Best Non-Fiction by a Parliamentarian
Stephen Lotinga, the Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, said: “Great political writing offers us a lens through which we can examine our society and the world around us. This year’s shortlist of authors provides us with many profound insights into the tumultuous events of the last year, touching on important themes of gender, equality and the nature of power. I look forward to celebrating all of these important books at the House of Commons in December.”
Kennedy is good on the way in which equality of rights doesn’t produce equal outcomes... Eve Was Shamed opens with an autobiographical section about Kennedy’s experiences as a young barrister, which, while deeply felt, delays the main narrative, which deals with horrific modern phenomena, such as sex trafficking and ‘honour’ crimes. It is symptomatic of the general lack of focus in the book... This adds to the impression that the book might have benefited from more thorough editing... It’s equally disappointing to find Kennedy arguing in a later chapter that the prison system ‘too often locks up transgender prisoners according to their genitalia rather than their chosen gender identity and often with tragic consequences’... This new book feels like a rehash of the ideas of second-wave feminism, with an uncritical adoption of some 21st-century orthodoxies that are actively hostile towards it. And I can’t help feeling troubled by a book that is so casually dismissive of the legitimate concerns of contemporary feminists.
These are the stories that don’t make the news, and that only someone who has spent a lifetime at the criminal bar can offer. But there are also anecdotes that few can weave into a coherent, passionate narrative, building a case based on evidence, statistics, facts and experience, as Kennedy has done.... This is a telling snapshot of the law and how it fails us. Kennedy’s understanding of women is intersectional – not because that has become fashionable, but because she has been representing black defendants for decades, and understands the cycle of social deprivation, poverty, institutional neglect and crime they face... Kennedy takes no prisoners... Her colourful language does not detract from the power of this fact-based account of the position of women in the law, and hence in society. Reading Eve Was Shamed, especially so many years after Eve Was Framed, is a sobering reminder of how far we have to go. But guided through this madness by someone as consistent, persuasive and sharp as Kennedy, is also to experience a sense of relief.
...But women don’t have confidence in the justice system. And going by the litany of horrors that Kennedy details in this relentless, often disturbing book, no wonder... Sticking with prisons, the one oddly flabby note in the book comes in a few pages where Kennedy discusses trans prisoners... But when it comes to the nuances and complexities of housing trans women in female prisons, her usually fiercely critical eye is strangely absent... On the whole, Kennedy is not afraid to challenge feminist orthodoxies. While she is sympathetic to #MeToo as “a response to law’s failure”, she strikes a note of caution about a lack of due process. She is rightly implacable in the face of feminist calls for a blanket ban on including past sexual behaviour in rape cases... But these are only a few pages in an otherwise excellent and forensic takedown of a legal system in which “women are still facing iniquitous judgments and injustice”.
The core of the book deals with the fractious issue of consent. I enjoyed the way Kennedy describes the #MeToo movement as a “form of civil disobedience”. She is absolutely right. But #MeToo doesn’t always stop at passive resistance... Here, the crusading human-rights lawyer is torn between her desire to believe women at every turn and her experience of battling miscarriages of justice (as in the case of the Guildford Four)... Ultimately, the collision between women’s rights, men’s rights and equality before the law leads her to conclude that: “There can never be equality under the current economic system where market fundamentalism rules our lives.” If she really believes that, then Eve doesn’t stand a chance.