'Knope' We Can!: Feminism in "Parks and Recreation"
by Kathleen Wang
“Women, if you want to bake a pie, that’s great. If you want to have a career, that’s great too. Do both, or neither, it doesn’t matter.” This is perhaps one of the most memorable quotes from Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the star of NBC’s hit comedy show “Parks and Recreation”. The show aired its last episode on February 24th, 2015, to an awaiting audience of 4.15 million viewers.
Over the past seven seasons – and six years – of the show, those viewers have been swept up in a whirlwind of satire, optimism, comedy, and love in ways they never would’ve imagined. From gay penguin marriages to safe sex for seniors, the blindly patriotic and overly optimistic Leslie Knope pretty much had everything covered. But it is Leslie’s enthusiastically contagious feminist ideals rather than her comical timing that gave the mockumentary a depth and quality that would be remembered for the ages.
Leslie Knope, the perky, pantsuit-wearing protagonist of the show, took feminism by storm, reinventing ways to promote gender equality in the small, fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. In season 1, Leslie intentionally dresses as a man and gets a manly haircut, of which she feels very proud, and uses this to promote feminism at her mother’s public service gala. In season 2, Leslie stands up against the insipid and sexist Pawnee Beauty Pageant, unabashedly speaking up for gender equality and fighting against the superficiality of the her fellow judges. Her enthusiastic efforts finally paid off when, at the end of season 4, Leslie becomes the first city councilwoman of Pawnee.
As councilwoman, Leslie makes it a priority to further gender equality in the local government and in the face of her fellow sexist councilmen. In a landmark feminist episode in season 5, offended by a councilman’s logic that women are less smart because “all the blood goes to their baby centers, so less blood gets to the brain,” Leslie creates Pawnee’s first Gender Equality Commission. However, after this attempt falls flat (ironically, no women showed up), Leslie then takes to the streets and collects garbage for a day, trying to prove to her fellow councilmen that women are just as strong as men. Eventually, after Leslie finds an ingenious way to get rid of a heavy refrigerator, Pawnee’s sanitation committee finally recruits three women on the taskforce, marking a small step for Leslie and a big leap for feminism.
But not only do Leslie bring equality to the workplace, but she also strives to promote women in her ordinary life. In adjunction to Valentine’s Day, Leslie celebrates her own annual “Galentine’s Day” with her lady friends, thus emphasizing the importance of feminist self-love, as well as inadvertently starting a trend across the nation after the episode was aired. Furthermore, Leslie organizes several weekend camping trips with the government ladies – April (Aubrey Plaza), Ann (Rashida Jones), and Donna (Retta) – as an opposition against fellow coworker Ron Swanson’s (Nick Offerman) sexist “men’s only” campouts.
At the end of the day, we see Leslie’s ever feminist ideals reflected in her own success story. Whether working as a powerful bureaucrat in her new Regional Director of the Department of the Interior role, or raising her three kids, Leslie Knope handles everything she does with the same fervor and optimism as at the beginning of the show. In the show’s phenomenal series finale, 4.5 million viewers enthusiastically heralded in Leslie’s bright future as Governor of Indiana, proving once again that feminism really can take everything by storm.
Over the years, viewers have faithfully stuck to the NBC situation comedy, and, in addition to the many laughs the show elicited, have also learned many lessons on self-love, optimism, and feminism. As the show came to an end in February 2015, it was clear that America was not only waving goodbye to its favorite government employee, but also waving in a new platform for feminism as well.