Book review: Everywoman
Jess Phillips’s disarmingly honest book manages to successfully weave the personal into the political.
Everywoman is naughty, frank and a sizzling celebration of how being ordinary can change the world. Authentic, wise and honest, I found so many resonances; there were moments I had to put it down to draw breath. How could Jess’s experience as a young women hanging out with men in Birmingham be so like my own in Batley? How could she know about my own internal contradictions that make me my own worst critic? And how did she make the writing so effortless it feels like we’re having a chat over a large Sauvignon?
Disarmingly honest, Jess the person comes across as real, flawed, a good laugh and loyal mate. Her pride in being ‘normal’ is something she wears as a badge of honour, celebrating her Brummy accent, determined to carry on speaking in her own voice because ‘if we don’t start sounding like the public, ordinary people will disengage and we’ll be left with the Establishment holding court and we can’t have that!’ Candid about being a young mum – ‘ most of the time – if I’m completely honest – it’s unremarkable, tedious and frankly a bit meh..’ – she challenges the idea that having a child is the be all and end all.
For all the humour, Jess manages the delicate balancing act of weaving the personal into the political. Thoughts about family segue into analytical policy on flexible parental leave, the gender pay gap, the merits of a universal basic income and the shocking amount of unpaid work done by women (£1,019 trillion 2014).
A passionate advocate for equality, her feminism isn’t academic, it’s real, earned from years working at the coalface of Women’s Aid. Knowing two women a week die at the hands of their partners or ex’s, it’s galling to hear the number of emails she received lobbying for women’s services was six, whilst in the same period she’d had ‘90 emails about bees, 324 about foxes and 25 about dog fighting.’ A brilliant, witty troll-slayer, she’s supportive of other women telling them to ‘drop me a tweet. I’ve got your back.’
Politically you can tell she’s a grafter. Door knocking and campaigning, she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. Unguarded in her criticism of those she disagrees with, her anger at Jeremy Corbyn is clear – ‘while we’re fighting and struggling with a lackluster leadership, the people are the ones who’re suffering’.
Throughout, Jo Cox, my predecessor, is referenced with love and admiration. Jess talks of Jo’s ‘truly tangible and unguarded normality and humanity’ and how ‘it was her humanity, not some special gift or magic knowledge, that made her so exquisite’. It’s obvious the friendship was genuine and the loss profound.
I will never be Jo, but having read Everywoman, I feel encouraged to be a more opinionated and courageous version of myself, unafraid to be authentic, ‘gobby’, disruptive and real. My own version of Everywoman.
Tracy Brabin was elected as Labour MP for Batley and Spen in 2014. This review first appeared in The House magazine.