Book Review: Eve was Shamed

Eve Was Shamed: How British Justice is Failing Women. Helena Kennedy QC, Catto and Windus 2018, audiobook recorded by Random House

When I first started with ‘Eve was Shamed’, I thought I’d picked up the wrong thing. It seemed to be all about the legal system from a legal profession’s perspective. I had never really thought about what woman face in the legal profession, and how few we see as judges etc, putting it down to factors that affect all women – mysogeny, the burden of childcare etc. However, the first chapter points to something way more disturbing.

As the book unfurls, it becomes important, no, vital. so stick with it. It may feel like the workings of the legal profession don’t affect the rest of us – but it blatantly does, and explains so much about why justice is so hard to achieve for women.

“The smell of the gentleman’s club permeates every crevice of the Inns of Court”

Helena kennedy qc

Unless the profession, our law making system, shapes up to equality, it will always be a man’s world, with a particularly male view. (We have, as my own example, seen recently an Italian judge describing a woman as too ugly to have been raped, and an Irish judge suggesting that a woman wearing a thong must have been intending to have sex.)

This backdrop is vital, as Kennedy takes us on a journey through the legal system and the points at which it is incredibly hard for women to seek justice and come through it unshamed and unscathed.

Kennedy explains the machinations of our ‘justice system, from policing through to judgements, through crimes that disproportionately affect women, and through huge inequities and injustices. Whilst there have been many positive changes, women face significant  disadvantage and discrimination in the areas she explores.

We need more authors like her, well informed, brave, willing to speak out. From Sally Challen to Shamima Begum, who was, at time of writing, just a missing school girl lured away,, Kennedy  points out how culturally biased we are, even in a supposedly liberal society, and why the justice system militates against women.

Even though the book is a follow on to ‘Eve was Framed’ (which I haven’t read) it stands alone. Her run through covers off how women are judged by an essentially white, male system, and makes clear why an organisation like Southall Black Sisters is so essential. Having previously only noted them as militants, I now watch the landmark work that they do.

The book points out that porn is no longer a top shelf, sniggering schoolboy activity, but organised harm which encourages men into violent actions. And that this has repercussions in the way that rape cases, for example, are handled.

Similarly if you expect justice, measure it against the old double standards – if you are raped on a Tinder date or have a sexual history, expect to be judged unfairly and your abuser to be given leniency. (We would, after all, hate to ruin a man’s life!)

Kennedy bravely addresses one of the thorniest issues of our time, the interface between the trans community and feminism. Even feminist conferences have been known to avoid this one. For some, I know Kennedy didn’t go far enough, as hard -won rights for women face challenges. Having seen the abuse that a transitioning friend has had, like most things, this is contextual (but I genuinely don’t believe it’s insurmountable.) Kennedy reaches the only possible conclusion: that there are two competing rights at times. I look forward to reading more.

The thank you’s at the end of the book are an all star cast of the great and good of women fighting for justice – Clooney, Wistrich and Orbach included. If we can’t sit up and pay attention to this, we are undeserving of Kennedy’s efforts – it’s a landmark book that truly puts our legal system into context.

Sometimes it feels like it is easier not to go through the justice system, that it’s easier to keep your head down. This is the book that could make you, like me, want to see the changes, put your head up and fight for what’s right – because it’s really not you doing it wrong, it’s the system.

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