It’s more than fair to say that the brilliant show, Parks & Recreation deserves it’s place in this ongoing Celebrating Female Characters series. If Leslie Knope isn’t an ‘instant classic’ character role model, I’m not sure what is.
One person’s ‘annoying’ is another person’s ‘inspiring and heroic’.
The heart and soul of the show, the character of Leslie Knope is an unflinchingly optimistic and idealistic woman working hard to make a difference in an often thankless and male-dominated job. The world of entertainment/fiction needs more Leslie Knopes in it (and don’t tell us placing strong female characters front and center doesn’t sell, because, ugh, hugely success female led COMEDY right here).
Being written as a woman in government/politics, her character is given many opportunities to make a stand for gender equality. The show’s writers do an amazing job of tackling this issue without backing down. Whether it’s bringing a needed dose of common sense to a ‘Piemary’ Contest or beauty pageant, or leading the ‘Pawnee Goddesses’, Leslie Knope always stands for her beliefs (unpopular opinion? Bah!).
At the same time, she can admit when she’s wrong and has the maturity to reevaluate those beliefs or actions when necessary. When Leslie comes to the conclusion that she’s done something to wrong someone else, she won’t rest until she’s set things straight.
I took your idea and I made it better.
The setup of Parks & Recreation also provides a strong basis for Leslie’s ambition. And let’s not mince words – Leslie Knope is ambitious. Is that a big deal, you ask? It’s a very big deal.
When thinking of the word itself, ambition, what do you associate it with? How does that change when applying as an adjective for a man and a woman? What sort of woman comes to mind with the term?
Right, so what it boils down to is this: In men, ambitious is perceived as a positive and natural trait, but for women it usually goes along with words like, ‘bossy’, ‘conniving’, and ‘bitchy’. Oh hey, double standard, hey!
Luckily, there’s now a push (at least in certain aspects of media) to address this problem, though still only to an extent which is why characters like Leslie Knope truly matter. So I say again, Leslie Knope is ambitious and that’s fantastic.
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Parks & Rec is hardly the first show to have a leading female character exhibit that trait, but Leslie is not ambitious in the petty, negative way many women with this trait are still written in television (especially shows with a political spin!).
We see her ambition manifest when she’s driving herself and others to make real change happen and when she goes above and beyond to be the best friend she can possibly be. Is it over the top sometimes? You bet. But it’s over the top caring, and Leslie’s ambition stems from that innate desire to make the world a better place.
We have to remember what’s important in life…
When talking about the character of Leslie, we can’t not address friendship. She may come off as a little crazy at times, but I love the fact that this character could care less about social convention (which, of course, makes her a magnet for bringing people together).
Leslie and Ann. The perfect example of a healthy dynamic and positive friendship between two women. I wish it were more common on television, but there you go. Too often cheap drama or gags are used at the expense of a this dynamic (and what is that supposed to teach us about acceptable relationship practices?), but Parks & Rec gets it so right here. Let’s hope this A+ example at the forefront of a popular show paves the way for future female duos.
Ann and Leslie will quite literally do anything for the other. Doctor’s appointments as you consider having a baby on your own? There. Gotta eat a whole cheesecake so you don’t look bad? Done. Extremely supportive, there to be the other’s voice of reason when called upon, and partner in crime when necessary, everyone should have a Knope to their Perkins or a Perkins to their Knope.
What I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring really loudly at me.
Leslie and Ron hold viewpoints in opposition of each other on so many subjects, but that doesn’t stop them from finding the common ground when it comes to the things in life that really matter – a lesson that seems more important than ever to remember in our own lives. There is an incredible mutual respect between them, and though Ron would never admit it in so many terms, they are basically bffs.
Leslie and April share a wonderful, touching bond as well. Again, on the surface here are two opposite personalities but Leslie worms her way into April’s heart (despite any claims to its non-existence) and is one of the only people we see April truly open up to in moments of vulnerability. Neither ever asks the other to be something they’re not.
Between these two another example of an amazing lifelong friend/mentor/mother-daughter relationship is formed over the course of the show. Watching April’s journey is just as satisfying as Leslie’s as we see how much this relationship positively influences her own path to happiness.
#RelationshipsInOneLook (So much love and respect. <3)
At the risk of this becoming a post of gushing love for every single character relationship and group dynamic, I’ll just say that basically every one of them is special and written with so much care. (I mean, Leslie & Ben? #RelationshipGoals.) More than that, these dynamics are interesting and compelling without any out-of-character ‘personality morphing’.
What’s Galentine’s Day? Oh, it’s only the best day of the year.
ALL of the female characters in this group are simply fantastic. April’s sense of individuality, dripping sarcasm, secretly really cares attitude; Donna being a boss in every aspect of her life, knowing when to treat herself, bringing the sass and honesty but always having her friends’ backs; Ann’s independence, ability to roll with everyone’s crazy, and fierce protectiveness of those she cares about.
Even the minor roles tend to be forces to be reckoned with (Tammy & Tammy Two, campaign strategist Jennifer Barkley, Leslie’s mom,…) and I love that such diverse, quirky, and strong personalities were given the chance to be female characters.
Finally, shout out to the actresses who brought this cast of wonderful female characters to life so perfectly. Figures like Amy Poehler are personal role models.
It’s so encouraging to see women who not only succeed in this field – especially in comedy – but take it by storm and in such positive ways. So I’ll be keeping an eye on the Parks & Rec gang (all of them, men & women – brilliant writers included – as it was certainly a team effort) because I hope to see a lot more of these talented people in the future.
Thanks for reading, cheers! Until then…
Need further evidence on why we need more strong, well-crafted female character leads on television? In 2016 we apparently still face issues of shows being #toofemale for prime time spots.