Friday, January 21, 2011

Leslie Knope: My Favorite Feminist

NBC's Parks and Recreation returned recently to not nearly enough fanfare. It's one of the smartest shows on TV, and has been consistently good, after a rocky start, since the beginning of the second season. The entire cast is brilliant in their specific roles (Rashida Jones doesn't get enough love because she's playing the straight man to the wackiness of everyone else) and I honestly feel like the one loose end is now gone, with um... that dude... leaving. Brandanowitz. Or however that's spelled.

But the main reason I love this show is Leslie Knope. Leslie isn't like any of the other comedic leading ladies I've come to know in my life, except for one who I have vague memories of (more on that in a bit). Leslie is a feminist, and she wouldn't deny it if you said it.

Back in the nineties (remember those?) when "girl power" started floating around as a new term, and people were talking about new wave/fourth wave versions of feminism, they'd start talking about characters like Ally McBeal and Xena. More modern example are Liz Lemon or Starbuck.

Now, I remember Murphy Brown. Vaguely. I remember her journey through the male-heavy world of the news, and I remember the single mom kerfluffle when she became, well. A single mom. But I was ten. And a lot has changed in twenty years.


Well, supposedly.

See, if you call Liz Lemon a feminist, she'll probably crack a joke, freak out, then by the end of the show go on a rant about how feminism is great, it doesn't mean she's a lesbian, and she has a boyfriend, thank you very much. It's a mixed message, with a bit of what we need (a strong woman standing up for herself) and a bit of what we don't (the association of feminism with lesbianism, and the implication that both things are bad or abnormal).

If you call Leslie Knope a feminist, she'll say thank you and show you her signed copy of This Bridge Called my Back.

The thing is that there's a difference between a feminist icon and a feminist character. The former is a symbol for those of us at home, some sort of deviation (in a positive way) from the norm of the sterotypical strong male/weak female dichotomy. The latter is actually a feminist.

There aren't many of those on TV.

I love Leslie Knope because she's not an idiot (like Michael Scott, whom she is often compared to), and she cares about her community. And while it annoys her that she's single and makes her sad that she's lonely, it doesn't rule her life. I love Leslie because she's got a picture of Madeline Albright in her office (who, herself, looked up to Xena). I love Leslie because she's got civic pride and liberal pride and because she's completely and one hundred percent aware that sexism still exists (right along with racism, homophobia, classism, etc.) and she wants to do something about it.

My all-time favorite moment of Parks and Rec comes in the "Hunting Trip" episode. Leslie has managed to finally get herself invited to the "boys only" hunting trip, and brings the rest of the female cast with her. It's a premise that starts with the ridiculousness of someone who doesn't even like to hunt getting invited only because he's a dude, and builds from there to brilliantly and bitingly showcase the very real sexism that women still face every single day.

And then someone gets shot. Please enjoy one of the (arguably, and I'll argue it) single most feminist moments on television in the last thirty years.

I love you, Leslie Knope.

1 comment:

  1. Sarahkatherine BowdenMarch 27, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    I wholeheartedly agree with everything you've written here. I find Leslie to be one of the most refreshing female characters on TV.

    And I fell over laughing while watching this episode.