This book’s title gives a nod to female confidence, and is the subject of its penultimate chapter. Kaling’s insights on the complications of being a confident woman come from lived experience; she routinely has to answer men when they ask her where she gets her confidence, as if she doesn’t look like someone who should possess confidence and therefore has to explain herself. However, Kaling relays the story of being asked where she gets her confidence by a young Indian girl, who, with candor, foregrounded her own struggle with insecurity. This last chapter is an essay replying to that question, an answer she wishes she could have given at the time. “Confidence is just entitlement… and entitlement is simply the belief that you deserve something”, she writes (452). Hard work certainly contributes to that belief, as well as courage. But, Kaling calls attention to the ways in which this severe emphasis on the confidence of young girls likely complicates their accessibility to confidence.
I remember as a teenager trying to convince my mom that she should give me money for good grades, because all of my friends got money from their parents for getting A’s. She laughed in my face. “Why would I give you money for something that you are capable of doing? That would just mean that I don’t believe you can do it without some sort of reward”. At least it was something along those lines; it was a long time ago. Kaling closes with this:
“So, if that girl from the panel is reading this, I would like to say to her: Hi, it’s Mindy Kaling. I’m sorry I let you down. The thing is, I’m in my mid-thirties and I was wearing my Spanx for fourteen hours straight. You’ll understand when you’re older. Here’s how I think you can get your confidence back, kid: Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled. Listen to no one except the two smartest and kindest adults you know, and that doesn’t always mean your parents. If you do that, you will be fine. Now, excuse me, I need to lie down and watch Sheldon” (464).
I should have warned against spoilers. I just gave the whole book away.
Like I said in my last review, Kaling’s life experiences are couched in friendships that bring meaning to these experiences: female friendships, colleague friendships, and relationships that are not easily defined and present more like a best friend-life mate hybrid like the one she shares with B.J. Novak. Consequently, reading Kaling – forgive me for being cliche – is a lot like listening to your funniest friend talk about quintessential LA life, including the time she offended an entire room of white anti-vaxxer moms. Kaling calls attention to the ways in which friendships are more similar to romantic relationships than we think. We have flings, we feel the spark of connection. She has a language for something that remains largely language-less: friendship breakups. Maybe this can be attributed to a societal framework that reveres romantic relationships as the most important relationships one can have. The passion, fizzling out or explosive end of a friendship goes largely unprocessed in our romance obsessed culture.
While most of Kaling’s material is light-hearted and witty, her essays have a strong politicized thread running through them. She discusses the ways in which the media treat her body like a public text that can be read and written about – what it’s like to be a woman in the public eye. She speaks candidly and honestly about the marginalization she experiences however much she might love her life.
“Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.“