Mia Freedman is one of the most polarising figures in Australian media. When just 24 years old, she became the youngest-ever editor of Cosmopolitan, is a vocal supporter of equal rights, founder of the Australian women’s website MamaMia.com.au and is highly sought after for her comment on social issues.
Her unfiltered habit of speaking has often landed her at the centre of controversy, but talking to her one-on-one, it’s hard
She encourages people to remember that everyone is a human being (“even Donald Trump”) and to respect those who share your environment.
“I think you have to look at what you say and how you say it.”
She also points out that responsible dialogue goes beyond the personal opinions of individuals.
“I can’t believe I’m going to use a sporting analogy,” Mia says, “but play the ball not the person.”
Her discomfort using sporting analogies stems partially from an appearance she made on Channel Nine’s Today Show. When the host showered praise on Cadel Evans for winning the prestigious Tour de France, Mia questioned whether sportstars should be afforded the status of hero.
The host, Karl Stefanovic, dismissed her question, angrily labelling her ignorant.
Almost immediately she was deluged with online abuse and threats including those of explicit sexual violence. She admits she was scared for her physical safety.
She didn’t fare much better on another network when she publicly agreed with a colleague who took Sunrise host, David Koch, to task for teasing his co-host Samantha Armytage over high heels by bringing out a stripper pole during an online segment of the show.
Despite not being directly involved, Freedman and her website were criticised by Koch and she was once again the target for threats of violence and rape.
She later told the The Guardian: “I don’t think what Kochie understood by letting loose on Jamila (Rivzi, Editor-in-Chief of Mamamia) is that, when you’re in a position of power like that, it gives everybody license to do it. The level of abuse she got, of sexual violence threats, was actually frightening.”
And it’s the online lynch mobs that really concern her when it comes to inequality. She points out women are treated differently online. Merely airing an opinion is too often met with threats of sexual violence – not just against the writer, but family members as well.
to see why she has detractors. She’s welcoming, thoughtful, listens as much as she speaks and laughs warmly.
She comes across as genuine.
She’s also one of Australia’s largest internet- based publishers. So when Mia speaks about problems facing our country and children in this digital age, it’s worth listening to her.
She highlights the interactive and anonymous nature of social media as major concerns.
“I think that’s why we’re grappling to cope with this avalanche of feedback and the type of negative feedback that it often is.
“The different hook with social media is now there’s an audience for it, so it’s not just saying something to someone’s face or writing them a nasty letter. It’s actually ‘watch me be clever and be horrible about this person.’ Or ‘watch me create my identity out of abusing someone who I disagree with’.”
She admits she’s had to develop a very thick skin and believes that along with resilience, we should be teaching our kids to treat others as you would want to be treated yourself.
“The stuff they come out with… people would never say that to your face. Never! It’s back to that basically what you do unto others. That doesn’t get old.”
She admits it’s difficult to teach children to respect others and their perspectives when there are so many examples of the opposite in the public eye.
“What troubles me is that you’ve got people like Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump, and Donald Trump in particular who basically goes out and calls people names and bullies people and it’s like schoolyard name calling. It’s become a real problem trying to tell kids to not make fun of people, don’t call them names, don’t tease them because that is bullying.
“When you are in conditional power and you are ganging up on people – and that’s what he does – you have responsibilities. But in many ways that’s why he’s popular: because he does that.”
It’s symptomatic of a much larger problem and one of the reasons why Mia is an ambassador for RizeUp – a community-driven organisation dedicated to supporting those affected by domestic violence.
RizeUp runs a number of programs to help families struggling with domestic violence, including providing goods, rapid response or support for kids struggling to fit in and manage their self-esteem.
“I think domestic violence is the greatest single problem facing women in this country, and in fact the world. If a woman can’t be saved in her own home, how can she do anything in the world? How can she achieve anything? How can she be a good mother? How can she have a career?”
She says it’s a fundamental right to feel safe and secure and there’s passion in her voice when she says it’s not a matter of waiting for generational change.
“I don’t think we have to be patient at all, I think we need to be angry and treat this like the public emergency that it is. It’s a crisis. It’s a tragedy. It’s an indictment.
”I love RizeUp because I love that it has a very specific goal, which is to acknowledge how difficult it is to walk away from your home. Even without fearing for your life, there’s so much questioning of why women stay. Well, think about leaving, think about walking away in the middle of the night from everything you’ve ever owned and built.
“So the idea of providing comfort, nurturing and dignity is important. They have nothing.”
She points out that if victims of domestic violence end up in accommodation that is unclean and crowded, they often become so concerned about their children they return to their original situation.
“And they put themselves and their children’s lives at risk.”
She and RizeUp want to ensure women feel they have other options.
As a high-profile personality, Mia is keenly aware of her responsibilities as a social commentator and the effect she can have on others.
She’s fascinated by the power of image curation (the choice of photos that you post online) and how these can set unrealistic goals for others – the pressure to keep up.
“The spotlight has moved away from magazines to social media and now there are people who are creating their own airbrushed, unrealistic images of their lives. I think that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. People will want to portray themselves in whatever way they want.”
But she doesn’t like to see people being harsh on themselves because they compare themselves to others.
“I think that you have to be mindful about who you follow, and if you’re following someone on social media and you feel inadequate and vulnerable and
insecure when you look at the way they portray their life, then stop following them. You have the power to create your own social media and be very mindful of what you choose to have in your feed.”
Mia reaches millions of Australians each month via the mainstream media and her online presence through multiple websites, including MamaMia. com.au. This, she admits, comes with its own stresses and responsibilities.
It’s here that some of her most attractive core beliefs shine through: honesty and self-awareness. As the editor of a major women’s magazine, she famously published headshots of herself sans makeup and still works hard to not misrepresent herself and other women.
“I always make a conscious effort to show myself honestly. You know I like wearing nice clothes, I like looking nice. I’m as vain as the next person but I’m very conscious to put real shots through my social media where I’m not wearing makeup and where I haven’t had my roots done.
“They’re not necessarily portraying me at my most flattering because that wouldn’t be realistic and who would that be doing a favour to? My vanity?
“I truly believe that the most generous thing we can do for other women, as a woman, is be honest. Whether it’s about emotional things we’ve been through or how we really look or how we feel about how we look.”