Kathy Lette, Inspiring, Feminist and Blooming Funny Woman!
Read on for my interview with the adorably wicked Kathy Lette. You'll laugh out loud, I promise. "Oh, Kath, you can’t possibly go and live in England. That’s where all those terrible convicts come from!" Luckily for us she ignored her grandmother's advice.
Kathy Lette is an author of many books (highly entertaining and recommended) and she also is a well known for her TV and radio appearances. You’ve probably heard or seen her giving her two penn’oth on feminism. Funny women are massively under represented on TV and radio so it’s always great to hear her. Like Caitlin Moran, she uses humour to make her feminist arguments, illuminating the ludicrousness of the status quo.
Here’s a classic example of a Lette one liner from her latest novel, Courting Trouble which, with typical Lette boldness, tackles the topic of rape and ‘consent’:
“We’re fed up with getting concussion hitting our heads on the glass ceiling and being expected to clean it whilst up there.”
I laughed out loud at that, as I did through most of the book, (when I wasn’t crying at the serious bits, that is).
Jane: Kathy you grew up in Australia. We’re not that far apart on age (you are a few years younger) and I recall the 60s & 70s as being both exciting and yet very difficult for women. I have lost count of the number of times I was groped, or worse. Sexism was rife and very, very overt. What was living in Australia like for young girls in the sixties & seventies?
Kathy: I only write because it’s cheaper than therapy. My first book , Puberty Blues, was about growing up as a surfie chick. The boys I grew up with, disproved the theory of evolution – they were evolving into apes. We girls were little more than a life support system to a pair of breasts. As I developed some objectivity, I realised that there was more to life than just being a human handbags, draped attractively over the arms of a surfie boyfriend, so wrote Puberty Blues for my girlfriends, as a kind of literary survival guide. I had no idea that the book was going to become a cult sensation. It was rather intimidating going from non-entity (a case of mistaken nonentity) to overnight notoriety.
But I’m very fond of the novel. It’s pithy and witty – like straight vegemite, (Marmite) no butter. Puberty Blues is an uplifting story of two girls who broke free from peer group pressures and blew a raspberry at the boys who oppressed them. I am an optimist by nature – I do not think optimism is an eye disease.
What prompted the move to the UK?Love. I fell in love with Geoffrey Robertson, a human rights lawyer, who was going out with Nigella Lawson at the time. He broke up with her for me and I can’t cook. I use my smoke alarm as a timer!
What was the biggest difference for you as a young woman living in the UK?When I first lived in Britain I thought I’d landed in a New Man paradise. The men talked about opera and gardening and quoted poetry. It took me a while to realize that Britain is just as sexist as Oz, but it’s much better hidden. At least in Oz, the battle lines are drawn and you can see the enemy.
The other thing it took time to get used to, is the condescension chromosome towards Australians. As I’m related to a convict from the first and the second fleet, that makes me the crème de la crim! Actually, whenever any Brit is condescending to me about my Australian background, I repeat what my Grandma said when I told her I was leaving to live in London:
“Oh, Kath, you can’t possibly go and live in England. That’s where all those terrible convicts come from!”
Do you remember when you first realised you were a feminist? Was it a Damascene conversion or more of a slow burn?The day I was ‘dropped’ by my surfie boyfriend for daring to ride a board. Surfie girls were little more than a life support system to a pair of breasts. We weren’t allowed to surf. We just lay on beach in teeny-weeny bikinis, nervously glancing downwards in case our G-strings had slipped. Believe me, it gave “bad hair day” a whole new meaning. All we were allowed to do was mind the towel, fetch the chiko roll and massage male egos. We were demure and decorative, draped over the arms of our board-shorted Neanderthals like human handbags.
Yes, these surfie gods had serious pecs appeal and twinkly eyes, but also a three grunt vocabulary of “na”, “dunno” and “ergggh.” They were emotional bonsai – you had to whack the fertiliser to get any feelings out of them. They also thought ‘sex drive’ meant doing it in the car – possibly because of that little sign in the rear vision mirror which said “Objects in this mirror, may appear larger than they are.”
Mind you, the Surfie girls I grew up with were so perfect. They proved that Barbie and Ken dolls did have sex, as they were the progeny. They were blonde, blue eyed, big breasted… and I was a bonsai brunette whose bra cups did not runneth over. But I owe them a favour. They made me develop what I call my black belt in tongue fu – I learnt to get attention by being witty. Otherwise the pope would be ringing me up for tips on celibacy
What was your very first paid job? Have any of the skills you acquired then stayed with you?Emptying bedpans in a hospital – hence my toilet humour!
Did you have a classic route through education? By which I mean school, exams, college or University, more exams…? Or did you take a different route?I left school at 16. The only examination I’ve ever passed is my cervical smear test. I’m an autodidact – it means self-taught. Obviously, it’s a word I taught myself! I was bored at school. I couldn’t understand why teachers spent the first few years teaching you to talk …and the rest of the time telling you to shut up. Even though I was an A student, I left straight after my school certificate, much to my mother’s horror. She was a headmistress. But my determination to show her that failure wasn’t the only thing I could be a success at, did prove a strong motivating factor.
Courting Trouble was published in August 2014 which probably means you’re halfway through your next book by now. When did you first start to write fiction and what was your very first published book?
No, actually I can’t write like that. I have to wait to build up a head of steam. I have to wait to see what is driving me mad and making me cross, then a book starts to bubble. But in a comedic way. At the moment I’m just in Margaret Mead Mode, an anthropologist on L plates, soaking up material by having fun. (I do all my research in a very in-depth, scientific fashion…over cappuccinos with girlfriends!) I just write the book I wish I’d had when I was going through something – be it childbirth, motherhood, raising a teenage daughter, midlife crisis – they’re like survival guides for other women.
But I never get Writer’s Block. (That sounds to me like a penitentiary for writers who use too many puns – a penitentiary!)
Female writers don’t have time for writers block. Trying to juggle kids and career means that we juggle so much we could be in the Moscow State Circus. If a mother gets time to write in between rescuing the math tutor from being dragged up the stairs between the teeth of one feral teen, or driving the other child to football/ dance/ girl guides (a mother delivers a child vaginally once, then by car forever after) YOU WRITE THEN. It’s a joy to have time to write. I think any mother who finishes a novel should just get the Booker Prize, just for completing her tome.
How did you get that first book published & how long did it take you?My first book Puberty Blues, came out when I was about 19. It went on to become a cult classic. But it was rejected by about ten publishing houses before that.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone has given you?Never eat a hot dog from a road side stand. Oh, and to always make the man swim on the shark side!
What’s the best mistake you have made in your life? (Mine was messing up my first University course, going somewhere else a year later, and meeting the man I’ve now been with for almost 40 years.)
What an excellent mistake to make then! The best mistake I ever made was leaving school early and becoming a writer. Writing has taken me all over the world, allowed me to be writer in residence at the Savoy hotel and given me endless pleasure and fun and creative satisfaction. And, as I said, earlier, it ‘s so much cheaper than therapy!
If you could give your 16 year old some advice, what would it be? To stand on my own two stilettos and not wait to be rescued by some Knight in Shining Armani. And to embrace feminism earlier. Feminism had not trickled down to suburbia in the 70’s. I remember once in the pub, I heard some boys ordering a round of “germs”. When I asked what that was, they said, Germaine Greers – beers. They had no idea who Germaine was. She was just rhyming slang for beer. I haven’t got the heart to tell her!
If you could introduce one law to make gender equality happen more quickly, what would it be?Equal pay. From early November on, British and Australian women effectively stop earning for the year in relation to men. But a treasurer called Georgina Osborne or Josephine Hockey or would put an end to female debt-lag.
Do you have a favourite saying or quote you’d be happy to share?Any woman who calls herself a post feminist has kept her wonder bra and burnt her brains.
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