Published May 30, 2006
In the last three decades, feminism has revolutionized daily life from the legal system and social mores down to the story books children use in kindergarten. Feminist discussion seems to be 'always' and 'everywhere'.
But I believe the contrary is true. Genuine discussion of feminist issues ended in the 1970s when one school came to dominate and moved to silence competing views both within the movement and outside.
Politically correct feminists maintain that women as a class are politically oppressed by men as a class, which means that every woman is oppressed by every man. Class oppression is the ideological lens through which PC feminism views all issues.
Tammy Bruce's book "The New Thought Police" (2001) received media buzz as a former insider's expose of how PC feminists smear their intellectual opponents in an attempt to silence and discredit them. For example, Bruce described how PC feminists led a campaign of defamation against the conservative Dr. Laura Schlessinger by misrepresenting her as homophobic.
Joan Garry, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, was quoted as saying, "If she can't be controlled, she must be stopped."
The PC treatment of heretics within feminism has been no less brutal. Indeed, heretics are commonly reviled more than infidels.
Consider Erin Pizzey.
In 1971, Pizzey opened the first battered wives shelter in England, which she ran until 1982. Arguably, the Chiswick Family Rescue was the second domestic violence shelter in the world. Pizzey's book "Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear" (1974, out of print) was one of the first to explore and expose wife battering.
Today, the shelter Pizzey founded denies her entry; her name does not appear in its official history.
Pizzey's 'mistake' was to diverge from the theory of domestic violence that feminists at the time insisted dominate all discussion. She believed that men could also be the victims of domestic violence, and that women could be as violent toward their partners as men.
Pizzey's views put her on a collision course with PC feminists who, according to Pizzey's own published account of events, initiated a campaign of harassment and violence against her.
Pizzey described this harassment in an article she published in the Scotsman in 1999.
"Because of my opposition to the hijacking of the refuge movement, I was a target for abuse. Anywhere I spoke there was a contingent of screaming, heckling feminists waiting for me," Pizzey wrote. "Abusive telephone calls to my home, death threats and bomb scares, became a way of living for me and for my family. Finally, the bomb squad, asked me to have all my mail delivered to their head quarters."
One night, the family dog was killed.
Eventually, "exhausted and disillusioned," Pizzey said she went into "exile with her children and grandchildren," leaving England in 1982 to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Pizzey returned to England that same year for the book tour of her next book, "Prone to Violence," which once again ignited a violent reaction among feminists. Pizzey wrote that when she arrived in England for her book tour, she was "met with a solid wall of feminist demonstrators" carrying signs that read "ALL MEN ARE RAPISTS, ALL MEN ARE BATTERERS."
"The police insisted that I have an escort all round England for my book tour," Pizzey wrote in the Scotsman.
There is some reason to believe that "Prone to Violence" has been the target of a campaign of suppression by PC feminists. According to the web site Wikepedia, in 1996 an internet search of the world libraries that can be accessed through the Library of Congress uncovered only 13 listings for the book: an astonishingly low number for a pioneering work that caused a sensation.
Why would PC feminists nearly riot over a book and, then, ignore it?
Because Pizzey advanced a competing theory of domestic violence.
When viewed through the PC lens of class oppression, domestic violence is not an act of violence committed by one individual against another. It is an act committed by men that must be correctly understood within the larger context of women's class oppression.
"Prone to Violence" spelled out some of Pizzey's disagreements with that view.
Disagreement #1: Of the first 100 women who entered Chiswick, Pizzey found that over 60 percent were as violent or more violent than the men they were fleeing. In short, a significant percentage of the women were also batterers or otherwise active participants in the violence.
Disagreement #2: Pizzey developed the theory that many battered women were psychologically drawn to abusive relationships and they sought them out. To PC feminists, such analysis was tantamount to 'blaming the victim.'
Disagreement #3: She explained why the existing model of domestic violence shelters was ineffective. PC feminists were attempting then (and now) to secure ever greater financing for these operations. Sandra Horley, director of Chiswick in 1992, reportedly complained, "if we put across this idea that the abuse of men is as great as the abuse of women, then it could seriously affect our funding."
Pizzey may or may not have been correct; I believe she was and is.
Neverthless, her book drew upon over 10 years at the Chiswick shelter during which time Pizzey dealt with some 5,000 women and children.
"Prone to Violence" is an extremely early and honest overview of domestic violence from a woman with extensive experience of its daily realities. The book cried out to be taken seriously. At minimum, it deserved a thorough rebuttal from its PC feminist critics--not death threats directed at its author nor the ultimate silence it received.
Pizzey is not alone. In America, Suzanne Steinmetz -- author of the book "The Battered Husband" and a co-author of the much-cited "First National Family Violence Survey" -- experienced a similar drama. She and her children received death threats; an ACLU meeting at which she spoke received a bomb threat.
The reason: her research indicated that the rate at which men were victimized by domestic violence was similar to the rate for women.
In large and small ways -- from shrill protests to the tearing down of announcements, from blocking university promotions to threats and defamation -- PC feminism has attempted to stop voices it could not control.
Feminism is dying not from a backlash but from an orthodoxy that cannot tolerate real discussion...and never could.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, "Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century" (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.