No TV show could ever replace Parks and Recreation in my heart. Leslie Knope, the protagonist of the American political satire sitcom, became my hero after the first episode. The show follows Leslie (Amy Poehler), a mid-level government employee in the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana as she tackles any challenges that come her way as she strives to move up the governmental ladder and improve her town. Leslie is a strong, inspiring example of a woman in leadership and politics. She is ambitious and devoted – and sometimes a little too passionate – but still values her friends, family and town. The way Leslie treats her friends is beautiful and loving. The friendship between her and Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) is really important; it’s rare for female characters to have strong friendships that aren’t reliant on men. Leslie constantly compliments Ann with rather unique exclamations like “You are a beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox” and the love between the women is such a lovely aspect of the show.
Leslie is particularly inspiring as a feminist who fights for her right to be taken seriously in her role, and as a woman more generally. This leads to her becoming a bin-lady for a day to prove women can do it too, and leading a girl scout style group, the Pawnee Goddesses, to receive the same opportunities as the boy’s group. There are several storylines that reveal the misogyny and double standards prevalent in society, such as the media focusing on her appearance rather than her political success in later seasons. Leslie calls out sexism, even when it comes from her friends, and is just an all around badass woman in a position of power.
Leslie shows that it is okay to care immensely about what matters to you, through her tireless work to build a park on an abandoned lot, even when others don’t understand its importance. She shows that treasuring your friends is something to be celebrated, whether it’s through creating ‘Galentines Day’ or supporting Ann throughout her relationship troubles. Leslie isn’t flawless, which is part of why I think she is such an important character in television today. Sometimes she is thoughtless, childish and frustrating. She is human. In many TV shows, women are shown as an extreme: a docile side character with no real personality, or an impenetrable tough woman who can do no wrong. Leslie manages to sit somewhere between the two, and it all feels much more realistic. Female characters need to be multi-dimensional, and Parks and Recreation plays this out wonderfully in Leslie, and all the other female characters. It is easy to find a quality shown in Leslie to identify with. Whether that’s a shared love of waffles, a dogged determination to make things better, or the fierce love and admiration of your friends.
Strong, interesting female characters are key to improving how gender is represented in the media and beyond. If people don’t agree, well, as Leslie says, “I guess some people object to powerful depictions of awesome ladies”.