I first came across Louise Armstrong when I read Rocking the Cradle of Sexual Politics. I’m not going to say that it changed my life in a moment, but it had a pretty profound impact on my work and on my thinking. Her work was powerful – it explored what had happened since women and feminism had exposed the societal lies that allowed incest to flourish. Her work was provocative (as were her other works like Kiss Daddy Goodnight which was part of that exposing and Of Sluts and Bastards which analysed the way children were positioned in the USs child services), it was, however, not hyperbole but tempered, measured and well researched. Her main thesis, in Rocking the Cradle, was that rather than society having accepted the need to fight against abuse it had instead specialised the whole talk of abuse into the psychotherapeutic services – making having experienced abuse a matter of mental illness rather than social problem. This individualises the issues and orced women to see it as “their” problem rather than “societies” problem.
Some years later, quite by chance, I received a message from someone called Louise Armstrong congratulating me for my input in a particularly difficult debate on an online forum. I pondered for a few days and then plucked up the courage to ask whether it was the Louise Armstrong. It was and we began communicating, sporadically about research interests and other issues. As Julie Bindel’s obit in the Guardian says, Louise was an intensely private person and so I was flattered and surprised when, some months later when she was going to be in London, she asked if I wanted to meet up and have something to eat. For ease we met at her hotel and talked for hours. I left exhilarated and almost awed. I say almost because she was so real the word “awe” isn’t quite right – Louise wasn’t grand or distant. She was instead intense and passionate and connected and amazingly forthright. Some time later when she visited again she came to address a student group I was teaching and brought the same charm and groundedness with her.
Louise’s death on 10th August is another passing of an important feminist figure – someone who worked hard to raise the issue of sexual violence against women, who wrote and spoke unflinchingly about her own experiences and who paved the way for those of us who are still working on the issues. I’ll miss her. I know the movement will too.