Parks and Recreation: Leslie Knope, A Woman’s Woman in Government

Parks and Recreation: Leslie Knope, A Woman’s Woman in Government

“Dear Congress,
It’s Leslie again.” Leslie Knope set herself apart as a subtly
revolutionary role model for women “I win, we move in there. I’ll take the West Wing. You take the East Wing. You can be the first gentleman.” Back in 2009,
when Parks and Recreation started airing, Leslie didn’t fall into one of
the already established categories for strong female characters on TV. She was hard-working and successful
without being cold or cutthroat, endearingly quirky
without being an eccentric oddball a believer in female friendships
and girly activities without being a princess
or a romance junkie. In a nutshell, Leslie was a woman,
written for real women. She demonstrated how to turn
traditionally feminine strengths — like caring about things,
paying attention to details, putting relationships first
and empowering other women — into sources of power
in the workplace and the world. “If I seem too passionate,
it’s because I care. If I come on strong,
it’s because I feel strongly.” Over 7 seasons, Leslie showed us what being
a woman’s woman really means. Before we go on,
we want to talk a little bit about this video’s sponsor —
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for free. “I-I-I guess some people object to
powerful depictions of awesome ladies.” It may be hard to remember now,
but season one of Parks and Rec had a very different feel
than the rest of the series — especially when it came to
Leslie’s character. “Let’s get started.” [Loud bang] “Ow”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Metal.” She was a kind of oblivious Michael Scott
type, “Tom Haverford, boy genius. Smooth like milk chocolate.” “Pam Beasley. Office hottie.” who wasn’t well-liked
or respected by her co-workers. “From time to time when I think of
an eloquent saying or a phrase, I have Tom write it down. He’s collecting them
for my memoirs.” “Here’s Leslie’s quote from Wednesday.” She was less aspirational figure,
and more of a punchline. “I like your hairdo Leslie,”
“Thank you Ron.” “It’s just like my brother’s,
he’s an officer in the Air Force.” But it was never
the show runners’ intention to present Leslie as someone
whom we shouldn’t take seriously. So after they realized this is
how she was coming across, they started to frame
her character differently, Show creator Mike Schur has said
that he didn’t change Leslie’s personality so much as how other
characters reacted to her. Leslie remained just
as dorky and excitable from Season 1 to Season 2. But because Leslie’s dorkiness started to be treated
with more affection, we went from looking down on her
for her over the top enthusiasm and intensity, to admiring her
for those same qualities. “That was… Kirk Gibson
hobbling up to the plate and hitting a homer
off of Dennis Eckersley. That was… [long pause] that was Leslie Knope. [surprised]” Schur says that ultimately Leslie “evolved into a character for whom
there was no difference in her private and public thoughts,
motives, or feelings” This is a big part of
why the people around her and the people watching
came to be in awe of Leslie. “If everyone in government were like you,
then I would probably still work there.” Essentially, she’s a really authentic person
who puts it all out there — she lives according to
the principles she believes in. “We need to remember
what’s important in life. Friends, waffles, and work. Or waffles, friends, work. It doesn’t matter. But work is third.” Meanwhile, her personal life also evolved. “When Greg Daniels and I were
originally conceiving the show, one of the titles
that we thought of for the show was ‘The Education of Leslie Knope,’ and the idea was you would
follow both her career education and what she learned
and how she got better at her job, and then also
her personal growth as a human.” One of the first things
we learn about Leslie is that she’s hopelessly
infatuated with Mark, a guy she slept with once years before “When you work closely with someone
and you share similar interests and you have a similar world view
and you’re passionate about the same things, things can happen….” “Leslie? No… [long pause] Oh my god…
you know what? Yeah we did,
like five years ago…” Her obliviousness when it comes to
Mark’s lack of interest seems like a set-up
we’ve seen before, that turns the obsessive woman into a joke. “Oh!” “You lied about being pregnant?” “Right. So?” “You really don’t understand
how that might make me kind of angry.” “No.” “We’re never getting back together.” “[whining] Why not?!” But after starting off
fixated on a man who’s just not that into her
hardly knows she exists, Leslie eventually ends up
in a loving relationship with someone who’s
crazy about her because of what makes her
strong and unique. “I’m in love with a woman from here. A strange, passionate goodwill of a woman.” Part of what attracts Ben to her is seeing how committed
and hardworking she is. He willingly makes
sacrifices for her career because he cares about the impact
she’s making on the world. “Indiana native,
supremely qualified, and she wrote that she
wanted to be governor in her kindergarten dream journal. Just makes sense.” So Ben shows us what it really means
to be a partner to a strong woman — that’s it’s not about
paying lip service, but actively supporting them
so they can what they want. “Your victory speech,
councilwoman Knope.” “Someday, when I’m more emotionally stable, I want to read the concession
speech you wrote for me.” “I never wrote it.” It’s interesting that improving
Leslie’s romantic life was so key to making
us, the viewers, respect her more, but really this followed from
the character’s internal changes — the writing began to made her
more grounded and aware. And it’s telling
that once Leslie became more of a lovable heroine
and a fearless leader, the show also resonated
more with viewers. Clearly, what we really wanted to see, was a woman who made it cool to be quirky
and to care deeply about things, one who wasn’t written
off as merely a joke. “I am big enough to admit that
I am often inspired by myself.” Leslie’s a working woman who doesn’t cut herself
off from her femininity. Instead, she relies on
traditionally feminine characteristics and shows that they are
extremely helpful in the workplace. “The yearly budget and planning proposal
for a city is called the master plan. [deep inhale] [quick and excitedly] Isn’t that just
so awesome you can’t stand it? ” Leslie has ambition, which is usually seen
as a masculine characteristic. “I’m gonna work until I’m 100
and then cut back to four days a week. Oh, God. I’m already so bored
thinking about that one day off.” But she embodies ambition
in her own way — by incorporating traditionally
feminine qualities like inclusivity, working really hard
without seeking credit, and prioritizing relationships. She doesn’t have
a “go it alone” mentality — “No one achieves anything alone.” she actively mentors April,
even against April’s will. “I am so proud of you. Now stand next to the screen and think about all the strong
female role models in your life.” She includes the whole parks team
in her passion projects for their own good. And her goal is always to help others,
not just to achieve status. “She’s kind of part girl scout,
part pioneer… she’s got a very
suffragette spirit I think, but zero game.” But her dedication
to her friendships pays off in her
professional life. She wins the city council race
against Bobby Newport in season four, because while he has money
and influence on his side, these things can’t compete with the work
Leslie’s friends put in for her. “Ron, for the last six months,
my friends have worked so hard. Every five-minute coffee break at work,
every night, every weekend, every spare moment of their lives,
they gave to me.” Her earnestness and positivity —
two attributes more commonly associated more with women — keep her going when her
job seems thankless. “What I hear when I’m being yelled at
is people caring really loudly at me.” Parks and Rec gives us a heightened satire
of our country’s general attitude toward government. “You know, when I first tell people
that I work in the government, they say, ‘Oh, the government. The government stinks.’” “I lost my optimism about
government in two months.” “I don’t really care for politics.” “The government in a greedy piglet
that suckles on a Taxpayer’s teet Till they have sore, chapped nipples.” Come to think of it, this isn’t a political landscape
we find *so* unfamiliar. So the thoroughness and good intentions
Leslie brings to politics are really refreshing. “Leslie Knope gets
as many favors as she needs.” “Can I ask why?” “Because she’s the kind of a person
who uses favors to help other people.” Leslie respects those
she doesn’t agree with. She and her boss, Ron,
have totally opposing political views. “I don’t want this parks department
to build any parks, because I don’t believe in government. I think that all government
is a waste of taxpayer money.” But in spite of this, they’re able to love
each other as friends “You’re a wonderful person. Your friendship means a lot to me…” and this is really
impressive in today’s world, where it often seems impossible
to connect with people on the other side
of the aisle from us. Leslie’s also defined by
her attention to detail, another trait commonly
thought of as female. “I’ve spent the last few months brainstorming,
and I have some really great ideas, that I’ve put in my idea binders. I mean they’re color-coded for godssa-“ [interrupting] “Okay.” Leslie’s invested in things that other’s consider
too small for their time “We thought of the show as
the comedy version of The West Wing, where The West Wing was about
the big, gigantic international crises, and we thought the comedy version of that
would be on a very small, local level, in a small town,
in a small department in that town.” Nothing is too unimportant for Leslie,
nothing is beneath her. “I have time to spare! I’m also volunteering at
‘Wheels for Meals on Wheels.’ We repair vans
for Meals on Wheels.” Meanwhile, our real-life politics is too often not about solving
the concrete problems in our lives but all about the big flashy spectacle
of the national stage. Leslie brings as much energy
to the seemingly insignificant tasks, like fixing a swing. “Well, there you have it, sir. Another problem solved by the hard work of
dedicated public servants.” As she does to
major milestones in her career. Because although she does
have big aspirations, she always feels like every
small piece of what she’s doing is meaningful. And has to be done right. Later she does start achieving
at a much higher level. The series finale led some fans to believe
she eventually becomes president. “And soon, a new, unknown challenge awaits
me. Which, to me, even now, is thrilling.” And what makes this inspiring is that
we know she hasn’t taken any shortcuts. As a result, she skyrocketed from a
humble starting point where nobody ever expected
anything great of her. “I’m barely 34, and I’ve already landed a Parks
Department exploratory subcommittee. I’m a rocket ship!” So the lesson women can take
from watching Leslie is that we don’t have to play
down our womanly traits, or try to act more like a man
to do well in our careers — we should own our true qualities
and make them our superpowers. “April came to me with the idea
to build a dog park in Pawnee. I recognized her potential
a long time ago and she’s finally
living up to it. I mean, I am so proud
of her I could cry. And… [crying] here we go.” Leslie embraces a feel-good feminism
that’s bubbly and infectious. “I’m a feminist, okay? I would never, ever go to a strip club. I’ve gone on record that
if I had to have a stripper’s name, it would be ‘Equality,’” She’s a total fangirl
when it comes to powerful women in government. “Here is my wall of inspirational women.” “Aaah.” And her dedication to
supporting other women is a real source of joy
and strength for her. She even invents “Galentine’s Day”
to turn this appreciation into a holiday “Every February 13th,
my lady friends and I leave our husbands and
our boyfriends at home and we just come
and kick it breakfast style.” But really she celebrates female friendship
every day of the year… “You know my code —
hoes before bros, uteruses before dudereses,
ovaries before brovaries.” Especially when it comes to her BFF, Ann. Parks and Rec was actually devised
as the story of Ann and Leslie’s friendship. Ann is basically Leslie’s soulmate. “Are you two a couple?” “No, tragically we are both heterosexual.” And no man can ever
come between the two of them. Leslie even gives Ann
her blessing to date Mark. “I think you should go on
that date with Mark.” And in the end,
that relationship doesn’t last, but Leslie and Ann
are forever. “Oh! Ann’s here! Ann. [aggressively yelling]
Ann is here!!” And in addition to her positive
relationships with other women, Leslie surrounds herself
with male allies who actually care about
women’s empowerment. “I don’t consider myself an anything-ist. But my life has been shaped by powerful women.” So, overall, what does Leslie teach us
about being a woman’s woman? She inspires us to work steadily and
and believe in ourselves and our bright futures. She encourages the nerdiness
and earnestness inside us all. “Oh my god…I’m feeling it. I’m going to breakdance. Wooooooooo-
Heeeeeeyyyy!” She teaches us that to succeed,
you don’t have to harden yourself, or throw anyone under the bus… In fact, you can be the warmest, most exuberantly loving person in the room. “That promise-
launched a friendship so grand it takes 103 scrapbooks to capture it.” She reminds us to value
the other women in our lives. And most of all
she’s proof that living as your most authentic self is the secret to it all. “I am a godess. A glorious female warrior.” This is Soledad O’Brian. Soledad is an award winning
journalist and news anchor, who currently hosts the show,
Matter of Fact. And, she teaches a class
on storytelling strategies on Skillshare. “The key is to try remember to
try to tease-out someone’s humanity. Not to put them in a box and go ‘This person’s good. This person’s bad.’ This is why we love
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100 thoughts on “Parks and Recreation: Leslie Knope, A Woman’s Woman in Government”

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  • Parks and Rec is one of my favourite shows of all time and I absolutely love Leslie. I think that post-season 2 onwards is obviously where she continually flourishes. My only issues with Leslie are actually some of her brand of feminism. She is not pro sex workers and her language can be quite unfriendly to trans folk as she often talks about genitalia and other physical characteristics when talking about women. Some of her views are a little TERF-y. But as far is criticism, that's all I really have. I don't even see that stuff as "inherently negative" as she is still a human, flawed like the rest of us. Everyone always has space to grow.

    But hey, what do I know? I'm just some guy on the Internet using an anonymous account.

  • Victor Wainaina says:

    Can I just say, that as a dude, I really look up to Leslie, and that those lines you used in your opening from P&R: "If I come on strong, it's because I feel strongly", are ones that I try to live by, so I just wanted to say that she isn't just a woman's woman, but everyone's person. I don't want her getting closed off, or me feeling like if I try to be like her, or try to mimic some of her traits, that I'd be coming off too feminine. I just want to be a good person who cares for people, and she's the perfect example of that, regardless of gender.

  • Looney Longbottem says:

    Well now I just want to rewatch this show. Easily the best Michael Shur show. Parks > Office > The Good Place > Brooklyn

  • Yeeeees, thank you for this video! My true role model since the first minute of Parks and Rec, such strong and inspiring character 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

  • Ánh Nguyễn Ngọc says:

    I love three things in my life, friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Either way and work is always in third.

  • I've just finished rewatching Parks and Rec a couple of weeks ago, by which time I had already come across your channel and fallen in love with your beautifully insightful videos, and was wondering if you'd ever shine the spotlight on P&R characters. I am so happy to see that you have!

  • This video makes me wanna cry, especially the part about Ben, he didn't pay lip service he actually supported and sacrificed for her. Leslie Knope is wonder woman.

  • So far I've been loving everything this channel has been producing. Would you kindly produce a video dissecting the beauty that is Ron Swanson?

  • I love leslie. Tbh, all these warrior kick ass type of women in tv shows and books who don't need man but eventually needs one and their problem rotate around that matter, makes me sick. If they see that kicking ass women as feminist and independent how about us who just studying or working or raising kids and trying to get things done? Are we not independent enough?

  • 88michaelandersen says:

    Leslie Knope showed us the insanity of many government workers. She tried to run everyone else's life and didn't respect their rights or autonomy. Sure, most of the time she had everyone else's interests at heart, and much of the time she was able to follow through on her insane promises, but she should be an example of how it would take a superhuman to actually make good on the promises that government officials make to their constituent.

    Basically, she is the best argument for why we need a limited government with limited interference into people's private lives.

  • The best thing that happened to parks and rec was the writers strike they had to rethink the show and it made the show much better

  • Crap why do I feel like crying, Leslie is easily one of my favourite characters, her positivity just makes me smile, I need to rewatch this series!

  • The Office was good but none of the characters had anything going for them, like they were all depressed, except Dwight, which is weird now that i think about it lol.
    Parks and Rec all the characters stayed true to themselves and lived the best lives they could, in a positive way. They also helped and loved each other, a much better vibe.

  • I love this channel so much, great job ladies. btw I almost missed this one because I didn't recognize it's yours from the thumbnail, just something to note 🙂

  • The sign says not to drink the sprinkler water, so I made some sun tea out of it.  and now I have an infection.  This has got to be the best line ever written!!!!

  • Someone told me that I, as a former civil service employee for municipal government, would like this series. Can anyone expound on this?

  • Daiki Tsumagari says:

    leslie also said "where are you really from" and was pretty racist to tom and asian americans for a role model

  • can you please do an essay comparing the office and parks and rec?? not necessarily saying one is better than the other, but it would be cool to see a comparison of the two shows and comedic styles

  • Leslie Knope is such an admirable character — fiercely loyal, unwavering in her priniciples and, as mentioned in the video, unbelievably detail-oriented– thaat I am always disappointed in her treatment of Jerry/Terry/Larry. Each time she participates in his derision, I am left disappointed and confused. It is the primary flaw in how the show's creators have chosen to develop her– and everyone's — personalities. Sure, I can understand how Tom and Donna might beat up on Jerry, but LESLIE (and even Andy!) ? I always cringe at these scenes.

  • I've always thought that Leslie Knope is one of the most original characters created on television. They figured out how to make goodness and positivity funny without denigrating it.

  • this video solidified my belief that Mark was the ABSOLUTE worst and the show gets ten times better when he’s gone lol

  • I love your videos because of the tone and depth you go into but please give spoiler warnings if your going to go through later seasons. Thx 🙂

  • So often strong women are written with masculine traits to portray that she is strong. This is just lazy, and a product of lack of diversity in a writing room. You can be a leader and be gentle, you can be stern but also compassionate. When you just write a “strong female character” to be unmoving and stubborn and showing no real emotions. That’s why I love Leslie’s character, she is a true example of strong female who is strong because of her femininity not in-spite of it.

  • Knope was THE reason why I and millions of others hated this show. Her character was a full blown, sjw feminist who killed the joy out of every scene she was in. She would go out of her way in almost every episode to intrude into groups just because they were all men, or what she saw as unequal in her eyes. She was a Democrat who looked the other way every time there was a leftist scandal, or when her female teammates wouldn't do their job, which was all the time. She'd shun her coworkers for not aiding in HER dreams, particularly at events such as running for office, fundraisers, and the fairs. She'd praise any woman in the name of feminism, while always ridiculing Jerry, the only hard working white male on the show. And she only bullied him because he was a white male and worked under her. She used favoritism to allow, I will say practically forced, Anne into working under her, when other more qualified people could have had the job. Anne already has a damn job as a full time nurse. I am sure Knope had no problem getting and keeping her job, knowing her mom is not only a judge, but works in the same building. Can we say, nepotism? Her narcissistic personality makes herself a victim EVERY time anyone tries to correct or even help her. Her framed pictures of Hillary Clinton doesn't hide the fact that she is very left leaning. She claims to be a person of the people but demonizes the public library. Her ego is such a problem for her and everyone on the show, and the audience. She practically had a meltdown when Ron won the woman's award and she didnt. She immediately saw the envelope and presumed it was for her. No one else in the department, or the building just her. How pathetic. And when she lists all the guys who left her in the past, she refuses to look in the mirror and realize that she might actually be the problem. What's really sad is that almost every male character in the show is either stupid, shovenistic, incompetent, clumsy, or just plain annoying. It's no surprise that the guy who does fall for her, and she marries is a spineless beta male who cannot stand up for himself, and has no problem being molded into her image. Sorry, Ben.
    Ron Swanson is the ONLY good character in this show worth watching. He is smart, confident, capable, antifeminist and independent. Something all feminists hate. I'm surprised he lasted the whole run.
    Ego can be a good character trait, but egotism, narcissism, feminism and just being an annoying person are just poison for any character. In the end, it wasn't Knope that most people tuned in to watch but the supporting characters. Truthfully, most didn't even like her. Can you blame them?

  • amy poehler playing leslie makes it that much better because you really feel a connection to the character that makes the show feel more complete

  • I know this video essay makes me cry every time I watch it, yet today is one of those days when i come here again, knowingly i'll be balling by the end.

  • The thing with Ron and Leslie is that they made Ron a libertarian, not traditionally right wing. Libertarianism is a right wing theory but its a mix of far left social policy and far right economic policy. This made the whole "across the isle" thing far easier because it meant he didn't have to exhibit any phobic behaviour. Audiences have a much less visceral reactions to right economic theories as opposed to social policy. I don't think its a particularly useful example to apply to real world politics because of that. If you find out someone supports a largely disbanded state allowing for ultra-capitalism you have a much less negative reaction that if some said "I don't really like X group of people" even though the average persons political stance is further removed from the 1st the 2nd.

  • 2:39 – not completely true. Season 1 Leslie was a pushover. Remember when she was too much of a pushover to say no to dating an 80-year old?

  • How utterly damning that just by changing the reaction of other characters in the show to this character, the audience perceived her completely differently, as well. Are we all just lemmings??

  • By the way, could you please stop using the term "strong woman", which always implies that e.g. housewives or women not aiming to have a career or sensitive women are somehow "weak women" deserving of contempt?

  • I love how you covered Leslie and Bens relationship but I’d love a whole video about just that. I’ve always found it so interesting that Ben takes a traditional female role in the relationship while still demonstrating male characteristics. He likes sports, and even punches a man who calls Leslie a bitch which is traditionally very masculine but he makes real sacrifices in his career to further Leslie’s which is traditionally what women do for their relationships. The switch the typical gender rolls but both and still masculine and feminine when they do so. It would be interesting to see a take on the impacts of that

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