On the surface, The Mindy Project seems progressive (for television at least). The main character is a bold, unapologetic, minority women working as a doctor in NYC. Mindy is constantly underestimated and undervalued, but time and time again it is shown that she is critical to the success of her practice. In the eighth episode, “Two to One”, her other partners use their male majority to box her out of decisions until the final moment when she swoops in and saves the day from their misguidance. Mindy allows herself to have a high level of agency, even if her choices are not always respected by the other characters. There is no question that the show centers around Mindy, and it is certainly refreshing to see a female main character with so much power.
The show also leans into the idea of a romantic comedy being empowering for women. Mindy is active in her search for love, but she understands what she wants, and is unwilling to settle or compromise. Though she may desire a partner, she certainly doesn’t need one to have a fulfilling life. For the first part of the show, she is single, and is insanely successful within her job and personal life.
As the show is based mainly at a workplace, there is an interesting conversation to be had about stereotypically gendered jobs. Mindy is the sole female partner at her practice, working with three other male doctors. The nurse in the practice is male, which is refreshing for a job that is considered “pink collar” and is traditionally performed by a woman. However, some jobs are assigned to their conventional genders: the two secretaries are female, there is a stay at home mother, and a lawyer and a finance worker are both male. I’ve found that there is a relatively even split between the male and female characters, in both screen and speaking time.
However, the show lacks connections to gender in other areas. There is a distinct deficiency in the representation of LGBTQIA+, disabled, or mentally ill characters. All the named characters are straight, cis and abled, which leaves no room for gender intersect or interact with these areas. Furthermore, only the upper class is represented, with lavish NYC apartments, degrees from Harvard and Colombia, and no qualms about spending money. Gwen, Mindy’s best friend, is an excellent stay at home mom, who has a degree from Princeton and is married to a rich man. An interesting conversation is eliminated as Gwen never had to grapple with the debate that rattles parents: choosing between staying at home or having an extra income.
I truly commend the show for placing a minority women doctor at the helm. But, the show still makes tradeoffs: the lack of intersectionality within the show (apart from Mindy’s race) and humor that occasionally stems from blatantly sexist or offensive jokes. The show doesn’t handle gender representation perfectly, but it can still contribute to breaking stereotypes and increasing diversity within television.