Parks and Recreation is an American comedy series about to enter its fifth season and in my opinion, the most feminist sitcom on TV at the moment. Shot in a mockumentary style, it follows the adventures of the parks and recreation department of fictional town, Pawnee, Indiana. Funny, ambitious and clever, Parks and Recreation’s main character is a self-proclaimed feminist, Leslie Knope.
For one thing Parks and Rec is a brilliant show among the few feminist programmes even available. Leslie Knope never lets other people’s doubt or cynicism get in her way of making Pawnee a better place by practically running the department single handedly. It effortlessly avoids common feminist stereotypes by subtly pointing out the everyday sexism within politics that women have to face. The women in the office are treated, by the show and its characters, with respect. Side character and misogynist Jean-Ralphio sexually harasses any female character with a pulse and as a result is constantly ridiculed and rejected by everyone. All his endeavours are unsuccessful as a direct result of his blatant sexism.
Parks and Rec is not afraid of actively advocating for feminism. In one particular episode, the lovable but stupid slacker Andy Dwyer; stubborn and cynical April Ludgate; and epitome of traditional masculinity Ron Swanson are awed when they attend a sample lecture for a women’s studies course at the local college. The lecturer states that “many societal institutions were established solely to oppress women” and that “some feminists have even condemned marriage as a glorified form of slavery” without mockery, a breath of fresh air in comparison to the straw feminist trope, in which feminist ideas are only mentioned for the purposes of either proving them wrong or ridiculing them.
Likewise, in the episode Hunting Trip Leslie valiantly takes the blame for her coworker who accidentally injures Ron Swanson by shooting him in the head with a hunting rifle. In the following investigation, Leslie uses a series of excuses typically forced upon badly stereotyped women, including my personal favourite, “I guess when my life is incomplete I want to shoot someone.”
Undoubtedly a main component of Parks and Rec is the strong female friendship between Leslie and Ann Perkins, a nurse who she meets in the first episode. The relationship between them is unusual because of the total lack of bitchiness and jealousy that usually characterises depictions of female friendship. Leslie and Ann are constantly supportive, kind and respectful towards each other. Similarly, in the romantic relationships that Leslie has during the series, she is treated as an equal by her partners and never overtly sexualised or inappropriately idolised. In addition, many of Leslie’s role models are also powerful women, including her mother and Hillary Clinton.
However, Parks and Rec is not perfect. Despite it being a running joke that Pawnee is the town with the fourth highest instance of obesity in America, only two of the named characters are even above average weight. Body positivity is an important part of modern feminism and by only portraying a small amount of overweight people in a specifically overweight town, it’s enforcing the idea that for a television show to be watchable the majority of its characters need to be slim and attractive.
Despite this issue and and a few others, Parks and Rec remains a great feminist show and one of the best of its genre. The cast of rounded, well-written female characters with interesting and developed storylines effortlessly showcase the feminism that drives the show without feeling forced.