Erin Pizzey | Frederick

November of 2021 marks fifty years since the establishment of the first domestic violence shelter in the world in Chiswick by Erin Pizzey. Whilst the concern of private domestic abuse had not been an absolutely silent topic in modern history before then, Pizzey’s refuge was a particularly significant pioneering moment in various movements and awareness campaigns of domestic abuse as we know them today.

However, Pizzey’s name has been significantly diminished and blacklisted from modern history. This is because her immediate observations of and conclusions about so-called “violence prone” people and the nature and causes of their circumstances, and tools and strategies that are objectively best to help them, were quite frequently coming into conflict with the political idealism of the time. This was both the conflict with the consensus of our glorious post-war welfare state and the newly popularised revolutionary feminist ideologies that were all the rage in the academy, freshly imported from North America. To this very day, Pizzey remains outspokenly at odds with the established false wisdom regarding the nature and causes of domestic violence and the fraudulent war that feminists continue to wage against males and against civil society, well into her late 70s and beyond 80.

Erin Pizzey had a somewhat extraordinary and turbulent childhood. She was born in Tsingtao in China in 1939. Her father was employed by the British Foreign Office. He was a devoted political rightist anti-communist and her parents were both personal friends of Chiang Kai-shek. Pizzey described her father as very rage-prone but describes her mother as far more explicitly violent, abusive and hateful towards her, and completely unmaternal. Her parents’ marriage was one full of mutual rage and abuse, described by Pizzey as “dead”. In the years approaching 1949, Pizzey and her sister were sent to a convent in Dorset in England whilst her parents remained in China with her younger brother. Whilst Pizzey – as a young child with an absence of formative impulse control owing to her chaotic childhood – struggled against the disciplined environment of the convent, it was also clearly a positively formative and inspiration experience for her and her devotion to a life of caring for others (Pizzey has been a Christian her whole adult life). She also found inspiration in a “huge kindly lady called Mrs Williams” who ran a children’s holiday home. Soon after being sent to Dorset, her parents were eventually captured and imprisoned by the Chinese Communists after the Red victory in the civil war. Pizzey and her sister had no knowledge of what had happened to their parents for a number of years, other than a few censored letters, though they were to be eventually reunited with them and heard directly from them the true nature of the repressions of Chinese communism.

The precursor to Pizzey’s pioneering of the refugee movement began with her situation as a housewife and mother in the late 1960s, her husband working for the BBC, and starting to feel a sense of isolation and dissatisfaction. This coincided with the newly germinated second wave feminist movement represented by the likes of Betty Freidan and Germaine Greer. However, she was intelligent and level-headed enough to maintain a degree of scepticism of this new movement, mostly due to the fact that these feminist writers – in best selling books or in print media, particularly the Guardian – were using particular intellectual jargon and framing of the issue of female disadvantage that were very alien or irrelevant to most ordinary laywomen. To quote Pizzey: “My problem seemed to be that there was a massive revolution taking place and I was confused because most of it seemed irrelevant to my life and did nothing to address my feelings of isolation … I would read the articles and books with a dictionary on my lap. Most of the women authors seemed to use jargon that fenced off those less well educated from the important points they were making.”

Pizzey saw the solution to lonely isolation of housewives as not an ideological subversion of the family unit but instead a reinvigoration of local community work and activity and extended family dynamics that would alleviate loneliness. Pizzey’s experiences of these customary extended family dynamics in Asia – particularly in her time spent in Tehran – in her early life were what she saw as lacking in England.

Despite this, she continued to give this new movement the benefit of the doubt, but not for much longer. The first actual Women’s Liberation meeting she attended in 1969 were run by rampant communism apologists (many of whom were also rather affluent and posh). There were also the unwavering proclamations that all arrangements of marriage and private family life were oppressive to women. The reasoned pushback from Pizzey that the burden of men to be chained to a desk and earn the income was itself not a significantly greater bastion of relative privilege than a housewife chained to a kitchen sink was to be easily dismissed. She also worked briefly in an administrative office for one of these women’s organisations, dealing with the subscription money that was sent in the post (£3.10, a lot of money in those days). The money would often include letters from women describing their personal situations of their unhappy isolated marriages and were taken in by the temptation of this new hopeful movement. However, standard practice was for the cash to be immediately pocketed and the letters to be filed away without much notice, which Pizzey protested and instead put the effort in to respond to all the letters. Despite all the rage against capitalism that the Liberation feminists felt, their hustle was a profitable endeavour. She also objected to the consensus of these feminists of the ideal future of child rearing which would involve forced perpetual communal nursery care of all children and the encouraged obsolescence of men in any child rearing. There was also some stigmatisation against the idea that sexual relations with men were positive or enjoyable, as men were oppressors and the primary enemies. Women should instead be encouraged to sexually experiment with each other (of course, for purely ideological reasons).

Pizzey, and the other sceptics of the movement who loved their husbands and loved their families, eventually parted ways and went on to form their own new local community group which was to help alleviate the loneliness that were sadly too often burdening housewives at the time, without an entire ideological subversion of family life. It did not mean to eventually turn into a refuge centre for abused women, but that is what transpired.

As soon as the community centre opened its doors, women started coming in with their bad bruises and their frightened children. Despite the glories of the advent of the welfare state, essentially all of those coming in had nowhere else they thought they could go and no-one else who would help them. They immediately were beset with overcrowding problems, problems that often got the refuge in trouble with the courts. The refuge also started getting noticed further afield. A local vicar preached a sermon calling Pizzey a “marriage wrecker.” A Member of Parliament also got up in the House of Commons to denounce her. She also received praise and a community of material donation to the refuge in the local area flourished. She did even eventually get wealthy men coming to her and asking the general questions of “What do you need? We’ll give it to you.”

As Pizzey started hearing more and more of these women’s stories, she started coming to conclusions about the nature of domestic violence. The most profound of which being that about 60% of the women coming into the refuge were themselves just as – if not more – violent to the men they left, and were often violent to the children. There was also the persistent problem of the women who would be extremely tempted to go back to their violent partner after having first left him and found refuge. Pizzey soon gradually found it necessary to group the refugee women into two main camps (these groupings came to be very relevant to male victims too). The first was women who had gotten involved in a relationship with a violent partner and were indeed innocent victims of the partner, who could then get legal help to become unattached from the partner, maybe receive some therapy, and in general make a recovery after an intervention. However, the second group were women who had gotten involved with a violent partner because they were “violence prone” people. What “violence prone” means is something in which violence is one of your primary means of communication, particularly with domestic acquaintances. It affects men and women equally. Essentially always a result of learned childhood, in which violence is often present, it can have the common outcome in later life in which one not only communicates using violence, they themselves are addicted to violence that comes their way. An environment without violence would be too restless for them, hence the tendency for violence-prone women who made it to the refuge to have strong tendencies to go back to their violent partners. Pizzey’s corollary of this notion of “violence prone” people is that a significant proportion of domestic violence is in fact consensual. A small minority of domestic violence constitutes the most common current archetypal understanding of it as a unidirectional method of abusive – or even political – control of one spouse by another; and even amongst these circumstances, it is essentially equally likely that the women or the man shall be the one in the controlling position. In a far more significant proportion of cases, domestic family violence is just a particular chosen method of mutual communication that both spouses inflict on each other, and will be almost certainly likely to pass the “violence prone” state onto their children.

Despite this, Pizzey was significantly successful in creating an intervening therapeutic environment in her refuge that helped the “violence prone” people to transcend their tendencies. This was successful without a need for a greatly intricate clinical process of diagnosing and systematising every tacet of these violence-prone people’s personhood, as would be generally standard practice in most institutional care facilities. It was done with an organic, innovative, efficient, and immediate understanding of each person’s patterns and tendencies of their behaviour which lead to the most sensible strategies for their rehabilitation. Obviously, there was not a complete disregard for all pre-existing academic scientific wisdom concerning human behaviour and psychology, but it was used only when it was most appropriate and constructive.

Despite all she did, as mentioned before, Pizzey was very regularly maligned – for what she did in attempting to love the unlovable and bring about effective strategic methods to help them which subverted the corrupt arrangements of institutional care and family courts that existed in her time and still do today, as well as the rebellious truths she attempted to reveal. She was subject to this right up to the turn of the century and beyond. In the mid 1970s, the highly-organised fervour and growing hegemony of revolutionary feminists had started to become more institutional and they successfully hi-jacked the mainstream narrative of the nature of domestic violence, juxtaposing it with kind of political sex-class analysis of all domestic violence as an instrument of political oppression of all men against all women. This was set in stone in 1974 when the National Women’s Aid Federation met with the Department of Health and Social to seal the deal. This helped to disenfranchise the Chiswick refuge. Hysterical feminists picketed almost all her known public appearances, including one incident where Pizzey was a guest on a call-in radio show and picketers jammed all the phone lines. She was eventually so worried for her own safety that she emigrated to America with her family in the start of the 80s.

The scientific and academic research into domestic violence that made use of testaments from residents in Pizzey’s refuge also cherry-picked their evidence to support partisan agendas, in particular from the work of psychiatrist Dr John Gayford. He was trusted by the refuge to be able to be truthful in all his findings on publication, however, he eventually omitted evidence from his final assessment as to the true extent of the violent capabilities of women (particularly in how they mirrored with that of men) and how a lot of domestic violence can be so bidirectional between domestic cohabitants that it can be considered consensual. He later sought to undo his mistakes, but by that time, his study has been cited many times in feminist literature. He was also later to admit that he was motivated to publish half-truths in his research because the whole truth would not have granted him his doctorate.

Later in life, Pizzey was not left alone. In 2009, in his book A History of Modern Britain, BBC presenter Andrew Marr accused Pizzey of being in The Angry Brigade, a left wing terrorist group from the early 1970s. She successfully sued him for libel. The truth was that Pizzey had been one who had got wind of a planned bombing by the Angry Brigade in Kensington fashion retailer Biba, but she had instead confronted the group with a threat that she’d inform the police. The revelation of Marr’s accusation coincided with her 70th birthday and she said of the incident: “I was enormously hurt that after thirty-eight years of devoting my life to rescuing people from violence I should be thought of as one who would have associated with terrorists … Andrew’s accusation tore the scabs off some very painful experiences many years ago. The tears I cried on my birthday were tears of frustration. The battle that has gone on for the past forty years stems from the time in Britain when I believed the country I loved and supported had gone mad – seemingly overnight.”

Despite the infamy and notoriety, she did attract some high praise. She received praise in person from the Queen and Princess Margaret. Many famous faces often stopped by in the refuge, including one visit from members of The Who in the late 70s. In 2007, Pizzey was personally invited to Bahrain as part of the ceremonies of the opening of the first domestic violence shelter in the Arab world and met with the King and Queen of Bahrain. The otherwise more culturally traditionalist backdrop of Bahrain – and the overall Arab world by extension – was a refreshing contrast to the original advent of a refuge movement in Britain with the backdrop of the cultural discord of post-war years and the radical feminist movements.

Pizzey’s many non-fiction writings since the first refuge document what these strategies and processes in her therapeutic communities were and would provide great insights to anyone interested in the topic of domestic abuse, certainly free from toxic partisan bias as is standard practice today. Her first book was 1974’s “Scream Quietly Or The Neighbours Will Hear;” a dramatic title which she chose based on what one of the battered women in the refuge had said that her violent husband had once said to her. It is the first (non-fiction) book in the world on the topic of household family violence as we know it today. She wrote many fiction and non-fiction books; the former often dealing with stories of domestically abusive people.

Pizzey is a rogue who not only has many unpalatable truths to reveal to us about the absolute rot of the family court system, the ideological infestation of bureaucratised institutional care and corporate charity, but can otherwise be an inspiration of resilience and courage in great adversity and transcendence of despair. She is also an inspiration and an instruction in how to create community-based care for the unloved, which can give overall guidance to community spirit revival. She still lives at 82 in Twickenham, on a peppercorn rent, and still speaks out at any opportunity for the truth to be revealed, both in public or via internet discourse, despite her age and the recent obstructions of life from coronavirus. She is a name to be upheld and a legacy to be rekindled – particularly by the right wing – if we are to make more immediate change and reform to the everyday lives of people in their communities, and have fun taunting and subverting the corrupt soulless late-liberal institutions as we go.

Photo Credit.

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