Wellness

Em Rusciano: What I’ve Learned So Far

The comedian, presenter and performer shared her laugh-out-loud life lessons at our latest FW x Westfield: Women in Conversation event.

By Natalie Cornish

Wellness

The comedian, presenter and performer shared her laugh-out-loud life lessons at our latest FW x Westfield: Women in Conversation event.

By Natalie Cornish

Em Rusciano really is one of a kind. With her finger in every piece of the performing pie, she has co-hosted breakfast radio, sold out the Sydney Opera House with her live comedy shows, released chart-topping songs, books and audiobooks, and, perhaps most importantly, wielded a Bedazzling gun like no one else on Earth. 

2019 is shaping up to be one of the busiest yet for master-multitasker Em. Sixteen weeks ago, she welcomed son Elio to the family alongside the two daughters she already shares with husband Scott: 18-year-old Marchella and 12-year-old Odette. Her latest work project is also in the offing. The Rage and Rainbows Tour, her biggest yet, starts in her hometown of Melbourne on 19th July, before heading to Hobart, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney. 

The mum-of-three brought her raw, laugh-out-loud honesty to Westfield Knox, Westfield Fountain Gate, and Westfield Southland in Victoria, and Westfield Marion in South Australia, for a frank and hilarious conversation with Future Women Editor-at-Large Jamila Rizvi about motherhood, social media, female rage and always asking the women in her life how they are twice as part of our FW X Westfield: Women in Conversation series in partnership with Dove. 

Here, the life lessons Em Rusciano has learned so far…

On Always Asking Women How They Are Twice

“I ask that question to my friends twice because when you ask women at the school gate, or at work, you’ll get ‘I’m fine’. And then I started realising I was feeling a lot of rage and I didn’t really know why. I was just sick of everyone’s shit, but I didn’t really know what that shit was. So I started asking my friends and I started writing this show and I’d get the ‘fine’, and then I’d grab their arm look them in the eye and ask them, ‘No, how are you really?’. And then the tears usually come, and the truth started coming out so I like to ask the people in my life how they are twice. I mean sometimes you’re just being polite, you don’t really want to know that your husband’s prostate is playing up but if you’re in the mood to listen, ask twice, it’s nice. Just be ready for an absolute onslaught of emotion because if you’re over 25 and a woman, you’ve got a lot of pent up shit going on at the moment. And if you feel like there’s a chance that someone will actually listen to you, all of a sudden you’re just gushing to a stranger about your pelvic floor.”

On The Importance Of Female Rage

“It’s not a scary thing to admit you’re feeling really angry. I think women from a young age are encouraged to be good girls, to be polite, to smile and to be liked and I think we encourage little boys to be respected, but little girls think it’s more important to be popular. I’ve done all this research into why we’ve ended up [like this]. Women in Australia especially; they eat their rage, they drink their rage, they gamble their rage, they shop their rage, instead of just acknowledging it. We hide it, we secret cry away from our family, we go in the pantry, the shower, the car. It’s a great thing about having a baby, he can’t rat me out for the secret crying in the car so that’s been good. I wanted to understand why women don’t say, ‘Hey family I’m really angry, you’re going to do your own washing and I’m exhausted’. We tend to dress it up and disguise it. This show is a celebration and an encouragement to all the women in the land to put a voice to what’s making them angry and be okay with it. And then I want to help you get out of it and see past it. And I also want the men in your life to understand what the hell’s going on with you. So my show is really important for the dudes to come along too, because I’m already telling you guys what you already know, right? You need to bring the men in your life with you, so you can sit there going ‘um-hmm’.”

 

On Motherhood At Different Life Stages

“I was a baby having a baby. I was 20 when I fell pregnant, I had her at 21, it as really terrifying. I was convinced I was going to kill her every time I touched her. And I was sterilising blankets and beds, I was sterilising people’s hands. I was wiping everything down. And now I don’t even own a steriliser, I’m like the dummy’s in the dog’s mouth and then in the baby’s mouth – I don’t care. It’s good for his immunity, guys. I think I’m just much more confident now. I’m actually amazed. I had a baby three weeks before I turned 40 and this time around it’s just joyful and I feel much more at ease and I know what I’m doing. At 20 I wouldn’t have known all of that. I’ve got the benefit of 20 years parenting. Also Marchella is an exceptional kid, she teaches me all the time. She’s much wiser, much thinner, much hotter, much smarter than me. I don’t think I would have been ready for a boy then, to shape a man. He’s going to be a staunch feminist still masculine but a new version of masculine not the old version. A respect for women, but still around should he be needed. I’m a staunch feminist but I will not do the bins, that’s a boy job. But don’t tell me I can’t do the bins, I can, I just choose not to. ” 

On Not Coping During Her Last Pregnancy

“I was doing breakfast radio and I was really unhappy. There was a lot of animosity behind the scenes that contractually I’m not allowed to talk about. I was getting up at 3am, I was worried that I was going to lose another pregnancy and the media were writing horrible things about me. I wasn’t allowed to defend myself for contractual reasons. I was saying no to a lot of things at work because I was pregnant. And I didn’t want to get in a coffin filled with spiders guys, I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to do stunts that treat the audience like they don’t have brains. I didn’t want to do gotcha calls. I didn’t want to do all the crap stuff you hear on commercial radio. So, yeah, I would have been pretty hard to work with I imagine because I kept saying no. So that pregnancy up until quitting was about six months. I just went to my boss and said I can’t do this anymore. And it was a very high profile job. Sydney breakfast radio is insane, it’s competitive, it pays you a lot of money and it should because it nearly destroyed my mental health completely. I was up against Kyle Sandilands every day and weekly he would have a crack at me in the media. [His co-host] Jacki O sent me a text message and said Kyle is actually one of your biggest fans. And I was like, well can you ask him to stop calling me names in the newspaper? It’s a big scary market Sydney, and it’s considered the holy grail of broadcasting. Once I quit work, I was a new woman. I was able to relax into the pregnancy. I got the test results back saying everything was okay and he was healthy. I still was scared to lean in to the pregnancy because I’d been so hurt losing my other baby at 16 weeks. I was scared to get attached to another baby. I was scared to go again. The women who go again time and time again, putting themselves out into that intimate, emotional fire, are my heroes. I don’t know how they keep going back because I don’t know that I would have survived losing a second pregnancy.” 

On Men Parenting

“I’ve got two live-in babysitters which is amazing. Scott doesn’t babysit, he parents. Your husbands don’t help you by babysitting your children, that’s their frigging children. That’s called parenting. Also don’t ever let them use the word ‘help’. ‘I’m going to help you around the house’, no idiot, this is where you live also, you’re just doing your share. Your fair share. That idea that the man is just helping you is like it’s an act of charity. It’s not, it’s their job guys. Just remind them of that.”

On Social Media Pressure

“Well there was no social media at that age. Thank god, I wouldn’t have survived motherhood at 20 if I was being judged on Instagram. That would have ended me and ruined me. I think now it’s much easier to be criticised. And it’s much easier to be a bad mother and a good father. Scotty gets praised for turning up. A woman saw him carry the baby from the car to the pram and said, ‘He’s a keeper’. I said, ‘What because his arms work?’ Whereas if I put a picture up of Elio online and there’s a slight twist in his car seat, [people comment] ‘Your baby is going to die in a car crash’. The messages I get. It’s so easy to be called a bad mum now. Dad’s are good dads just if they show up, if they’re there ‘helping’. I don’t think I would have coped. Now I find myself under much more scrutiny from other women and other mothers. It’s not often a man will be brave enough to criticise me in the comment section because he’s got to deal with all of you.” 

On Mum Judgement

“You’ll never hear one dad criticise another dad… You just don’t hear dads doing that, I don’t think they care. It’s only mothers criticising other mothers. I think part of it is projecting, part of us is worried that that’s what we might do, so we squash it. It annoys us. I think it helps us feel better if we’re feeling crappy by having a stab at someone else. It’s a really weird thing to do. I’ve never been someone to go to a comments section and criticise. I will do it in my mind or text a friend a screenshot, I would never write something that I know would ruin another woman’s day because already it’s tough guys. Just putting on our undies, looking in the mirror, getting the kids out and coming home to that stale crime scene of the morning getting ready. It’s hard enough. And then to see someone writing something yuck on your Facebook. I don’t do it…I would never do something to deliberately make someone else’s day worse, except my husband’s but that’s different. The pressure now is just being judged by other women and mothers.”

On Learning That Good Enough Is Okay

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a good mum, a good wife, a good business lady. I feel like when I’m doing one job, I’m worrying about the rest. I feel like I’m failing everyone because I’m not giving 100 percent all the time. My brain is always divided. So when I’m working, I’m thinking, oh god I hope the dinner is being cooked. Then when I’m washing I’m thinking about the show or a radio thing I’ve got coming up. I feel like I’m always a bit scattered and divided. I’m not doing my best anywhere, so you need to know that good enough is okay. Rather than Personal Best (PB) everytime. So I’ve had to really work on not trying to get a PB in everything I do. Just accept everyone is alive, everyone knows they’re loved, the house looks like a bomb site, but that’s okay.”

On Accepting Help

“I think the mental and emotional load is insane and getting worse. We’re working harder now, we’re more ambitious and we’re going out and wanting to do our own businesses. But I don’t think the home front is meeting women’s ambition and want and desire, and rightly so to want to go out and make something of themselves. I think we’re doing a full-time job at work and then coming home and doing a full-time job, and then managing the mental load is the third full-time job. And that mental load doesn’t get mentioned enough. You’re just so exhausted from planning to make sure nothing stuffs up. I get exhausted trying to circumnavigate stuff ups, because I know I’m going to have to come home and deal with that stuff up. We also do ourselves a disservice by not allowing our partners or our kids to do a crap job of something. We’ve got a certain way we like things done and if their standard isn’t as high as ours, you can’t yell at them. I’ve tried, it doesn’t work. You have to accept the help and their version of it. It’s not going to be yours and that’s the hardest thing for me.”

On The Reality Of Breastfeeding

“You feel so vulnerable when you’re breastfeeding. It’s not easy, they make out like you’re just going to put the baby on… in reality it’s sweaty and you’re trying to force their head on and there’s blood and your nipples are all chafed.” 

On Becoming The Person She Needed

“I decided to become the person I needed. I just remember being 21, terrified, not really knowing what was going on. Not really knowing what to do with my post-pregnancy body, with my new child, with my relationship with my partner so I started just becoming the information and the presence and the person I desperately needed and wanted. And now I’m trying to be the person that pushes the boundaries to make sure my daughters are walking into a safer world, and a better world and a more equal world. So I’m happy to be out the front taking the fire, and being criticised and being called ‘outrageous’ and ‘opinionated’. Oh my god, imagine being a woman and having an opinion, it’s disgraceful. How controversial. If I was a man I’d be ambitious, a leader, I’d be strong but because I’m a woman, I’m a diva, I’m a bitch, I’m difficult. I’ve learned to let that go. That’s followed me my whole career, my whole life. If being a diva means I speak up for what I want, I say no to things that don’t feel right and I know what I want, I’m happy to cop a diva, whatever, good.”

On The Positives Of Social Media

“Social media for me has been a lifeline. It’s been a way to pretty much exclusively sell tickets. It’s allowed me to be independent of TV stations and radio stations. I’ve been able to find my own tribe and my own audience and sell directly to them. Cut out the middleman. Give you stuff that’s actually valuable, and in return, you guys help me pay my mortgage. I make stuff for you for my job, I don’t do it out of the kindness of my heart. You know that. But I hope that you feel like you get good quality stuff from me. And I hope that you feel like it’s worth it. The social media has given me control over my life. And I think it was tailor made for someone like me who’s able to get all the energy out. It has to be very closely monitored by people, four people will check things before I put it up sometimes. I’ll go, ‘Scott is this too much?’ And he’ll go, ‘If you even have to ask that question, don’t bother showing me’. So social media for me has been a life changing thing.”

On The Importance Of Community

“My mum who’s backstage with Elio now. My dad who still picks my kids up in the morning and takes them to school, and he cooks me dinner a couple times a week if I’m really busy. My husband obviously. My eldest daughter, she is incredible. I’ll get home today to dinner cooked, the house clean and all the school uniforms washed. Mainly because she knows I have to pick her up at 4am drunk at an after-party, but I’ll take it. My best friend Michael Lucas, and the six gay men who are my closest friends. Also you, Claire I have amazing people around me. Stage one meltdown is mum and Michael. You’ll normally get me at stage three when I’ve followed it through and I need to know what to say so I won’t offend everyone. I’m very lucky that I have a great community around me, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing at all.”

On The Reality Of Pregnancy

“Pregnancy is really hard, and you’re not supposed to say that. You’re supposed to be happy and nesting.”

On Criticism

“I don’t read it. I used to obsessively read everything everyone wrote about me because I’m a performer and I’m needy, I was looking for positive reinforcement all the time. And in the end, after a lot of therapy and I’m married to a life coach – [I realised] that you can’t place your self worth within the opinions of other people. And as Ru Paul says, ‘What someone else thinks of you is none of your business’. So I just got this trusted jury around me that pull my head in, that give me advice and, if they tell me I’m doing something wrong, I listen. But if Linda and Rhonda have an opinion about me, I’ll let them have that because they don’t know me. My only advice is try not to let other people tell you how you should feel about yourself. Check in with yourself. I’ve gotten really good at checking in with myself. If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I have a checklist: when was the last time you ate, when was the last time you had water, when did you last exercise, what do you have coming up. And if I can answer all of those questions and I’m still not okay, that’s when I go to my therapist. But it’s taken me to 40 to figure that out and a lot of heartbreak… to get to being okay with myself.”

On What’s Next

“The tour is massive. That’s kicking off in six weeks and it’s the biggest tour I’ve ever done. I’m trucking a set for the first time, normally it’s just us with lots of suitcases carrying feathers. I’m so proud of it. I hope that people love it. I’m writing a fiction book at the moment which is comedy erotica, it’s the com-rotica genre I’ve invented. I’m just working through my first big sex scene at the moment. Writing an intelligent feminist sex scene is really challenging and fun because all the other sex scenes we’ve seen have usually been directed by men. So the neutral gaze is the male gaze for us because that’s all we’ve ever seen. So I’ve been researching really good female and feminist adult things. Watching and reading. When you watch something that’s been written, produced and directed by a woman it comes from the feel of things, men do the physicality. There’s more thrusting for men and more feeling for women. That’s been an interesting experience. And a podcast, which I’m really looking forward to, going to be doing that the second half of the year. And I’m also starting a community so I’ll never have to do radio again.”