Jess Phillips —Everywoman
a review

by Colleen Brannon 

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In Everywoman, Jess Phillip, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardly gives a frank account of her experiences as a working-class woman trying to make a difference and offers advice and encouragement to others striving for a fairer world. The book is about the realities of equality, with an emphasis on gender equality in the political landscape, the structures that underlie it, and the implications for wider society. This brilliant book is Jess’ treatise on women and power, and if you’re like me, you’ll hear it narrated by the gorgeous Brummy accent with which you’ve heard the author deliver cutting criticisms of the government with on PMQs.

I am a woman compelled to act to alleviate the suffering I see in my community caused by Tory policy yet, riddled with self-doubt, I read this book at just the right time. Jess speaks openly, with humour and sensitivity, of her time in politics, of her home life and her work for Women’s Aid.

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She dispels the myth that says our representatives in parliament must come from a rarefied world (private school, Oxbridge, off-shore bank accounts; not to mention likely male, white and over 50). The reader is empowered: if Jess can do it, maybe we can too (and even more importantly, maybe we should).

Jess’s experiences as a child and working at Women’s Aid become add gravitas to her assessment of, say, the privatisation of the probation service by our Tory government. Having worked with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence and understanding addiction issues (Jess’s brother is a heroin addict), Jess understands and offers an excellent evidence-based argument against Tory privatisation policies.

Jess also offers a robust argument for All Women Shortlists, not only statistically demonstrating the contribution AWS have made to a more representative Labour Party and parliament, but also arguing that AWS often produce stronger more capable candidates than open selection, backing her argument with a peer reviewed study by Mary Nugent and Mona Lena Crook. This has been very useful to me when discussing AWS with a friend who believes positive discrimination only divides us further (though does not seem to have another plan for tackling inequality that I can discern).

Although all people interested in democracy would do well to read this book, I’d specifically recommend it to two kinds of people. Firstly, women who are still wondering if they are ‘imagining it’. Did I imagine being passed over in that meeting? Did I imagine he was congratulated for an idea I voiced five minutes ago? Am I imagining barriers to my own ability to affect change? You’re not, by the way. Secondly, if you are one of those people who can’t fathom why feminists are still fighting (‘we’re equal now, right?’), you certainly need to read this book, and for good measure, lend it to a mate when you’re done.

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