I’ve been really grateful for all of the smart women in movies and on television lately: Kristen Wiig is making box-office hits, Mindy Kaling has her own TV show and Tina Fey seems to have the Midas touch.
The leading lady that captured my heart, however, is Amy Poehler. Like a breath of fresh air in a stale, male-dominated media, Poehler is hilarious, opinionated and supportive of her gal pals. Her television show can give women hope because, while plenty of shows have amazing character actor ensembles or witty writing, “Parks and Recreation” has realistic female friendships, namely that of Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins.
The relationship between these two women is loving and supportive. They have tons of fun together. They aren’t catty, manipulative or competitive like the “Real Housewives” women. They work hard at their friendship. They set aside time for each other and help each other achieve their life goals. And their friendship is independent of any man — “Uteruses before Duderuses!”
Even better is that this show isn’t primarily targeted toward women — it’s full of humor that appeals to both genders. This is a noteworthy feat, especially considering most exemplary female friendships in the media are exclusively relegated to female-targeted media. Lifetime movies, romantic comedies and “Sex and the City” immediately come to mind.
It’s easy to overlook the rarity of strong female friendships on television. Many shows suffer from the “Smurfette Principle,” which states that unless a show is purposefully aimed at a female viewing audience, the characters will tend to be disproportionately male. This often manifests itself as a group of guys with one girl in the main cast. Obvious illustrations of this include “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Seinfeld,” “The New Girl,” “The Big Bang Theory” and of course, “The Smurfs.” I love you Miss Piggy, but are you really content as the only female Muppet?
Other movies or shows have female characters, but their main purpose is to enhance the male cast members. Don’t believe me? The Bechdel test was designed to measure this exact phenomenon. A movie or an episode passes the Bechdel test if it has three elements: at least two female characters who speak, those female characters speak to each other and when they speak to each other, they’re talking about something other than a man. Sounds easy enough? At least half of all films and TV episodes fail.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the media despite misogyny. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is my favorite set of films, even though Middle Earth is mostly devoid of females. I own all the seasons of “It’s Always Sunny on DVD, and Sweet Dee is her own awesome flavor of a-hole. But as a smart female, I want to see females on TV that I can relate to, maybe even admire. And I want to see those females in healthy, supportive friendships with each other.
How can we achieve this change? By demanding it! By watching shows like “Parks and Rec”, and appreciating it as the rare, beautiful musk ox that it is. And I’m sure my weekly love letters to Amy Poehler don’t hurt either.
Elizabeth Brouwer is a Public Health student.