The Mindy Project “Slips” Up on Consent

14891391940_c7d9095e1a_oIn last night’s episode of The Mindy Project, the title, “I Slipped,” was an unfortunate harbinger of what was to come. The writers aimed high, covered the ambitious topic of consent, but ultimately fell down a slippery slope.

After reading that Mindy and Danny were set to face a major relationship hurdle, I expected in-law meet-and-greets, marriage talk or a Tupperware-buying excursion. Not quite. Instead, the “new challenge” they faced was consent.

The episode tracks the couple in the aftermath of a nonconsensual night during which Danny surprises Mindy by, well, “slipping through the backdoor” (i.e., engaging in nonconsensual anal sex). The “miscommunication”—as the incident is framed—creates a rift between the couple, and the episode scrambles to follow along.

To pause for a moment: How Mindy and Danny lasted this long in a relationship (five episodes at this point, spanning over the summer hiatus) without discussing consent is troubling. Strike one for the episode. 

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Having a conversation about consent is difficult but necessary, so it’s important to commend the writers for weaving such discourse into the script, yet they made their fair share of blunders along the way.

To start, Mindy focuses on Danny’s pleasure over her own throughout the episode: acquiring sedatives so she can please Danny without being fully conscious; getting sex advice from Peter for the same purpose; and discarding her grandma’s bathrobe purely for Danny’s enjoyment. As the plot complicates, never does Mindy prioritize her sexual desires or her right to consent—an unfortunate and familiar narrative in women’s lives.

The last two scenes reinforced this theme, leaving me squirming in my seat. Danny, who performed a sexual act without Mindy’s consent, is somehow positioned as the ultimate boyfriend at the episode’s close. Somehow his character doesn’t need to apologize for overstepping boundaries. Rather, Mindy is characterized as being dramatic (per usual), and the problem is normalized as something that must happen to all couples. His excuse for an apology:

OK, no more lies. You want the truth about the other night? Here’s the real truth: It didn’t mean anything, and I don’t want you to be anything. I just tried something, alright? That’s it. Because America was built on trying things. [A pause for speculation] No, no, no—this is good: When the pioneers went out west on the wagon train, they didn’t know what they were gonna find—bears? scorpions? But they just tried it out, and you know what they found? Gold. The Grand Canyon. I mean, California? No, thanks. But the San Diego Zoo’s nice. In America, you just go for it. You just go for it, and sometimes you pay the price. And sometimes… jackpot.

Excuse me? Did you just compare Mindy’s bodily autonomy to the Oregon trail and the California ‘49ers? A major strike two.

Mindy responds to his supposed “charisma” with the best line of the show:

If you want to try something freaky, just run it by me first.

To be sure, not everything about this episode was problematic (case in point: the line above), and the writers should be commended for the work they did well. In our sex-negative culture, it’s vitally important that The Mindy Project discusses consent as a primary plot line. Television rarely navigates the fine line between consensual and nonconsensual sex, so when it does broach the topic, it’s noteworthy. Sexual situations that challenge the notion of consent/nonconsent are most often associated with hookup culture only, rarely applying to long-term relationships. As Mindy and Danny demonstrate, it’s equally important (and tricky) to communicate about consent and set boundaries in serious relationships.

“I Slipped” closes with Mindy and Danny ready to rendezvous, their newly tackled “consent problem” now a turn-on for the happy couple. Mindy taps into the language: “Ooh, our first freaky consensual adventure,” and then proceeds to gnaw on Danny’s hand. Yes, gnaw. (To Mindy’s credit, Danny’s hand was covered in whipped cream.)

The episode cuts out with the couple struggling post-gnaw, Danny reprimanding Mindy for pulling a Mike Tyson. While this scene is intended as comedic relief for the previous heart-to-heart, it belittles Mindy’s only moment of sexual agency in the entire episode. Her sexual agency is coded as a joke, as gluttonous, and as another exaggeration from our favorite OB/GYN. Because women’s sexual agency is funny? OK, writers: strike three. Try again next week.

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Photo courtesy of LWYang licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

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Brianna Kovan graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English. She is currently an editorial intern at Ms.

Comments

  1. Technically, what Danny did meets the general statutory definition of rape. It doesn’t matter that they are dating. What he did was wrong and illegal, and if Mindy chose to do so, she could press charges against him for rape. And, if he were honest, that he didn’t get her consent prior to the act, he would actually do jail time for the act. It’s problematic that the show tackled the issue, and not only does it appear that the fact that he committed a crime not get mentioned, it’s something that can be resolved by talking it out together. This only encourages a rape culture, rather than frank and honest discussion about sex that values the opinions and bodies of both parties. Would Danny be as forgiving if Mindy did the same thing to him without first getting his consent?

    • Eppy Lynch says:

      For many in both sexes that area is a huge no-no. “I slipped” is the flip side of “but my last boyfriend liked it when I stuck my finger up there,” (and apparently the guy is a weirdo when he isn’t into having things jammed up there) as far as initiating something during sex that crosses that particular boundary. Kaliing makes it obvious that the “slipped” incident is sexual miscommunication and not sexual misconduct.

      Watching this episode I assumed that Danny was denied entry. I’m also assuming that anyone who has experienced anything similar in real life would be familiar with the “jump, say ‘whoa, there!’ and assume defensive position” at the first realization that that boundary was in danger of being breached. Apparently this author believes that Mindy’s character doesn’t possess the basic muscle control for blocking any casual, but unwanted, intruders.

      Kaling’s approach to the topic is a far more enlightened message than Margaret Cho’s. Cho’s solution is to grudgingly allow her partner to do it once a year and then complain about it in her standup routines. If Cho simply spent a few bucks on a cheap strap on, I’m sure her problem could be quickly resolved.

  2. You didn´t see the episode where James Franco guest starred and was raped?
    That was a horrible one.

  3. Uh, I don’t think I have ever had an explicit discussion of consent in a relationship. Consistent and open communication is key and “I like that” or “Please stop that. I don’t like that” should be enough. I would believe a guy if he thought that I was into something that he wouldn’t think it was a big deal to do it. I’m not trying to say that a woman is not entitled to be upset by something her partner does, but I think it is ridiculous that she didn’t just flip on the lights and hammer him with questions until he caved. Are we making a double standard for anal sex because more men typically enjoy it than women do? I do agree that the sedative part was sooooo screwed up, but there is nothing wrong with ditching a dowdy item of clothing in favor of sexy sleepwear once in a while to let someone know what kind of mood you’re in.

  4. “Her sexual agency is coded as a joke, as gluttonous, and as another exaggeration from our favorite OB/GYN” Um yeah, just like everything else in this show. It’s a comedy with few boundaries. Unfortunately, I have to remove Ms. from my Facebook newsfeed and inbox. When did the Ms. version of feminism become lengthy judgmental rants about even the most frivolous of media? I’d say right about the time this blog was created (aka the time when many of us started jumping ship). Did it ever occur to anyone at Ms. that maybe constantly critiquing and judging women’s creative outlets is more stifling than empowering? Isn’t it enough that girls are constantly pressured to worry about what boys will think of them, the church, their parents etc, without young feminists worrying that every form of public self-expression will be picked apart by their own community? Here’s the underlying message I hear over and over again on facebook and youtube comments and blogs like this one- you’re not feminist enough. It’s just another unattainable, constantly changing standard this writer and so many feminists are holding us to. Beyonce is a feminist but Mindy Kaling is not? … Oh, until Beyonce makes a politically incorrect comment in public… stop policing women! Out of things to talk about? How about trafficking, genital mutilation, poverty, health care, ACTUAL rape, equal pay, racial equality? The fact that you think younger women (your internet audience) don’t care about these things more than what some random intern thinks about The Mindy Project is downright insulting. Instead of critiquing creativity counter with your own. And I say it again because it begs to be repeated- STOP POLICING WOMEN!

    • Team Jess!

    • Sasquatch says:

      Well said!!!!

    • I completely agree with you that there are bigger issues out there than what happens on some tv shows. And yes, you’re right, sometimes a lot of the feminist attempts that are made in a creative fashion are nitpicked to death by other feminists. However, in the case of this particular episode, I think Ms. Magazine has it right. The issue of consent is a very big topic and it feeds into different issues like that of rape. Mindy Kaling is such a big role model for feminists out there and the fact that such a serious feminist issue was represented so poorly on her show does deserve some criticism. There is a difference between policing feminist role models and holding them to very high standards. I think this article falls into the latter.

    • Eppy Lynch says:

      One battle at a time. We finally got around to tackling the statement “real women have curves” and finally answered it with “real women come in all shapes and sizes” some 20 years later.

      I’m all for eliminating the “horizontal violence” but let’s face it, some of us are more horizontal than others (especially after all the alcohol involved in celebrating that “all shapes and sizes” win).

  5. “To pause for a moment: How Mindy and Danny lasted this long in a relationship (five episodes at this point, spanning over the summer hiatus) without discussing consent is troubling. Strike one for the episode. ”

    Um, it’s a TV show. We do not see everything that goes on at every moment in the relationship so we do not know if they ever talked about consent regarding other sexual acts. All we know is that Mindy did not consent to ONE particular thing – no more, no less.
    Strike one for you!

    • Also, Mindy is portrayed as being the instigator in many, if not most of their sexual encounters. In the past, when she hasn’t wanted to, she has said so (on at least 2 occasions, in the airplane bathroom and again in the episode after), and it was clear that they dated for months without her sleeping with him, him respecting her feelings on the subject, even though she was sleeping at his apartment. On the occasion of the episode, they were already having (consensual) sex, and, presumably, when she said no to that particular act, he backed off. Of course it was stupid for her to take the sedative, but he certainly didn’t ask her to and, in fact, was upset when he realized she had.

  6. Mindy is not a role model, but she’s relatable. That’s the problem with this article and the problem with many critiques of The Mindy Project and of shows written and produced by women – you are expecting these women to be paragons of healthy sexual relationships, where everyone has frank, open dialogue about consent and safe sex and women are fully empowered feminist warriors.

    I can understand wanting to see that, but Mindy’s failure to represent that is not a strike-out or a slip-up. It’s not the intention of the show. Instead what we get is a messy and much more real depiction (albeit with comedy exaggerations) of her vulnerability, her insecurity in her own desirability, her misguided attempts at pleasing Danny instead of focusing on how to please herself.

    And why is the last scene belittling? Does adding humor to something make it less important? Why can’t a fat woman be gluttonous and silly and sexy at the same time?

  7. I believe you left race out of this discussion to the detriment of the analysis. I imagine Danny is a white guy? One way or another the main character who was indeed raped according to the depiction in this article, was a woman of color. The notion that women of colors bodies are less worthy of respect and indeed consent is rife within our culture and is probably a key in the fact that this shitty episode even took place in the first place. Secondly, we don’t have a sex negative culture when it comes to men’s sexuality, just women’s.

  8. It’s just not a funny show. And Kaling’s not a talented performer. Simple as that.

  9. The only thing I can say is that this episode will prompt couples to talk about consent. For any people that dismiss the issue of consent, especially men, should think of this… What if a girlfriend surprised a boyfriend by strapping on a huge dildo? Would guys like to be consulted first or surprised? How about if a girlfriend brought in another man to have sex with you because the thought of a guy kissing you turns her on? Consulted first or surprised? Think about it.

  10. I agree. Some parts of this episode made me squirm. But, I disagree with this author’s review of the last scene. I think the thing about this show that does empower women is that Mindy bridges the dichotomy of women portrayed in the media (sex kitten vs. other likable but matronly/unattractive character) –she’s sexy AND silly. I think it attempts to normalize a woman’s sexuality beyond what’s stereotypically considered sexy for women. If it’s overly exaggerated, I think it’s only to show that YES you can still be yourself and be sexy. That’s how I experienced it, anyway.

    Further, at first I felt Mindy’s character was a terrible representation of a strong female character, but the more I watch, the more I believe that she is not intended to be a feminist role model. She embraces some aspects of what’s traditionally considered female culture, and it’s supposed to be OKAY, while shooting down any expectation that she should be lesser for it. Further, the show constantly brings up these issues for the viewer to consider, rather than be told. Feminism isn’t just for people with women’s studies degrees. I would say that many women see a lot of themselves in Mindy, at least in one way or another. When you watch her, you either think, “Hey! I like tabloids, and that’s okay and doesn’t make me inferior to men who like fitness magazines,” or even, “Hey! I like tabloids too. Should I?” Mindy isn’t necessarily supposed to be a feminist role model, but she DOES bring a lot of relatable issues to viewers minds.

    In reply to the policing women comment, I don’t think that the author is trying to do that. In fact, I felt the the article was a fair-handed analysis. These types of topics are ever-evolving, and EVERYthing should be questioned and discussed if you feel up to it–even your own daily decisions, even if it’s just a discussion with yourself. Nothing should be immune from thoughtful debate and attempts to improve.

  11. It bears mentioning at least that an /actual/ rape also was laughed at on the show.

    https://www.bitchmedia.org/post/what-happened-on-%E2%80%9Cthe-mindy-project%E2%80%9D-this-week-was-not-okay

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