Leslie Knope makes me want to be a better woman. I have a picture of her next to my work computer for moments when I feel overwhelmed. Us ladies often talk about our connection with 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, but this is nearly always a claiming of our crap-ness, our undermining of ourselves, our tiny triumphs slogging against the tide. I recognize myself in Liz, but Leslie inspires me. What is it about Leslie Knope that prompts this, what makes for our pleasure as viewers?
Part of it is that Leslie Knope is a self-proclaimed feminist. She is passionate in her support for other women, she tells them they are awesome, her desk is backed by a gallery of her female political heroines. She is a powerhouse of ideas, and displays an unashamed dorky enthusiasm for all things government, no matter how small. For an overworked, unorganized academic always struggling to keep her head above water, Leslie’s inhuman work ethic represents an ideal.
Leslie – to misquote Poehler and Fey's SNL Weekend Update piece – gets stuff done. Now, the Type-A workaholic woman is not underrepresented in popular culture. Romcoms are full of them. But Leslie is different: she doesn’t fall over. She also doesn’t get punished, brought low and ‘loosened up’ by the love of a good man (I’m looking at you Heigl). In Pawnee, Leslie’s workplace dedication is valued and celebrated. It is part of the show’s fundamental positive outlook and its feminist voice. But Leslie’s brand of sunny smarts is also slightly skewed in a way that we feel warmth, not intimidation. My video showcases clips that demonstrate her combination of hyper-competence and weirdness. The former makes her nearly superhuman, but the latter makes her just like us.
But we can’t talk Leslie without talking Amy Poehler and her comic fearlessness (who else goes all out with a Sarah Palin rap on SNL whilst virtually ready to pop?). Poehler’s innate warmth and worldview chimes with Leslie’s feminism and celebration of sisterhood, the character fits like a glove. The recent funny lady memoirs from Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch and Mindy Kaling all spoke of Poehler’s comic skills, her support of other women and determined refusal to be put into the standardized boxes. Leslie’s appeal is that she fits into no popular cultural box, and that’s why we love her.