Who do Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham think they are?

SCREAMING ABOUT THINGS IN ALL CAPS: a feminist response to pop culture

“Who does she think she is, a man?”

So read the genius (truly) headline of a small Maclean’s piece about Mindy Kaling, the premiere of The Mindy Project, and the backlash she was receiving.

Ol’ Mindy, you see, had the AUDACITY to promote her new show — of which she’s creator, exec producer and star — on the late-night TV circuit. According to Maclean’s, several magazines and blogs deemed her “smug,” “arrogant” and “over-reaching.” You know, FOR PROMOTING HER TV SHOW. OF WHICH SHE’S CREATOR, EXEC PRODUCER AND STAR.

Who-does-she-think-she-is-a-man, indeed.

There’s obvious comparisons to be drawn to Girls creator and star Lena Dunham, who has also received her fair share of backlash for, ostensibly, being confident. Because that’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it?

You see, strong women make some people nervous. Women are supposed to be demure, humble and compliant. And if they’re not? Well, BITCH BETTER BE PUT BACK IN HER PLACE. Successful men are rarely ever dismissed for being too smug or arrogant; we don’t discount the achievements of, say, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, for example, just because he’s cocky (heh). The implication is that a man earns his success while a woman is somehow handed hers. That could explain the weird need society has for a woman to apologize for her success — see: Lena Dunham’s $3.7 million book deal with Random House.

Thing is, both Kaling and Dunham have worked hard to claw out a name for themselves in the boys club that is comedy. Mindy started as a writer on The Office at the age of 24 (the only woman in a staff of eight) and worked her way up to executive producer, a role I’m sure she had to fight hard for. These days, she’s the author of a best-selling memoir, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) — which is hysterical, I might add — and she’s blazing a new trail as a woman of colour playing a lead in a show of her own creation. As a New York profile on Mindy pointed out, the last woman of colour do to that was Wanda Sykes. In 2003.

The public’s relationship with Lena Dunham, meanwhile, is admittedly more complicated (Google ‘Lena Dunham + nepotism’ and you’ll see what I mean). She has credentials and has caught some breaks to be sure — she’s an Oberlin grad; her first feature, 2010’s Tiny Furniture was a critical darling and the Judd Apatow-produced Girls is a runaway breakout hit. Oh yeah, and she’s only 26.  But to say she hasn’t worked hard or that knowing who she knows somehow means she doesn’t ‘deserve’ her success is, to put it mildly, a GIANT STEAMING CROCK OF SHIT. I think she’s incredibly talented. I think Girls is one of the smartest shows on TV. I also happen to think that whole ‘voice of my generation thing’ was blown WAAAAAY out of proportion. (Besides, the voice of our generation is obvs. a man’s. EYEROLL.)

Of course, there’s another narrative that has emerged surrounding both Mindy and Lena. As I wrote last week, the body, of course, must always be the focus. HEAVY SIGH. How about instead of condescendingly congratulating Lena and Mindy for being “brave” for daring to show their bodies on TV, we just stop making their COMPLETELY AVERAGE weight a thing? Can’t we just praise them for being really talented? SIGH. I’m so tired.

Who do Mindy and Lena think they are?  I think they’re smart, talented, funny women who are confident enough to say, ‘Yeah, world. I AM awesome and so is the show I created, thank-you-very-much.’ No apologies necessary.


Jen Zoratti is the music editor at Uptown Magazine. Her favourite character on Girls is Shoshanna.