Erin Pizzey warned us, “Whatever happens let me handle things.”
In her past, Erin has been subjected to intimidation, death threats and violence from feminists who eventually forced her to flee England. It was understandable, therefore, that she should be a little nervous about speaking at the Women of the World Festival on domestic violence.
Rod and I were there to represent MRA London and the wider Men’s Human Rights Movement. Not quite knowing what to expect and influenced by Erin’s warning, my mind wondered to images of Town Bloody Hall where a heroic Norman Mailer battled a heckling and abusive female audience in 1970s New York. I was also mindful of recent protests at the University of Toronto in which feminist students openly abused people attempting to enter a building where Dr. Warren Farrell was speaking.
I resolved myself, therefore, to remain in the background unless, of course, Erin was set upon with knives and clubs, in which case I figured that I would try to drag her clear from the ensuing scrum by her legs.
As things transpired, the event—a debate titled “Domestic Violence: No Refuge”—went smoothly, save for one unhinged feminist Dalek who, toward the end, gave us all a taste of her own personal hell with a screaming rage-fuelled rant about “racist males and patriarchy”. She continued with her angry shouting later, when she intercepted Erin and followed her as she was leaving the venue. Fortunately, she was the only one we encountered and my fears of an audience packed with feminist war-machines never materialised.
In fact, the debate was largely a positive and engaging affair. As well as Erin, speakers included Sue Wallis of North Devon Against Domestic Abuse, Dr. Sundari Anitha of the University of Lincoln and a trustee of ASHA, and Professor Joanna Bourke, author of Rape: A History from 1860 to the Present.
Erin spoke a little of her childhood and of life running one of the first refuges in the 1970s. Her experience at the hands of both her mother and father caused her to realise, early on, that violence is a generational sickness passed on in childhood. Before eventually being forced out of her organisation, the refuge she established was home to both women and men, and her approach of loving the unlovable enabled many violent people to be turned around (many of the women were as violent as the men they were fleeing).
Dr. Sundari Anitha gave a different interpretation on domestic violence, and the one we were expecting to hear—that it is primarily a gendered phenomenon in which most of the abusers are men and most of the victims are women and children. She also claimed that it cannot be understood by looking at individual cases, but only by looking at the inequalities, that presumably only affect women, in a context of the wider society.
Knowing a little of Rod’s past, I wasn’t surprised when he took the microphone during the question and answer session and challenged Dr. Anitha to consider the situations where the woman was the primary abuser. Her response, that female abusers can be explained by a concept known as bargaining with patriarchy, is clearly synonymous with the commonly used, high-handed and egregiously insulting retort that “patriarchy hurts men too”. In crudely stereotyping half the human race as abusers, such ideological dogma has done untold damage to countless lives over the last 40 years or so, including Rod’s own. However, this is not really where I wanted to go with this article and, perhaps, it’s best left for another time because Dr. Anitha’s take on things did not dominate the debate. Far from it, in fact.
Instead, it was quite apparent that many of the people in the room recognised that gender stereotypes were often inapplicable, and many appeared genuine in their concern for all who suffer abuse, whether they be little boys, girls, men or women. For example, Sue Wallis explained how her refuge had changed it’s name in recent years so as not to exclude men and boys. She also spoke about the difficulties of running a relatively small organisation in a culture of tick-box conformity dominated by the professional bid-writers of large organisations with vested interests.
Erin brought up the British Crime Survey (BCS 2012) which reports that 1.2 million women and 800,000 men suffer abuse each year, and drew attention to how an official Home Office pre-canned statement completely disregards men and boys—as if they don’t exist. “Violence against women and girls is an abhorrent crime and the government is committed to ending it,” it says limply in relation to the publication of the BCS*.
As men’s human rights advocates, we have come to understand the stark truth that, when it comes to males, few seem to care—not men themselves, and certainly not governmental departments and most NGOs. That is why the Home Office doesn’t think it necessary to mention men and boys at all in their public statements. In fact, it is often women who will show more concern for men and boys, and I found it heartening that a female member of the audience showed recognition of the likelihood that the official BCS figures will under report male suffering.
After the debate, Rod and I visited the Christine Voge’s photographic exhibition documenting life in the Chiswick refuge during the 1970s. We were also delighted to meet some of those who were children in the refuge and were saved by Erin, and who are adults now with children of their own.
I know that Rod, having read all her books, has followed Erin’s work for many years. We both recognise that she is a woman who, through the dreadful experience of childhood, came to understand just how easily the human psyche can be damaged early in life, and how abuse learned in the home is so readily passed down from generation to generation. As Erin sometimes says, Baby P’s tragic death at the hands of his mother caused us to weep, but had he lived, he would have grown up to be a monster—and we all would have hated him.
She also came to the startling realisation that if this can be successfully tackled, future generations could be liberated from untold misery. Her ideas were before their time, however, and Erin was forced to watch as her cause was hijacked and re-purposed for use in an ideologically motivated gender war waged by fanatics.
Contrary to the orthodoxy they helped bring about, domestic abuse is not primarily a gender issue. Rather, it arises from our early experience of life, at a time when our young minds are forming, which ultimately shapes who we become as people and how we behave toward others in our personal relationships.
This is why it is so important that her life’s work is reclaimed for future generations, and I suggest that we aim to make this one of the a lasting legacies that should arise from our struggle against the status quo.
* Published in the Metro Newspaper, February 8th, 2013.
This article was first published on MRA London.