Two reviews of Mamamia (the book, not the website or the musical)

In all the flurry of my book being released and the major overwhelm I went into (not bad overwhelm but overwhelm nonetheless), I didn’t end up sharing any of my reviews on this site. I don’t know why. I think I just needed a bit of space from it all.

Whatevs. I wanted to share two reviews with you – one from a Gen Xer and one from a Y.

One of the reviews that meant the most to me (and which made my mother cry in a good way) was this one from journalist, blogger, tweeter and author Caroline Overington.

In The Australian, she wrote:

A GENERATION of Australian women is about to turn 40 and it is not any old generation. This is the generation that comprises those women, born either just before or slightly after 1970, who were told that they could have it all.These are the daughters of the Whitlam-era feminists, born to women who had to quit their public service jobs the instant they got married; and to women who had far less control over their fertility, unless you count abortion.Their mothers – women now in their 60s – guided this generation toward a different future, one in which opportunities were limitless. They have been able to study, work and travel in the way generations of Australian girls could not. This was the first generation of women able to take out mortgages in their own names.

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Then, too, they have had the freedom to enjoy their sexual life (and, yes, it can indeed be a dubious pleasure, and should come with these instructions: be careful with your choices and know that you, too, will be dumped. When it happens, lap it up, for it’s an important part of your sentimental education.)

But back to the girls who are now women, approaching the age of reason. They aren’t yet done with their adventures, but they are beginning to tell their stories and it’s only proper that among the first to so do is Mia Freedman, who helped set the tone of her lively, ambitious generation.

Freedman was an editor at Cleo (famous for its nude centrefolds of men) and, from the age of 24, of Cosmopolitan. Her memoir, Mama Mia, is out this week.

Like many young women of her era, Mia started on the bottom rung and because she was smart and confident, it didn’t take long for her to get to the top. She had a strong work ethic, and she wasn’t afraid to try new ideas, and nor was she frightened of a woman’s desire for more than a life at home.

Some of her generation decided not to have children, or else they didn’t meet the right guy in time, but like Mia, most decided they could have children and work too, and were knocked over by the love that flooded their hearts when their babies arrived.

Mia’s book is in part about the juggle: pumping breast milk in the corporate bathroom, all the while planning a seminar for 58 other Cosmopolitan editors; or else flying pregnant to New York for a promotion of some kind. And as a reader, you’re well into the fantastic busyness of it, and you’re enjoying reading about Mia as she settles back to see the ultrasound of her second baby, when you suddenly hear her say: “Is there a heartbeat?” And the girl with the ultrasound probe says: “No, Mia. There’s no heartbeat.”

……The loss drove Mia and her husband apart; and there was a long road to walk, much of it in agony, before they found their way back to each other. Two more children have since been born; and so has Mia’s new career, as a writer.

Freedman concludes the book by saying, in so many words, that she is stronger not only for what she has so far learned, but what she’s lost. In the process, she reveals the emotional depth of the generation of women who were assured that they could have it all, and only over time learned that nothing worth having comes easy.

If you had to summarise Freedman’s message – and we should, for girls like my niece, Ruby, who yesterday turned 16 and got her first pair of heels for the road ahead – it would be this: life is hard, but not so hard as to not be joyous. Don’t be daunted.

I guess I wanted to share that with you not just to pimp my book but also to give a bit of nuance and positivity to some of the fascinating and fiesty debates we’ve been having here on Mamamia recently about feminism and particularly about working mothers.

I’ve always thought it’s a shame when things become polarised because there is so much more to be learned in a calmer, honest sharing of our experiences and those shades of grey…..

Here’s another review from Fairfax journalist Rachel Hills…. which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald last month and which she was kind enough to post on her blog as well:

Personally and professionally, Mia Freedman is a Big Deal. As editor of Cosmopolitan, she was instrumental in changing the way women’s magazines approached diets and body image. As the short-lived Creative Services Director at Channel Nine, she managed to chip a few dents in the notoriously blokey station’s glass ceiling. Her blog mamamia.com.au, after which this book is named, is perhaps the most successful foray into the medium by an Australian mainstream media personality.It’s an impressive reel of accomplishments by anyone’s standards. But for many women in their 20s and 30s, Freedman is more than that. Just as Cosmopolitan is marketed as a guide to modern womanhood, Freedman, as its editor, was the cool older cousin its young, female readers hoped they would grow up to be.

As one who was in her late teens at the height of Freedman’s magazine heyday, I was one such fangirl. I pushed for the campus women’s group to have Freedman speak at one of our events, and would shoot my hand up in class to talk about Cosmopolitan‘s campaign against airbrushing women’s genitals in men’s mags when conversation turned to the evils of women‘s magazines.

It is to people like me – and there are a lot of us – that Mama Mia, a memoir of Freedman’s personal and professional life since she kicked off her magazine career in the early 1990s, will appeal most.

Some parts of the Freedman mythology are already well known. That she started at ACP as an ambitious 19-year-old work experience student, determined to make editor of Cleo by her 25th birthday. That after quitting her job to freelance, she was headhunted for the same role at Cosmopolitan at just 24. Dedicated magazine fans will know that she gave birth to her first child just a year later, making her private life a stark contrast to Cosmo’s swinging single girl.

But in Mama Mia, Freedman goes further, revealing much that wasn’t previously on the public record.

That becoming a mother sapped much of her famous publishing ambition – shortly after giving birth, Freedman begged ACP‘s women’s lifestyle publisher Pat Ingram to let her quit Cosmo and launch a parenting magazine in its place. That she suffered two devastating miscarriages. That beneath her success, she was just as anxious and troubled as anyone else.

If you’re looking for a juicy tell-all about what really goes on behind the scenes in women’s magazines or at Channel Nine, you’ll be disappointed. The professional side of the story is there – Freedman’s exchanges with founding Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown are particularly amusing – but the real meat of Mama Mia lies in the candid insights into her personal life. This is a book about Mia the person, of which the high-flying career woman is only one part; and it is much about her short-comings as it is about her successes.

It seems this is no coincidence. Writing of her ambitions for failed Nine show, The Catch-Up, Freedman explains: “I was sick of the polished images of women in the media and I wanted something more real – something women at home could relate to emotionally.” Just a couple of weeks ago, Freedman responded to a reader’s question about how she manages to “do it all” with a video-blogged confession of laying on her coffee table wailing “I can‘t do this, it‘s too hard, I‘m so overwhelmed“.

It’s not often we get to see our idols in this light, but such confessions serve to demystify and humanise success. Which is just as Freedman intended it.

You can buy Mamamia from any bookstore (ask at the counter if you can’t find it up the front, sometimes it’s filed in an odd section) or order online in time for Christmas here.

Something I promised to do but never got around to was a webcast Q&A about the book. Now that so many of you have read it and others might just be looking for something to read or *cough* buy for all their friends for Christmas, I thought I would give it a whirl in a different format.

If you have any questions about the book, leave them below as comments and I will record an Ask Mia video in the next few days…..

And if you are one of the lovely people who have emailed me after reading the book and I haven’t yet replied to you, hang in there and forgive me. I’m slowly getting through my inbox!

There are a bunch of other earlier posts I’ve done about the book and the circus of promoting it that you can find here…

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