Battered, Bruised & Loving It

Select Magazine — August 1982

For far too long, says ERIN PIZZEY, men and women have colluded in perpetuating the myth that women are not instinctively violent. Now, she tells CHRISTOPHER LONG, it's time we recognised that women can be and often are driven to ever greater excesses in the need for violence in their sexual and emotional relationships. The author of 'Scream Quietly or the Neighbours will Hear' publishes a new book this autumn, with a title that speaks volumes and contents that are likely to be very provocative.

By Christopher Long

See Main Index

See Print Journalism Index

Carol, a nineteen year-old from Edinburgh, can tell you exactly how she's going to die. One day her man will come home from work and won't take his steel-toed boots off at the door. Carol won't have heated the plates for supper and he'll kick her to death. At the moment she's in a refuge for battered wives but, if she follows her usual pattern, she'll soon be heading back to the man she says she loves and the certainty of repeated violence.

"But why go back when you've already told us that he'll murder you one day," ask the less experienced volunteers at the refuge.

Carol doesn't know. She says it's because she loves him and because she always hopes that things will be better; that they won't fight. "When it's good with us it's better than anything you can imagine," she says. But if Carol doesn't know why she heads back to the beatings and violence every time, a highly controversial and revolutionary book, due out in October, may provide the answer: a rather horrifying answer and not likely to be popular.

It's ten years since Erin Pizzey started the first refuge for so called 'battered wives' in West London. For the first eight years she fought to provide safe refuges where women could lick their physical and emotional wounds and decide with the help of counsellors and fellow refugees what to do next.

At that time Erin Pizzey believed she was trying to help 'battered wives' but two years ago, already acknowledged as the most experienced person in the field, she was forced to face the fact that often she had not been helping battered wives at all. Time and again among the thousands of women she had dealt with, she realised she had been meeting women who were victims of their own violence. Put very simply, they were addicted to the violence they suffered.

"What I'm saying is that there are two sorts of victim," Erin Pizzey says. "A battered wife, which everybody knows about and wants to support, is a victim of another person's violence – their partner's violence. It could be a husband or a lover or even a girl-friend because I see an awful lot of lesbians like this. And the same goes for a man.

"The second sort, however, is the sort of woman we're concerned about now and these are women who are victims of their own violence – violence-prone women.

"It's terribly important to understand that there's an enormous difference between the first sort which everybody quite rightly gets very angry about, and the sort of woman we're writing about – an already violent woman."

The difficulty is that it's often impossible to spot the difference on the surface. Inevitably, according to Erin Pizzey and her husband Jack Shapiro, the root of the problem goes back to childhood. Time and again the women they see at their Women's Aid refuge in Bristol are people who grew up in violent families. A woman who turns up bruised and beaten, often carrying the signs of cold-blooded physical and sexual torture, is a woman who grew up in a violent childhood although the violence may well have been verbal rather than physical, repressed rather than overt.

The response among children to violence and danger is an immediate rush of adrenalin – the fear-and-flight mechanism – and if it happens often enough, Erin Pizzey claims, these children become addicted to their own adrenalin and situations that induce it.

It's not hard to see that at an early age, when a child's emotional and sexual relationships are still deeply involved with their parents and families, these high-adrenalin children easily develop into adults whose emotional and sexual relationships are intricately associated with the threat of danger, fear and violence.

"You see, these people are addicted like heroin addicts. These relationships are the most intense and passionate you can have. Violent people can spot each other with unerring accuracy and even though they'll hardly ever understand it themselves, they'll never make any other sort of relationships except those that involve violence and the fear of pain – not unless something very fundamental can be changed in the way they see themselves."

Erin Pizzey, who wrote this latest book with her much younger husband, knows very well that her book will produce howls of protest from feminists who often claim that women are not violent and are merely the victims of male dominated and male orientated society. She claims, however, that there are vast numbers of women who could be described as high-adrenalin and violence-prone 'victims'. In refuges up and down the country perplexed advisers are mystified that so many of their 'victims' arrive in despair and in no time at all are heading back for more of the violent treatment they claimed they feared.

"It's like a revolving door and the staff often get the feeling that they're being ripped off," says Erin Pizzey. "The truth is that these women are locked into a perpetual cycle of chaos, structure and then hazard."

When things get too bad at home a woman will often leave in the middle of the night bringing one or two children with her. Covered in bruises she is also likely to be suffering the appalling and cumulative effects of verbal abuse and character assassination that Pizzey and Shapiro say is worse than the physical damage. Only later will the refuge discover that yet another child has probably been left with the husband or boyfriend as a hostage. The first day will be spent pouring out the problems that have brought her there. The second day will be constructive and productive as the woman shares her experiences with other refugees and sorts herself out.

"The third day is what I call 'fix day' – the day that she hits rock bottom and becomes desperate and depressed." That's the day that she goes back. Often she will say that she's got to see her 'hostage' child or collect her clothes or even, in one case, come up with the extraordinary excuse that: 'The bastard owes me 50p so I've go to go back, haven't I?'.

This is the critical moment. If there is any hope of saving these people from an ever-escalating pattern of violence, retreat into security and then a return to the conditions that provoke more violence, now is the moment.

"Somehow you have to explain and get them to understand the deep-seated need they have acquired – going right back to the childhood origin if necessary. Often we fail and sometimes we succeed."

High adrenalin children are often easily spotted at an early age:
"They face danger with shining eyes," says Erin Pizzey.

Sadly, of course, the mother is probably accompanied by children who are already heading for an identical fate. High-adrenal children are often easily spotted at a very young age.

"They face danger with shining eyes," says Erin Pizzey who admits that she herself came from a violent childhood which fortunately did not, however, leave her hooked on fear, threat and violence in order to satisfy her sexual and emotional needs.

The problems which she sees as massive in terms of numbers and the mushroom effect of whole families being affected is, she claims, largely due to the breakdown of tribal family life.

"In the old days whole families might live within a few streets of each other and even if everyone else was no good there was usually Uncle Bob round the corner who was a good 'un. Now, after the Industrial Revolution, families are increasingly cut off from their relatives and the intensity is worse."

But, the book stresses, the high-adrenalin, violence-prone syndrome has little to do with class or social circumstances. Some of the most brilliant and successful people are high-adrenalin, violent people who have learnt to channel their instincts productively. Racing drivers or mountaineers may well come into this category although their desire to earn pleasure and thrill from danger and physical pain is socially acceptable.

When Erin Pizzey describes the appalling mutilations, batterings and pain that so many couples have put each other through repeatedly, it's difficult to see at once that the mountaineer and the battered wife may, in some cases, have a lot in common.

"Violent people have a certain charisma," she claims, citing Elizabeth Taylor as an example of a woman whose tempestuous nature and lifestyle is wholly bound in with her personal success and failure. Men, apparently, are often fascinated and fatally attracted to violence-prone women without exactly knowing why. From all social classes come men and women who seem unable to maintain calm, ordered and stable lives and relationships. Inevitably, it seems, they will set about wrecking security and subconsciously flirting with danger until the right level of pain and anguish is achieved.

Erin Pizzey describes one well-known socialite whose craving for violent relationships made all hope of stability impossible. She died as a result not long ago but not before she had explained in detail the exquisite feeling of mounting pain as the thrashings and canings she received eventually reached exactly the right level which allowed her to climax. Like so many violence-prone men and women, she had learnt only to climax at a particular threshold of pain though, as the writer points out, the level of pain necessarily has to get worse and worse to achieve the same release and satisfaction.

As Erin Pizzey catalogues the number of women who have eventually ended up in mortuaries or in small pieces in a polythene bag, her advice to any woman who finds herself fatally attracted to a six foot four inch violent man is 'no!'.

Because fatal is the operative word. It could be that for many of these 'victims' the ultimate orgasm may well be death.

"The incredible thing is that men don't understand what's going on – what they as a couple are heading for. Normal sexuality breaks down completely. She climaxes on his violence and he can only orgasm while he's beating her. We had one case of a man who buggered his wife a milk bottle and split her open. The problem was that he couldn't 'get it up' in the normal way and so he said that he just did the next best thing he could for her. Of course he was full of problems – totally screwed up thanks to a mother who used to toss him off as a child."

The whole gamut of eccentric human behaviour is involved in the syndrome. Suppressed incestuous relationships can play a part. According to Pizzey the need for violence is common among prostitutes, many of whom have been through her hands as private clients at Women's Aid. Time and again their loathing and hatred of men has developed from an incestuous relationship with a violent father. She will often never make successful relationships with men because she couldn't betray her father. If the parents were violent then the girl will seek intense and violent relationships with other women.

The men, on the other hand, are more complicated, it seems. Father-daughter relationships are well-known, often talked about and very often apparent to the girl herself. "She knows – after all she can see his erection and knows how to manipulate and use the power she has over him. With boys it's far more difficult."

Beware of jealous men, say Pizzey and Shapiro.

"Many girls mistake jealousy for love but the truth is that it's often the beginning of a morbid relationship if he's the sort of man who won't let you out of his sight."

Still more morbid, presumably, if the girl is violence-prone herself and only has to hint at infidelity in order to earn herself the beatings that she subconsciously desires.

Of course the Pizzey/Shapiro theory is likely to be sharply attacked by many who reject the possibility of innate feelings of violence and the need for it among women. Hitherto it has always been considered a male phenomenon inflicted upon women. Even men have consistently connived in the assumption that women are nearly always unwilling victims – just as they once connived at the theory that women derived no satisfaction or pleasure from sex.

Prone to Violence to be published in October by Hamlyn's at £1.75, is likely to set many cats among many pigeons and feathers seem bound to fly.

Captions to original illustrations to this article:

Erin Pizzey

November 1975 and battered wives used 'commando style' tactics to take over an empty and decaying hotel. But some undoubtedly returned to a life of violence they couldn't live without.

Is it already too late for this child seen with Erin Pizzey? Has she already become addicted to a violent life-style?

See Main Index

See Print Journalism Index

© (1982) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

Home Career Press Print Radio TV & Film 3rd Party Trivia Projects Personal Etcetera Sound Images Index