Forthright opinions from the MP who Julie Burchill thinks should be Labour’s next leader
As with all the most interesting people, Jess Phillips is like Marmite. You could characterise her in one of two ways: as the brilliantly outspoken women’s advocate and Labour MP, memorably applauded in the House of Commons, nine months after entering parliament in 2015, for a moving speech in which she listed 120 women killed that year by men. Or, as a gobby Brummie so blinkered by feminism that she famously laughed at the idea of International Men’s Day. Whatever you make of her, now that Julie Burchill has tipped her to be Labour’s next leader what Phillips has to say seems increasingly interesting.
Everywoman is her first book. Part memoir, part feminist manifesto, it feels like Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman and, in the same frustrating way, never really commits to either genre. As a feminist battle cry, Everywoman comes across pessimistic and flawed. It is six years since Moran’s book came out, and Everywoman isn’t keen to acknowledge the way the world has changed for women, and feminism, since then.
It opens with Harriet Harman telling Phillips: “You will never be popular.” The unpopularity of feminists is one of the main themes. This is hard to swallow in an age where feminism is so fashionable that it features on catwalks and bestsellers lists. Feminism’s new popularity is surely why six publishers competed to offer Phillips £25,000 for this book. Glaringly, too, although written after Theresa May took power, there is little celebration of what it means for women to have a female prime minister.
At times, Phillips becomes obsessed by blaming sexism for everything. She claims people are rude to her in a bid to silence women’s voices, although she doesn’t explain if that is what she was doing when she told Diane Abbott to “f*** off”. Most irritating, she projects this victim complex onto other women. In a rare mention of May, waking up in No 10, Phillips writes: “The first thing she has to think about is not about Russia bombing Aleppo… She thinks, what am I going to wear in order to face these challenges and avoid comments about my appearance.” This is a ridiculous assertion about a woman who delivered her Brexit plan in a tartan Vivienne Westwood suit.
Phillips’s manifesto works best when it deals directly with politics, unpicking parliamentary processes to explain how the House limits women’s opportunities to speak, pointing out legislative flaws in paternity leave. Insightful on a human level, the book also explores Phillips’s work at Women’s Aid to suggest why women stay in violent relationships.