The Worldly meets Jess Phillips MP: Parliament, Feminism and the Future

Jess Phillips appears on BBC's Question Time

The Worldly’s Amy Taylor meets Jess Phillips.

MP for Yardley, Jess Phillips is well known after her controversial comments on BBC Question Time likening the Cologne Attacks to a night on Broad Street. Her outspoken nature makes her one of the more interesting characters of the 2015 parliamentary intake. The Worldly spoke to Jess about her comments on Cologne and her thoughts on the key issues facing women in 2016.

“They were terribly misrepresented, I mean terribly and wilfully misrepresented…people don’t like that I’m pointing out an unpalatable truth”, Jess’ response to whether her comparison of the Cologne attacks and Broad Street were misrepresented. Although the views asserted by Jess on Question Time caused a high level of controversy, she asserted that she completely stood by her comments as well as saying “What I regret was singling out Broad Street…it’s happening on every street in every part of the UK. It’s getting worse”.

Furthermore West Midlands Police recently reported that violence against women in Birmingham is reported every 12 minutes. A shocking statistic that Jess believes highlights her point, as well as asserting a key issue that is worsening and affecting women across Britain.

One of the biggest issue facing women is the over-sexualisation of women and girls and that it is just totally run of the mill

When asked about the key issues facing women in UK at the moment, Jess replied with “the general inequality that women face – being paid less, affected most by austerity…and the benefits that are being cut have disproportionately affected women”. Jess asserted the importance that such issues have the economic mobility of women, noting that it will have “all sorts of repercussions 20 years down the line”. Whilst Jess believes that there are these underlying economic inequalities perpetuating the lives of many women in the UK, she emphasised that “one of the biggest issues facing women…is the over-sexualisation of women and girls and that it is just totally run of the mill”.

This over-sexualisation of women, younger women in particular, is visible in numerous guises, increasingly so on the internet. When asked whether she felt it was worsened by social media, Jess simply replied with “Yes, it’s definitely made worse by social media”. However, Jess also asserted the positive force of social media as a way of liberating the most “marginalised” and particularly in terms of feminism and women’s issues, giving them a greater platform of access and understanding.

The only wisdom I could impart was…just believe. If we could teach everybody to believe, the world would be a better place

So how can we fix the problems of the over-sexualisation and increasing prominence of abuse towards women? “Gendered education about respect for women and attitudes…what it means and what it can lead to if you say certain things to women”. Jess asserted the importance of education regarding consent as well as making sure that attitudes are altered with regards to the reporting and handling of abuse cases. On a trip to Kenya, looking at women’s service, Jess said “the only wisdom I could impart was…just believe. If we could teach everybody to believe, the world would be a better place”. With the Norwegian Government educating immigrants on attitudes to women, Jess believes that such an education should be given by the British Government. Furthermore Jess believes that this should be extended to everyone in Britain. “In this country we don’t have a patriarchal system and [women] have every right to be as brilliant and marvellous and excellent as men.”

Women have every right to be as brilliant and marvellous and excellent as men

With regards to the idea that women can be just as good as men, I asked Jess if she felt that parliament was a representative body. “It’s not representative of anything I’ve ever known…we have an ingrained elite”, that of white males, for whom Jess believes “positive discrimination has existed since the beginning of time”. With the proportion of women in parliament at just 29%, an increase from 26% in 2010, the number of women in parliament clearly is not proportional to the number of women in Britain. Misrepresentation within parliament goes further than a simple gender divide with Jess asserting that there is a discrepancy in terms of disabled and black and ethnic minority MP’s in proportion to percentage of the population. “I would set genuine targets, I would make it mandatory to have quotas”. “The argument for equality is that when there are as many average women in there as there are average men, we will have achieved equality and at the moment I can think of very few average women.” Jess asserted that a key example of one such woman is Theresa May, a woman who Jess believes is “remarkable” for her work as Home Secretary.

Jess’ key message is one that should be celebrated, one of greater equality

Furthermore Jess stated that the notion that women who ran on all women short-lists (as she did) were no less worthy, or worse than the men in parliament, drawing on the example of sport, and the idea that Jessica Ennis-Hill is celebrated for her achievements as a woman competing against women, and female achievement in politics should be viewed no differently just because the short-list would ensure a woman winning a seat. Although Jess does feel that there is a discrepancy in terms of representation and “people say sexist things”, she noted that life in parliament for women was not a difficult feeling, it’s the parliamentary rules and structures, “the expectation of you as a carer, and the expectation of somebody that should have children, and if you do have children you should be looking after them”.

Jess was a breath of fresh air who genuinely cared about what she was saying. She had a lot to say regarding the importance of greater education of young people with regards to the attitudes towards women, as well as the importance of a greater representation within government, and the need for less misrepresentation within the media. However, Jess’ key message is one that should be celebrated, one of greater equality and the notion that “aiming for the top is not something that should be represented by something only a man does”. It’s not that men are better than women, or in fact that women wish to be seen as better than men, it’s that we can all be as “brilliant and marvellous and excellent” as each other.

The Worldly's Ben Burman, Amy Taylor and Chris Warby meet Jess Phillips in her constituency office.

The Worldly’s Ben Burman, Amy Taylor and Chris Warby meet Jess Phillips in her constituency office (Image: Nicola Tree – nicolatree.com)

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