There’s a moment in Episode 7 of HBO Max’s excellent new comedy Minx in which earnest magazine editor Joyce Prigger (Ophelia Lovibond) sits behind her desk at Bottom Dollar Publications—a publisher of pornography run by Jake Johnson’s Doug Renetti—and opens a stack of mail. In letter after letter, she’s subjected to angry, explicit tirades (which are shockingly free of typos) about how women like her are ruining the country. The series is set in the 1970s, but if you swap out the handwritten letters for emails, tweets, forums, and other forms of online communication, it’d be indistinguishable from today’s media industry.
Created by Ellen Rapoport, Minx is an energetic and fun new comedy that follows a determined Joyce as she pitches, launches, and eventually begins putting out issues of the titular magazine, the first erotic publication geared toward women. Though it’s not what she initially envisioned—she wanted to publish a radical feminist mag dubbed The Matriarchy Awakens—Doug is the only person who sees potential in Joyce’s ideas. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of speed bumps that make getting the magazine off the ground a struggle, but once the world becomes aware of Minx and begins paying attention to it (and to its editor-in-chief), then the real obstacles arise.
Joyce is in no way prepared for the wave of criticism that quickly comes her way. Not only do various members of the SoCal community, from vocal feminists at a local college to a prim city councilwoman determined to clean up the San Fernando Valley, find fault with the magazine’s content, but a male journalist then twists her words—causing major backlash once the story is picked up by papers across the country. Eventually, a pair of obnoxious male chauvinists cover the magazine on their morning radio show (which has a national audience, of course), adding fuel to the fire, and the hate mail starts to roll in.
“What a tw— you are! You need a good c— slap with a pair of sweaty balls!” reads one letter. “What a crap pile of drivel you have created. Little prick ladies like you are destroying our great country! Get back in the kitchen, spread your legs, and f— off!” that same letter continues. Meanwhile, another opens with a death threat, because God forbid a woman publish a boundary-pushing feminist magazine for other women. God forbid a woman’s desire be treated just as important as a man’s.
But as Joyce reads the misogynistic vitriol, the rest of the Bottom Dollar staff celebrate loudly in the background of the scene. Minx is now selling out in several major cities. It’s a sharp juxtaposition of narrative elements, and it’s also a pointed commentary on society’s frequent disregard for and ignorance of the everyday harassment that many women face just for doing their jobs, as well as the loneliness and sense of abandonment they often feel when it happens.
When Joyce brings up the harassment to Doug, her sleazy male publisher with a heart of gold, he’s visibly unconcerned. After all, Minx is making him money and receiving tons of free publicity, so it’s good for business. He even finds humor in the “bags and bags” of hate mail Joyce has been receiving. But after she pushes back, he decides the answer to the problem is to show Joyce some of his own hate mail, which he’s saved in his office and glibly refers to as “love letters.” Naturally, Joyce finds them horrifying. But Doug is not convinced. “If somebody’s willing to write you a letter, that means you’ve got them. That means that you matter,” he tells her. His reaction invalidates Joyce’s feelings and well-being in one fell swoop, which is bad enough given the traumatic effects harassment can have on one’s psyche. But Doug’s attempt to equate his experience to Joyce’s is also ignorant, because his approach to the situation—which boils down to “not giving a shit”—is a privilege that is only available to white men, aka the people who’ve long held positions of power and who stand to lose very little in the end.
For women (but especially women of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community), it’s impossible to ignore targeted harassment or just hope it will eventually go away, especially in the 21st century. Sitting behind a computer screen has emboldened would-be harassers; there are numerous cases of women receiving death and rape threats; of women being doxxed and having to move or change their telephone numbers; and of instigators attempting to get women fired. Sometimes, it’s because women have dared to wade into online subcultures. Sometimes, it’s because they’ve written a story featuring a dissenting opinion. And, sometimes, it’s merely because they exist in the world.
As noted in a UNESCO-commissioned study focused on online violence toward women journalists, the harassment is “designed to: belittle, humiliate, and shame; induce fear, silence, and retreat; discredit them professionally, undermining accountability journalism and trust in facts; and chill their active participation (along with that of their sources, colleagues, and audiences) in public debate.” All of this reads true for Joyce’s experiences at Minx in the 1970s too. And the UNESCO study and Vox have also pointed out that the organized targeting of women online is also tied to a rise in disinformation and the alt-right movement, which greatly increases the scope of the issue.
There’s no doubt Rapoport and the show’s writers are aware of the harassment many women in the media are subjected to today (the UNESCO study said 73 percent of respondents claimed to have experienced online violence). And while it’s not the only element of the show’s equal rights narrative that is familiar or still resonates today, it stands out because so little has been done to take it seriously or combat it. While Google recently released an open source tool that is meant to help combat harassment on Twitter, many publications have been slow to respond to the increasing problem (though some have begun adopting policies that treat it as a workplace hazard while others are adding training for dealing with it). So while there’s much to love about Minx—it’s easily one of the best shows of the spring—seeing our current experiences as women working in media reflected in this way in Joyce’s fictional world is as uncomfortable as it is necessary.
Two episodes of Minx are released every Thursday on HBO Max.
Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.
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