Leslie Knope, a love letter to ambitious and driven women
© Parks and Recreation
After finally watching all of Parks and Recreation in 2021, there are not enough words to describe how amazing Leslie Knope is. In the first season, the creators admitted they tried to make her a female version of Michael Scott from The Office US. They found out that you can't just copy paste a character from one gender to another.
Stereotypes and social norms make what can be endearing and goofy in Michael Scott look like annoying, cringe or even bordering on sexist representation in Leslie Knope. From the second season, she is ambitious, feminist, an all rounded woman with her flaws and she does not apologise for it. That's the Leslie Knope we all love !
It shows that writers can turn characters around from one season to the next and take their shows to another level. I love how much she owns her ambition because women are too often depicted as sacrificing their careers for their families/boyfriends/you name it.
Most of the time, it's like they arrive to their high status and high income jobs by accident as if men let her get there because she was not threatening and not because of making conscious choices. So, to see a woman who knows what she wants and who is not afraid to go get it is inspiring.
I mean, have you seen anywhere else a woman - Gwen, another amazing powerful woman- tell another woman she needs to dream bigger. Firstly, woman are too often pitted against each other as if someone's success means there's not enough space for other women.
This is a lie told by the patriarchy to keep controlling women. In reality, when more women succeed, they open pathways and show others it can be done. The more women do it, the easier it will get for the women coming after. Secondly, women are too often told they shouldn't dream too big. So Leslie's confidence in her dreams and ability to make them come true is the perfect way to tell girls and women everywhere they should not censor themselves.
When my brother would not work towards his dreams when we were kids, how unattainable his dreams were not questioned. When I worked towards mine, I was told mine were impossible.
Twice when I was a teenager, I was told by the school careers adviser - a woman !- that being a film director was not for me and that I should find something else to do when I asked her about film schools and how to get into them. Happily, I told her that Scorsese and Spielberg started somewhere too and that I was not asking her opinion about my career choices.
I was ready to fight for my dreams but how many girls would have given up when told by an adult supposed to help them it's impossible for them ? What if their grandma told them their dream job was a 'man's job' ? Not every girl will stand up for herself because of the lack of female role models.
Now that I am an adult, I can go and found the amazing women I can look up to. But because they are not celebrated by society and almost pushed into the shadows by mass entertainment and media, it's harder when you are a child. This is where being able to turn on the TV and see Leslie on such a popular TV show can be life-changing.
Leslie is not just ambitious. She is self confident and breaks the idea that women should have imposter syndrome. We are conditioned to feel inadequate when stepping out of what is deemed acceptable by the patriarchy. Having a character like Leslie saying "I am big enough to admit I am often inspired by myself' is a game changer for feminism.
I completely agree with geek girl con that "that sense of confidence, strength, and self-determination will be enough, I think, to ensure that pictures of Leslie Knope will be decorating offices around the world for a long time to come."
Leslie is not just acting for her own benefit. The Leslie Wall of Inspirational Women promotes women in history. It shows how women have been kept out of history books. It's not that incredible women do not exist, it's that men are threatened and scared so they keep them out of reach to better control women but Leslie is having none of this.
If you want to learn more about her wall of inspirational women, check out this article from happy feminism. Leslie also bring the women with her when she climbs up the ladder. She brings Ann in and gives April a shot and then encourages her. She also gives a chance to Andy when no one would have. She believes in lifting other people up. Being ambitious does not mean being a shark.
Leslie even made it into the top 10 best TV role models on Screenrant. I love how they describe her : 'Leslie mixes her warm-heartedness and her love for people with political ambition, creating one of TV's greatest politicians'.
One of TV's greatest politicians is a woman. Here comes the alternative to the House of Cards type of politician and she is GREAT ! Hopefully it will change the way people think about politicians and maybe one day the first images that pop into your mind when you think about politics will be a woman.
© Parks and Recreation
Leslie has also some amazing and inspiring achievements under her belt. Like the Pawnee Goddesses who are a great answer to the Pawnee Rangers' boys only policy (Season 4 Episode 4). Then, of course, the boys whine and complain about it being girl-only because they can't get in.
I liked how it gave men who might be watching the show and think boys only groups are okay a taste of their own medicine. Of course, boys are allowed to join in the end. It's the best thing to see all the boys sing 'I am a Goddess. a glorious female warrior'. How the tables have turned...
Because the girl group becomes co-ed, the lack of tolerance of Ron and his boy-only group is highlighted. He loses his group to Leslie. He is very disappointed and forced to realise he is out of touch with the world.
The only thing I disagreed with is when Leslie takes it upon herself to make Ron feel better when he put himself there by refusing a girl who wanted to join the Pawnee Rangers. She puts an ad in the newspaper for a new co-ed group for kids who want to learn survival skills. He is greeted in his office by girls and boys. I loved how she campaigned for becoming a city councilwoman. She was the first woman to do so which means she was greeted with blatant sexism and disrespect by not only the other all white male candidates but also media and Pawnee's own population.
This narrative came into the world in 2012 but it became more relevant than ever when Hillary Clinton ran for President in 2016. I have noticed so many parallels between the way they were both treated compared to their male peers. Parks and Rec takes you into Leslie's head and shows you every side of it which makes what happened in 2016 even more heartbreaking.
Women are often judged on their looks, the way they differ or fit into a sexist mould of what women should be rather than their achievements, professional careers and ability. That's why we need this. We need more women being ready for what inevitably is still waiting for us so we can beat it.
© Parks and Recreation
She also collected trash with April to fight gender discrimination in the workplace ( Season 5 Episode 11). The men were all screaming 'it's too physically demanding for a woman'. So Leslie did the same job for the day to prove a woman can do it. Men tried to set her and April up for failure by asking her to move a fridge they couldn't.
When Leslie discovers they tried to rig the experiment, she gets the fridge to be collected by a charity. A group of women manage to get that fridge on a truck.The sanitation department is forced to hire women. This episode is very important because many times decision are made by men for women based on antiquated misconceptions about gender. Ask women the question first ! Let them make their own choices !
One of her biggest achievement is Galentine's Day (Season 2 Episode 16). This has become so popular it has made into the real world. I have seen so many Galentine's Day events since that episode aired. If we are celebrating romantic love, why shouldn't we celebrate friendships ?
Creating a holiday to celebrate your friends is a great way to encourage sisterhood. Leslie has always supported her peers - male or female. She does not see other's success as a threat but as something positive. That attitude makes a great difference for everyone. She led sex ed classes for seniors (Season 5 Episode 4). I was surprised by how sex positive this show was. In America, a teacher can not answer any questions about sex a student ask in any other way than advocate for abstinence. Leslie believes sex education is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, promote contraception and make sure anyone from teenagers to seniors can have a healthy sex life.
It also shows that sex education is a feminist issue since most of the problems that can result from it (unwanted pregnancies or taking care of contraception) is put on women. I love how she fights the religious extremists on that. You would think that by educating seniors who have seen it all would not be a problem...It only shows how ridiculous and outdated the abstinence only argument is. I am happy that a show like that decided to take a progressive stance on it. One of my personal favourites was when she called out the sexism she was victim of because she was not what people expected from the wife of a future Senator. She got in trouble because she didn't register for a pie baking contest when Ben ran for Senator. In the end, Ben went and baked a pie himself.
Why should it always be the women ? Why wouldn't we ask it of the husbands too ? The double standard is so clear but it also shows that there are feminist men out there. I think it is important to see powerful women in healthy and gender equal relationships where men can also make the sacrifices that are usually asked of women.
When I was growing up, my ambition and vision for my life were constantly questioned because it is not compatible with the idea of being a good wife. I have decided that my dreams would not be put on the back burner to prioritise the career of a man.
My dreams matter just as much which always made my mum say I would not find a husband - whether I ever wanted to find one or not didn't seem to matter. Today, I am engaged to an amazing man who understands that a career is essential to my happiness and who fully supports me. To any women out there, you can be an amazing woman with your own career.
© Parks and Recreation
While I was doing some research on Leslie Knope and she was perceived, I found out that all the articles written by women were full of praise. The only negative article I found is 'Leslie Knope is overrated : a feminist analysis'. Where the writer says she is overrated and a steam roller, I say she is a flawed human. And that's what we don't see enough. Women are humans with strengths and weaknesses. Because we are told everyday that nothing less than perfect is unacceptable for a woman, it is harder to accept female characters who are vulnerable and messy. Also, you wouldn't say that to a man. You'd say he has a great vision, is an amazing leader. Many times, the difference between being perceived as assertive or aggressive is gender.
Leslie challenges the status quo. She does not cave and change herself for male acceptance. She has to be very assertive and confident to get things done and to get men out of her way. This is what society has created for women and she just shows you what it takes to make it in a world dominated by men.
The analysis was of course written by a white man - I checked. So when her attitude is criticised in a man, then we can talk. In the meantime, I don't want to hear about picking hairs on women if we praise the same thing in a man. That's sexist.
To all the driven, talented and ambitious women out there, don't let anybody dull your sparkle !