Parks and Recreation: Thank You for the Pawnee Goddesses

I used to babysit a house full of smart, awesome girls. They played pirates, staged elaborate kitchen science experiments, and read books by the case-full. For half an hour every evening, we sprawled out on the couch and tuned in to the ongoing exploits of a myriad of makeup lacquered, fresh out of elementary school Disney starlets. Those 30 minutes of 100%-geared-towards-girls-programming were chock full of boy craziness, feuding girl friends, and the trials and tribulations of pop super stardom (this was in Hannah Montana’s heyday). The girls on screen were nothing like the bright, playful girls who I babysat or their friends, full of personality and laundry lists of interests that went way beyond boys and looks. Every night I wondered, when it comes to television, where are the real girls?

Its been years since those TV nights, but my question was answered last Thursday. If you’re looking for the real girls, you’ll find them on Parks and Recreation. They’re the Pawnee Goddesses, and according to their t-shirts (and to me), they’re freakin’ awesome.

In the fictional town of Pawnee, there’s a group for girls called the Pawnee Goddesses. They took up a lot of the episode, and their normalcy was fascinating. There were no crazy girl-on-girl competitions or mean girl antics. Their faces weren’t caked in makeup, their conversation wasn’t focused on the bunk of boys next door.  They were too busy receiving badges for best penguin blog or cooking homemade Korean food for their bunk over a campfire before an epic pillow fight. And when they weren’t busy making s’mores, they were busy making their voices heard. When their chaperone/ group leader Leslie Knope turns away a boy who wants to defect from the Rangers (the original, all-boy version of the Pawnee Goddesses) and become a Goddess, the girls insist on a public forum where they talk about Brown v. The Board of Education, educating the genders separately, and the merits of candy. In the end, the boys are allowed to join the Pawnee Goddesses. And when a new group comes to town that’s all about wilderness training and survival, you better believe a couple of those Goddesses join Pawnee’s “most hardcore wilderness group,” for boys and girls who “march to the beat of their own drum, and made the drum themselves.”

This episode revealed some revolutionary concepts in the backwards world of girls on television: Girls can fish and play in the woods, and girls can throw a puppy party and a s’more competition. They can be smart and silly, tough and sensitive. They can be a Goddess and a Ranger. And boys can too—one of the best parts of this episode was that the boys weren’t afraid to join a group of Goddesses if it meant they could eat candy and hug puppies and hang out with their new friends. There was no flirting or rampant cooties, just kids having fun together.

Unfortunately, this all took place on a show that is not for children. Which makes it a little bittersweet: Where are the Pawnee Goddesses, and their progressive Ranger friends, in the landscape of kids’ television? Where are completely non-sexualized TV depictions of kids being kids?

It’s rare that we talk about positive depictions of girlhood on TV. There are so few these days that a positive moment can get lost in a primetime sea of bad jokes and worse messages. So thank you, Parks and Recreation, for a depiction of girls who are smart, strong, and thoroughly kids. I wish the Pawnee Goddesses could spread a little of their fun-loving, inclusive magic to all TV programming.

(Originally posted on MomsRising.org)

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