THE BLOG

I've Got All My Sisters With Me - Where Women Are Winning

08/03/2016 07:57

Today is a celebration of women. I will spend the day trying to get across the message that we women are still being murdered and abused. Others will be using the time to shout loud about women's achievements, speaking of great women, courageous women, women at the top. I will love each story or lament for what others have that we women don't. There is one thing I think that we women have that our brothers should envy and replicate - we have each other.

The relationships I have had with women are life-changing. It is hard to put in to words the awesomeness of female friendship, many writers have tried to get the depth of women's relationships to leap off a page or transmit on to our screens. The howling laughter of moments of sorority doesn't have a word, let's try and invent one.

Here is a homage to my lifeblood. My family, my friends, my work. These are my stories but I'm sure every woman could write the same.

My mom died when I was in my twenties. There is no one, nor will there ever be anyone, who inspires me as much. The mother of three sons and little me, the youngest of the bunch, we became each other's feminist icons. The daughter of a single mom, living on dinner lady wages, my mom fought every 1950s path laid out to her. She resisted the job in the haberdasher's section at Beattie's department store, as was her foretold future, stuck two fingers up to the teacher who told her she'd never find a man as she couldn't make a jelly. Got herself educated and became pretty eminent. She made pretty damn fine milk jelly rabbits for me every birthday as well as keeping a man, and filing government reports to improve the NHS.

No one will ever replace my mom, but my mother-in-law does a pretty good job. She ran away from home at 16 because, as the eldest and only girl, the aspirations for her were little more than being around to look after her brothers. In later life she wears this job well as now nearly every day she takes part in raising my kids. I don't call her mom, but that's what she is to me. She threatened to get a t-shirt that said, "check me out, my daughter-in-law is an MP". The success is ours not mine.

My mates are wet-your-knickers hilarious. I wish I could have a wedding every year just so there was a chance to dress them up and make lavish speeches about each and every one of them. These women have sat in A&E waiting rooms with me all night, left casseroles on my doorstep every day for the two weeks after my mom died. They picked my kids up because I missed my train, forgot about a meeting or was in labour. Sat with me keeping me laughing while my mom was in eight hours of surgery in another country and I was too pregnant to travel.

We have an unwritten rota for taking care of each other. A simple text of a joke that has been running for over 10 years, lifts the dullest day. A bunch of flowers when you get a promotion, paying for a massage when they know you are stressed, even though you didn't tell them. More than anything it is the laughing we do together, it is infectious, it hurts like you can't breath because you couldn't laugh anymore. When one of us does well it feels like we've all had a win. To Alex, Ruth, Jess, Jayne, Amy E, Gemma, Bryony, Maya, Amy T, Emma, Helen, Iseult, Marcella, Katherine, Hannah, Nat, Caroline and Penny, Happy International Women's Day.

Now I find myself working with far fewer women than I am used to. When working at Women's Aid I was surrounded by amazing women. Their sole purpose was the advancement of women, staff and survivors. I would never have made it without my boss Sara Ward. She knocked off my edges, loved me, propelled me and placed the stepping stones in front of me to eventually leave her for a fancy life in London. Fewer bosses invest as much, sacrifice as much, or give as much of a toss. I owe her so much. I hope to ape this model for Sophie and Amrita, who work with me. They deserve the benefit of my networks, my capital, my support. Chances are, if you receive an email from me it's one of them who sent it. They deserves a piece of my success, they helped to build it.

Westminster is a tougher gig. Politics is naturally competitive. The walls of the Commons are lined with "look at me" wallpaper and carpeted with jealousy. Not if you are a Labour woman. If you are a Labour woman you join the "you bloody well better be as good as you can be" sorority. Within weeks of arriving in Westminster Margaret Hodge, Harriet Harman, Baroness Corston, Fiona MacTaggart, Heidi Alexander, Gisela Stuart and Meg Hillier sat me down over a cuppa and told me how they would help me be marvellous. The women in the PLP cheer when another speaks. When I fall over or stand strong, text messages flood in from Alison McGovern, Shabana Mahmood, Stella Creasey, Yvette Cooper, Kate Green, Lucy Powell, Gloria de Piero, Diana Johnson, Kezia Dugdale, Caroline Flint, Jenny Chapman and many more. The women of the 2015 intake, each and every one, pushes their sisters forward, offers help and advice and delights in each other's successes. There are more new women than there are new men, We know we are standing on the shoulders of those who went before, we won't let them down.

So yes, we might get beaten and abused more often. Yes we still don't have hardly any of the top jobs and get paid less. It's crap that caring responsibilities still mostly fall to us and our razors and deodorant cost more. But my god I'm glad to be a woman.

Jess Phillips is the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

CONVERSATIONS