“Where are the ‘Male Men’? You’re ridiculous, and men’s rights is nothing.” Watch out Men’s Rights Activists, because Parks and Recreation has its sights set on you.
Although not all of its episodes deal with feminist issues, Parks and Recreation is a blatantly, fantastically feminist television show. But every so often the issues of feminism are raised, and when they are, it’s best to just sit back and let Parks do its thing. Such gems have included season 5’s “Women in Garbage,” and season 2’s “Hunting Trip.” And now, there’s season 7, episode 9, “Pie-Mary.”
“Pie-Mary” took a different tact — taking on feminism itself. With Ben (Adam Scott) running for Congress, Leslie (Amy Poehler) was expected to participate in a traditional baking contest, or “pie-mary,” with the wives of the other candidates. As antiquated, misogynistic competitions aren’t really Leslie’s style, she declined — and then everything went to hell. The eventual solution was for Ben to enter the competition himself (naturally, as a pie is really just a sweet calzone). Enter a Men’s Right Activist (MRA) group, arguing that this was proof of Leslie oppressing her husband.
The unflinching mockery of the MRAs in “Pie-Mary” might make the group seem almost too ridiculous, but as with much of Parks and Recreations’ underrated satire, it was totally on point. Their group was called the ‘Male Men.’ In a tribute to recent Twitter campaigns, the men brandished signs reading “Don’t mess with HIStory,” “He for He,” and, our personal favorite, “#YesAllMen.” In explaining their goals they insisted, “Men have had a very rough go of it for… just recently, and it ends now.” When Leslie maintained that Ben loved to cook, as seen through his collection of aprons, they responded with an absurd reference to rape culture.
What Parks was parodying was not the many real issues men (just like everyone) face, but the bizarre insistence on the part of MRAs that feminism somehow detracts from this; in other words, that by making things better for women, things can only be made worse for men. MRA groups are a rare instance when you can’t even play devil’s advocate on their behalf, because their arguments are totally irrational, illogical, and oftentimes damaging. Or, in the words of another male activist in “Pie-Mary,” “Can we have ONE conversation about feminism where men get to be in charge?”
It’s easy to see just where the Parks creative team stand on this issue. Parks and Recreation has never been shy about its feminist perspective, but it is the final season and there is a sense that with such short time left, this team is pulling no punches. We applauded to see both Ben and Leslie wasting no time in telling the MRAs how absurd their argument is, resulting in one of the greatest Leslie Knope mic drops: “You’re ridiculous, and men’s rights is nothing.”
Although it’s always fun to laugh at MRAs, the real target of “Pie-Mary” was the double standard to which women are held. As such, the other key group in Parks’ crosshairs was the media itself. Watching Leslie give preemptive answers to all the questions she expected to be asked during Ben’s campaign, will surely go on to become a classic Parks and Recreation moment.
Questions like “Why did you change your hairstyle?,” “Are you trying to have it all?,” and “Do you miss your kids when you’re at work?” are asked not only of women in politics, but of all public female figures. And as Ben rightly pointed out, men aren’t asked about their hair or their children — not that sharing the banality would make such questions less irritating, but it would make them less insulting to women.
Parks and Recreation is not alone. Many television shows can be considered feminist based on their active attempts to redefine the way women are depicted on television, and the greater emphasis they place on women’s experiences.
That is all well and good, in fact we need more of them. But there is still something so exciting about a show that proudly proclaims its feminist perspective. It shouldn’t feel revolutionary to watch the hero of a TV show declare themselves a feminist, but it does. It shouldn’t be surprising to see a program dismiss the preposterous concerns of MRAs as, well preposterous, but it is. Women deal with this crap all the time. It’s nice to know that Parks and Recreation has our backs, even in a small way. It’s nice to have our concerns legitimized.
Parks and Recreation always manages to end on a positive note, and so will we with a good ol’ feminist truth bomb from our girl Leslie: “If you want to bake a pie, that’s great. If you want to have a career, that’s great too. Do both, or neither, it doesn’t matter, just don’t judge what someone else has decided to do.” Preach. Oh Parks, we’re going to miss you.