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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 4

Written by Erin Pizzey Saturday, April 28, 2007 9:18 AM
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March 16th, a coffee morning with Lady Ramsbottom at the British Embassy in Washington was a very fraught event. I felt completely out of place and was very aware that my reputation in England would have made its way to the ears of the Embassy staff, and the only reason I was allowed to sip a cup of coffee off the blindingly white china issued to the British Embassy was because I had been treated as an honored guest by my invitation to the lunch on Capitol Hill.

Lady Ramsbottom did her best to entertain us, but I was homesick for my children and for my refuge. In an effort to amuse us she took us to the dinning room which was laid for a formal dinner party. The plates were gold and so were the spoons and almost everything else on the table. I ached with envy. I could have opened several refuges with the money. I was tired of being in America. I realized that what was before me was a poisoned chalice. If I spoke out against the feminist movement opening refuges, there would be women and their children unable to get into safe houses. So for the moment I had to be content reiterate my mantra. ‘Domestic violence was not and never has been a gender issue.’ I talked to assembled audiences about the women coming into my refuge that had been brutally beaten and sexually abused in childhood. I explained how their lives, lived in incredible violence and dysfunction, inoculated them against choosing any other life style.

I begged and I pleaded audiences to realize that a great injustice was about to destroy the fabric of Western society. The lie that the family was an unsafe place for women and children because men were all batterers and sexual predators would create a climate of fear and hostility that would permeate relationships between men and women forever.

Before I left England, a paper written by Francis Power Cobbe published in 1878 called Wife Torture in England came to my notice. In it she describes dreadful instances of men being violent towards their partners but she also writes about the … ‘two kinds of Wife-beating which I am anxious the reader should keep clearly apart in his mind. There is what may be called Wife-beating by Combat, and there is Wife-beating properly so called, which is only wife, and not wife-and-husband beating. In the first, both parties have an equal share. Bad words are exchanged, then blows. The man hits, the woman perhaps scratches and tears. If the woman generally gets much the worst of it, it is simply because cats are weaker than dogs. The man cannot so justly be said to have ‘beaten’ his wife as to have vanquished her in a boxing-match. Almost without exception in these cases it is mentioned that ‘both parties are the worse for liquor.’ It is in this way the drunken woman is beaten, by the drunken man, not by the ideal sober and industrious husband, who has a right to be disgusted by her intoxication. It is nearly exclusively, I think, in such drunken quarrels that the hateful virago gets beaten at all. As a general rule she commands too much fear, and is so ready to give back curse for curse and blow for blow, that, in cold blood, nobody meddles with her. Such a termagant is often the tyrant of her husband, nay, of the whole court or lane in which she lives; and the sentiments she excites are the reverse of those which bring down the fist and the clogs of the ruffian husband on the timid and meek-faced woman, who tries, to often unsuccessfully, the supposed magic of a soft answer to turn away the wrath of such a wild beast as he….’ Francis Power Cobbe, who was an American who championed the cause of woman, was wise enough to understand that both men and women could be guilty of violence – it was comforting confirmation that I was right and unlike so many of the feminists who were looking to create a billion dollar industry to create exclusive jobs for ‘the girls’, she had spent many years researching this subject across the length and breadth of England.

In the paper Francis Power Cobbe goes on to describe the English Prime Minister Disraeli breaking down in tears as he hears the evidence in Parliament and he swears that something will be done. In 1974, I too sat with my mothers in the House of Commons in looking at the faces of the Members of Parliament seated in a horse shoe formation around us. I gave evidence with my mothers, and as I watched the reaction from the well meaning very middle class M.P.s, I knew that a hundred years ago this subject was broached in this building and after that time the whole subject was brushed under the carpet until now, and if I was not careful it would happen again. For my mothers and myself we agreed that there would be no time wasting committee meetings, no conferences, no getting together of the great and the good, we had to get out onto the streets of London and picket and rage until we established the problem of the cycle of violence to such an extent that the British public would support us and insist upon change.

In the seventies there were no gates shutting Number 10 Downing Street (the home of our Prime Ministers) off from the general public. Every morning we read The Times newspaper and carefully noted which visitors were due to pay our Prime Minister a visit from abroad. Harold Wilson was our target and we had a large dilapidated bus at our disposal. Every time he had a prestigious visitor from abroad, we too paid him a visit. Forty mothers and some sixty children converging upon Number 10 wrapped in bandages and carried pickets saying ‘battered women need a refuge.’ The children ran up and down the road leading to the Prime Minister’s house delivering letters begging for a hearing.

The battle for me was to get sufficient refuges open to accommodate the amount of women and children who needed refuge. I hoped that once the pressure was off my own refuge, we could turn our attention to the care and treatment of the men and women who had been victims themselves as children. Because I was so concerned about the plight of men who were also innocent victims of their partner’s violence, I decided to ask the Great London Council to give me a house to be used for men also in need of refuge. I got a big house in the North of London but much to my dismay, I was unable to raise any money to staff or run the place. The rich men who most willingly put their hands into their pockets to support women and children refused to contribute a penny towards their fellow men.

Our next stop was to show the film and give a talk at Georgetown University’s Hall of Nations. I remember standing on the platform and looking at my audience. I knew they were comfortable with the thought that they were there to support victims. They didn’t want to hear what I had to say about domestic violence. The big new religion called ‘feminism’ was sweeping across the Western World. It was sexy, exciting and powerful. I could see the opiated faces of the few men in the audience. Giving into women’s demands however unreasonable was their drug of choice. I was not going to get the support I needed in America anymore than I was heard in England. Mom was no longer going to be in the kitchen, at the dinning table or waiting for the children to come home from school. She was going to take off her apron and join her partner outside the front door. She was no longer a house slave she was free now to become a wage slave like her partner.

Copyright © 2007 Erin Pizzey, All Rights Reserved

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Copyright © 2007 Erin Pizzey, All Rights Reserved