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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 5. “Knope We Can!”: Making Politics Personal


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At approximately one minute and one second into the premiere episode of Parks and Recreation, main character Leslie Knope states to the viewer: “You know, government isn’t just a boys’ club anymore. Women are everywhere. It’s a great time to be a woman in politics.” Leslie herself is dressed in a skirt suit and high heels, holding a broom in an effort to eject an inebriated man out of a children’s playground slide. As she holds the broom, Leslie, in a voiceover, continues: “Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, me, Nancy Pelosi” (Episode 1.1, “Pilot”).† By including herself in this list of prominent, history-making women politicians, Leslie Knope clearly sees a future in which gender serves no obstacle, just as it foreshadows her own political trajectory in Pawnee and beyond.

The premiere of Parks in April of 2009 came on the heels of the just-concluded 2008 U.S. presidential election in which two women, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, became integral players in both major political parties. Just two years prior, Nancy Pelosi became the first female U.S. Speaker of the House. Although the presidency’s racial barrier was finally broken with the election of Barack Obama, the gender barrier still held—as another male-male presidential ticket took office. The media coverage given to Clinton and Palin became the focus of several scholarly examinations regarding the nature ← 101 | 102 → of biased reportage about them, in which gender...

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