge paunch that hung over his belt. He stared out of piggy, pale blue eyes and had a big sloppy mouth that slobbered over my lips when he kissed me.

But she also had this to say about her mother:

But despite his clumsy, predictable form of macho brutality – born out of his being the 17th child of a violent Irish father – it was my mother’s more emotional, verbal form of abuse that scarred me most deeply.

She indulged in a particular kind of soul murder – and it was her cruelty that, even 60 years on, still reduces me to tears and leaves me convinced that feminism is a cynical, misguided ploy.

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She also describes how her mother was both emotionally abusive as well as physically abusive, which has since fueled her idea that domestic violence isn’t gender based:

Needless to say, my mother went berserk. She took me upstairs and beat me with an ironing cord until the blood ran down my legs. I showed my injuries to my teacher the next morning – but she just stared back impassively and did nothing.

Many years later, when feminists started demonising all fathers, these stark images continually reminded me of the truth – that domestic violence is not a gender issue

In the article she also describes how both of her abusive parents maintained a facade. To everyone around them, they were congenial, normal people – parents of three beautiful children, but behind closed doors, they were cruel and violent to each other as well as to their children.

Pizzey said:

Thirty years later, when feminism exploded onto the scene, I was often mistaken for a supporter of the movement. But I have never been a feminist, because, having experienced my mother’s violence, I always knew that women can be as vicious and irresponsible as men.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the movement, which proclaimed that all men are potential rapists and batterers, was based on a lie that, if allowed to flourish, would result in the complete destruction of family life.

It would seem that statistics do in fact indicate that Pizzey was on to something.

In Canada, for example:

A similar proportion of men and women reported experiencing spousal violence
during the five years prior to the survey. Among men, 6.0% or about 585,000,
encountered spousal violence during this period, compared with 6.4% or
601,000 women.

After Sweden put out a declaration that domestic violence was gender based, Feminist politician, Eva Solberg, challenged the assumption and as a result they found that the report was based on misinformation. They also realized that domestic violence isn’t a gender issue after all:

She concluded that her government’s report was based on misinformation about family violence and that, contrary to the report’s one-sided view of men as the only perpetrators, many children were experiencing a very different reality: “We must recognise the fact that domestic violence, in at least half of its occurrence, is carried out by female perpetrators.”

One of the key patterns that emerged from PASK, Solberg said, was that violence in the family was an inherited problem and children learned from watching the violence of both their parents.

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Meanwhile, Pizzey has since written 8 non-fiction books based largely around domestic abuse and received 4 awards:

  • International Order of Volunteers For Peace, Diploma of Honour (Italy) 1981
  • Nancy Astor Award for Journalism
  • World Congress of Victimology (San Francisco) 1987 – Distinguished Leadership Award
  • St. Valentino Palm d’Oro International Award for Literature, 14 February 1994, Italy

She claims that she has been targeted by the radical feminist movement and has received several death threats as well as bomb threats. She also thinks that radical feminists may have shot her dog.

Pizzey’s honesty has attracted constant attacks — she was forced to flee her native England with her children after protests, threats and violence culminated in the shooting of her family dog.

She adds:

“We must stop demonising men and start healing the rift that feminism has created between men and women,” says Pizzey, arguing that the “insidious and manipulative philosophy that women are always victims and men always oppressors can only continue this unspeakable cycle of violence”.

Personally, I agree with her on this particular issue. We have to stop treating domestic violence like it’s a gender issue, stop playing gender politics and do away with the insidious notion that men are oppressors whether they know it or not, and that women are perpetual victims beneath a blanket of patriarchy in first world countries.

We need to work together to solve the problem of domestic violence, as well as the other problems that affect both genders. Dividing ourselves along lines of arbitrary characteristics that we have no control over, such as race and gender, isn’t going to get the job done.

As feminist, Eva Solberg, said:

“We know through extensive practice and experience that attempts to solve the issue through this kind of analysis have failed. And they failed precisely because violence is not and never has been a gender issue.”

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15 Comments

  1. Men will always be seen as the only perpetrators of domestic violence because the feminists have already poisoned the well. Any domestic violence against women will always be statistically higher than men, however it has been estimated one in three victims are men and at least 5% would never report domestic abuse. These figures have been challenged by the federal government who have created a $100 million women’s safety package to help combat domestic violence against women and children. Two million of that package was allocated for men but not as the victims of domestic abuse but instead it was used to increase funding for MensLine for tools and resources to support perpetrators not to reoffend.

    • “Men will always be seen as the only perpetrators of domestic violence because the feminists have already poisoned the well.”

      I certainly hope that’s not the case. I guess I’m an optimist in that I think with enough factual arguments made, any system of power can be overturned and the ship can be righted. In this case to serve equality.

      “Two million of that package was allocated for men but not as the victims of domestic abuse but instead it was used to increase funding for MensLine for tools and resources to support perpetrators not to reoffend.”

      I didn’t know that. However, there is an interesting case here in Canada of a man who suffered domestic abuse. He decided to create his own shelter (the only one of its kind in his area) out of his own pocket. The government refused to fund him, but continued to fund hundreds of women’s shelters. He went broke and committed suicide.

      I will likely write a piece on him as well. His story is heartbreaking.

      Thanks so much for stopping in.

      • I should mention this is the Australia Federal Government I am on about. I am not so optimistic the ship can be righted completely because I find other female issues such as breast cancer and equal pay for women are forced into the limelight by feminist groups and that is a great positive for women, however men’s prostate cancer is not publicised half as much even though it was the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia in 2012 with 129 cases per 100,000 males, and breast cancer was the 2nd most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia in 2012 with 59 cases per 100,000.

        The gender pay issue is not as critical as often publicly stated and many are now looking more closely at statistics and finding the discrepancies are minor or to paraphrase Christina Hoff Sommers from the American Enterprise Institute: “If employers could save 16.2 per cent by hiring women, they’d fire all the men.”

  2. Absolutely. Any man subject to ridicule, shaming, unprovoked anger, having dishes thrown at him or even being beaten up, is a victim of spousal abuse. Most won’t admit it, many don’t realize (“she’s got one hell of a temper, if you don’t watch your mouth”) what it is. And the other side that no one really addresses; in any relationship where one partner is the bully, the other partner is the victim. And leaving that relationship for another solves nothing, since a victim carries that victimhood in their genetics.
    Bullies and victims are from the same coin, they need each other in a strange kind of dance that encompasses sex, violence, love, and anger.

    Personal note: I am wildly attracted to bullies. Not the physical kind, but the more subtle ‘put down’ types. Online AND off. I’m bright enough and cognizant enough to know by now that this is a bad bad recipe and thank the gods on my knees that I married a non-bullying man.

    And as I said, men who are treated as less than human by spouses often have no idea that this is abuse. I know a man online who kept threatening to leave his wife because she verbally abused him, locked him out of the house, shamed him. Bags packed, ready to leave. Far as I know they are still married and he’s still fussing about it.

    I also suspect that the number of abused spouses, male AND female, is at least twice as high as studies indicate. Women call it teasing, when it’s all verbal putdowns. Men do the same thing.

    As women we are taught (or were) that we were to defer to the man. And boys were taught that they were the prince in the house. They had parents who behaved this way. So the behavior is innate, but the permissions to behave this way are subtle and pervasive.

    Studies done on prisoners state that most of them were abused as kids, and were abusive as adults. Says a lot.

    • Yes. It’s a system or cycle of violence that feeds off itself. We have to stop pretending this is a gender issue and realize it’s a human issue and a very serious one. We are doing people a disservice that costs lives when we pretend men are an all-encompassing blanket of oppression.

      Thanks for your thoughts Judy!

      I love that you have the courage to engage arguments you believe or don’t believe. I think that shows your true character.

      And stay away from bullies. LOL. I’m glad your husband is a good guy.

  3. thanks, GC. No one is gladder than I am…

    I have a theory about bullies and victims. It stems from the caveman days, when you didnt ask, you took. A woman who resisted your attention was either beaten until she gave in, or died or passed over for a more malleable female. The woman who had the babies were the “softer” ones, who accepted the males. We werent all that far from our roots in those days.

    The dominant males got the submissive females. Dominant females either never had babies or only rarely. So natural selection took over. People who say they can “cure” bullies or submissives are basically saying they can change a multi-millenia old genetic selection thing with a bit of counseling and some stern KeepAway pills are so far off the track…

    A year or so ago I was talking to a woman who told me her daughter had just gotten out of the hospital, after being beaten severely by her boyfriend. she looked sad and said, “we both know she’ll go right back, she’s crazy about him.” and she was right.

    These days, however, I see dominant females having babies because they want to, they have husbands who love them, and understand them. It might take a bajillion years, but it will even out as those kids have a chance to break the dominant/submissive cycle, if only a little bit at a time.

    It’s handy for militant females to have a whipping boy, blame the guy for everything (which I suspect they will anyway just because they can) but it just doesnt wash.

  4. I’m wondering about these stats and the way we are defining a “victim.” I’ve known two men who were regularly physically abused by their partners, but didn’t identify as victims because they believed they ultimately maintained control. It seemed they allowed their partners strike them to help them cope, as screwed up as that sounds.

    One used to regularly appear with severe bruises down both of his arms. His wife would violently strike him and grab him around the neck because “she was very unhappy with his career choice and felt isolated in their new home.” He didn’t find it necessary to defend himself and simply described it as her way of coping because “she is understandably upset.”

    It was obvious they both loved their partners deeply and simply accepted that each woman had very little self control or tools to deal with emotional urges. They agreed that it was unpleasant, but seemed to think that a few bruises were only a minor burden in honouring their commitment to the relationship. Both could quite easily over power their partners, they just chose not to do so (as far as I know).

    Strangely, they didn’t see themselves as a victim, nor did they believe the behaviour was problematic, as they believed they could physically take it and that their relationship was otherwise positive. Pretty weird.

  5. puffetic, you’ve got it. Not all victims see themselves as such. They recognize what the abuse stems from, or–in the worst case scenario–make excuses for the violence, as this man did.

    At some point you can only back off and let those people work it out themselves.

    Here is where it gets scary-understandable. In some way they feel they deserve the beating, as much as the spouse needs a punching bag. “well”, he says, as they stitch him up, “she was having a really bad day at work…”

    Reverse this. A guy comes home from a bad day at work and beats up his wife. She–and you–calll that abuse. A woman comes home from work and beats up her husband. He calls that ‘acting out” and hugs her.
    The point is, to my mind, not that he is allowing it to happen but that he’s being beaten up. And he’s making excuses for it. No matter that he might be fifty pounds heavier and 6 inches taller, he is still being treated like a punching bag.

    We had neighbors who were in this ‘give and take’ kind of relationship, and one day she was telling me that the night before he had gotten mad at her and dragged her across the floor by her hair. “wow”, she said, “did that hurt”. She finally admitted that it was partly her fault because she socked him in the eye for no reason except she felt like it. At least it was a kind of reciprocal event. But the guy (or woman) who takes the abuse and then makes excuses for how it happened is in a totally different kind of relationship.

    Just because he could “take it” doesn’t make it less of an issue. And think, too, the impact that relationship has on the kids, if there are any.

    • I think my point was that they didn’t feel threatened or trapped, which is rarely what you hear on the other side. Knowing you can crush the “opposition” is fairly empowering. I’m thinking a survey question that simply asks “Were you struck and did you sustain an injury?” is too simplistic and doesn’t give us anywhere near the quality data we need to analyse the issues. All we know is that humans, any human, can be incredibly cruel and violent.

  6. In a way that was my point too. They are victims but don’t perceive it as such. I was friends, years ago, with a man who took in a young woman and her kids because she had no home and no way to tend the kids. She was, as he admitted, nuts. She was on drugs, and finally after beating the stuffing out of him one last time just took off, leaving him as a 30 year old guy, with three kids under the age of ten. He sincerely did not see himself as a victim. She had used and abused him, but I don’t think once did he ever strike her, or raise his voice to her.
    Partly because he was taught that men do not strike women, and partly because it wasn’t in his nature. If you had called him a victim of spousal abuse he’d have been stunned.

    You see, it’s how we personally perceive the process. If you were to switch the genders in any of those scenarios, we’d be outraged at the abuse. It isnt, to my mind, that he didnt defend himself, but that the abuse happened at all.

    And it isnt so much about feeling trapped or threatened, if someone gets hurt and cannot or will not defend themselves, then yeah, it’s abuse. We just don’t see it that way sometimes because we see this big oik of a guy warding off a 5′ tall female who is trying to break his face with a floor lamp. The fact that he doesn’t try to protect himself by at least grabbing the lamp away from her says as much about his mindset (“well, I did get her mad”) as it does about society’s.

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