Q&A with Kaz Cooke, Author of Women’s Stuff

What kind of ground is covered in your new book Women’s Stuff?

It’s not a bossy or shouty “guide to how to live your life”. It’s more like having a best friend in the cupboard who knows everything about everything – so you can consult it for independent advice whether you ‘re wondering if you’re really in love and he’s the one to whether your shampoo is ruining the environment, what Botox actually does to you, how to find a job, or leave one and how to cope with feeling down, how to get more sleep, win a wrestle with troublesome hormones, or what to do if you find a lump in your breast. Or, how to tell a busybody to sod off without saying ‘sod off,’ how to recognise a dodgy friend, how to get out of debt or get the sex life you’d rather have.

What was the biggest challenge writing Women’s Stuff?

That it was such a big task. Just knowing that it was going to take a huge amount of research to identify what women needed to know, then to find and check with experts and present it in a way which isn’t daunting, but helpful, trustworthy, and fun. And to do that in a world where most information given to women is controlled by commercial interests trying to sell us something, or special interests who want to push their own agenda. On a personal level, the challenge was working out how to honour more than 7000 women who contributed to the book through a questionnaire. Every one of them had a hand in what I decided to write about… I felt like I was having a conversation with thousands of women.

How many women replied to the Women’s Stuff survey?

More than 7000 women responded – by far the most from Australia, and New Zealand, but also from 64 other countries! The only continent not represented is Antarctica. All in all, more than 490,000 questions were answered.

What was the oddest fact you uncovered… Perhaps the get-thin-quick-scheme from the late 1900s involving a jar of sanitised tapeworms?

I know, hilarious – but is it really so different from the people claiming to be able to “Fat Zap” your weight worries away with radio waves? Or claiming that a special drink will cause you to gain a better figure? Some of the stuff that shocked me the most was a scary level of ignorance or belief – like the woman who said she wouldn’t get cancer from her constant sunbaking because she ate organic food, or the woman who said the best people to give you advice about skin products was the people selling them because that made them experts– things like that. There were also many surprising things that women told me. That they’d never had an orgasm in 10 years with their partner but they didn’t know how to stop faking; or how women in their 50s and 60s were still basing their negative body image on a comment from a schoolyard bully when they were 6, or 9 years old.

What was the funniest reply you had to your survey?

The honesty of a 21 year old who says she likes walking round the mall carrying shopping bags because it makes her feel rich, or the fashion worker who said her job used to be sewing size 10 labels into size 12 clothes. Some of the answers to “Is there a pattern to your choice of partner?” were pretty funny; “Three Davids, two Johns, three Peters and two Richards” and “they’ve mostly been wankers” made me laugh out loud.

You use humour very effectively in your book – do you recommend it as a tool to handle life and its crazy twists and turns?

I suspect if I’m really honest I have to admit I have a short attention span, and laughing helps me stay interested in anything. It’s really just how I see the world.

In Women’s Stuff you write that women have never hated the way they look more than they do today – any theories as to why?

I think the rise of commercialism and advertising is a big part of it. The prevailing culture tells girls they are too fat when they are still in kindergarten – they see it on TV, they watch their mums talking about it and criticising themselves. The bizarre domination of porn-related culture has also “told” women they need to be “hot” and look sexually available and primped (hence the Brazillian craze) and now cosmetic procedures and surgery are seen as an ordinary option for some.

What did the survey reveal as the biggest challenge for today’s women?

Finding inner confidence. Absolutely everything else will follow from there. That’s what the first part of the book is all about.

What has been the most difficult stage in life for you as a woman?

The teens were really hard because I had a lot of pimples and apple-green bedroom walls. My 20s probably the hardest because although I was earning money and didn’t have to wear old ladies pants from the op shop any more, I didn’t realise that I could influence and choose things that happened in my life. I was too busy responding to what turned up in front of me and because I did so many stupid things; drinking like a Russian mobster, smoking like a damp pile of leaves on a campfire and sleeping with reporters. In my 30s I settled down and started a family. In my 40s I did the juggle. I’d say it’s a toss up between the first two years of motherhood, and my 20s.

Whom do you rely upon for advice now and when you were younger?

Now, it’s my friends, and any of the more than 200 lovely experts I consult for my books. I am afraid that when I was younger I probably would have taken advice from any old bonkers baggage who offered it, because I didn’t know anything.

Kaz Cooke likes…

Teal blue; comedy dancing, and stay-put underpants.

And dislikes?

Capers (by which I mean those strange berry things, not amusing adventures); maths and women who look you up and down dismissively when they first see you. I’m looking at you, snooty boutique sales assistants called Anthea).

“Women Stuff” By Kaz Cooke is published by Penguin Books Australia RRP $59.95