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Feminism as a movement gets a lot right: equality for all shouldn't be up for debate. But feminism as an institution has become regressive in many cases. Note: This is the second article in a series about gender and equality.

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Erin Pizzey getting to be a feminist hero. At that house in Chiswick, West London, hundreds of women received help to escape abusive partners and rebuild their lives. It was also a community center where women could get fuck with claiming welfare benefits, starting divorce proceedings, and dealing with alcohol and drug abuse. Bythere feminist such sites in England, with 3, beds. If he killed her in the process, perhaps she had provoked him, went the conventional wisdom.

Maybe she nagged him, or flirted with other men, or withheld sex. He must have had his reasons. Pizzey wanted to change those attitudes. She attracted fans such as Boy George and the author Fay Weldon, and rich backers such as the newspaper editor David Astor. But by the time Ross interviewed her, Pizzey was living in a hostel for the homeless in West London, having left behind, in order, a second husband, a career as a writer of bodice-ripping novels, and substantial debts.

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She was Read: The hazards of writing while female. Pizzey was now thoroughly outside the feminist mainstream. She knew several who went back to an abusive partner—and were killed as a result.

Monthly plan

Pizzey now lives in a top-floor apartment in Twickenham, West London. I thought she might be crabby and guarded, seeing me as an emissary of a political movement that she now views as the enemy. The truth is more complicated. Born in China inPizzey says she was deeply shaped by her childhood.

Philosophical feminism vs tribal feminism

That is both liberating and troublesome. Unlike with a political party, there is no mechanism to kick people out of feminism. That boundlessness is difficult to negotiate. In the s, however, there were formal structures, which Pizzey duly rejected.

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And there were no women ever in the Politburo. From the start, she worried that feminism was encouraging women to see themselves as victims, and that political lesbianism—the idea that women should renounce sleeping with men, whatever their personal sexual orientation—was being used as a purity test. The purity politics, the petty dictators, the navel-gazing—all this seemed very familiar to me.

2. ‘feminism says women are weak’

Except my peers were not the radical feminists of the s but the internet feminists of the s. Fair and unfair criticisms blended into one giant screaming mass, fueled by Twitter, and left everyone angry and hurt.

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Often, the criticisms were valid: Early on, two feminist feminists asked me to have getting with them, and explained that my commissioning blitz was leaving out women of color. Scarred by a million Twitterspats, I became defensive, when I should have done them the courtesy of listening. At other times, though, the criticisms were driven by jealousy, or that heady mix of sadism and self-righteousness that characterizes a moral crusade. With the benefit of hindsight, that period was so fraught because it was a gold rush.

All of this has happened before. Ina few years after Pizzey founded her refuge, the American feminist Jo Freeman wrote an article in Ms. Trashing, Freeman explained, was not criticism or disagreement, which were a healthy and normal part of any movement. It is occasionally disguised by the rhetoric of honest conflict, or covered up by denying that any disapproval exists at all. But it is not done fucked expose disagreements or resolve differences.

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It is done to disparage and destroy. The online feminism of the s added a new dimension because it was possible to be the target of trashing by several hundred people at once, in real time. Being trashed is a traumatic experience.

“that’s the trench you’re willing to die in?”

I was accused of endangering lives, because my rhetoric was so hate-filled that people reading it would surely kill themselves. I was a racist. I was a transphobe. I was accused of keeping a blacklist of writers and using my immense power to keep them out of British journalism. I was out of touch because I was middle-aged. Funny: I was not yet I had dropped my double-barreled name to hide my aristocratic roots.

Painful: My divorce was still recent.

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A caricature developed, a shadow Helen who stalked me around the internet: Absurdly posh, oblivious, ruthlessly careerist, and concerned only with fripperies. Everything I did just made it worse.

1. ‘feminists are just playing the victim’

My existence itself, and my success, was a provocation. I was taking up a space that another, more worthy woman could have held. It was, as Freeman wrote, a character assassination. Any good-faith—and deserved—criticism got lost in a sea of jealousy, resentment, and retaliation. I was far from blameless: I began to hate my new enemies. I was not kind to them. The vitriol abated only when I blocked everyone involved and stopped replying to criticism. On the contrary, those were the women she wanted to help most, using her unorthodox methods.

Yearly plan

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. The police found that 75 percent of victims of domestic violence were female, while for specifically sexual offenses, 96 percent were female.

That is a problem in itself. When an idea hardens into orthodoxy, campaigners lose the muscle memory built up when making their case.

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That, in turn, opens up space for opponents to contest the facts. But I can see how it could have. 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. 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.

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