The Mindy Project is one of my favourite shows. I had a therapist who suggested I watch more comedies and this show seemed up my alley. The show, written by and starring Mindy Kaling, focuses on Mindy and her coworkers at a gynecology practice. Kaling is a woman of colour and since media is a major source of patriarchal regulation her show is often labeled feminist. I wouldn’t say it is feminist, but I an argument can be made that is empowering. Either way, I love the show.
In her essay ‘High Risk Who a Mother Should Be’ Hip Mama creator Ariel Gore writes about the medicalization of her pregnancies. Doctors told her that she was a “high risk” pregnancy because she had her first child at 18 years old and then the same thing when she was pregnant again at 36 years old. Kim Anderson also writes about this medicalization in ‘Giving Life to the People: An Indigenous Ideology of Motherhood’ and how colonizers and the patriarchy attempted to destroy Indigenous health practices, such as midwifery. “Medicine is part of our heritage as women, our history, our birthright,” write Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English in Witches, Midwives, and Nurses, “Today, however, health care is the property of male professionals.” When discussing women’s reproductive health in feminist theory, binary thought patterns might get in the way. For instance, all natural health versus medicalized health. This binary is especially shown in The Mindy Project.
The gynecology practice is in constant battle with two midwives working in the same building. The midwives are men, which may be a comedic nod to the patriarchy’s appropriation of everything. The midwives are portrayed as not being real health experts. In the episode ‘Hooking Up Is Hard’ Mindy tells one of the midwives, “You can’t wave a dream catcher in front of a respiratory issue.” Though the show portrays the midwives as two white men appropriating the cultural practices of other communities, as well as the work started by women, it is made clear that we are to root for western medicine. This binary narrative becomes problematic.
When I went into labour a male resident nurse scolded me for saying yes to the morphine another nurse offered. He told me birth is not supposed to be painless. I screamed something at him about him never having had a period and that it is not his decision to make. The other nurse, an older woman, told me that I would not have been in so much pain if I had take prenatal classes. I did not yet have the language to tell her how classist she was. I knew that I did not take the classes because I was working long days doing shift work, not because I was a bad mother. I guess, though, I was already deemed a bad mother for being young and poor in Oshawa, a city that openly hates young mothers. I knew I would need a c-section, but I did not have one until over thirty hours of being told that I was not trying hard enough to have a vaginal birth. It was not until both my daughter and I almost died that I had an emergency c-section. So now, in addition to being young and poor, I had a c-section. Romanticized motherhood, and the mass society that perpetuates it, tells me this is lazy and that I am not a “real” woman. Surely a pro-western medicine show will not tell me the same.
Then I saw the episode ‘C is for Coward.’ At first all was A-OK. Mindy and her fiancé argue over her birthing plan. She wants a planned c-section with medication and he wants her to have a drug-free, natural birth. Mindy’s fiancé, Danny, scolds her for wanting to be “high on goofy gas for the most beautiful moment of [her] life.” Mindy tells him that it is her body, and so, her choice. Danny then tries to trick her body into inducing labour by feeding her spicy foods and trying to startle her. When she finds out she gets upset with him and he asks if she really wants to “sleep through [the] first big challenge of being a mom.” Mindy gets angry, which makes sense looking back at past episodes where Mindy has argued for a woman’s right to an epidural.
The episode takes a disappointing turn. Danny has a talk with a co-worker and it is decided that Mindy is simply scared of “doing something hard.” Mindy goes into labour early on a subway and she has her baby naturally, with the help of her fiancé. Danny assures her that she is tough. He apologizes to her not because he was being a controlling jerk but because he now understands that she is scared. Mindy has her baby naturally and realizes she is now a real mom.
To be fair, Danny points out that c-sections can be necessary in emergency situations. But still, just because I had a c-section does not mean my daughter’s birth was not an important experience. Just because c-sections are socially constructed as a necessary evil does not make it so. The birth of my daughter was not wrong in any way. I am still a real mom, because I am a real person. If I were not, you would not be reading this. More importantly, and less literally, by being a “bad mom” I am really great at mothering my daughter.
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