Read the online version of Prone to Violence by Erin Pizzey, who set up one of the UK's first battered-women's shelter, just down the road in Chiswick back in the Seventies.
These days, Pizzey seems to have morphed into a Daily Mail-friendly anti-feminist polemicist, delivering fairly repetitive rants. The book is much more interesting than they suggest, with lots of stories from the front-lines, and some interesting insights. Back then she seems to have tangled with both left-wing feminists and right-wing paleoconservatives arguing women need a good slap to keep them in line. However in the last few decades the latter view seems to have largely died out, or at least retreated to private nursing homes, leaving only the feminists to fight with.
The main subject of disagreement, by her account, is her view that some women are essentially addicted to violent relationships, and tend to return to them, sometimes with a different violent partner.
During our staff seminars, we came to realise that we were catering to two very different needs in our Refuge. The first involved women like Sue who, for one reason or another, had married men who turned out to be violent. Once offered an opportunity to escape this situation, they would take it gratefully and leave, never to return to the violence. These we tend to call the genuine 'battered wives'. The second involved the type of woman unable to stay away from violence, however much she claimed she wanted to. She seemed doomed either to return to her violent partner eventually, or, having given him up, to move rapidly on to another violent man.The basic fact than many abused women return to their abuser seems to be a pretty widely accepted nowadays, even among feminists. What I think is more problematic for them is her view that they're adrenaline addicts who seek out the drama, and sometimes manipulate their men into acting violently. Modern feminists seem to have a number of other explanations for why women stay with abusers, such as "learned helplessness" and low self-esteem.
There is quite a weight of anecdote in their supporting her views. From the interview transcripts though, Pizzey does sometimes seem to be pushing them to give the answers she wants. Some of the psychology also seems a bit dated. But even so, the book is worth a look for its accounts of her practical problems alone.
Some more extracts.
We see the term 'battered wives' as too simplistic. We do not claim that this description fits all our families or indeed all women who find themselves in a violent relationship. But what we do claim is the majority of families who come to Chiswick are in such a state of confusion and despair, having fallen through the net of all caring social agencies, that to be offered accommodation in homeless family units, bed and breakfast or temporary hostel accommodation is an unrealistic solution. What they need is for society to understand that the chaos, anarchy and drama of the violent relationships which they have lived through has created within them a special urge to continually relive the excitement of what they have left behind. The dramas in their relationships seem endless and in these conflagrations chaos reigns. Children in such a situation feel the ebb and flow of fear and excitement. Soon they grow from terrified unwilling spectators to active manipulators in the family war. These are the violence-prone adults of tomorrow. These families have failed to build the structures necessary to provide the community with law-abiding citizens. Instead we have a percentage of the population whose drive stems from fear, flight and rage which appear to produce puzzling symptoms of addiction.
In everyday life the emotions of fear, rage and flight cause the adrenalin to flow through the body, preparing it urgently for action. Most human beings rarely need this sort of protection. Our families have lived at this level of excitement for many, many years and when deprived of excitement tend to re-create hazardous situations which bring back the thrill of the moment of 'adrenalin high'. Racing drivers, mountaineers, test pilots, occasions of war are acceptable high-adrenalin pursuits, and it is our job to get our families to be aware of their addiction and the catastrophes they create for themselves and their children.
Now, it is necessary for anyone working with violence to have a good understanding of how violence is expressed in different cultures. English people, on the whole, don't carry knives. West Indians do. An Irishman will respond to religion; not so a Scot. A West Indian man is more likely to attack a male member of staff because he may have little experience of men in a position of power. The West Indian mother is the supreme matriarch, so it is appropriate for a woman to go to the door, and he will not be offended. However, the reverse is true for a Nigerian, who comes from a country where it would be humiliating to be faced with a woman, their society being such a strong patriarchy.
I learned from these encounters that, as a general principle, it is better to leave a violent person no physical space in which to organise his rage. Studies on aggression and animal display have suggested that violent people require more social space in order not to become anxious and feel threatened than non-violent people. But when I read these findings I am extremely sceptical After several years of refuge work, I noticed that whenever the Refuge was packed tight, and there was no choice of personal territory because the families had to sleep in dormitories and share all the available communal space, the aggression level would be low. As soon as our numbers dropped however, and several feet of extra space could be annexed by each woman, then the levels of aggression would rise.
Every time I sit with someone who says 'It was all perfect', I groan inwardly. It is a sure sign of an emotionally disabled adult defending the hurt child in himself. There is no such thing as a perfect childhood. Emotionally able people are secure enough to acknowledge the bits that were not too good, but they agree that, on balance, their upbringing had more pluses than minuses. People like Eunice either totally deny their past, thereby sitting on huge piles of conflicting emotion; or they go the other way, and a sympathetic glance is enough to set them off with a veritable diarrhoea of stories which shock and horrify the listener. These latter are often the people who love the story, and have no intention of creating a happy ending for themselves. They very much see themselves as Hamlet or Ophelia, and the rest of the world as a huge stage. Most helpers of mankind are not trained to realise that in such cases they become merely part of the cast of characters. Agency workers often think they represent the directors in the plays of their clients' lives; actually, they are walk-ons, used as props by the main characters.
As far as the security of the Refuge was concerned, I also came to realise that violent men are far more intimidated by a large group of women than if faced by a similar group of men. So while the community contained twenty-five or more women we were safe. By the time we moved into a bigger house I had sufficient experience to realise that we should let our address be made public. Violence-prone women had no trouble finding us; most of them knew every agency going. But it was the genuine battered wives - so trapped by their net-curtain respectability that they could never tell anyone they were being beaten - who needed to know where to find us.
And each time I dealt with an angry man, I learned a little more about the techniques of violence. For instance, I recognised the fact that the more violent a man is, the less likely he is to leave his own territory. Therefore, provided I moved the woman from his local area to another refuge I did not expect any problems from him, except perhaps the odd broken window.
I have discussed this problem of involving themselves with domestic violence with the police, both here and in other countries. They suffer from the usual misunderstanding of two different family dynamics. On the one hand they will find themselves called out by a woman who has genuinely decided that she can no longer tolerate her husband's violence. It takes a great deal of courage for such a woman to summon the police, because she is usually deeply ashamed of the circumstances she is in, but here the police are more than willing to help. On the other hand, however, their more usual experience is to be called out to one of those notoriously violent families in their area, and be asked to intervene in a fight that could result in the policeman getting badly hurt, and the warring couple falling back into each other's arms.
I used to joke with the mothers that while the rich had nannies, the poor had social workers trained to act as nannies and that was not our way. (This curious situation arises because when the upper middle-class designed the social services, they modelled social workers after their own nannies).
Normally, an antisocial family living in a street of quiet, peace-loving people will ride roughshod over their neighbours and terrorise them into accepting their behaviour for fear of reprisals. In our Refuge this type of intimidation did not work. There were no divisions between the Refuge workers and the families who lived there. The violent women were therefore unable to police the path to an office, and so all information about events in the Refuge would come to my ears immediately. Anyone attempting to bully or coerce other members of the community found themselves publicly answerable in a house-meeting, and often the bullies began to realise there were ways of achieving their goals other than terrorising someone else.
What I'm Watching
Saw the second X-Files movie on DVD. This one wisely avoids their tortuously convoluted mythology in favour of a one-off mystery. Reasonably well done, but seems a bit generic: the shocks aren't particularly shocking. The problem is it's not really as good as the best episodes of the series: there's nothing as memorable as Eugene Tooms or the incestuous mutant hillbillies.
Might try going back to watch some of the TV episodes again.
I think it's a bit of a shame Chris Carter didn't just ditch the X-Files and go on to be a writer on other things: he seemed to have a real gift for balancing humour and tension. Couldn't they have got him to script a few Battlestar Galactica episodes or something?
Off to Istanbul on my delayed holiday on Tuesday. Still find myself somewhat anxious about it, even though the Greek riot cancellation should account for my previous misgivings.
It's annoying: I used to be a pretty good and semi-adventurous traveller who didn't think twice about turning up in a strange third world city with barely any preparation. Old age has made me into a coward I suppose.
Pic. Merry Christmas 1925.
David Smith on joining the Euro
As always, though, the markets take these adjustments too far. A caricature view is that Britain is worse off than the eurozone because of the importance of financial services to the UK economy.
But, as economists at Goldman Sachs point out, this importance is usually exaggerated. Financial services make up 8% of the UK economy, just over half the size of the manufacturing sector. It is bigger than the eurozone average of 5% but smaller than America (just over 8%) or Switzerland (nearly 9%).
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