by Alice Wilder
Leslie is the protagonist of NBC’s Parks and Recreation and the deputy director of Pawnee, Indiana’s department of parks and recreation. Aside from being a delightful character, she’s a great role model. From her love of community to her inability to take no for an answer, Leslie Knope knows how to get it done.
She’ll fight tooth and nail to save a historic gazebo because, damn it, she loves her town and its history – even if that gazebo was the site of a horrifying massacre. If Leslie wants something done, it happens. It doesn’t matter if her department can’t even afford fertilizer. She wants to make her town fun for the people who live there. Leslie Knope gives a crap, and I love that. She unabashedly loves her job, her friends and her community. Leslie will bake someone a cookie in the shape of their face because she thinks they’re awesome. She unconditionally loves her best friend Ann Perkins, even when they drunkenly dance-fight. In short, she’s a real person, with flaws and quirks. She’s also someone that I can look up to as I start imagining my own work.
Leslie has taught me that progress is discontent mixed with lots of hope and hard work. Leslie may not identify as an activist, but her commitment to her community makes her the perfect activist role model. As I became more of an active feminist, I became angrier about the things happening in my community and in the media at large. I found myself in many situations where speaking up was terrifying. But I can’t count the number of times that asking, “What would Leslie do?” has lead me into productive conversations and meaningful experiences. She helps me push through my insecurity and anxiety, it’s nice to know that it’s okay to feel those things.
Leslie doesn’t always feel 100% confident: she’s capable of being scared and insecure, but when it counts, she steps up to the plate and gives it her all. After the huge success of a festival she organized, Leslie chokes when trying to come up with a new project. She worries about being a one hit wonder until her friends help her calm down and come up with another great idea.
She shows that it’s okay to be scared and insecure sometimes. It’s nice to be reminded that not always feeling like Wonder Woman doesn’t make you a bad feminist, it makes you a person.
Leslie’s friends get that too, and they love her for her passion. On television, ambitious, passionate women are often made fun of by their peers. When a woman loves her job, her coworkers roll their eyes, and she only becomes desirable once she lets down her hair and invests in contacts. What greater gift could a show give to teenage girls than to show them a successful, happy woman who is loved for her passion and tenacity, not in spite of it? And her relationship with best friend Ann isn’t one of rolled eyes and passive aggressive compliments. In fact, she invented Galentine’s Day, (February 13th) a holiday devoted to celebrating girlfriends.
It’s not a television writer’s job to create role models for viewers, they’re supposed to tell compelling stories, but the staff of Parks and Rec manages to do both. Leslie reminds me just how much great being really invested in something can be. Even if there’s a chance of failure, she commits herself fully to things that she loves. When Leslie began her campaign for a spot on Pawnee’s city council, she said unapologetically, “my strategy is to win.” And she does.
So whenever I get activist fatigue and need some inspiration, I know the perfect way: spending an hour or two with my girl Leslie Knope.