Jess Phillips is the Labour MP for Birmingham, Yardley. In her own words she is ‘gobby’. That is to say she speaks up for what she believes in and is not cowed, well, not for long, by the trolls who are determined to silence her and other ‘gobby’ women. The vitriol heaped her on her, and other outspoken women, on social media is heartbreaking, frightening, and often illegal. This book is partly Jess’ response in more than 140 characters.
But to say just that severely undermines this book. It is glorious. It is like sitting down with Jess and a glass or two of wine and putting the world to rights. It will make you laugh out loud. It will make you roar in agreement, or sometimes shake your head in disagreement, and it will bring a tear to your eye as you read about the trials of her brother and the loss of her friend, Jo Cox. Above all it will make you think while still managing to entertain you.
The book is not perfect and that encapsulates Jess’ approach to life. She is who she is, warts an’ all, and is determined to bring that approach to politics. Not for her mealy mouthed platitudes and safe, boring speeches. She make mistakes and she owns them. She values authenticity highly, hence her kind words about the very right wing MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg. She clearly respects him for being his true, honest self, while disagreeing with almost all his political views. I admire that. Politics would be all the better if we could get rid of some of the adversarial, barracking across the floor and try some real debate for a change.
Parliament is still an unwelcoming place for women and Jess doesn’t hold back on that. In her chapter on The Truth About Equality she makes one of the best cases yet for all women shortlists, chastising Edwina Currie who said that women coming in to parliament through that route “have skipped several steps so their skills may be deficient.” (Elsewhere in the book she gives examples of female solidarity across the political divide which is heartening to read). Jess quotes Mary Nugent, a PhD candidate, and Mona Lena Krook, Associate Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, who actually did some proper research on this topic:
We find that women elected by AWS were no less experienced than other women MPs when they entered Parliament. In fact, women elected via AWS tend to have spent more time in an elected position than their Labour colleagues, male and female, in every year except 2010.
Interestingly, the data also show that AWS women had significantly more experience, on average, than Conservative MPs, male or female, in every parliament in this period. In 2010, for example, the mean years of prior experience of AWS women was 6.8 years compared to 4.4 for Conservative men.
Jess is not a career politician, she had a life outside politics, notably working for Women’s Aid, and this is one of her passions. (See my interview with Polly Neate, CEO of Women’s Aid, who gets a mention). The chapter on violence is one of the most compelling in the book. She knows of what she speaks, and is not afraid to call out those who are ill informed, yet still legislate on this matter.
Although 242 pages long, (the print is quite large, thank you for that), the book is such an easy read that you can pick it up and down as you wish. Each chapter can be read stand alone and you can dip in and out at will. That said, I read it virtually in one sitting; Jess has such an immediate and engaging style. For an honest account of what it’s like for women in UK politics today it’s superb. I recommend it.
I’ll end by quoting Jess:
I hope that if nothing else, this book shows that you I am not exceptional, that I am worried and scared about using my voice. I hate it when people shout me down or call me thick, as they do every day. I always think there is someone better for the job than me. I’m just like you; you are kick-ass too, just like everywoman.
Everywoman is published by Hutchinson/Penguin, Random House and the hardback has a cover price of £14.99, although I got mine cheaper through W.H.Smiths.
You might also like to read this short post from last year: Women, you are not allowed to be loud
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Posted on March 3rd, 2017 by Jane