Mindy Kaling: Not That Kind of Feminist

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Alex Velazquez

Writer, photographer, dog lover, professional fangirl, tone-deaf music lover.

If you have not been living under a rock during the past decade or so, you should be familiar with Mindy Kaling, if not familiar, then at least on an acquaintance type situation with the name. If you’ve never heard of her, all you need to do is visit Netflix and watch The Office, which she wrote, directed and produced episodes for, as well as played hilarious pop culture obsessed Kelly Kapoor in. The experience can only be beneficial to you, as The Office is, in my opinion; one of the funniest shows ever produced. Ms. Kaling, by the way, came out of this show with an impressive number of award nominations and a notable reputation in the world of comedy as a fresh and original voice. She became a producer, writer, and director of one of the best comedies of the past ten years, as well as an all around badass, all before the age of 30. Yes, queen, slay!

In 2012, Fox began airing Kaling’s own show, The Mindy Project, in which she also starred as Mindy Lahiri, Rom-Com loving, fashion savvy, love obsessed OBGYN. The single camera sitcom has recently wrapped its third and last season at Fox and is currently being considered by Hulu for additional seasons.

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Comedy lovers, and women in general, initially received the show itself with open arms. However, more recently, its racy plotlines, and writing that is not shy to portray characters in their most unflattering colors have some critics and fans wondering if Mindy Kaling is really the mainstream feminist she was expected to be.

Let’s be real here, we women of color tend to put a lot of extra pressure on our fellow sisters who are in the public eye, sometimes pressure we don’t even put on ourselves to be the feminists we think we are or ideally want to be.

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The Mindy Project has primarily been criticized for its lack of diversity in its leading cast, as well as the revolving door of Caucasian love interests, which should be noted, have been played by Kaling’s friends and former Office colleagues. Even though the main cast does include three people of color, and even though many of its recurring characters and guest stars are played by people of color, such as Andrew Bachelor, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Niecy Nash, Common, Vanessa Williams, Laverne Cox, John Cho and Randall Park, among others, not to mention, the show’s leading lady is Indian.

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Criticism has repeatedly been extended to Kaling herself, and not just kept as critique of her creative choices as a show runner. Of course, one’s labor of love must surely mirror us to some extent, but are we perhaps expecting too much out of a sitcom? Shouldn’t we praise this intelligent, hard-working woman of color for being her own boss, and for being successful in a field that is primarily composed of white men? Why do we feel the need to nitpick every single nook and cranny of a TV Show just because a woman of color runs it?

The Mindy Project’s main character, Mindy Lahiri, is self-centered. She loves men, and she loves sex, food and expensive clothes. She owns a handgun that she keeps losing; she loves Kris Jenner and is presumably a borderline Republican. But she’s also an independent professional who is great at her job, and who is confident, and a woman who gives just as good as she gets when it comes to her male counterparts. She is family oriented, cares about her patients and is, beyond all her personality flaws, a competent physician.

So what is it that makes us uncomfortable exactly? That Kaling’s show isn’t a platform for political or race issues? That she writes dirty jokes we’d normally get from male comedians? What I’ve learned from being a fan of this show the past three years is that being a feminist does not necessarily place us above internalized misogyny. It affects us all. It affects us when we demand that a funny show about sex and dating is 100% politically correct simply because it’s written by a woman, it affects us when we are disappointed that a writing team is only 50% female, as opposed to most others that have one or two women in a team of ten.

Mindy Lahiri is relatable because she isn’t perfect. She is relatable because she is portrayed the way we all realistically are. Not one of us is polite 100% of the time, or graceful, or racially conscientious or politically correct. Sometimes, we say problematic things and I for one am grateful to have a character on television that mirrors those sides of myself that aren’t necessarily right, because it helps me to be more forgiving of myself when I feel I didn’t react properly to some misogynistic comment, or when I feel I’m not being proactive enough because I don’t use my Tumblr blog to post about every single social issue going on right now.

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I respect Mindy Kaling because she created a character that is so realistic and troublesome at the same time that you can’t help but laugh at the outlandish things that come out of her mouth and also can’t help but recognize a lot of the character’s traits as similar to one’s own. She’s sharp and witty and not outlandishly sweet. I like my female characters a little mean, because I’ve had enough male characters that get to be true and unlikeable with no judgment or deep explorative analysis that then transfers over to reproach against the writers that created them.

It’s normal to crave representation, I think we’re starving for it, but we need to be careful about our demands. Mindy Kaling doesn’t have to represent every single non-white race. Let me rephrase, she doesn’t have to represent me. Because how can an Indian straight woman from Boston possibly know what it’s like to be a Mexican lesbian from Los Angeles? I don’t need her to represent me specifically in a show about one woman’s journey to find love in a sea of dudes. And she doesn’t need to represent every single minority either. But what she can do and does well already, is represent hard work, and success in spite of being someone who looks different than everyone else on television. She represents strength, work ethic, and confidence.

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Kaling makes a statement about self-awareness and self-love without violently shoving it in the public’s face, and that, to me, is an admirable trait. So, I say, let’s stop criticizing our fellow women for their shortcomings and instead praise them for what they bring to the table. Especially, women of color, as there are so very few of us out there. Let’s embrace all women running their own shows, because we will only have diversity when there is more than one point of the female view for us to watch.

I’m going to keep supporting Mindy Kaling and every project she develops because she is funny, she is smart, she is aware that not all people love her, because she is as confident as we all should be, and because when asked for career advice on a panel back in 2014, she said the following:

“I have never gotten a role that I’ve liked, that I have not written myself. And that should depress you and that should also inspire you. It’s about grit, and it’s about doing the work and about not going to the party, and quietly staying in, and you give up a lot. No matter how hard you think you can work, I’m talking about (working) even more than that.”

Kaling has stated on multiple occasions, that she is a feminist and she only works with feminists. Let’s not ignore how strong a statement that is. A woman may not meet all the criteria of your individual perception of a feminist, but then again, you might not meet hers. It’s time women stop bashing other women just to prove we’re “more feminist” than they are. We’ve come far, but we’re at a starting point. An extremely long starting point and it will be longer unless we learn to support each other in our successes.

Mindy Kaling is feminism. And she is diversity. Let’s not forget she’s experienced her own strife, and has had to work hard to be acknowledged and respected in her field as not just a comedian, but as a businesswoman. Let’s not be blinded to who she is and what the world is like for women still today.

One comment

  1. uow, thank you so much for writing this, i love everything about it. i agree with you 100%, especially being a fan of the office. i didn’t take all the things michael said seriously, but when it comes to women on tv, especially women of color, we are expected to have role models of some sorts and when we don’t, we can see a clear backlash against these women. i feel like most female characters can only have flaws we “accept” as normal and that’s obviously internalized misogyny.
    i also feel like many people can’t separate the two of them, they expect mindy lahiri to be mindy kaling. emily nussbaum wrote an amazing essay called “the female bad fan” or something like that, that explores exactly this. if you haven’t yet, check it out.
    otherwise, you have said what i talk about FOR AGES but could never write as elonquently as you did, so thank you, thank you, thank you. a really amazing piece xoxo

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