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In 1971 Erin Pizzey founded Chiswick Women's Aid, the first refuge for battered wives. Her 1974 book "Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear" brought the issue to the attention of the public.

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This Way To The Revolution - Part 2

Written by Erin Pizzey Tuesday, April 17, 2007 5:36 AM
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I arrived in New York on 12th March 1977 with a great deal of trepidation. I had already annoyed Gloria Steinem by insisting that she could only front the film to be shown on PBS on April 29th 1977 and I was aware from my bitter experiences in England that most of my work and my beliefs would fall on deaf ears.

I was right to be afraid. We had a string of contacts of people who would be interested to meet and talk with us before we began our tour. I must explain that I was happily married at the time. I had two small children, two dogs and a cat. Apart from the bombshell of finding myself thrust into a public position because I had taken in women and children into my refuge, I had no other life experience other than working in offices as a short hand typist.

What I did have was personal experience of a very painful part of my childhood when my parents and my brother were returned to Tsingtao in China and my twin sister and I were sent to board at a Catholic convent. What my parents hadn’t anticipated was that the Communists would sweep across that vast country and take my parents and my brother prisoners for over three years. For a time we had no idea whether my parents and my brother were alive or not. The problem was that in a sense we were orphans. I was by then an already very disturbed child (see Infernal Child – Amazon books). I was hated by the most senior nun at my convent and she made it her business to persecute me. During the holidays we were sent to a holiday home for children whose parents were abroad. In those days children were regularly dumped in boarding schools while parents lived and worked abroad, but we were isolated because effectively we were ‘temporary orphans.’

When my mother arrived back in England I was promptly expelled from the convent into her rigid unwelcoming arms. The feeling was mutual, but she did tell dreadful tales of how various members of the ex patriot community in Tsingtao had been captured, imprisoned, tortured and in some cases brutally murdered by the communist guards. My parents escaped lightly but suffered from the years confined to their house and a lack of food.

When my father came out and rejoined us, the vicious fighting, screaming and violence once again filled the rooms in our new house. My father also told stories of communist atrocities and it was those stories I remembered when I went to my first Women’s Liberation meeting in my local area in 1970. What struck me at this meeting was the Chairman Mao posters on the walls of the sitting room, and when I was asked why I had decided to come to this meeting I replied that I was married to a man who was away most of the time filming and I was lonely and isolated. From what I read in the newspapers I believed that for once women were going to stop competing against each other and get together and co-operate so we could improve the quality of our lives. The hostess of the evening coldly put me right. My problem was not isolation brought on by my husband’s job but the fact that he was my oppressor. I tried to point out that he paid the mortgage on our house and made it possible for me to enjoy my life as a wife and mother. Her answer was that I was living in a trap of my own making. It might be described as a ‘mink lined’ trap but it was still a trap. Men were the enemy and I owed a duty to my children to liberate them from the patriarchal institution that was ‘the family.’

As far as I was concerned this new movement that was sweeping the Western world was no more than the old communist movement, re-invented by women and called Woman’s Liberation. The ‘demands’ for twenty four hour nurseries, abortion on demand and other slogans were those used by the communist movement to subvert women all over the world. All that happened was that instead of men and women demanding an end to capitalism - women were now moving the goal posts and demanding the end to the family and to men having any role in their new vision of society.

The Women’s Liberation Movement in England had no infrastructure; the organization of the movement was chaotic and fragmented. The English public was largely indifferent to politics and while there was a very strong left wing movement at this time, particularly within the unions and in the universities, women had so far had very little input into politics. Even so, almost as soon as publicity surrounded my little refuge and public donations began to pour in, the movement hi-jacked the whole subject of domestic violence, and using the media largely staffed by feminist journalists, began the pernicious lie that ‘all women were innocent victims of men’s violent and dysfunctional behavior.’ By the time I arrived in America, ‘Feminism’ was the new religion. The strength and ferocity of the onslaught against me was terrifying. Where ever I spoke there were pickets and threats. I didn’t know what to expect in America.

We arrived to the amazingly luxurious building that was Ms. Magazine. I was struck by the fact that the whole building was covered in slogans and posters. The one that most mystified me was a poster with a fish on a bicycle. The slogan was explained to me by a fierce woman who said that a woman needed a man like a fish needed a bicycle. We had posters on walls at the office but they were mostly purloined from left wing men’s groups. Obviously the American women’s liberation movement were much better organized and funded than the movement in England. Gloria Steinem was not going to see us and we were taken to lunch at a nearby expensive restaurant. We tried to ask why Gloria was going to insist on an ‘analysis and commentary’ after showing our film that included the words ‘ …..We do know that the root cause of violence against women cannot be eliminated without a deep change in patriarchal values.’ This statement completely contradicted the argument that we knew from experience proved that many of the women coming into our refuge were just as violent as men. Most of the violence we saw could be described as ‘consensual’. Both parties were violent to each other and often to their children.

At this time there were virtually no shelters up and running in America, so the assumptions being made were not based on valid research. Because the roots of the women’s movement were born during the struggle of the civil rights movement in the South, there was already a very solid administrative infrastructure for the American women to base their new movement. I was aware that American women were a great deal more politically aware than there English sisters and also a great deal more active. I truly believed that a good strong women’s movement will always be necessary. There will always be a tension between what women and men want and need but I always believed that this movement should find its solution in harmony with men. What I could see stretching out in front of me was a hideous future. A dangerous movement that would tear down the fabric of family life and disenfranchise millions of men and fathers across the world.

Copyright © 2007 Erin Pizzey, All Rights Reserved

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5 Responses to “This Way To The Revolution - Part 2”

  1. Yasmine Maya Says:

    Dear Erin,
    My mother came to the Chiswick refuge in 1974-75.
    She has told me her story which I am now trying to trace.
    You are spoken of with such high esteem (a guardian angel mum says), as is Jo (who had long blonde hair), who mum has said was the mother of the group. Apparently there was a morning session where greenshield stamps were given out!

    You may remember us.
    My mum is Elaine, a French lady, and I am Yasmine, a mixed race child. I`m 35 mow!
    Mum was running away from dad as he was violent towards her.
    I have seen a letter you sent mum from the Cayman Islands. At one point mum wanted to go and visit you there, but I said you would probably want your privacy.

    The reason for contacting you now is quite simply to say thank you.
    I would also like to thank the other people who also helped us,such as Jo.
    Also we were on a Housing list, whereby we were moved from Chiswick to Ruislip to live briefly with Lorraine ( a lady who had 2 sons, Robert and Jefffrey),then Mrs White (she had 4 boys) then Patrick Walsh in Highgrove House in Ruislip (he has since passed away). These are people whom I would also like to thank, but have no idea how to go about it.
    Having visited Chiswick town hall and library I found myself at a dead end.The internet being my only hope.If you have any information in which I could contact these people,I would be very grateful.

    Just to let you know how we turned out.Mum is very happy. Remarried to a wonderful man who I call my father.I have just got married and am very happy. My birth father lives in Mauritius and comes over to England every year.

    Forgiveness is something my mum has taught me.

    I would be exremely grateful for a reply.
    Without you, and the people who hepled us through you, our lives would have been very different.

    We thankyou from the bottom of our hearts for helping us.

  2. Erin Pizzey Says:

    How wonderful to hear from you after all these years. I am delighted you both chose non violent men and the circle of violence is broken for your children. It was Jo Polane who was your very warm and lovely house mother. Actually I don’t know how to get in touch with all the thousands of people who went through the Chiswick refuge - I wish I did they would fill the Albert Hall. Do write and give me an idea of what it was like to be in there? do you remember Mike Dunne with a beard he used to work in the house as a councillor with me? Roger, Sarah and Michael who worked with the children? I have such fond memories of those days in the refuge. Lots of love to you and to your mother and your families.


    Hello, I need help for a friend, she is from Mexico, and came here as an illegal, the problem is that she’s running away from her husband, because he’s threaten her with killing her, and besides that he molested her own daughter ( she’s 7 years now), what I’m trying to do is to find some kind of help for her, someone who knows about the law, that if it is possible to find some kind of status as a refugee or something like that, she’s being also abused for her own son, he just kicked her out from his house without any reason, she’s living for now with a family where she’s being abused too, because the deal they made with her was that she could have a room in exchange for taking care of their baby and cleaning the house, she’s now “working” with them from 6 am to 11 pm, she doesn’t have any other place to go, so as you can imagine, she has to stay over there. I hope you can help her, because is not fair for a woman being mistreated this way and specially the litlle girl.
    Please send me an email if you know how to help her or who can I talk to. Thanks and God Bless you.

  4. erin pizzey Says:

    I’m not sure if you are in England or not but anyway, your friend should find her nearest refuge and ask them to help her. As a batterred woman she has rights and often if she can prove that she is a victim she can also get help with her status in the country. She can find the phone number she needs to ring in a library, in a phone book or from the local police station where they have a special unit that deals with domestic violence. There is help out there. Don’t let her dispair.

  5. erin pizzey Says:

    I’m not sure if you are in England or not but anyway, your friend should find her nearest refuge and ask them to help her. As a batterred woman she has rights and often if she can prove that she is a victim she can also get help with her status in the country. She can find the phone number she needs to ring in a library, in a phone book or from the local police station where they have a special unit that deals with domestic violence. There is help out there. Don’t let her dispair.

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Copyright © 2007 Erin Pizzey, All Rights Reserved