on mindy kaling and sexism

Recently, I have been binge-watching The Office and The Mindy Project, alongside reading Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and Why Not Me? This particular essay was prompted by watching The Mindy Project and mass-consuming interviews with Mindy Kaling. She plays the main character and is executive producer of the show, and one of the writers. This isn’t hugely unusual in the world of US TV, especially in sitcoms. Except – oh yes, she is a woman.

Despite her long CV of accomplishments (first writing role for ‘The Office’ in early 20s, becoming producer of ‘The Office’ by 30, Emmy-winning writing, acting, running/writing/starring in her own network TV show, authoring 2 books…) the main themes that come up in interviews I’ve seen are about her being a woman. Yesterday was the last straw for me – I watched an interview from when the show started and she was asked not about her impressive body of work, but “is it funny seeing yourself on billboards? did you get to influence the photo? were you able to look through the designs and sign them off?” To her credit she answered with grace and patience, simply saying “no, I am used to seeing myself like this,” and when questioned further, gestured at the ad and said “I’m pretty happy with how it looks. It turned out really well.”
Kaling’s staff is asked what it’s like working for her – with paragraphs about how cool it is that she is a “girl boss” (because she can’t be put on the same level as boy bosses – or ‘bosses’, as they are commonly known). Kaling herself is consistently asked (often incredulously) where she gets her confidence from, with commentary about how ‘assertive’ (at best) or ‘self-centred’ (at worst) she is. To keep saying these things, after she has been in the TV industry for over 10 years, implies that she has every reason *not* to feel confident. The woman has won an Emmy, had 2 books on the NYT bestseller list, and had 5 seasons of her very own show! Why on earth should she not feel confident?
The continued patronising questions put to Kaling is just another manifestation of the overt sexism that still exists in our society. Would anyone ask Seinfeld if it’s funny being on a billboard, or why he seems so confident? As women, should we not be confident/assertive/proud of our achievements? The implication is that we should be slightly surprised and embarrassed that we have achieved anything at all. That isn’t good enough for me. I want my female friends, relatives, and especially my daughter, to know what they do well and f-ing shout about it from the rooftops.
Kaling deals with this questioning with a grace that I aspire to. I don’t know how, after so much time, she refrains from shouting “STOP ASKING ME THESE F-ING QUESTIONS” – although she does deal with the topic in her books.
Let’s just stop being surprised that some women know their worth, and instead encourage them to celebrate their accomplishments. Let’s stop comparing them to men in their industry (usually finding them lacking). Let’s stop trying to find holes in their confidence – they’re a ‘bitch’ or a terrible boss or self-centred or a maneater – and most important of all, celebrate ourselves and our own accomplishments instead of being embarrassed about them.

About Ellie Thouret

I'm an obsessive knitter based in the UK's North West. Passionate about good food, crafts, home decor and my family.
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