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Feminism, Gender, and Politics in NBC’s «Parks and Recreation»

Erika Engstrom

Widely hailed as one of the best feminist-oriented series on television, NBC’s Parks and Recreation (2009–2015) presents a multifaceted text for examining the incorporation of feminist ideology into its storylines. This book analyzes the various ways the series presented feminism as a positive force, such as the satirical portrayal of patriarchy; alternative depictions of masculinity; the feminist ideology and political career of main character Leslie Knope; the inclusion of actual political figures; and depictions of love and romance as related to feminist thinking. A much-needed treatment that adds to the literature on feminism in media and popular culture, this book serves as an ideal resource for instructors and scholars of gender and mass media, women’s studies, and media criticism by investigating Parks and Recreation’s place in the continuum of other feminist-leaning television programs.

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Chapter 4. Personal Politics and Everyday Feminism


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“Hello. Hi. My name is Leslie Knope and I work for the parks and recreation department” (Episode 1.1, “Pilot”).† Thus the viewer is introduced to Leslie Knope in the very first scene of Parks and Recreation, in which Leslie approaches a little girl on a playground to ask about the level of fun she is having. Leslie, dressed in a skirt suit and high heels, is then called to remove a drunken man from the kids’ playground slide. Using a broom to push the man out, the initial image of Leslie is that of a hands-on public employee, unafraid of doing the dirty work required to get things done.

So begins the agenda of change and progress espoused by the main character of Parks, an agenda in which she walks her talk and concretely addresses a range of feminist-related issues. Although Leslie’s efforts to effect real change in her hometown at times do meet with success, sometimes they do not. Whatever the denouement, what the particular episodes examined in this chapter offer nonetheless become useful starting points in discussions revolving around current and ongoing societal challenges to the transforming of hegemonic practices and attitudes based in gender difference.

While feminism and the word “feminist” itself appears in several episodes, such as in “Smallest Park” (Episode 4.8) and “Lucky” (Episode 4.18), as discussed in the previous chapter, here I discuss in particular those...

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