“Post-feminist Confusion”

Part of post-feminism is the idea that feminism has succeeded in what it set out to do, and is thus no longer necessary because women (supposedly) have equal access and opportunity both in the workplace and in their social lives.  The Mindy Project certainly seems to reflect this in many ways. Tasker and Negra’s article argues, “One of postfeminism’s signature discursive formulations couches the celebration of female achievement…within traditional ideological rubrics,” something that is seen in the show.  Mindy is a proficient, seemingly successful doctor, and she has an active sex life.  However, much of the focus of the episode is on her lack of boyfriend and her various relationships with men, and at one point Mindy laments that because she hasn’t found someone yet she’s going to die alone, showing a focus on her sense of self in relation to men, and her casual sex is presented as a bad habit she needs to break.  Both of these things suggest that the supposed gender equality seen in the show, and in our society, does not go beyond the surface, and that social interactions between genders still follow more traditional gender roles that generally go unquestioned.  The article alludes to the tension between Mindy’s desire to have a boyfriend or husband and her continued booty calls as “post-feminist confusion,” that is an “encapsulation of modern mores.”  The second wave feminism of the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s has given Mindy the freedom to have casual sex, but it has not yet eradicated entirely the idea that casual sex is a shameful thing.  Because of this, Mindy has to negotiate the opposing types of relationships without violating any social mores too badly, something she doesn’t quite know how to do.  She lies to her friend about continuing to sleep with Jeremy, showing that she feels that such a relationship would not be socially acceptable, but at the same time, she doesn’t care enough to stop.  Still, the show falls into post-feminist complacency about societal views on women having casual sex, and does not examine these dynamics at all deeply.

The Mindy Project is also notable in that it has an Indian-American main character, a departure from the usual white main character.  As the article notes, “Kaling is the kind of actress you used to see unjustly relegated to the role of the sidekick, the funny best friend. She doesn’t look like the type of leading lady common to the romantic comedies with which her character is so enamored.”  She also doesn’t fall into the post-feminist ideal of being put together and fashionable all the time.  The scene showing Mindy’s transition from date to work is especially interesting, depicting her changing from an impractical dress, thong, and heels into scrubs and sneakers, with clunky glasses and her hair hidden behind a surgical cap.  Her priority at work is not her appearance but her ability to do her job.  The article notes that the show has many moments that “showcase genuine character imperfections instead of the artificially created ones that tend to be dabbed on after the fact on female comedy leads.”  She still demonstrates the youthful vitality, with some rebelliousness thrown in, which is a marker of post-feminist works, and as a whole she is a very post-feminist character, but she does not fit entirely into the post-feminist mold.





3 thoughts on ““Post-feminist Confusion”

  1. Watching the Mindy Project for the first time, it took me a while to recognize the postfeminism traits inherent in the show, but your post pointed to some good details. The buildup before she has go into work, the casual sex, the date seem to at first contradict Mindy suddenly transforming into an OB/GYN. But one can see the traits of postfeminist reality of higher status (through her job), while also recognizing her sexual freedom. I also really liked your mention of Kaling as an untypical main character, although it’s obviously seen, I didn’t really think about Mindy as an Indian-American when watching the show. And perhaps that’s a good sign or another recognition of postfeminism, however, having seen Kaling in other shows and tv might have rendered her ethnic identity less noticeable or new.

  2. EXCELLENT POINT re: Kaling’s race and “shape,” for lack of a better word. Interestingly, the show has not been doing well, and her nontraditionally attractive qualities have been cited as part of the reason (ridiculous). I also really like that you point out how she seems almost of two minds: there’s the no-nonsense surgeon Mindy, but that empowered Mindy seems to crumble under the weight of societal expectations (clearly communicated via rom coms) of what her love life should look like.

  3. I really liked reading this post. I definitely thought about this show in regards to post-feminism, and wasn’t sure what exactly to do with it, but you, as you did for Nathan as well, pointed out some good points that made me able to see more of where this show fits in. I was interested in how you did mention her difference from typical main character. I never even considered that as a factor. That does set her apart from the post-feminist ideal, as she is not totally tied to consumerism. She also has a seriousness to her, but at the same time, a side that is more youthful. I was also interested in her use of sexual freedom, but also her wish to “not be that woman anymore”.

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