Mia Freedman answers all your juicy questions about Strife, the show inspired by Mamamia.

Warning: There are some mild spoilers for Strife here. If that kind of thing bothers you, go watch — all episodes are available to binge on Binge — and then come back.

Strife, the new eight-part comedic drama follows Evelyn (played by Asher Keddie), a famed magazine editor who, after being fired from her prominent job, launches a women's website. She risks her career to carve out a new place in the media landscape with only a small group of writers and some stolen Wi-Fi passwords by her side. The TV show is loosely based on Mia Freedman's book memoir Work, Strife, Balance, who is an executive producer on the show.

Here, Mia answers all your frequently asked questions:

Was the ‘in your bag’ scene real?

No. Clare Stephens wrote that, and it was so brilliant; one of my favourite scenes in the whole show. When I read it in the first draft of the script, I gasped and burst out laughing. It was like nothing I’d ever read before. It had such truth to it, though. Those nightmare ‘stunts’ on live TV or radio where you’re put on the spot and you sort of just have to go along because as a woman, you just don’t want to be ‘difficult’ or a ‘diva’. And then afterwards you’re like, OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE?

Were there some scenes that felt too close to home for you?

I felt my stomach clench every time Evelyn f**ked up with her kids and was late to pick them up or turned up to sport on the wrong day. The oranges! Oh my god, yes. I think every woman who works outside her home knows that feeling of just constantly dropping balls and feeling like you’re letting everyone down. The guilt of it. And the constant overwhelm.

What was the biggest interview Mamamia got in the early days like Eve does with the potential female PM?

Julia Gillard coming into the office when she was Prime Minister was massive for us. A real pinch-me moment. It was a specific time in the culture where women were really engaged in politics because of Tony Abbott being the previous PM and making himself the Minister For Women despite having tried to block abortion access when he was Health Minister and making references to women being at home doing the ironing. He is the only Prime Minister in 15 years who wouldn’t do an interview with us. He had no interest in talking to women. So by the time Julia became PM and her iconic speech about all the disgusting sexism she’d faced, Mamamia was riding that wave and people were looking to us for a lot of commentary.


Having the first female PM come and visit our tiny office was a big deal. I remember her office calling me at home when I was trying to make dinner for my kids to confirm that the advance team and security would be there a few days earlier to scope the place out. I was chopping vegetables (rare) and it just felt surreal. Then I got really excited and started inviting people like it was my wedding. I wanted my kids to be there, especially my daughter who was maybe five years old at the time. I really wanted her to meet Australia’s first female PM and Julia was so lovely. I have a photo of her crouching down to shake Coco’s hand.

Mia's daughter Coco shaking Julia Gillard's hand. Image: Supplied.


Was the photoshopping storyline inspired by US website Jezebel’s treatment of Lena Dunham? Were there any other situations that happened to other media companies that inspired plots?

Yes, 2012 was a time when women’s websites like Jezebel and Mamamia were defining ourselves in opposition to the way glossy magazines portrayed women. I remember getting into a Twitter argument with a mag editor when I accused her of over-using Photoshop on a cover and she clapped back and tried to get me banned from appearing on a TV show.

I loved the way that storyline played out though because with mags, most celebrities want their images retouched and some even insist on using their own retouchers. This happened to me a few times when I was a magazine editor and it was a nightmare because their re-touching was always so over-the top.

But at the same time, I completely understand it. If you’re a famous woman, looking a certain way directly affects your ability to make money. Especially if you’re an actor or any kind of celebrity really, so you have to work inside the system of impossible beauty standards for women, even if that system is f**ked up.


Has your family seen the show and how do they feel about their depictions?

Well, it’s not them so they’re fine with it. Evelyn is divorced and I’m very much not divorced. In fact my husband, Jason Lavigne is my co-founder and Mamamia’s CEO which is a very different scenario than Strife and that was all deliberate.

Bruna Papendrea and her producing partner Jodi Materson and I agreed on that from the start. It was never going to be ‘my’ family or ‘my’ story. Making it fictional gives us way more creative freedom, so it’s much more interesting than my actual life. Mamamia is very much a family business now. Our kids have grown up in it and our eldest son has worked in the business himself since he started as an intern at 18. He’s now Head of Product and our kids have learned a huge amount about business by osmosis because they’ve heard Jason and I talking about it every day for their whole lives. Poor them!

Which items of clothing were yours?

Originally, I imagined myself much more involved in the wardrobe of the show, but that’s because I had no idea what making a show actually looked like. It’s a mammoth operation with hundreds of professionals working behind the scenes to make it happen. And they’re all experts in their areas. I sent through tons of photos from around 2012 — the kinds of things we wore at the office. There were a lot of ankle boots, statement necklaces and belts! Nobody at Mamamia in 2012 was massively into clothes except for me but in my experience, when women work together, their style often morphs in the same way their periods sync.


One time, we did a mass order from Rubi shoes and 10 of us bought the same pair of ankle boots.

The infamous Rubi ankle boots. Image: Supplied.

Mia got in on the shoe trend too. Image: Supplied.


Separately, Asher Keddie thought deeply about the character and made a conscious decision not to dress like me which I didn’t understand at first but quickly came to understand was genius.

Evelyn isn’t me and dressing in loads of sequins and bright colours would have been distracting. The funny thing is that now I’ve started to dress like Evelyn. All I want to wear is wide-legged pants and shirts. Asher has such an incredible eye for how to use clothes in a way that helps tell a story of a character without overshadowing it.

The wardrobe supervisor came to my house and raided my wardrobe for a bunch of things to use for Opal [played by Bebe Bettencourt] because she is the most fashion-y one in the office.


Did a big corporate media company ever try to buy Mamamia in those early days? Did you consider selling the business in the early years?

We had offers from time to time, and of course, you have the conversations. The thing is that our vision for what Mamamia was going to be and how unique it was is not something other media companies could see. They all thought that if we wouldn’t sell to them, they would just start their own women’s website, and they did. They all did! There were more than a dozen sites for women, independents and by every major media company, in the first 10 years after we launched. It was terrifying because some of those companies spent millions and threw everything at it.

Ultimately, that was a good thing because it showed advertisers that ‘women’ weren’t just a ‘niche’. They were a powerful category of consumers and decision-makers who consumed a tonne of content and were responsible for 85 per cent of all purchasing decisions.

In many ways a high tide lifted all boats but ultimately, almost none of them lasted. Because it’s hard and it takes a long time and you either run out of money or energy or, in the cast of the big companies, it just isn’t enough of a business priority. Women are still a ‘niche’ to those big companies.

What has always set Mamamia apart is our core purpose. Most of our competitors weren’t trying to make the world better for women, they were just trying to monetise them and without that heart, that authenticity of purpose and vision. Women are our everything at Mamamia, our main game, not a line in a spreadsheet and ultimately I think that’s been the heart of our success and longevity.


Mamamia's mission is to make the world a better place for women and girls. Image: Binge.

You have an ADHD diagnosis now. How do you now view this time in hindsight after seeing Eve’s relationship with her psychologist play out on the show?

God, I wish I’d known earlier because I would have understood a lot more about myself and the way my mind works and I would have taken steps to avoid high-risk situations like live TV which I never, ever do any more. 

In the early days of Mamamia, what I was grappling with was anxiety on top of undiagnosed ADHD and that was much more debilitating. My ADHD, I can now see in hindsight, had some positives that have contributed to Mamamia’s growth. My hyper-focus has always been fixed on making content for women. I have an insatiable appetite for it that hasn’t faded in 30 years since I started in magazines.


It’s no accident that a lot of entrepreneurs have ADHD because to start a business you have to have a big appetite for risk and one of the features of ADHD that can be really tricky is that our brains are not able to assess risk very well.

We also love risk because it comes with a big kick of adrenaline. If you can harness all that — the hyper-focus and the bias towards risk — then it can be a great thing for business. However, the key to Mamamia’s growth is Jason because without him to counterbalance all the negative things about my ADHD (an inability to assess risk being one of them) I would have crashed and burned a long time ago and I nearly did and I would have a million times were it not for him.

That’s why he’s the CEO not me. He sees things I can’t see and has the business brain and steady hand that I do not have. We are a true partnership in that way.

The intern moving in with Evelyn — did you find it hard to keep work and personal boundaries back when the team was so small and sharing such intimate content about their lives? How did you navigate personal vs. work relationships in the early years? 

Pretty much in the same way as I navigated it when I was in magazines. It can be really intense — which I love — because your job is having conversations and publishing content about really intimate topics whether it’s sex or relationships or health issues. It’s normal to me because I’ve been doing it for decades but when new people start at Mamamia or outsiders hear stories about what it was like in magazines during the heyday, they are shocked.


I was in a meeting the other day about our fashion podcast and we were talking about an episode on how tricky it can be to dress when you have big boobs and Leigh Campbell, who is the host, had told me to buy this bra and so I lifted up my shirt to show her one I was wearing.

Our new Head of Podcasts had just started and she was like, okay, wow.

In a normal workplace you wouldn’t be talking about porn or vaginismus or oral sex or eating disorders or boobs in the course of a regular work day. So that intimacy happens fast and lines are crossed.

When you overlay the full-on nature of startup culture on top of that and then amplify it with the intensity of digital media it can be a lot to navigate sometimes. I haven’t always done it well.

I’m all in or all out and I know that can be disconcerting for people.

When people leave for whatever reason, it can feel strange for everyone because you’ve been so close and suddenly that intimacy is gone day-to-day because for me, I have to keep sprinting in the same direction to run the business while people who leave will be going in their own direction.

Lucy Ansell plays an intern in Strife who moves in with Evelyn. Image: Binge.


I know that can feel like I run hot and cold and I am trying to get better at that but it’s mostly just a symptom of how much of my energy has to go into work.

So it’s like any workplace, sometimes it’s a ‘season’ relationship or friendship and sometimes it endures after you no longer work together. I worked closely with hundreds of women during my time in magazines and at Mamamia and of those there are a few I’m still super close to, others I adore but don’t see that much but we’re in semi-regular contact and some I’ve lost contact with but cheer on from afar whenever I hear they’ve kicked some amazing career goal which is often. I’ve been bloody lucky to have spent time working with some of the most talented women in media and I’ve learned from all of them.


When Eve is on the Q&A TV panel, she suggests that everyone just wants her to stop talking. But this is the premise of the website, to be open and speak the unspoken so women feel seen and heard. How did this juxtaposition play out in real life?

What digital has been brilliant for is eliminating the (usually male) gatekeepers of what content gets out into the world. If you have an internet connection and something to say, you can have a voice.

But it took a long time for those same gates to start to open in more traditional media. So the people who would be invited onto TV shows like Q&A and The Project and the Today Show and Sunrise and the ones reporters would call up or invite on radio to get comment on “women’s issues” were still usually white and privileged because they were the ones who had been given the most chances early in their careers and had worked their way into positions of having high profiles in the media because of those chances they’d been given.

I never wanted Mamamia to just be about me because I always understood that my perspective on the world was very small and limited and specific. I wanted to build a platform that could amplify the voices of women from all backgrounds and who had all kinds of lived experiences because that was the only way that more women would feel seen, heard and understood — by having their lives and views reflected back at them.

So I think the time period reflected in the show was one of those inflection points of transition. There were some women — like me — who had too big a share of voice in the mainstream media and other women, particularly younger women, were pissed off and wanted their turn.

I totally get that. As a Gen X woman we felt the same about Boomer feminists! But the answer is not for one group of women to shut up. The answer is for more voices to speak out to reflect the experience of women in all its diversity. And I think that’s exactly what has happened over the past decade.


Dealing with trolls is still something digital publishers encounter. Image: Binge.

Did you read the comments section? How did you put boundaries in place when it came to responding to criticism?

I had to! It was just me for the first two years and I didn’t know how to pre-moderate comments so if you left a comment it was just published and sat there until I could read it. Some posts would have 1000 comments and I would have to read every single one.


It was also where the Mamamia community lived, in that comments section, because it was pre-social media.

It was so different to being a magazine editor and reading ‘letters to the editor’ because for the first few years I was an editor, they were actual letters! And by the time they arrived, via mail, you had finished working on whatever they were talking about months earlier.

Now comments were in real time, and that was a huge adjustment. Because sometimes the commenters would fight with each other or abuse you and for a long time, I thought I had to leave all those comments up in the name of ‘freedom of speech’.

It was a wild time. And then when we were in an office we had to protect each other if something went bad because that time, around 2012 was the real start of trolling. When people began to abuse you in a performative way to impress their own followers on social media.

We had rules about if something was going viral or getting a backlash that we would take the writer off comment moderation so they wouldn’t have to see it. It was incredibly hard to manage. These days, we have 24/7 moderation teams working to make sure the comments stay respectful.

The scene where the school mum reminded Evelyn that her daughter’s vaginismus was private — is that inspired by any particular incident or a combination? When you first started blogging about your life, who put in what boundaries? Did you lose any friendships over anything you wrote?

It was inspired by an intern who pitched a story about her own vaginismus in a meeting one day and the editor at the time had to make a tricky call about whether to allow her to write the story under her own name because she was young and even though she wanted to — this happened sometimes — we had to protect people if we thought they might regret the exposure that came with revealing something really private on such a big platform.


It’s something I’ve navigated for my whole career because I’ve always written about my life. Print is different to digital though. Digital lasts forever and can be shared totally out of context. It’s something writers have always had to grapple with because our stories intersect with the stories of others — our families, our friends, our partners — who has the right to share something that involves someone else?

I know the boundaries very well now but I haven’t always got it right. One time my parents were over for dinner and we had what I thought was a very funny conversation about a TV show which I relayed in a post and my mother was furious with me. It was a good reminder that my version of what’s private is not always the same as a "normal" person.

Evelyn's family situation in Strife is very much fictional. Image: Binge.


The conversations between Evelyn and her teenage son about STDS, consent, porn etc. How did/do you navigate that with teenage sons?

All my kids laugh about those scenes because they’ve all been there, trapped in the car with me while I deliver a life lesson about something you never, ever want to hear from your mother.

I was quite sad when my eldest two kids got their driver's licence because it meant I no longer had that power over them to make them listen to my lectures while I dropped them somewhere.

I’ve always worked on the basis that I will tell them all the things I think they need to know and they will hate me for it at the time and want to hurl themselves out of the moving car but hopefully, if they hear it enough times, some of it will sink in. Isn’t that the hope of all parenting?

Are you or your family or friends in any scenes?

A bunch of the Mamamia staff and my daughter were all extras in the CEO sleepout scene. They were so excited to be in it until midnight when they were still filming. It’s not as glamorous as it looks!

What do you want to put on the record as the least “Mia” thing that Evelyn does?

Smoking. I don’t even vape.

Strife is available on Binge to watch now.

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