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No More War


No More War

By Erin Pizzey

I read Nuala Fennell’s article ‘the face of despair’ with a great deal of nostalgia. I well remember my first trip to Harcourt Terrace in Dublin.  There, just like my own refuge in Chiswick, the huge house was packed with desperate mothers and their children.  I was so pleased that the committee for Dublin’s Women’s Aid was made up of both men and women.  I was aware from my own personal experience that my mother was as violent as my father.  I always thought of her as a domestic terrorist.  I remember standing in front of my teacher at a school in Toronto, Canada when I was about six years old begging my teacher to accept that the huge welts on my legs were caused by my mother whipping me with the ironing cord.  The teacher refused to listen to me.  My parents were in the Foreign Office so the idea of domestic violence was unthinkable.  Both my parents were violent and both came from violent and dysfunctional backgrounds.  My father’s eccentric and dysfunctional behaviour was recognised by the people he worked with.  He lost his temper very easily and raged and insulted people.  Like many children from violent homes we had no friends.  My mother, however was much loved because she was an angel in the streets and a very devil behind the front door.  No one saw her violent behaviour.
In those early days, because there was no refuge in Ireland, many of the women fleeing violence in Dublin came to the Chiswick Refuge.  Nuala mentions in her article my film ‘SCREAM QUIETLY OR THE NEIGHBOUR’S WILL HEAR,’ when it was shown, the story told by a sobbing Irish woman shocked the Irish audience.  She fled her home in Ireland afraid for her life, leaving behind her three children.  She was a genuine victim of her husband's violence.  She needed refuge and a good solicitor to help get her children returned to her and a safe place to live well away from her psychopath of a husband.
Rose also arrived from Ireland with seven children.  She too had been savagely beaten as were her children.  They had also been sexually abused by her violent husband who was a well known criminal.  It transpired very quickly that Rose also battered her children and continued to ply her trade as a prostitute in the streets of Chiswick.  Rose was not only a victim of her husbands violence but she too was a victim of her own violent and sexually abused childhood.  Without our help and continued counselling the prognosis for rescuing Rose and her children from a life of continued violence was very poor indeed.
Rose’s boys followed the example set by their father.  They exploded if frustrated and hit each other and other people.  Both parents ruled them by the boot and the fist and they learned their early lessons only too well.  The girls ‘imploded’ their rage and anger. They self-mutilated themselves and instigated fights with other children.  We soon had complaints from local shops that they were shoplifting and loitering around the men’s public lavatories asking for money in returned for a glimpse of their budding breasts.  I never was able to understand how so called ‘experts’ imagined that only boys were infected by violence in the family and somehow the girls were imagined to be impervious.  Rose and her children needed our help and indeed lived in our care for several years.  Rose, like my mother was a violence-prone woman, she didn’t just need refuge, she also needed therapy.
By the end of 1974, I was aware that the English feminist movement could get no general support for their radical hatred of family life and of men.  I knew they were looking for a legitimate cause to justify their hatred of men and for a source of financial support.  They hastily produced slogans such as ‘all women are innocent victims of men’s violence’ and spewed false figures to legitimise their successful attempt to hi-jack the domestic violence movement. 
Only now thirty years later are we beginning to pull back the political curtains that obscured the cause of violence behind the family front door.  Men are often their own worst enemy when it comes to identifying the violent behaviour of women.  Most men are reluctant to recognise their partner’s violence and will attempt to excuse her violent behaviour by believing that she is suffering from ‘her nerves,’ or pre-menstrual tension.  Men also know that any admission that they are battered by the women in their life will bring ridicule and disbelief.  My six foot four father lived in fear of my mother.  She was a tiny four foot nine woman but her rages were terrifying.  Any attempt to research into the violent behaviour of women brings with it threats of violence.  Susan Steinmetz, who wrote the first book on battered men, was sent death threats not only for herself but also for her children.  I was also persecuted and finally went into political exile.  Domestic violence was by now, a million dollar industry and part of the refusal to consider the plight of men was a reluctance to share in the bonanza.   During my time in America I worked on cases of paedophilia where there were as many women abusing children as there were men.  Now we know that the most violent relationships of all are to be found in relationships between women.  This makes a nonsense of the slogan ‘all men are batterers.’  Even at the last Amen conference in Dublin, where it was well attended by both men and women, I talked about women’s violent behaviour and was accused of ‘blaming the victim.’  Why should there be conferences, television programmes, and newspapers devoted to discussing the violence of men and a tight censorship of the above sources of information when it comes to the violence of women?
When I first opened the first refuge in the world for victims of violence,  I had a vision of men and women working together to try and eradicate violence in the family.  I believed then, as I do now, that violence is a learned pattern of behaviour in early childhood.  In my work I teach that we all internalise our parents and the good they do in our early lives helps us to become loving caring people.  If what we internalise is the violence of our parents then, without help to excavate those lessons, the probability is that we will go on to repeat their tragic patterns.  I believe that if only Dublin Women’s Aid could join forces with Amen, the largest group that concerns itself with abused men in the world, then great strides forward could be made.  Violence is part of the human condition and we will always need refuges for fleeing victims.  If the two arms of the solutions to violence in the family could join forces then it would send a positive message to other refuges across the world.  The message would be that in this new millennium, men and women can put up their swords and beat them into plough shares so that they can dig the furrows that will nurture the plants of our future generations.  These will be our children who will be born in peace.

Erin Pizzey
The article has been published here with the author's permission.  It was first published in the Irish Times, June 9, 2000.

About Erin Pizzey

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Posted 2000 06 16
Updates:
2001 02 07 (format changes)
2002 12 22 (format changes)