The Case of Polly Courtney: How the media attempts to dismiss women

The DailyMail website published an article titled ‘Novelist who left banking because of sexism fires publisher for putting ‘fluffy and degrading’ covers on her books’. It’s an interesting example of the changes that are currently occurring in publishing, where a writer—particularly one like Polly Courtney, who appears to have an established readership base—can choose self-publishing in order to have greater control over the outcome of the final product. In this instance, she is particularly concerned with the book cover, which for her novel ‘It’s a Man’s World’ is an image of a woman looking overwhelmed, on a mobile phone with folders in both hands. She appears to be shrugging, overwhelmed by her work, and the focus is on the woman’s bare legs.

Overall it’s a fairly typical ‘chick lit’ kind of cover, which isn’t my issue.The complaints of the author seem to me to be relevant—she sees it as demeaning, both to herself and the book she wrote, which, according to the summary given, is about the ways in which women are forced to compromise themselves in order to “get ahead” in a male dominated workplace. According to the article, Courtney left her job in the financial sector as a result of sexism in the workplace so this would be something that she has personal experience with and considers important.

None of that is really the issue either: the article sums up her arguments, the arguments of her publisher and then goes on to say that Courtney once took a pole dancing class and talked about it on her blog and, the article seems to say, as a result we shouldn’t consider her complaints genuine.

No. Really. The article says: “Courtney, who has previously posted photographs of herself pole dancing on the internet, said the image was too racy” and, later in the article, “In 2006, Courtney’s website carried photographs of her pole dancing – which she said she had done ‘for a laugh’.”

Why the author of the article felt the need to include this I don’t know. It’s entirely irrelevant and the idea that she should not be taken seriously if she once took a pole dancing class and posted pictures of it is downright insulting to women everywhere (and sex workers in particular). God forbid if she’d been an actual stripper or enjoy her sexuality or do anything fun ever.

This is how women are told to shut up and sit down rather than have their complaints taken seriously. It’s how sexism is dismissed and women’s stories are demeaned. It plays into the virgin/whore dynamic, where if a woman ever does anything overtly sexual she should never be taken seriously ever again but if she doesn’t she is a prude. However you feel personally about the cover—racy and demeaning or inoffensive—the insinuation that Courtney’s complaints should be ignored or dismissed outright because she once took a pole dancing class is hugely offensive.

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