Tag Archives: Leslie Knope

You’re my best (and only) friend

“If not for you/Winter would have no spring/Couldn’t hear the robin sing/I just wouldn’t have a clue/Anyway it wouldn’t ring true/If not for you”

“If Not For You” by Bob Dylan

When I presented* my findings on the Outside Girls about a week and a half ago, I received a lot of intriguing, complex questions from my audience members. The presentation (which went very well, by the way) gave me many new ideas for this blog, including the subject of today’s post. Someone asked me if the Outside Girls had anyone they could confide in and trust completely. And, predictably, my response was “yes and no.”

When it comes to friendships, the Outside Girls often fall in one of two categories. They might have a dramatic split with their best friends, which results in their outsider status. (Angela Chase, Lindsay Weir and Jessica Darling all fit into this first pattern.) Conversely, the Outside Girls might have one really good friend in the margins with them. (Think Enid and Becky, Daria and Jane, Alike and Laura, and Janis and Damian.) In the latter case, the Outside Girls have no use for anyone besides their best friends.

April Ludgate of Parks and Recreation is definitely part of the second group, although she eventually begins to (somewhat) like all of her coworkers in City Hall. Over the first three seasons of the series, April barely hides her obvious disdain for everyone. She is willfully incompetent at her internship and job, openly mocks Leslie’s enthusiasm, tosses insults around like they are candy, terrorizes Ann and preserves an annoyed-yet-monotone voice. As you can tell, April is not exactly the Miss Congeniality of Pawnee, Ind.

The only person April makes a real effort with is Andy Dwyer, Ann’s ex-boyfriend and City Hall’s resident shoe-shiner. These two are almost exact opposites. April is petite, rude, sarcastic , fiercely intelligent and can be recognized by her signature scowl. Andy is tall and wide, kind, has the brain of a golden retriever and can be recognized by his signature childlike look of wonder. On paper, you would think that these two would work better as foils than as allies and eventually lovers. But–to paraphrase Jerry Maguire–they complete each other. What’s more, Andy proves to April that she will always have one person she can always trust and, more importantly, never hate.

But don’t think that April’s devotion to Andy changes her fundamentally. Being attached to a social person does not bring her in from the outside. Their union just makes April an Outside Girl with a husband. As Caralyn Bolte explains, “friendships…solidify this sense of exile.” Bolte’s research is specifically about Buffy Summers and Veronica Mars, but I believe her point can be applied to many other Outside Girls, April included. Bolte notes that “despite developing deep friendships, both [Buffy and Veronica] remain distinctly isolated.” Outside Girls do not have many friends, but the friends they have make life on the margins bearable. In effect, the girls make a conscious decision to only give their affections to someone who really deserves it. But they do not suddenly give up their outsider status; they just find someone to confide in. Similarly, even after the clearly-happy April makes it official with Andy, she does not make a new effort to be just as approachable as her husband. Instead, her unimpressed eyes and perpetual frown communicate how everyone else can get stuffed. Andy is the only person she loves and has the time of day for.

And I realize this analysis is dangerously close to Lifetime-esque, Daddy I love him! He’s the only one who understands me! mania, but I’m here to discuss who the Outside Girls turn to when they, you know, have feelings. Andy Dwyer could just as easily be a female friend, the Jane to April’s Daria. April’s commitment to Andy does not hinge on their romantic connection or her desperation for a relationship. April’s loyalty to her husband is contingent on his ability to listen to her without judging her and for his willingness to accept her as she is. Remember when I said that April does not fundamentally change when she meets Andy? Well, he has no desire to change her. At the end of the day, both halves of this odd couple know there is no one else they would rather talk to than their partner.

*By the way, apologies for the extended break between this post and the last. I’ve been finishing up my senior year and had to temporarily put the blog on the back burner. But I’m back now and will continue posting every week.

Can you think of any other Outside Girl/friend combinations? What are your favorite April and Andy moments? Do you think my argument is off base? Discuss in the comments section!

(Image #1 courtesy of telephonewallpaper.com; #2 courtesy of fuckyeahaubrey.tumblr.com; #3 courtesy of en.wikipedia.org)

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In every generation, one girl is chosen to fight the forces of darkness…and piss off her predecessors

 

“Individuals must now choose the kind of life they want to live.”

Angela McRobbie

In my admittedly limited studies of feminism, gender and sexuality*, there are a few patterns I see over and over. One of these is the conflict between older feminists and younger feminists.  Generally, second wave feminists (those who fought for the ERA, reproductive rights, equal pay, etc.)…

…do not get along with third wave feminists (younger feminists who include sex-positive, global, or LGBTQ activists in their fight).

Why is that? Third wavers sometimes view their founding mothers as stodgy, racist and elitist. Conversely, second wavers sometimes think of their daughters’ generations as spoiled, slutty, lazy and ungrateful. Since I think of myself as a blend between these two groups, I just want to say that both the Betty Friedans and the Tavi Gevinsons of the world have good points and glaring blind spots. But I digress…

I think McRobbie is one of the few feminist scholars who sees these tensions but does not outright attack either group (although there is a slant towards the second wave).  She describes that the media, peer pressure and ideological institutions all “invoke hostility to assumed feminist positions from the past, in order to endorse a new regime of sexual meanings based on female consent, equality, participation and pleasure.” As McRobbie sees it, the world is training us to see the second wavers as man-hating lesbians and to believe that Lady Gaga and her sparkling lady parts are the height of female empowerment. Really, this means that pseudo-feminism and the third wave have become intertwined and blurred. The older generations recognize this, but still feel that sexual agency might be a teensy bit indecent for ladies. And younger generations wish their moms and grandmas would just leave them alone so they can read Gossip Girl in peace.

Whoosh. Did you get all that? To bring it back to the quote at the beginning of this post, young women (like myself) need to find what makes them uniquely happy and liberated and go for it, traditional feminism be damned. Since, as McRobbie claims, “young womanhood currently exists within the realm of public debate,” there is a lot of pressure and opinions swirling around our heads. Can we be political while still being likable? Is it okay to wear clothes that accentuate our hips and breasts? How can we be taken seriously? Am I allowed to think about relationships constantly if I still get a 4.0? Am I selling out if I love Hillary Clinton but still sing along to Katy Perry in my car?

No matter what you do, somebody gets pissed off.

Which brings me to my petite, blonde hero: hail Buffy Summers, the slayer of vampires.

After watching all seven seasons of this show, I have come to the conclusion that Buffy’s character inhabits the tensions and pressures of young feminists. First, Buffy clashes with the Council, Giles (her Watcher), and another slayer, Kendra. Apparently there is some ancient rule book on how to turn bloodsuckers into ashes. You are not supposed to tell anyone your secret; social lives are off limits; you can’t date, marry or have kids; you aren’t allowed to let anyone help you fight the good fight; etc. etc. etc..

Buffy considers that path for about one episode and then just does whatever feels right to her.  She and her fellow Scoobies work together, contribute different skills and create their own family. Willow brings the smarts and the witchcraft; Xander brings the comic relief; Angel brings the brooding sex appeal; Spike*brings the hilarious bitchery; Cordelia brings the fashion; Giles brings the bespectacled, British common sense.  Together, as Milly Williamson points out, they embrace their “socially marginal identities, speaking from and for the experience of outsiderdom.”

You see, Buffy is an Outside Girl because of her vocation and because she doesn’t fit neatly with second or third wavers. She just does what makes her comfortable. Buffy fights demons in halter tops, has sexual relationships with two different vampires, and shares the weight of the world with her friends and mother. Even when they try, no one can tell her what kind of slayer–or feminist–she is allowed to be. Buffy might be “chosen,” but she is  also an individual.

*American Women’s History class; Introduction to Women’s Studies class; Gail Collins’ book; Jezebel; Leslie Knope; Tina Fey; Joss Whedon’s awesomeness

**Nice Segue: I can’t decide which evil, bitchy pop culture villain I love more, Loki or Spike. Please feel free to discuss in the comments.

(Image #1 courtesy of ew.com; #2 courtesy of thegreatkh.blogspot.com; #3 courtesy of the-unpopular-opinions.tumblr.com)