Integrative Seminar 2
7 March 2018
“Women In Garbage”
Parks and Recreation has no lack of politically charged episodes. Sometimes these political messages are overt, and other times they can be hidden between the ridiculous and light-hearted plot lines that this show is so full of. The episode “Women in Garbage” confronts the idea of feminism and women in politics by directly addressing the issue through showing that women are as, if not more, capable than the sexist men in the Pawnean government. To prove that this is the case, Leslie and April take on the trash route as garbage women for the day; and although sabotaged by the men they still succeed and prove their point. Throughout television history women have been unfairly represented, and this show is a step forward in pushing back on the chauvinistic tendencies often found in television.
The main storyline in this episode, “Women in Garbage,” is very overtly portraying the feminist message. It begins with Leslie, Ann, and April interviewing the first councilwoman in Pawnee who tells them about all of the terribly misogynistic things that had been done to her by the other councilmen at the time—these misogynistic actions included snapping her bra, wearing mirrors on their shoes so as to look up her skirt, and keeping track of her menstrual cycle—something that Leslie finds out is done to her in her present time as councilwoman. After this meeting Leslie and Chris Traeger decide to hold a meeting with two representatives from each department in order to talk about the imbalance of women in their small government. When each department sends men, and no women are present, Leslie is pushed to act against this incredible outcome by targeting and proving to the most imbalanced department that women are just as competent as men. She and April take on the trash route for the department of sanitation and end up making better time than the men would. Although they are given a seemingly impossible task, they don’t give up and find a way to overcome it—something that the men couldn’t do when they attempted to do the same thing. In the end, the men in the sanitation department decide to hire more women—a step forward in making this small town government a more equal and representative place in terms of gender.
The way that this episode addresses the issue in question is matter of factly and by showing a seemingly exaggerated (but not really) reality of the situation followed by a response from Leslie and other characters who want to acknowledge the problem. By doing this and having the main characters actually be proactive about fighting a problem they see, it sends a message to the viewers about not being afraid to fight for an issue they care about. Being persistent isn’t obnoxious, as some of the minor characters imply Leslie is being, but can open the eyes of others. This idea comes through both in the fictional Pawnee and to the viewers.
This show brings to light a lot of feminist ideas and has taken a step forward in fighting off the old stereotypical women characters in television who only care about shopping, boys, drama, etc. Leslie Knope is a character with drive and energy. She cares about her town and the part she plays in it. Pawnee however, has a lot of problems. Laws and ideals are very out of touch and comically outdated. In the episode “Women in Garbage” Leslie even mentions a law that prohibits her from reserving a conference room without her husband or father’s signature. These laws and the way that Pawnee’s history is presented in the show is satirical and meant to be an exaggeration. Erika Engstrom puts it very well when she writes, “the show balances the lived feminism of Leslie Knope and her allies with a patriarchal, archaic governmental/state that still needs to catch up with the times” (Engstrom 11).
In “Media Report to Women,” Sheila Gibbons writes, “Much as The Mary Tyler Moore Show did in the 1970s, Parks and Recreation updated the script for feminist-leaning television programs” (Gibbons 19). By creating different kinds of characters, a lot of whom defy gender norms in plenty of ways, the show is creating less of a difference between male and female characters, something that is sometimes called “cooperative feminism” (Gibbons 19). By doing this people get to see men and women in “diverse, compatible roles,” which is showing feminism in action (Gibbons 19).
The episode “Women in Garbage” is just one example of many Parks and Recreation episodes that tackles feminism. Leslie Knope is a modern day woman who is also the ‘hero’ of her town and of the viewers. All she wants is to do her job and make Pawnee a better place. To do that she might have to be a trash collector for the day or deal with crazy, restrictive laws, but she’s happy to do it and she gets it done. This show is a huge step forward for television and feminism within it, and is part of a great era of comedies.
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Recreation.” Media Report To Women 41, no. 4: 6-21. Film & Television Literature Index
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Gibbons, Sheila. 2018. “Feminism, Gender, and Politics in NBC’s Parks and Recreation.” Media
Report To Women 46, no. 1: 18-19. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text,
EBSCOhost (accessed March 2, 2018).
Ryan, Maureen. “What ‘Parks And Recreation’ Taught My Son About Feminism (And So Much
Else).” HuffPost. February 23, 2015. Accessed March 5, 2018. https://
Sherwin, Miranda. “Deconstructing the Male Gaze: Masochism, Female Spectatorship, and the
Femme Fatale in “Fatal Attraction,” “Body of Evidence,” and “Basic Instinct”.” Journal
of Popular Film & Television 35.4 (2008): 174-82. ProQuest. 2 Mar. 2018 .
Wittels, Harris , writer. “Women in Garbage.” In Parks and Recreation , directed by Norm
Hiscock. NBC. January 24, 2013.