Read: The Twitter electorate isn’t the real electorate
You can see why the rest of the movement—and Pizzey’s successors at Refuge—wanted so urgently to tidy her out of the way. Today, the charity’s website has a page called “Our Story,” which states that it “opened the world’s first safe house for women and children escaping domestic violence in Chiswick, West London, in 1971.” Her name does not appear.
Pizzey’s analysis didn’t mean she thought women who were “violence addicts” should be left to die. On the contrary, those were the women she wanted to help most, using her unorthodox methods. Her refuge was run like a commune, but it had rules. Disruptive women and children were not to be indulged because of the trauma they had experienced. They could be voted out by other residents. Tough love: that was Pizzey’s approach.
Still, her diagnosis was appealing to the men’s-rights movement. Its activists believe that it is unfair to assume the woman must be the “victim” if a heterosexual couple’s argument turns violent, because that status leads to sympathy (and government funding). If there is no overwhelming dynamic of male violence against women, just a mass of dysfunctional couples, then men are being wronged by the feminist fight against “male violence.” But the statistics are clear: Self-reported data from the 2018 Crime Survey for England and Wales show that nearly twice as many women as men reported being victims of domestic violence that year (7.9 percent of women, compared with 4.2 percent of men), although the gender of perpetrators and their relationship to the victim were not recorded. The police found that 75 percent of victims of domestic violence were female, while for specifically sexual offenses, 96 percent were female.
The extent of male violence, and its effect on women’s lives, is now taken for granted by most feminists. Outside the fringes of the “manosphere,” few would disagree that something called “domestic violence” exists, and that women are its primary victims. That is a problem in itself. When an idea hardens into orthodoxy, campaigners lose the muscle memory built up when making their case. That, in turn, opens up space for opponents to contest the facts.
My own trashing did not drive me out of feminism—and certainly not into the arms of men’s-rights activists. But I can see how it could have. Perhaps the surprise shouldn’t be that feminism has experienced so many divisions. The surprise should be that we are surprised. When humanity (led by men) has contested the allocation of scarce resources, or seen a clash between strong personalities, or come up with differing interpretations of a sacred truth, it has often resulted in full-scale war. A few mean blog posts suddenly don’t seem so bad.
Toward the end of my conversation with Pizzey, I suggested that she was airbrushed out of the history of the refuge movement because she was too difficult, too unorthodox, too contrarian, too inconvenient to the dominant narrative. She agreed. “I don’t think anybody knows who I am any longer; it’s just all gone,” she said, as the weak winter sun flooded her top-floor flat. “That doesn’t matter. I just quietly get on. I still do see anybody who wants to see me, and … that’s okay.”
This post was excerpted from Lewis’s upcoming book, Difficult Women: An Imperfect History of Feminism.