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Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling Talk Feminism, Role Models, and Being the Boss

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by Inkoo Kang
November 12, 2013 2:00 PM
2 Comments
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Lena Dunham and Mindy kaling

Yesterday, RollingStone.com published a revealing excerpt from Rookie: Yearbook Two, the second book from Tavi Gevinson's teen site, in which Lena Dunham (HBO's Girls) interviewed Mindy Kaling (Fox's The Mindy Project). The two showrunner-stars were eager to discuss a variety of female-centric topics, including the the difficulty of confronting sexism in the media, the temptation to judge other women for hampering feminist progress, and their shared love for their mothers and Nora Ephron. 

Much of Dunham and Kaling's conversation revolved around how they were framed as female stars: 

[Dunham asks,] Do you ever get embarrassed to point out gender bias? I always apologize and say something dumb and sassy like "Not to be the girl who cried misogyny, but no one would ever say that to Larry David!" Somehow I feel the need to point out that I know I'm doing it, and that I may sound humorless, and that I wish I could be free and easy like Cameron Diaz at a hockey game. 

[Kaling responds,] I totally understand this. I don't get embarrassed, though -- I get nervous. Because journalists don't like to be told that their questions are sexist. Every so often I read insane things like, "Who is the next Lucille Ball?" and they list all these red-haired actresses. As though the essence of Lucille Ball's talent was derived from the color of her hair.

More than half the questions I am asked are about the politics of the way I look. What it feels like to be not skinny/dark-skinned/a minority/not conventionally pretty/female/etc. It's not very interesting to me, but I know it's interesting to people reading an interview. Sometimes I get jealous of white male showrunners when 90 percent of their questions are about characters, story structure, creative inspiration, or, hell, even the business of getting a show on the air. Because as a result the interview of me reads like I'm interested only in talking about my outward appearance and the politics of being a minority and how I fit into Hollywood, blah blah blah. I want to shout, "Those were the only questions they asked!"


Kaling also shared her complicated feelings toward the seeming feminist obligation to support all female artists: 

I often feel guilty pointing out behavior in other women that I don't support. Like somehow, the moment I was pulled from my mother's severed stomach, a pen was placed in my tiny balled fist and I signed a binding document that says "I got all your backs, ladies." And the thing is, I do support women, but part of that is being clear about what behaviors aren't helping the bigger cause [of feminism]. I too feel guilty when I don't have knee-jerk unconditional love for all the decisions or all the art made by every woman I see. But that's OK. I think most educated and empathetic women probably feel the same way. 

Dunham and Kaling also listed their role models. 

[Dunham began] Who are your role models? Besides you, I would list my mother, Gilda Radner, Georgia O'Keeffe, Nora Ephron, Jane Campion, Jane Goodall, and Joan Rivers (plus Eloise and Pippi Longstocking). 

[Kaling answered] I love Tina Fey, Vince Gilligan, Jonathan Franzen. B.J. Novak continually inspires me. Lorne Michaels is so stylish and has perfect taste. I strive to be as balls-out funny as Danny McBride, though who could emulate that, really? Nora Ephron, not only as a writer and director, but also as a hostess, a wit, a New Yorker. These are artists I want to copy and impress.

As an overall person? I would say that my mother is the single biggest role model in my life, but that term doesn't seem to encompass enough when I use it about her. She was the love of my life.

I love women who are bosses and who don't constantly worry about what their employees think of them. I love women who don't ask, "Is that OK?" after everything they say. I love when women are courageous in the face of unthinkable circumstances, like my mother when she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Or like Gabrielle Giffords writing editorials for the New York Times about the cowardice of Congress regarding gun laws and using phrases like "mark my words" like she is Clint Eastwood. ... I love mothers who teach their children that listening is often better than talking. I love obedient daughters who absorb everything -- being perceptive can be more important than being expressive. I love women who love sex and realize that sexual experience doesn't have to be the source of their art. I love women who love sex and can write about it in thoughtful, creative ways that don't exploit them, as many other people will use sex to exploit them. 


Read the entire interview here
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2 Comments

  • Kathy | November 13, 2013 12:37 AMReply

    I hate to point this out, but "I strive to be as balls-out funny . . . " was a very offensive, male chauvinistic comment. Sorry, Mindy but unless people call out sexism, it will get worse. I'm pretty offended that Lena and Mindy never mentioned any feminist activists as role models. Without women who dared to call out and get called names, Lena and Mindy would not have had the opportunity to develop their talents.

  • Arlene Ellis | November 12, 2013 4:44 PMReply

    I love the quotes you selected for this article Inkoo! And now I love Mindy Kaling even more. Thanks for sharing this interview!

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