I’ve no idea why my editor would ask me to review How to Live with an Alpha Female; it’s a self-help manual for men who have been overtaken by their partners ‘in every area’. A shift they describe as changing from ‘alpha male and beta female’ to ‘beta male and alpha female’.
One of the authors, Murray Partridge, says his wife earns ‘almost exactly’ twenty times what he does and does EVERYTHING (his capitals). Which he finds hard to admit. He then paints a magical picture of his life in which beds makes themselves, holidays get booked, thank you notes get posted and his life is organised, staffed and sorted to perfection. You have to wonder why anyone would feel the need to provide a guide for surviving this experience.
But such is the pace of our social shift, this ‘very modern’ relationship takes some adjusting to. And finding himself air brushed out of a picture of his wife at a party in a glossy mag was a turning point. The book is to help others in this situation find harmony and laugh along the way.
Now while some (my editor apparently) see me as an alpha female, my creds wouldn’t cut it with these men’s wives: I don’t trouble the paps or have my own table at the Wolseley. Yet I skipped through the book in about an hour, laughing and wincing. Who knew that other husbands also note that some of your friends and colleagues defer to you and don’t even see them?
At a wedding recently we were sat on different tables and he didn’t miss that his table was the lowest number and closest to the fire exit. Mine was in middle of a hilarious squall. It’s amusing and shaming to know that it’s an alpha female trait to depend on your partner to do long distance driving so we can catch up on email.
Apparently, alpha females stop being alphas in a few instances, like when they crash his car. Well I did reverse his/our car into a post recently and was giggly with amusement and, yes, he dealt with fixing it. And, fair call gentlemen, my technology is better than his, I do see both of our wardrobes as my domain and wouldn’t hesitate to ask if he ‘really needed’ dessert.
Now at this point, some of you will have your feminist and/or elitist antennae on full alert and will be wondering whether men taking the piss out of successful women is a good idea. Is this book elitist? Sure it is: this is the liberal metro elite at full throttle. But is it anti-women? No, I don’t think so. It is run-through with gentle, piss-taking affection and a huge dose of self-deprecating self-awareness. And could two women have written a warm, tongue-in-cheek account of living with alpha men? Abso-bloody-lutely.
Stepping back for a moment, I wonder if the reverse is true and this is a more important book that it first seems. For all the corporate talk about diversity, inclusion and gender balance, there is precious little public air space given to the thoughts and feelings of the older, white, men who are adjusting to a new world.
To identify, share and laugh at some of the discomfort they feel in their change of status and roles seems pretty healthy. It reminds me of a phone-in on a TV show, probably 20 years ago, when a woman called mortified that her husband’s friends and colleagues found her boring. She’d overheard some of them talking about it. She got a huge dose of support and sympathy. These men describe very similar ‘humiliations’ and suggest tactics to deal with it. We’ll know we’ve achieved real equality when either partner can be alpha or beta without judgment but we’re not there yet.
The challenge I started with remains that I’m not the one who should be reviewing this so I gave the review copy to my husband and listened to him laughing in his office. He returned jubilant: "It’s like I’ve found a name for my condition, it’s a revelation: other men feel exactly the same way I do".
How to Live with an Alpha Female, by Murray Partridge & Simon Marks, is published by Markridge.
Christine Armstrong is contributing editor of Management Today and author of the Power Mums series.