It’s a man’s world by Polly Courtney

It's a man's worldAlexa Harris loves a challenge. So when she’s asked to head up lads’ mag, Banter, she doesn’t need much persuasion.

But life on the all-male editorial eam proves harder than she had imagined – and not just because of her ambitious targets. As Alexa battles with a testosterone-fuelled office, she decides to play the boys at their own game.

Dealings get dirty and Alexa’s forced to look at who she has become. Has she forfeited her principles in return for praise from the lads? And what price will she have to pay?

Phil: I guess I ought to start with an admission – I’ve bought roughly two “Lads mags” ever, possibly three. All of them were FHM which I think represents the classier end of the market. I don’t get the culture and wouldn’t miss the publications if they never appeared on the shelves again. I’m not sure if this qualifies me to properly understand this book or if I’m just some sort of Guardian readings, organic porridge knitting, leftie weirdo who will relate to all the wrong characters in the story.

Alexa Harris starts the book as the sort of person who you see on the later rounds of The Apprentice talking business bollocks. She is succesful and when approached to move from the posh old ladies magazine she has turned around to a failing Lad’s Mag, she looks at the job purely in terms of a challenge. The content of the magazine and the industry surrounding it don’t enter her calculations.

As the story unfolds, the implications of everything she has chosen to ignore start to hit home. All the “correct” business decisions, such as a tablet app that allows users to upload content, turn out to have consequences, most of them unpleasant. By the end of the book, Alexa has success but starts to question whether simple saving the magazine is actually a win.

Disguised by the publishers as chick-lit, this is in reality a very entertaining way of highlighting real issues. There are some very uncomfortable truths exposed along the way. Those expecting a good dose of man-bashing will be disappointed.

Questions are asked – is it empowering for women to use their bodies to garner some measure of success, as the unpaid models on the pages of the magazine seem to think? If you are a woman in the “testosterone-fuelled” office, do you play along with the banter in an effort to survive and even thrive in the business? Do magazines covered in tits’n’ass reflect society or are they driving it?

Anyone who has worked in a blokey office will recognise some of the characters on the staff. The men who don’t see anything wrong with the lewd comment that they think is a joke for example. Also the men who don’t think like that but find themselves stuck in a world where to speak out would invite ridicule. Many of these places have died out but if there is going to be one place where misogyny reins, it’s going to be in a world that relies on it for survival.

Alexa is gifted a couple of friends who act like the good and bad angels on her shoulders. Kate is an alpha female living in a world of high-finance, long hours and do whatever it takes to succeed. Leone teaches in the inner city and sees the young readers of Banter and how this influences their attitude to women. They make a good team, able to highlight dilemmas without the tone becoming preachy.

This is a good, but not necessarily easy, read. You care about the main characters although they do things that annoy you. Seeing the “big picture” you get an idea of just how complex the world is. Despite several of them, especially a feminist protestor, seeing the world in black and white, it’s not that easy. It’s a book you put down at the end and carry on thinking. What should be a heavy trudge through “Issues” marked in big, thick type are handled well in the plot. If you want to get people thinking, perhaps this is a better way than beating them over the head?

Ignoring the messages, It’s a man’s world is a good read. Treat it like a normal airport paperback and you will enjoy it. Just accept when you finally close the cover, its contents will stay with you longer than most.

It’s a man’s world at Amazon

Note: I know the rest of the world is talking about Feral Youth at the moment. We just like to be different. A good book is a good book no matter how long ago it was written or what the author has done since.

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Filed under Books, Phil

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