‘IT CAN BE TOUGH – BUT NO ONE IS FORCE-FEEDING ME IN PRISON’
Labour MP Jess Phillips says 2018 should be a year of action to stamp out sexual harassment
When I was a kid growing up in Birmingham, feminism was not an abstract theory – it was a practical way of life. My first nursery was set up to help women go back to work; it was called The Women’s Liberation Play Group. Groups of women would often be in my family’s kitchen plotting their next moves to get more women elected or better services for victims of violence.
My memory of the feminist movement I grew up around was of sisterhood. Of laughing together when things were ridiculous, of crying together when tragedy struck, and these women were there in my house holding each other, being each other’s foundations. These women built me.
My place in the House of Commons as MP for Birmingham Yardley helps me
to fight for better services for victims of domestic and sexual violence, and to seek solutions for issues like the pay gap. It is a chance to be a person with the power to say to women, ‘I hear you.’ My position means I can amplify the voices of other people, to tell stories and create space so that the real lives, which some flinch away from, can be laid bare.
This all sounds empowering (and it is great!) but my voice means I’m a threat to those who still think women should be seen and not heard. The online world has given a space to people who feel threatened by powerful women. That can be tough but – unlike the suffragettes – no one is force-feeding me in a prison, I don’t have to throw myself under a horse, and I haven’t had to chain myself to any railings.
I do, though, often visit the broom cupboard in Parliament where Emily
Wilding Davison hid on the night of the census in 1911. It is a tiny cupboard in a hidden corridor where she slept so that a woman could be listed in Parliament. Emily died two years later when she ran under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby, so women like me could roar; I won’t let her down just because a few Twitter trolls give me grief.
So 2018 must be the year of action. We must turn the bravery of the thousands of women saying #metoo into real, tangible change. In Parliament, we must not simply celebrate the milestone of women’s suffrage without also acting to change a culture that has allowed sexual harassment and the control of young women in that very building. We must keep being angry, keep speaking up and protesting, and continue to demand change.
We must keep on being angry