by Qudsia Raja and Danielle Marse-Kapr
For three seasons, Danny Castellano was the body-rolling, crush-worthy grouch of our dreams. Sure, Danny and Mindy didn’t always see eye-to-eye and Danny didn’t always seem to appreciate what he had, but we were rooting for them (almost) every step of the way.
In season 4, things seem to really take a turn for the worse. With baby Leo on board, Danny presses Mindy to drop out of the workforce and stay home with their son. Mindy tries, and fails, to enjoy life as a stay-at-home mom – a lifestyle choice not entirely of her choosing. Eventually, as Danny heads to California for months, leaving Mindy to care for the baby alone, she returns to work. While Mindy and Danny are both successful doctors – Mindy has even opened her own fertility practice – Danny undermines Mindy’s career whenever it suits his vision for their family. The push and pull, or rather Danny pushing Mindy, continues throughout season four, culminating in one of the most unsettling episodes of a sitcom we have ever seen.
In episode 12 of this season, Danny’s tendency to ignore Mindy’s wants and needs moves from lack of awareness to a full blown power and control dynamic. We shared in the collective relief when Mindy finally stand up to Danny at the close of the episode, but for Danny and Mindy – and for millions of couples across the country – the struggle is far from over.
As staff at YWCA USA – the largest network of domestic violence service providers in the country – we could not ignore how blatantly abusive Danny’s behavior has been. Domestic violence advocates often use a visual tool – the Power and Control Wheel – to illustrate the underhanded ways abuse creeps into relationships. Sadly, Danny’s behavior touches on multiple spokes of this wheel:
Using Male Privilege: Danny has clearly postured himself as the one to define each partner’s roles in the relationship. He assumes that Mindy will be the one to put her career on the backburner – or leave it altogether – in order to be the primary caregiver for their child. When she pushes against this idea, he calls her selfish.
Using Children: When unable to get Mindy to bend to his vision for their family using persistence and manipulation, he turns to shaming her. Danny accuses her of leaving their son “all alone” by returning to work. In addition to crafting an unfair narrative about the impact of Mindy’s working on their son, his standards are unbalanced as he had previously left his family entirely for a number of months.
Financial Abuse: Danny’s demands that Mindy quit her job are controlling and unrealistic given her desire to continue her career. In a previous episode he condescendingly suggested her private practice could be a hobby to “get her out of the house” while she’s home with the baby. Perhaps more disturbing is Danny’s bold meddling with Mindy’s business partner, Jody. Danny asks Jody whether he will be able to manage the practice himself since Mindy will be having more children.
Reproductive Coercion: After Mindy makes it clear that she doesn’t want to have another child, Danny not only pressures her to make significant career changes to accommodate a bigger family, but takes steps to completely undermine this decision by working to get her pregnant. He secretly tracks Mindy’s ovulation and then sets up a farce of a romantic date in hopes of impregnating her. Danny spends the evening showering her with affection and encouraging her to drink so that she will be more likely to have unprotected sex. This manipulation and abuse breaks trust in their relationship as we see Mindy conceal the fact that she is seeking out and taking birth control pills.
Some may counter that using the term “domestic violence” in this context is unwarranted – he hasn’t physically hurt her, and she doesn’t fit the common trope of a meek victim of abuse. In fact, Mindy’s character is constantly pushing back on Danny’s controlling behavior.
So what makes this abuse? Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of controlling behavior used to maintain power in a relationship by one partner over the other. Throughout season 4 (and at various points throughout the entire series), we witnessed incident after incident of controlling behavior. In this episode in particular, these behaviors are woven together to show us a clearer picture.
The mid-season finale, which aired last week, ended with Mindy beginning to safety plan. The episode is a collage of flashbacks from their relationship – both good and bad – illustrating masterfully the thought process that victims of domestic violence consider before leaving an abusive partner. The decision to leave someone you love is never an easy one. In fact, victims of domestic violence consider leaving an abusive partner seven to 14 times before they are able to finally leave. An escalation in abuse is often what pushes victims to leave– and in this case, it is Danny’s increasingly controlling behavior has pushed Mindy begin making the difficult decision to leave.
But it’s not all bad news for Dr. Mindy Lahiri. Unlike so many victims of abuse, Mindy has an active support system of friends and colleagues willing to intervene on her behalf. In fact, we would argue that the support her colleagues give Mindy is the ability to push back on Danny. This is true in real life cases of domestic violence, as well. Women are far less likely to leave an abusive partner or seek assistance in the absence of a support system. Even Jody, a sexist character who first misses the mark by reprimanding Mindy, takes steps to confront Danny about his bad behavior. You do not need to be a woman or a perfect feminist role model to help support victims of domestic violence.
The Mindy Project is a funny show, but domestic violence is no laughing matter. As Mindy and Danny navigate their relationship, we hope this very real portrayal of domestic violence continues to reflect the experiences of the one in four women living with the same (or greater) challenges that Mindy is facing. If art is to mimic life, we may find that things get much worse before they get better for our favorite vain and charming television doctor.
Qudsia Raja is the Advocacy and Policy Manager for Health and Safety and Danielle Marse-Kapr is the Communications and Marketing Manager at YWCA USA. Both Qudsia and Danielle previously worked at local YWCAs providing direct services to domestic violence victims and their families. YWCA is the largest network of domestic violence service providers in the country, serving over 530,000 in safety programs and 2.3 million across all local programs. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline to reach a YWCA or other service provider near you: 1-800-799-7233.