Men are allies not enemies in the fight against sexual exploitation - Jess Phillips

Posted On: 
13th November 2017

PoliticsHome marks International Men’s Day by asking outspoken Labour MP Jess Phillips how men and women can work together to confront sex abuse in Westminster.   

Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips speaks to PoliticsHome to mark International Men's Day
Credit: 
PA

Two years ago Jess Phillips scoffed at Philip Davies’s suggestion that International Men’s Day should be celebrated with a discussion of men’s issues, but today she is slightly more open to the concept having agreed to a chat in her Parliamentary office.  

As a vocal advocate for women’s rights the Labour MP is often painted as anti-men, but her brand of feminism, though passionate, is not exclusive.  

“I think men can be feminists, absolutely,” she says.

“Feminism to me is about what you say, not what you do. I think that one of the things that men can do the best is, men can act as amplifiers to women’s voices and clear a space for women’s voices.”

As a mother of two boys she is all too aware of the challenges facing men in the modern world.

Hidden mental health problems, high suicides rates and shifting gender norms are changing how we see men and how they see themselves.

For Ms Philips, her normal parental fears for her children are compounded by wider social pressures.

“I worry about their role in society, about trying to bring them up to be kind, thoughtful, to have feelings, to think it’s ok to cry. I worry about their mental health terribly because I have come from a family where male mental health has been a huge problem.

“I worry about the expectations that they put on themselves to be big, strong, angry, cool, clever, funny.”

TUTUS AND TIARAS

The expectation that young men should have certain traits was expertly unpicked in the recently released book How Not to Be a Boy by comedian Robert Webb.     

Ms Phillips is a fan, declaring the work “brilliant.”

In a personal account, Mr Webb lays bare the absurdity of a childhood restricted by rigid gender rules.

“Through his own personal testimony it brilliantly tells the story about why men feel that they can’t speak about things or why the only reaction they can have is aggression and anger,” the Birmingham Yardley MP says.  

And in challenging entrenched social norms it seems that Mr Webb has an unlikely ally, after the Arch Bishop of Canterbury set out new rules designed to address transphobic bullying in schools.

In newly issued Church of England guidance, Justin Welby said boys should be allowed to wear tutus and tiaras if they choose to.  

Ms Phillips broadly agrees, but adds a note of caution, warning that “we have to be very, very careful that we don’t push our liberal ideas on our children any more than we push traditional gender attitudes.”

SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Turning to the sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed politics in recent weeks, Ms Phillips is adamant that there should be no gender divide when it comes to confronting the perpetrators of abuse.

Although recent allegations have been largely brought by women in Westminster, the MP is keen that men should also feel empowered to come forward.

“Any young men, or older men that have been sexually harassed by anybody, I would absolutely encourage them to join in what appears to be a sort of global primal scream, and saying that we are not going to tolerate it any more.

“Because ultimately to me it’s about power and we are all allies together.”