Monday, August 29, 2011

Feminist Feature: Leslie Knope

I look up to Leslie Knope--played by the lovely, talented, and hilarious Amy Poehler.  On the surface Leslie can seem...ditzy.  But she's far from it.  Not only is Leslie the most likeable female character on TV; she is the most well-rounded character, which is odd for a comedy.  She's not overly aggressive and not dumb.  She's herself and she loves everyone, except librarians...and people from Eagleton.  Let's take a look at her brilliance and feminism through the past three seasons.

The first thing that should be accounted for is her office.  Someone's house or even office says a lot about them.  At first glance, Leslie might seem like she's trying to hard to fit in and to be aggressive to eventually be President of the United States.  But the more you watch, the more natural setting her office is for her.  Her life really is work.  And friends.  And waffles.  Not necessarily in that order.  The photos of women in the government (...and Larry Byrd) show her heroes, who she looks up to.  Every day their accomplishments aspire her.  I'm guessing she feels like they're her friends.  Look at how patriotic she is.  In her office are the American and Indiana flags.  Behind her desk are books of women in the government, as well as the founding fathers and notable presidents.  Books include those about Joan of Arc, Jackie O, Thomas Jefferson, FDR, and Ronald Reagan.  She even has a philosophy book for those tough decisions she has to make, and she wants to make them just, fair, and morally right.  I especially connect with Leslie because we have many of the same books, and it excites me every time I see the book America's Women, which is a beautiful book that I find so endearing and empowering, even for myself as a man.  After all, a woman who looks up to Eleanor Roosevelt rather than Cleopatra is highly admirable in my book (though Cleopatra did what she could with what she had.  She created internal strife among the Romans.).

The weird thing is that her awareness of feminism is quite unnecessary.  Everyone around her knows she's capable of doing anything she sets her mind to.  Although, to be honest,  the hunting episode does deal with feminism in very clear way and realistically.  And Leslie displays her knowledge of how women are perceived through misogynist male eyes.  More guys happen to be friends in the office; but Leslie wants to be part of "the boys' club", of which she makes a big deal.  The guys really don't care that she's there.  She fits in very well.  Once she's in the setting, it's natural for her.  It's not like she needs to try but she does because she's doing it for all women everywhere.  Leslie knows that women in America are underrepresented in government and tries to do her best to represent.  She doesn't realize that the Pawnee government employees don't really give a shit about government, let alone a woman in charge.  That's what's awesome.  She lives in her own little world and cares so much for the rights of women.  Look at her valuing the Woman of the Year award.  It upsets her so much that Ron receives it and she doesn't.  Why?  She sees this as the one thing that is for the advancement of women.  It puts a spotlight on their hard work.  It's not that she really cares about it for herself.  She cares about it for women's entirety.

Displaying ignorance of how politics work in the real world, Leslie is extremely admirable.  The one drawback I've heard about is her having a photo of Margaret Thatcher in her office and that in itself is a warped view of feminism.  But I think it's Leslie's naivete that leads her to not even know anything about Thatcher's political stances.  She is ultimately in her own political world.  As I pointed out: her inclusion of a philosophy book so prominent on her bookshelf is important in that all her political decisions are pure and honest.  She doesn't know how the political system works.  She makes her own decisions in what she thinks is best for everyone (or in case of the penguin marriage...cute).

Leslie's mom has to teach her about influencing powerful others for your own agenda.  In the episode honoring her mother, Leslie takes Anne as a date.  Before the ceremony she gets a haircut that she calls the Hilary Clinton, her hero (aside from her mom).  It makes her looks rather masculine, and Anne tags along as her date, or as Anne later notes, "Leslie's trophy wife."  Everyone expresses how brave she is for coming out.  She doesn't realize everyone thinks she's gay.  That's oblivious she is to others perceptions of her.  During town hall meetings, the townspeople fuss about what we think is nothing; but she sees it differently.  They're expressing concerns about what they think is important.  Leslie notes, "I hear people caring very loudly at me."  Work is her priority; Leslie breathes it.  At first, she doesn't want anything to happen with Ben because it would put their jobs in jeopardy.  She resists the urges by making boring conversation (that Ben probably would actually like).

Leslie also takes a stand for her beliefs.  After marrying two male penguins, she tries to say she had no intention of taking a political stance because the people of Pawnee don't like their government employees to take stance on any issue.  She later succumbs to being the symbol of gay rights in Pawnee and refuses to resign, though many are advocating for her resignation.  She will not stop for her own convictions. She married those penguins and she will let them live together in peace.

As I said before, Leslie may seem dingy, but she's far from it.  She's the hardest working woman in the Pawnee government.  Everyone in her department cares not that she's a woman.  Though Ron's her boss, he directs everyone to listen to her.  He essentially does nothing.  And she doesn't care.  She probably likes it that way.  Little does the government or public know, Leslie is the brains behind the Parks Department.  Her team actually knows she's brilliant and that she does all the work.  They know they can't come up with anything better.  They all do nothing, but they support her in her endeavors.  The camping trip post-Harvest Festival is the perfect example.  She asks them all to brainstorm, and all of their ideas are...well, not that great.

In a world where women are typically one-dimensional on the network television, either shown as hardcore take-no-crap or nagging housewife.   Leslie Knope takes no crap, but she is the sweetest, most hard-working, most sincere and honest person.  She is also a woman who does not typically get into cat fights.  The one thing that sets her apart from other females is her ability to get along and be friends with other women at work.  Her friendship with Anne is realistic and highly fun.  They have their ups and downs.  It's not overly dramatized and not peaceful all the time.  They have rocky times, just like everyone else.  I look forward to when they get drunk together because you can tell that they are "best friends OF EVER!"  It's especially adorable that she has an annual Galentine's Day" for her lady friends, showing her appreciation for them by spending loads of time in preparation for it, including five-thousand-word essays on each lady's awsomeness.  It's not about the men; it's about the women, sharing stories and bonding.  I wish I could partake in Galentine's Day; it sounds fun.  I want Leslie as my BFF.

So let's celebrate Leslie Knope's gender role neutrality, her dedication to her work, and her love of friends and waffles!  We need more well-rounded women on network television.  You'd think we'd have advanced in how genders are displayed on TV, but we haven't.  Far from it.  Males who display female gender roles, such as cooking are seen as a joke.  Women who play sports or hold office are seen as dominating bitches.  These are seen comedic values.  And it needs to stop.  Leslie Knope is a step in the right direction.  Even one-liners like Donna, played by Retta, are incredibly complex.  There's so much we're left wondering about Donna, but her one-liners reveal so much about her.  We know she's got game.  she's not just a sassy black woman.  How does she come up with all this money to put down for a car and for being part-owner of a bar.  There's no comedy like the quality of this show in entertainment and gender equality.

Typically I would not examine a comedic character so closely, as they're typically caricatures, but Leslie Knope and the cast of Parks is anything but, which is outstanding and abnormal.  Leslie does not settle for anything else than the best.  She would not settle for the person in front of her.  Besides, Leslie did this:

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