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the endgame to every woman's story
April 24, 2014 9:51 AM   Subscribe

"Of course women can have it all. Nor is the question should women have it all. The question is, must women have it all." The AV Club on Parks and Recreation's Leslie Knope, feminism, and a problematic sitcom trend. (Contains major spoilers for this season.)

"For the longest time, the purest story engine for [Parks and Recreation] was Leslie’s seemingly unsinkable drive to do nothing less than make the entire world a better place…The show itself reflected her. It was a ratings underdog, a solid enough performer whose continued existence seemed fueled solely by a fictional character’s force of will. What happens then, when those exploits and adventures, the struggles and successes of that character, are retconned into being merely preparation for having children?"
posted by changeling (105 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
oh god it's the writing trend that has stymied some of the best female characters i've ever seen and totally ruined agent scully for me

flames

flames on the side of my face

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:02 AM on April 24 [16 favorites]


I hope it is possible to agree with just about every word about Parks and Recreation in this article and then also be praying that in a year or two we can look back on it and think "whoa - this really missed the boat on how Leslie Knope's story was headed" -- because that's where I'm at.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:05 AM on April 24 [6 favorites]


What happens when a person writing an article extrapolates A LOT based on one episode of Parks and Recreation? I doubt this is where the show is going. They're telling the story of one woman's love/hate for her small town and she's currently trying to decide if she wants to take the big job in Chicago (which presumably has better pay) or if she wants to stay in Pawnee where she's abused and voted out of office but that she really cares about her friends and the town itself.
posted by inturnaround at 10:09 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Ugh. I haven't had time to catch up on P&R this season and now I'm not sure I want to.

(This was weird in HIMYM's last season too. Beyond all the other problems, a large chunk of Lily's story was basically two baby storylines.)
posted by kmz at 10:12 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I guess my question would be, is Parks and Recreation explicitly communicating somehow that the "exploits and adventures, the struggles and successes of" Leslie Knope are in fact "merely preparation for having children"? Or is that a message the author is reading into the show? As of last week's episode, Leslie's pregnancy appears to be a huge life event destined to become one of her major exploits and adventures, but prior to this event, we didn't see Leslie wringing her hands over being childless or feeling incomplete without children. I very much doubt that this development will (permanently) supplant the other issues Leslie is dealing with in her career. So I struggle between agreeing with the author's assertions about how pregnancy storylines are used on sitcoms, and wondering if this series warrants being the object of this discussion.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:14 AM on April 24 [4 favorites]


I am a huge fan of Parks and Rec, and I cringed when they announced the whole triplet thing. I am cool with her being pregnant, but desperately hope that the triplet factor is an elaborate shark-jumping riff given the fact that nobody in Pawnee should willingly choose Dr. Saperstein (aka Fonzie) as an OB/GYN.

However, I took her statement differently, and I really appreciated her making it. As a professional woman who is (stop me if you've heard this one) pregnant with her first child at age 34*, I have a lot of anxiety about what being a mother will mean for the life I haven't quite built yet (and, let's face it, probably never will to my complete satisfaction). I don't want to be referred to solely as So-and-So's Mom for the rest of my life. I actually had a lot of guilt over thinking about having a child at all, because I knew I needed to have someone else take care of them (i.e., daycare), no matter how awesome this kid turned out to be. I just couldn't do it myself. I need more stimulation, more input, more intellectual SOMETHING than I can get from being on my couch.

Also, I thrive when working in what is more or less government bureaucracy, and Leslie is my guru. We do wear vests during emergency exercises. I like to died during that episode. Anyways.

When she said that all of her work has prepared her for this, it resonated with me and gave me comfort. As proto-parents, we have so many reasons to feel like we're not prepared, and we know that there's no way to be fully ready. But I am one of those people who realized that perhaps being busier and adding these complications will be better for me -- and better for the baby -- in the long run. There's no choice; you just have to DO these things, and that's actually a relief, because in the midst of uncertainty there are times when you actually know what step you have to take. (Check back with me in a year to see how this all goes...)

I think Leslie is one of those people, too. I think having kids is just another exhilarating yet crazy project, alongside the Harvest Festival and Galentine's Day.

So I do have big problems with how this whole thing will work its way out in the Parks and Rec narrative, and how it might fit into the "having it all" narrative. But I think Leslie is the kind of person who would want to have it all regardless of whether "all" involved children of her own. She loves her community and the people and activities around her, and she wants to have a stake in as many parts of that as she can, no matter what.

*I always feel like Tracy Morgan playing "The View's" Star Jones on SNL, whose gimmick seemed to be, "As you know, I AM a LAW-YUH!" "As you know, I AM a PREGNANT LADY!"
posted by Madamina at 10:15 AM on April 24 [14 favorites]


I was really happy to see this article earlier today - I haven't been able to put into words the way I'm feeling about this development on this show for this character yet, but this catches a lot of it. I am trying to have faith in this show to do this story up right, and agree it's early to go all despairing. But the temptation is there.
posted by Stacey at 10:16 AM on April 24


Yeah I read her statement not as "I was doing all this so I could be a broodmare as is my place," but more like, "Look, I took on mountains of crazy bullshit and handled it all, so I know I can handle this."

I mean, a fundamental aspect of Leslie's character is that she has way too much energy and constantly overachieves in her own weird way, so honestly it only makes sense that she's having triplets. One kid, or even twins, would leave her with more idle time than she'd know what to do with. Leslie Knope never does anything; she overdoes everything.

I get having concerns about making her story turn out to be a story about a lady who has kids, and I'd be sad if that was how it went, but I'm giving the show the benefit of the doubt for the time being.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:20 AM on April 24 [8 favorites]


As of last week's episode, Leslie's pregnancy appears to be a huge life event destined to become one of her major exploits and adventures, but prior to this event, we didn't see Leslie wringing her hands over being childless or feeling incomplete without children.

That's pretty much exactly my complaint, where we see female characters suddenly get pregnant and go on to have kids despite never having expressed any desire to have children before that point.

I spoke of how disappointed I was when it happened with Agent Scully on X-Files; there's an interview where Chris Carter even flat-out says that the reason he made Scully get pregnant is because "pregnancy is a thing that can happen to a woman". Period. And that's precisely it - a lot of show writers seem to have some kind of mental block where, if they don't know what they can do as a story arc with their character, they say "i know, she's a woman, let's make her have a baby", without any regard for whether that specific character has ever had any maternal wishes before then. It's simplistic and reductive. Yes, "it's a thing that can happen to a woman," but the question is whether it's a thing that could happen to that woman. Getting accidentally pregnant and having an abortion, and staying childless, are also things that can happen to women.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on April 24 [42 favorites]


The line that's set everyone on edge was ambiguous at best, and probably shouldn't have made it out of the writer's room. I agree with FAMOUS MONSTER that it is a line about overcoming challenges, not that her life's work has culminated in her pregnancy.

I don't necessarily agree with this article, but they have taken a lot of assumptions as far as where the next season of parks will go and written as if they have already happened. All signs point to the 7th season of being a 'swing for the fences' type year where they will take some big risks and make some fundamental changes to the characters, so I am interested to see what happens.

Also I'm pretty sure that Ben and Leslie have talked about kids in prior episodes, even if they weren't actively planning on having them right now.
posted by Think_Long at 10:41 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


Look, they do this with every story line with every show ever for when they run out of plot ideas - make someone pregnant! That gives you 9 months of predictable jokes and story! I could spend the rest of the day listing shows where this has happened. It is boring, and it annoys the fuck outta me.
posted by agregoli at 10:42 AM on April 24 [4 favorites]


Also I'm pretty sure that Ben and Leslie have talked about kids in prior episodes, even if they weren't actively planning on having them right now.


What I did like about the tale so far was that it was Ben who suddenly realized that kids were more important to him than he realized in the episode when the pregnancy came out of no where -- which is a twist on how the tale would normally be told on a sitcom and does give me even more hope that the less-savory-way-that-I-can-read-the-line-in-question is a blip and not a bump.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:50 AM on April 24


Someone please tell me that Elaine Benes is not the only leading woman on television who was childless by choice in the last thirty years. I am coming up completely blank.
posted by Etrigan at 10:53 AM on April 24 [9 favorites]


Madamina: "When she said that all of her work has prepared her for this, it resonated with me and gave me comfort. As proto-parents, we have so many reasons to feel like we're not prepared, and we know that there's no way to be fully ready."

Preach!

I probably over-identify with Leslie Knope, as an elected official in a small midwestern city, which means the episodes with public hearings make me laugh and then cry because they're painfully realistic. A huge part of my decision to get involved in local politics -- not the only part, but a big part -- was that I knew I eventually wanted a family, and it made improving my community and building a brighter future seem like a very immediate and urgent problem that I NEEDED to work on. Not just for my kids, but for all the kids growing up here. And that's a pretty common thing; I'm running through all of the local elected officials I know who are in their 30s (we're all at the same events all the time). We're at the bottom end of the age range of people in public office. Of a dozen or so of us, all but one have (young) children (several of us didn't when we first ran), and almost all have said to me at some point or another that having a family, or thinking about having a family in the future, was part of why they decided to run so early in their lives. It's much more typical for people to run for local office in their 50s, when they're very well-established professionally (and typically not gunning for a career in higher-level politics), and if they have kids, those kids are older and more self-sufficient.

Anyway, it doesn't ring false to me, it just further reinforces my profound conviction that the Parks & Rec writers are just having me followed around and writing about my personal life.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:55 AM on April 24 [6 favorites]


Someone please tell me that Elaine Benes is not the only woman on television who was childless by choice in the last thirty years. I am coming up completely blank.

I don't think Jenna Mulroney had or wanted kids.
posted by slmorri at 10:57 AM on April 24


*I* like these characters (Jenna Mulroney and Elaine), but many might consider them quite selfish (particulalry Jenna) and that's something levelled at the childfree often. I am also drawing a blank on other childless-by-choice characters, so maybe they're out there.
posted by agregoli at 10:59 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I don't think Jenna Mulroney had or wanted kids.

Well, she had them, but didn't especially want them: She donated eggs and wound up having seven children she met when they were grown up.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:01 AM on April 24


Also (pursuant to Eyebrows' comment), there are so very many parallels to be made between parenthood and government bureaucracy, public hearings, all that.

Completely random people will show up out of nowhere and press their incredibly specific agenda upon you when you are just trying to help this one small thing happen, for God's sake...

The work is never, ever, ever, ever, ever done, never has enough support, other people think you're full of shit and are doing it completely wrong, and never fail to let you know despite not knowing about any of the work you've put in over long hours...

It strings you along with juuuuust enough small rewards to thrill you and keep you going. And so many of those rewards probably seem completely ridiculous and trivial to other people.
posted by Madamina at 11:01 AM on April 24 [4 favorites]


Madamina, I feel the exact same way about recording and performing music. I think people feel that way about many disciplines and endeavors, not only raising kids.
posted by agregoli at 11:06 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I loved The Closer partly because the main character was so uninterested in having kids. It was so great!

Then they brought in some niece and suddenly the character started reevaluating having children and I was done.

I hate 'she's a woman? Give her a baby!' storylines with a passion. I guess I won't watch P&R any more. Ugh.
posted by winna at 11:07 AM on April 24 [5 favorites]


I dunno, this is the show that had Ron Swanson's infant son first show up in an episode where he was brought along to help Ron renovate a floor of City Hall. (And yes, seeing that tiny baby in an active demolition area without a respirator bugged the crap out of me.) The Ann Perkins baby plot was handled well (as well as it could be). While I do have to wonder if the choice for triplets was to top Tina Fey/Liz Lemon's twins ending, I think they've shown that they won't go for the obvious choices here.

For the list of "strong female characters who got a baby because women have babies" I nominate Mary from In Plain Sight. Also Diana from White Collar.

On the counterexamples end, it seems like Elle from White Collar is childless by choice or necessity? I can't think of children ever being discussed in that show, but her marriage to Peter is obviously rock-solid.

Also I'm pretty sure that Ben and Leslie have talked about kids in prior episodes, even if they weren't actively planning on having them right now.

It was definitely implied that they were planning on it in the near-term back in the episode Jerry's Retirement -- after Leslie spends her day with Ben working on Jerry's retirement, only to visit Jerry's family, see his scrapbooks, and realize that she wants to make their family a priority. I can't find the exact quote, but Leslie's comment was something along the lines of "Let's go talk about growing our family." In the context of Jerry's three beautiful daughters I thought that line definitely suggested having kids.

That being said, I thought this episode implied that they weren't actually trying to have kids yet, since Leslie assumed she had the flu before realizing what was actually going on.
posted by pie ninja at 11:11 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


I think people feel that way about many disciplines and endeavors, not only raising kids.

oh god, like writing. that exactly.
posted by changeling at 11:11 AM on April 24


On the counterexamples end, it seems like Elle from White Collar is childless by choice or necessity? I can't think of children ever being discussed in that show, but her marriage to Peter is obviously rock-solid.

Ooh, good point. I don't recall it ever even coming up -- and they even managed not to give her one when Tiffani Thiessen was real-world pregnant. She's not precisely a lead character, but she's definitely key to the show; even more so than Diana.

For that matter, speaking of USA Network series, I don't recall Jessica and Donna of Suits ever mentioning kids. I feel like Rachel did at some point, but only offhandedly.
posted by Etrigan at 11:27 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I hate 'she's a woman? Give her a baby!' storylines with a passion. I guess I won't watch P&R any more. Ugh.

Again, that's a big leap. I think it was done for a storyline purpose. I don't know if it's entirely fair to hold the sins of Chris Carter and other lazy show runners against P&R.
posted by inturnaround at 11:39 AM on April 24


That's pretty much exactly my complaint, where we see female characters suddenly get pregnant and go on to have kids despite never having expressed any desire to have children before that point.

I totally understand where you’re coming from with this, but as a man who doesn’t have any interest in children, married to a woman who has even less interest, to us this seems like how much of the world is. People just randomly decide to have kids out of the blue for reasons we can’t figure out.

I think it may have to do with how people relate to TV shows too. Many people feel like they "know" the characters. On the X-Files, and any show really, we really only see a tiny sliver of their fictional lives.
posted by bongo_x at 11:52 AM on April 24 [5 favorites]


Umm, you guys seem to be giving p&r some type of weird credit, despite it being a tv show on a big honking network.

Their goal is viewers and advertisers. They are taking Leslie's character and putting it in the conveyor belt of audience attachment, and advertiser approval.

What did you expect to happen? It's all about the dolla-dolla.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:55 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


Someone please tell me that Elaine Benes is not the only leading woman on television who was childless by choice in the last thirty years. I am coming up completely blank.

Ellen never had kids on her sitcom.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:55 AM on April 24 [4 favorites]


Variations on a theme and long standing tradition of repeating tropes. I present the birth of comedic birth.

Note: the attention in this is on the father. At least now days the focus will likely be on the mother. We've come a long way since 1953.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:27 PM on April 24


Someone please tell me that Elaine Benes is not the only leading woman on television who was childless by choice in the last thirty years. I am coming up completely blank.

Robin from HIMYM comes to mind.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 12:36 PM on April 24


I don't think Jenna Mulroney had or wanted kids.

Well, she had them, but didn't especially want them: She donated eggs and wound up having seven children she met when they were grown up.


Ah yes--the Ally McBeal out.

Spoiler alert:

While in college, Ally, in need of money, donated an egg for research, only to find out years later that it wound up getting adopted. One day a little girl (played by Hayden Panettiere) shows up on her doorstep, claiming to be her daughter, prompting Ally to faint. She gets to know her daughter over the course of several episodes. Her daughter Madison is harassed by schoolmates and mourns her anonymous father, so Ally decides to move to her daughter's home city New York.
posted by blue suede stockings at 12:39 PM on April 24


Someone please tell me that Elaine Benes is not the only leading woman on television who was childless by choice in the last thirty years.

Jem, from Jem & the Holograms.
posted by item at 12:41 PM on April 24 [13 favorites]


As I recall, none of the women on Law and Order of any flavor had kids or ever mentioned wanting kids.
posted by spicynuts at 12:41 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]


Someone please tell me that Elaine Benes is not the only leading woman on television who was childless by choice in the last thirty years. I am coming up completely blank.

Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1?
posted by xedrik at 12:44 PM on April 24 [5 favorites]


Robin from HIMYM didn't want kids, but there was also a whole episode about how she couldn't have them, too.

I pretend that episode doesn't exist.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:45 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]


If we agree that any and all options are valid, why in 2014 are babies still the default mode—and especially for our female leads?
This. A thousand times!

I ranted about this in the HIMYM thread, but the number of times I've dropped a show because of the magic baby life revelation is quite high. In fact, with most exceptions, giving a female lead a baby out of nowhere is the fastest way to make me quit watching a show. The only time it didn't suck was the first time Cordy got mystically pregnant on Angel...oh wait, it kinda sucked then too.

I get that motherhood is this epically large facet of the human condition that I will never, ever understand. And I get that the moment where you decide to be good with having a kid despite never actually really articulating a desire for one is something that a lot of women have gone through. And I get that I'm a freak for not wanting kids. I understand all those things. But just once, I would like to have a female character that didn't want kids. And didn't have them. And didn't regret it. And who wasn't a harpy or a bitch. Just a normal lady, doing her gig without babies.
posted by teleri025 at 12:50 PM on April 24 [17 favorites]


Someone please tell me that Elaine Benes is not the only leading woman on television who was childless by choice in the last thirty years.

Samantha from "Sex and the City" was definitely childless by choice, and Carrie had a few episodes where she thought about it but she generally seemed mostly happy to not have kids.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:54 PM on April 24 [4 favorites]


Someone please tell me that Elaine Benes is not the only leading woman on television who was childless by choice in the last thirty years. I am coming up completely blank.

Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1?


[SPOILERS]

Remember that episode where the stargate had found a civilization of technologically very advanced people who looked just like us and came back to Earth to help us, but then it turned out they were sterilizing earthwomen so they could take over the planet?

The alien plot was exposed when Samantha Carter was trying to get pregnant, but couldn't.

Of course, they did solve the problem by going back in time and preventing the aliens from being discovered in the first place, so she was still childless by choice by the end of the episode.
posted by jamjam at 1:11 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Carrie had a few episodes where she thought about it but she generally seemed mostly happy to not have kids.

Carrie broke up with at least one guy because he absolutely did not want to have kids ever.
posted by Etrigan at 1:13 PM on April 24


Sorry that pregnancy is a trope by hack writers - or even good writers with hack direction or demands from the network. Any way you slice it women give birth as their trope and depending on the show, the guys either do something goofy and dumb or have to rescue the baby and mother from a burning building amid terrorist gunfire and tragedy, because normal childbirth or normal no child life just doesn't make the ratings. Is the leading man more the Seth Rogen type or the Jason Statham type, because it is rare the Jason Statham type is doing comedic baby sitcoms.

Note: Chris Pratt can now go either way - I guess...
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:19 PM on April 24


Dexter's sister Deb did not have kids and I think she explicitly said she didn't want any.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:39 PM on April 24 [3 favorites]


Honestly it's best to just rip off the Dexter bandaid now.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:04 PM on April 24 [7 favorites]


make someone pregnant! That gives you 9 months of predictable jokes and story!

Parks & Rec, at least, has made numerous characters pregnant, and a lot of those babies vanished into the background. Anne disappeared from the show (after 1-2 b-plots about pregnancy), and Ron's baby has mostly served as an inanimate prop in a plotline about Ron seeking peace and solitude in a government building.

> Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1

Pregnant after a fashion, Teal'c was bearing a nascent sentient being in his gut for a number of seasons before he could live without it, and it never slowed his giant muscled warrior-self down. Let him be a role-model to preggo characters everywhere. Of course, the parasite did more for him than a baby ever did for a mother.

(Tapping herself was excused from 5 or so episodes of s9, and they supplemented the show with Claudia Black, furthering the show's decline into Farscape.)
posted by Sunburnt at 2:12 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Carrie broke up with at least one guy because he absolutely did not want to have kids ever.

Which one? I can't think of him but maybe I'm forgetting someone. She definitely went back and forth on the issue, which I think is refreshing for TV.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:13 PM on April 24


Carrie broke up with at least one guy because he absolutely did not want to have kids ever.

Which one?


You're right -- I was misremembering why she broke up with Baryshnikov. She did decide to give it a try, and they broke up because he was just generally a selfish bastard.
posted by Etrigan at 2:21 PM on April 24


Cristina Yang from Grey's Anatomy is childless by choice.
posted by theseldomseenkid at 2:25 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


The main character of your show needing to have triplets to make any kind of emotional impact is what happens when every character in your show progresses through the "major life event==character progression" obstacle course. It would be harder to care about Leslie's pregnancy if it was just one baby - we've already seen this show's version of the baby storyline. Twice, even. It's old hat.

Parks and Recreation, because of its precarious place in NBC's affections, has needed to end every season (and truncated mini-season) with a conclusion that would be satisfying if the show didn't return. That's why we've seen every character pair off into perfect relationships, it's why we've seen multiple improbable, unbelievable successes, and it's why we've seen job offer after job offer after job offer.

This used to be my favorite show, and now it's a study of the Hedonic Treadmill.
posted by aedison at 2:31 PM on April 24 [7 favorites]


None of the women on News Radio ever got pregnant. Did Marilu Henner's character ever get pregnant on Taxi? Neither of the leads on Three's Company, albeit that's a really dim recollection. Any of Charlie's Angels? Cagney? Molly Dodd? Diane from Cheers.

There are plenty of counter examples. I suspect you find a high correlation to how long a show runs and pregnancy. Writers and networks can get lazy. And there's the fact that 80% of American women will have a child.

Given that working with babies and kids is actually harder than not, I would bet if you took all characters of child bearing age in network shows, those that last fewer than four seasons actually feature fewer pregnancies than are the statistical norm.
posted by 99_ at 2:38 PM on April 24 [6 favorites]


Also Kalinda Sharma and Diane Lockhart on The Good Wife are both childfree and I assume by choice given their characters, though I don't remember if either have explicitly stated it as such.
posted by theseldomseenkid at 2:47 PM on April 24 [4 favorites]


For the list of "strong female characters who got a baby because women have babies" I nominate Mary from In Plain Sight.

As with Alias, I forgive them for having to write in a real life pregnancy for an action star. (And unlike Brandi, they couldn't film her exclusively behind counters and pillows and then have her leave for "Florida" for three months.) Speaking of awkward writing for real-life pregnancies, I nominate the last of Sookie's pregnancies on Gilmore Girls. Basically, actor's lives often don't mesh well with their characters, and there is only so much you can do to hide pregnancy.
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:47 PM on April 24


Jane Kaczmarek has spoken about how she went through a really difficult assisted-fertility journey that hadn't worked out for a long time... and then the day after she got Malcolm in the Middle, she found out that the treatment was successful. So she spent the entire first season carrying laundry baskets.
posted by Madamina at 2:53 PM on April 24


furthering the show's decline into Farscape.

Did I fall through a wormhole into a distant region of the galaxy containing aliens who create an illusion of a version of my homeworld where Farscape wasn't bloody great or something?
posted by forgetful snow at 2:58 PM on April 24 [10 favorites]


Annie Edison and Britta Perry from Community have never had a pregnancy storyline. In fact, neither of them have been in stable relationships. Britta's have always failed, and I don't think Annie has ever had one.

Nor did any of the Community male main characters become fathers. They're all adults, so it could have plausibly happened.

They made Shirley pregnant, but that was part of a plotline where she had a one night stand with Chang, and she was on rocky terms with her husband.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:13 PM on April 24


So she spent the entire first season carrying laundry baskets.

Fortunately, a sitcom about have four somewhat horrible teenaged boys makes that less awkward than many other shows.
posted by maryr at 3:29 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Dipping back into some of my 80s/90s faves: Diane on Cheers? Some of the characters on Northern Exposure. Farther back: Mary Tyler Moore? There's lots, actually.

I don't think Jenna Mulroney had or wanted kids.

However, Tina Fey joked they simply didn’t write Jane Krakowski’s pregnancy into the series because they wouldn’t inflict that character on any kid.

Also, today I was thinking about how truly horrible Glee’s writing has been for most of its run [and btw do we want to count very young adult female characters in the never-PG category?]. I was trying to remember any other show I’d ever liked at some point that became as disappointingly weird – and then I recalled one of my all-time faves, Moonlighting, and its response to Cybill Shepherd’s RL pregnancy.

So, do you even want to count Maddie in the childless category, when what they did is make her pregnant without being sure of the father, a 30something woman who ran home to mom and dad, then married a stranger, then had a miscarriage IN A PARTLY MUSICAL EPISODE. Ugh.
posted by NorthernLite at 3:40 PM on April 24


As I recall, none of the women on Law and Order of any flavor had kids or ever mentioned wanting kids.

Lt. Anita Van Buren has children (who appear in at least one episode).

ADA Jamie Ross has a child who provides a major story line (from Wikipedia):
During the 1997-98 season, Ross' personal and professional life is thrown into disarray by a custody battle with her ex-husband, Neil Gorton, over their daughter. For the next year, the brutal litigation against her ex-husband (who is also a lawyer, with whom she used to work) leaves her with increasingly less time to devote to her job. She leaves the DA's office in the 1998 episode "Monster", to remarry and find a job that gives her more time to be with her family.
posted by Jahaza at 3:47 PM on April 24


As I recall, none of the women on Law and Order of any flavor had kids or ever mentioned wanting kids.

One of the major themes with Olivia Benson on SVU is her desire to have kids. She mentions to Stabler at one point in an episode about embryos being stolen from a cryobank that she met with an adoption agency but they turned her down (I just rewatched this episode on Netflix about 20 minutes ago). I also seem to recall episodes where a baby/young child is a victim of a crime or abandonment and she struggles with wanting to keep the child. I feel like that has happened a few times.
posted by primalux at 3:51 PM on April 24


("struggles with wanting to keep the child" as in adopting it instead of leaving it in foster care, just to clarify)
posted by primalux at 3:55 PM on April 24


Parenting and feminism are not contradictory. We do have a problem with portraying female characters having babies and not male characters. But I'd rather fix this by showing more men having babies. Parenthood is important to many of us too.
posted by foobaz at 4:02 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Someone please tell me that Elaine Benes is not the only woman on television who was childless by choice in the last thirty years. I am coming up completely blank.

.... Kathryn Janeway?

She mentions missing her fiance, but any time they go down that "What if this never happened" path or alternate universes or whatever, she's just there, and doesn't have a kid or anything. She also went through the whole age range where you could have a baby and just didn't.(I mean i'm assuming this is different in the 23rd century, but still).

She was a strong female character, and actually one of the first i remember from my childhood when the show originally aired. I seriously feel like if she had wanted to, she would have, and they never once included any handwavy "oh i would but i can't because i'm busy being a captain and shit" stuff. She did what she wanted because she's a boss.
posted by emptythought at 4:28 PM on April 24 [5 favorites]


Did I fall through a wormhole into a distant region of the galaxy containing aliens who create an illusion of a version of my homeworld where Farscape wasn't bloody great or something?

I thought it was meh. I thought Stargate featuring Farscape was doubleplusmeh.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:29 PM on April 24


> We do have a problem with portraying female characters having babies and not male characters. But I'd rather fix this by showing more men having babies. Parenthood is important to many of us too.

P&R shown 3 central characters (Chris, Ron, and now Ben) becoming fathers, each handling it in ways that're both comedic and appropriate to their characters. Hopefully Ron and Ben won't be relegated to the role of sitcom fathers who can't be trusted with their own lives much less the lives of children, but so far that hasn't been happening. Ron, at least, has exhibited some major paternity-fu.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:36 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]


.... Kathryn Janeway?

Well, she and Tom Paris had those worm babies, but they Never Spoke Of Them Again.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:05 PM on April 24 [5 favorites]


So many thoughts about this article.

1. Yeah, guys, welcome to what happens to a sitcom that jumps the shark. In a way, Leslie's pregnancy is a little revolutionary: in the 80s, this would have been a plotline foisted on the ditsy blond wife character (without any sort of "having it all" dialogue), or, as HIMYM did it, on someone already put into a more maternal/caretaking role. Run out of ideas for your show? Make someone either pregnant or baby crazy (which is how 30 Rock handled it).

2. It seems weird to me that folks are clamoring for there to be a significant population of childfree female protagonists on network TV. Don't most people ultimately end up having kids, statistically? I'd like to see some show deal with this issue, but for a host of reasons I just don't think Parks and Rec is that show. Frankly I'm really happy that P&R has softened Leslie a bit and given her a partner -- for a lot of the early run she was desexualized in a way I found sort of creepy.

3. This week is officially the week I'm tired of "but why isn't Show X exactly the TV show I would make if I were in charge?" Because it isn't. Jeez.

4. Then again, it would be pretty cool to have a childfree female protagonist on a network show that wasn't specifically, like, about that.

5. Also, I want a TV show with a protagonist who's a mother, and who also has a career, but isn't really dealing with the "having it all" question and/or the stereotypical put upon wife. Or more of them, because it just occurred to me that Nurse Jackie exists.

6. More female-driven shows, like, in general. Please.
posted by Sara C. at 6:11 PM on April 24 [5 favorites]


theseldomseenkid: Cristina Yang from Grey's Anatomy is childless by choice.

Cristina is a fantastic example of a character who's childfree by choice. She's twice fallen pregnant, and both times planned to have an abortion. In the first, during one of the early seasons, the baby was lost before the abortion happened (aka the Have Your Cake And Eat It Too school of television abortions). In the second, a few years ago, she went through with the abortion with the support of her husband/the baby's father. They later broke up for reasons that were partly to do with the abortion, but it never felt to me like the show was punishing Cristina for her decision -- just acknowledging that it's a really tough situation either way.

This season, the show's been exploring of the idea of women having it all. Both Cristina and Meredith are hardworking and talented, but Meredith also has a husband and two children now. Her priorities are split, as you would expect them to be. Meredith has been jealous but supportive of Cristina's increasing success, and in a world where female characters are often expected to hew to traditional templates, I've really enjoyed watching the way they've explored this new dynamic in Cristina and Meredith's relationship. (They've always had one of the best female friendships on tv.) The show isn't saying that being a childfree, career-focused woman is better than being a working mother with two kids. It's saying that there's different ways to be, and the idea that a woman can truly have it all is a myth. We all choose the 'all' we want to have.

I've said it before on the blue, but I think Grey's Anatomy is one of the most subversive shows on American tv. Sure, it's soapy, but in a world where we still need the Bechdel test (and I wish there was a name for a similar test in which two characters of colour talk with each other about something other than the white leads, because goodness that's rare), it's incredibly refreshing to watch a show with a range of female characters, a vast multicultural cast, and an lesbian marriage that's treated with the same care and respect as the heterosexual relationships.
posted by Georgina at 6:25 PM on April 24 [3 favorites]


3. This week is officially the week I'm tired of "but why isn't Show X exactly the TV show I would make if I were in charge?" Because it isn't. Jeez.

Oh god, this. Except I've been tired of it for more than a week.

This 'the characters aren't making the choices I want them to make so I won't watch anymore', and 'there was a scene or line I didn't like and I've decided it will define the show going forward, so I won't watch anymore' viewpoint has only gotten more common, but it's always been annoying. As bad reasons to boycott something or get angry at it go, they're pretty high on the list.

Me, I have a certain amount of trust that Parks & Recreation will not suddenly throw away six years of Leslie's character to make her suddenly give up her dreams, and will wait to see if that's in fact what they do before getting annoyed or not. Anne's search for self-definition (while working to write two characters off the show) is not enough precedent for me to think the people behind Parks & Rec (including, it must be noted, Amy Poehler herself) will throw it all away for babies, even if the show is ending next year.

If I thought it was leading anywhere, I would say it was to Leslie being the powerful politician and Ben staying home with the kids. Don't know whether that would be 'revolutionary' enough for the childfree contingent, but I see it as much more plausible than the idea they'll just make her a baby-crazy mother.

(Also, Liz Lemon on 30 Rock wanted kids from Season 2 on, way before any shark-jumping. And while Phoebe Buffay had triplets on Friends, she was only the surrogate and didn't seem to express any interest in her own children. There's more, but this isn't a TV Tropes page.)
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:28 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]


I’m starting to think that whenever someone uses the word "problematic" it isn’t. Unless that means "not really a problem, just something I don’t like".
posted by bongo_x at 6:46 PM on April 24 [4 favorites]


Problematic is the new offensive.

I think offensive was the once the new demeaning.
posted by Sara C. at 6:49 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Sara C.: Don't most people ultimately end up having kids, statistically?

It depends how you define "most", but not really. Historically, about 10% of women have been childfree. There were various reasons for this: being biologically unable to have children, being married to a man who's biologically unable to have children, being married to a man who died early (during wartime especially), or simply staying single. Didn't we all know a spinster or maiden aunt as we were growing up?

Nowadays, about 19% of women 40-44 are childfree. Studies bring back different numbers, but it's generally estimated that about half don't want children, and half are unable to for various reasons, both biological and social.

Ideally, we'd see representations of all kinds of women on tv. That includes women of colour, queer women, transwomen, women with disabilities, women with different body shapes and types, and, yes, women who are childfree, either by choice, circumstance or biology. I think that's something all women should be able to get behind, even if you disagree with this particular article.
posted by Georgina at 7:00 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]


I'm definitely talking about people now, not "historically", since most TV shows don't take place "historically".

Parks & Rec has a pretty good track record of some women having children and some not, and that not really defining their characters. I'm willing to let Leslie Knope have a kid if that's the direction the writers want to go in. I find it hard to believe that the entire focus of the show is suddenly going to be about mommy stuff, as that would run completely counter to everything the entire show has been about for the last 6 seasons.
posted by Sara C. at 7:06 PM on April 24


Adding to the childfree count: April Ludgate has flat out said she doesn't want babies. Donna hasn't shown interest in it either, but who knows with her, she could have five kids hidden in a Scranton condo for all we know.

My personal rage about formerly-childfree characters are both Brennan on Bones and the aforementioned Mary on In Plain Sight. In the latter case, it was either have the character give birth or end the show a season early because there was no way to avoid it and I get that, but if anyone was pretty much a flat out "kids will make me crazy" person on TV, it was Mary, and her keeping the kid...ugh. So wrong for her personality. And Brennan, well, I about gagged that they made it that "the right man" made her want to have kids (plus again, actress got pregnant). Haaaaaaaaaaaaate. I quit watching after she got pregnant in a one-night stand we didn't see, for fuck's sake.

As for Leslie: I liked this essay because for once someone wasn't "OMG BABIES SO PRECIOUS" (I about ralphed over all of the cooing on the P&R interviews that went up on Hulu today) about it. One baby, fine, but THREE? They needed to have a freak triple pregnancy not due to medical intervention?! Don't they realize that that's pretty much gonna end Leslie's dreams for a good long time? Don't they care?! I wanted to see her get back into politics again or take a higher-level job or something at the end, and now she's not going to be able to do it. Hell, everyone I knew who had only twins quit working and never went back to it again until the kids were in high school. Maybe Amy Poehler can hire a bunch of nannies, but theoretically Leslie shouldn't be able to (and even her friends can't do that heavy of duty). What about her political dreams? What about that Chicago job? It just made me sad, and like Madamina said, I kept hoping that it was a joke and they'd renege on going there. Dammit, they did not.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:08 PM on April 24 [3 favorites]


I predict that they'll make Ben a stay-at-home dad and make Leslie the breadwinner. That'll be pretty progressive.
posted by painquale at 7:34 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Saving my comments for when the episode is over in the west coast except to say I made my earlier comment today without any prior knowledge of the show.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:42 PM on April 24


...the aforementioned Mary on In Plain Sight. In the latter case, it was either have the character give birth or end the show a season early because there was no way to avoid it and I get that, but if anyone was pretty much a flat out "kids will make me crazy" person on TV, it was Mary, and her keeping the kid...ugh. So wrong for her personality.

Yeah, ending the show a season early would have been a mercy killing. Or why not just put an extra season's hiatus between the penultimate and final seasons? It's not like modern drama audiences aren't used to super-long breaks between seasons, and it couldn't possibly have alienated the audience any further than making the show's lead character and character premise unrecognizeable did.

One baby, fine, but THREE? They needed to have a freak triple pregnancy not due to medical intervention?! Don't they realize that that's pretty much gonna end Leslie's dreams for a good long time? Don't they care?!

IKR? If felt they had to to do it, they CERTAINLY didn't have to go OVERBOARD with it!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:56 PM on April 24


Don't most people ultimately end up having kids, statistically?

It depends how you define "most", but not really.


Wait a minute, in what possible scenario does 80+% not equal most?
posted by bongo_x at 8:14 PM on April 24 [5 favorites]


That's only 80 percent of women, so it's only 40.5 percent of people.

LAWYERED
posted by Etrigan at 8:51 PM on April 24 [6 favorites]


Yes, you're right.

The reason I said that it depends on your definition is because I think people can use "most" to mean "almost everyone". ("Most people think pushing in line is rude.") One of the reasons that I believe childfree women are marginalised by society is because there's this perception that, like, 99% of women have children, and that even if you know a bunch who don't, they're some weird anomaly that isn't reflected across society as a whole. In fact, between 1 in 6 and 1 in 5 women are childfree in many Western nations, which is a statistic that I suspect would surprise a lot of people.

(It surprised me when I first read it, even though I'm childfree and all my close friends are childfree. Women's narratives involving birth and motherhood are so prevalent that I think it just becomes something we internalise.)

But you're right, of course. 80% is most.
posted by Georgina at 9:24 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]


I have to say that I see both sides here; yes, as someone who loves Leslie maybe a little too much (at least it was just Halloween and not my actual wedding) but who isn't interested in children, I felt a pang of disappointment when the triplets were announced. It's sort of like when Willow started making very different romantic choices in S4 Buffy - I was happy the character was happy, but she wasn't "me" anymore in certain ways. On the other hand, Leslie has expressed a desire for a family, and I do trust the P&R crew to do good things. I think it was the wording that all her hard work was "just" preparation for kids that threw a lot of people. It's a similar sentiment to what happens to Liz in 30 Rock, but worded differently. Part of the joy of the show is seeing someone who creates 15 idea binders for a 15-minute meeting having to deal with what happens when life doesn't go as meticulously planned, but works out somehow anyway (like Lupe Velez, I guess).

I imagine the twist when it turns out Joe Biden is the father is going to be very exciting, though. And if it really jumps the shark, can we at least refer to it as jumping the (Li'l) Sebastian?

Really, the bigger tragedy is that no Canadian TV stations seem to show P&R anymore; City has preempted it for Gordon Ramsay Yells At People. Which I would watch if it featured Ron Swanson taking Gordon down in a spectacular fashion (and he would), but alas.
posted by ilana at 9:35 PM on April 24


I know what you’re saying, I was a little surprised to find out a while back that that many women have never given birth. But I don’t think that number counts adoptions, women caring for someone else’s children, women who would like to have children, or women who just like children. That’s a lot of customers for your product. If I was selling a TV show I think that would be hard to ignore.

Of course you could argue there is a market for appealing to people who have children and like to think of how it would be if they didn’t.

I felt a pang of disappointment when the triplets were announced.

My wife and I watch House Hunters and the like, and inevitably it’s a couple that will announce at the end that they're going to have a kid. At which point we always have a moment of "oh, that’s too bad" which we realize is probably not the reaction that was intended.
posted by bongo_x at 9:48 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I’m starting to think that whenever someone uses the word "problematic" it isn’t. Unless that means "not really a problem, just something I don’t like".

It's been completely driven into the ground by people who want to use the social justice warrior parlance and sound "with it". it gets thrown around to the point that 90% of the people saying it don't even know what the fuck they mean by it, they just think it's an authoritative and smart sounding way to say "something i don't like that i think you shouldn't like either".

Someone will probably flip me shit for this, but i wince every time i see it at this point... and i don't even disagree with what's being said most of the time, i just think that word is used as a weird club in these types of contexts.
posted by emptythought at 9:56 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Especially since, really, is a grown adult married career-having person choosing to have a child problematic? Even in a hyperbolic social justice warrior context? The fact that there are no female characters on Silicon Valley is "problematic".

This is just... the producers of a TV show creating a plot point that doesn't happen to interest this one particular blogger. If that's our current metric for "problematic", at this point, we have a lot bigger problems than just whether the word is overused.
posted by Sara C. at 10:03 PM on April 24 [3 favorites]


Having just finished watching the season finale, I think it is safe to say many of the fears expressed in this article were nothing more than castles in the air.

I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling very anxious to see how the writers are planning to handle what will clearly be a much different final season of P&R while simultaneously wishing this had been the series finale since I cannot imagine a more perfect ending episode for this show.
posted by The Gooch at 10:26 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


The season finale was really kind of perfect (watched it after I made my last comment; see Canada being stupid with the not-showing). Too perfect, even (though I wished Chris and Ann could have been in attendance); I agree that this would have been an incredibly satisfying series finale and it's weird to keep wanting to hang out with these people some more while deeply worrying that the last season will be the wafer-thin mint on a completely filling dinner.
posted by ilana at 10:44 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Also, I want a TV show with a protagonist who's a mother, and who also has a career, but isn't really dealing with the "having it all" question and/or the stereotypical put upon wife.

Grace under Fire, Roseanne, Nursie Jackie, as you noticed. As long as you're an older blue collar woman with an existing family you don't have to deal with this.

Especially since, really, is a grown adult married career-having person choosing to have a child problematic?

As per usual, one female character in one show deciding to do so is fine, the point at which it becomes problematic is when it happens to all women protagonists in all shows, especially when it's done in such a way that it reinforces the old idea of motherhood as a woman's highest calling and every woman is happy to give up her career for it (or is punished for not doing so).
posted by MartinWisse at 1:11 AM on April 25 [3 favorites]


Well, she and Tom Paris had those worm babies, but they Never Spoke Of Them Again.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:05 PM on April 24 [1 favorite +] [!]


Ahem, lizard babies. Carry on.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 4:12 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Don't most people ultimately end up having kids, statistically?

Most people do, yeah - but the problem is that if you go by TV, it looks like ALL people do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:26 AM on April 25


I haven't watched P&R forever cause it got boring for me awhile ago. But I did stop watching The Office when Pam and Jim got married because it felt like they used them as the "settle." Pam previously said her dream was to have a little house with a terrace, and be an artist. Jim was on track to be a great manager in New York. Pam stayed and accepted with glee Jim's purchase of his parent's dumpy house; Jim stayed in a dead-end job too. Of course maybe this has changed, but it struck me that this narrative of giving up your dreams and settling and starting a family is something a lot of people can relate to (not that everyone gives up their dreams when they have kids) - but it was disappointing to me on some sort of feminist level I can't quite grok and I gave up watching.
posted by agregoli at 6:05 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


Huh. Having watched the season finale of Parks & Recreation, I feel pretty secure in my trust of the showrunners not to completely change Leslie Knope's character in the course of two episodes.

Indeed, if I were to have jumped to conclusions and gotten even a little bit outraged by something I only thought had happened or was going to happen ... well, I'd be the internet. But I'd also be feeling a little bit stupid. Fortunately, I didn't, so I don't.

Leslie's big battle has always been between her ambition, which would eventually lead out of Pawnee, and her absolute love for her home town. There was no way her family would suddenly, in the space of two episodes, just override her brain. Yes, it happens on other shows; those shows have never been as good as Parks & Rec, in my opinion. Procedurals can be especially prone to it because the characters are less well-drawn and it can be seen as an easy storyline, especially when the actress gets pregnant.
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:56 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


Yes, the plotline on The Office where Pam drops her lifelong dream of pursuing an art career to return to being a secretary at Dunder Mifflin was not a high point in the series. One of the worst examples of an otherwise fully realized fictional character making a life decision that felt not at all true to her essence, but instead artificially chosen simply because it was more convenient for the show (keeping her in the same physical location as the rest of the characters).
posted by The Gooch at 7:30 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


I have found P&R really frustrating in general lately - it feels like the confident, can-do Leslie from Seasons 2-5 has been frequently regressing into annoying, selfish, bumbling Leslie from Season 1. It's super disappointing. I think the show has just been flailing for something to do with her since the recall, and the babies thing is a bit desperate.
posted by naoko at 7:31 AM on April 25


I think the show has just been flailing for something to do with her since the recall, and the babies thing is a bit desperate.

You really need to watch how they deal with this in the finale.
posted by inturnaround at 8:07 AM on April 25


Yeah, I know those of us tuned into the FanFare discussion are perhaps being extra careful on TV spoilers. So I'm giving everybody 24 hours from the end of the episode until I give my thoughts on the finale.

(Except to say it doesn't change the fact that the discussion is important, even if Parks and Recreation... yeah, I'll wait.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:30 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


You really need to watch how they deal with this in the finale.

Heh, busted, I don't have cable and watch everything online a few days late - will do tonight!
posted by naoko at 9:25 AM on April 25


Interview with P&R co-creator Mike Schur which addresses the "is this going to just become a show about a mom" concerns (do not read if you want to avoid season finale spoilers).
posted by The Gooch at 9:27 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


> You really need to watch how they deal with this in the finale.

It occurred to me, not yet having seen the finale, that the baby thing might not be real; Henry Winkler's Dr. Saperstein is not exactly the paragon of medical men, but rather a representative face of the show's barely competent, barely conscious Pawnee.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:36 AM on April 25


The fact that there are no female characters on Silicon Valley is "problematic".

Personally, i don't think they wanted to do that the first season because where they'd basically have to take it would be really ~controversial~.

Like, they'd kinda be doing a disservice to the whole concept if they didn't satire and skewer lots of harassment that character would receive working with those guys. Imagine, essentially, how Erin got treated at the worst on the office and more. They probably just didn't want to deal with the backlash that would receive out of the gate from the primary demographic which is essentially asshole cellar-dweller reddit neckbeards.

It's a mike judge show, he's a genius at this kind of shit(think of, for example, peggy hill). They're barely even getting started, give them a chance.

They already had a badass burn on the whole "everyone assumes the indian guy is an immigrant" bit. And it really is true that a lot of tech startups are utter dongfests. If you noticed, there were plenty of women at hooli. So yea, i just think they're working their way up to it. Especially since if they reach the point at the beginning of next season where they're hiring more people, they can really skewer the shit with one of the guys being like "you hired HER?" and then getting owned.

Vaguely derail-y though, i'll shelve it.
posted by emptythought at 12:00 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


I'm just coming here to say that I thought of this post the whole time that I was watching the finale. It was perfect and amazing and I love this show so much.

John Hamm should be a professional guest star for the rest of his life.

I love love love all the characters on P&R, and I can't wait to see what they do next season. I love when shows surprise us with a completely different direction, and I think they did this really well in the last episode. I especially loved Jerry - Larry - Terry.
posted by elvissa at 5:13 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


I really loved the finale!
posted by SarahElizaP at 5:24 PM on April 25


I'm still catching up and haven't seen the finale yet, but I just saw the scene that the "everything was leading up to this" quote is taken from, in the triplets reveal episode.

I feel like it was taken way out of context. In the scene it doesn't seem like Leslie is saying that everything in her life, as a woman, was leading up to motherhood. It reads more like Leslie saying that all the complicated shit in both her and Ben's lives was leading up to their ability to face a challenge like raising triplets. She knows they'll get through this, because they've gotten through lots of crazy shit in the past, and somehow they've always figured it out. Which is true of both of them, independently, as individuals (and together, of course). I really didn't take it as an out of character fluffy wuffy mommy thing at all.
posted by Sara C. at 9:20 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


FTFA:
Of course women can have it all.

[...]

While the Jack Donaghys and Ron Swansons of the sitcom universe have children they care for, these are generally just another pit stop along their path.
This won't be popular, but I never grokked the basic premise that women can have it all.

The Jack Donaghys and Ron Swansons don't have it all. They may not even want it all, but when would those two characters have the time to have it all if they did? Ron has either sacrificed his passions of playing music in clubs and woodworking, or he's sacrificed time with his family, or the character has nothing to do with reality. So why would people assume that throwing carrying, birthing, feeding, and caring for a newborn in the mix would make "having it all" the default for women? I'm not at all saying that there should be traditional roles, or that people can't have some of everything, or that society doesn't need an entire overhaul to support both men and women being able to make different choices, but as someone who is child-free by choice I cannot begin to imagine the pressure that "having it all" must be.

I know I'm in the minority, but as long as "having it all" is the assumption, women on TV will be shown having -- or at least trying to have -- it all, which just perpetuates the myth (or what seems like a myth to me, personally) not to mention the myth that television accurately reflects real life women trying to balance work and home and pursuing their hobbies.

I really liked the finale, although the show kind of lost me this season because I really don't like the Craig character in his extended role. But to expect that the Leslie Knopes and Liz Lemons of the sitcom universe (and yes, even the Amy Poehlers and Tina Feys) are your idealized version of feminism is asking to be disapointed.

Someone please tell me that Elaine Benes is not the only woman on television who was childless by choice in the last thirty years.

Karen Walker (Megan Mullally on Will & Grace) had two occasional step-kids but she probably would have traded them for a fur coat if she could have. Tammy 2 (Megan Mullally on Parks & Rec) does not have kids. Chief (Megan Mullally in Childrens Hospital) does not have kids. As an aside, Megan Mullally is child-free.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:02 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


I don't know, I feel like Ron Swanson absolutely has it all. He's the director of a small town parks department, so he probably works bankers' hours, makes a decent wage, and has 100% lifetime job security. It's the kind of job you can totally leave behind at the end of the day or over most weekends. He has a family, and presumably he has time to be with them, because, again, 9-5 "leave it all behind" job. He doesn't seem to have abandoned his music or his woodworking, as both are mentioned in the season finale. These are hobbies that are pretty much whenever you want/have time type things, so there's no reason he wouldn't have time to devote to them.

It's clear that he leads a pretty full life, but, yeah, he seems to have a great work/life balance with time for both family and himself.

Then again, when people evoke "having it all" in the context of women, somehow they're always talking about being a partner in a corporate law firm while also baking cupcakes for the school bake sale and completely DIY redecorating your house, in a major US city where life is crazy complicated (recommendation letters for preschool! designer wardrobes at the office!) and also upholding outrageous unreachable standards in almost every other facet of life: reading the right books, going to the gym, having the perfect marriage, etc etc etc.

Somehow we lose sight of the simple "have a job and a family and don't hate life" angle that "it all" can encompass, where women are concerned. You have to be perfect, for the highest difficulty setting of perfect, or it doesn't count.
posted by Sara C. at 11:38 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]


I feel like Ron Swanson absolutely has it all.

presumably he has time to be with them, because, again, 9-5 "leave it all behind" job

He doesn't have a "leave it all behind" job. He is always preparing for and appearing at official outside events like Unity Festivals, Little Sebastian tributes, and Freddy Spaghetti concerts.

These are hobbies that are pretty much whenever you want/have time type things, so there's no reason he wouldn't have time to devote to them.

No, as Duke Silver he performs at Cozy's Bar in Eagleton, Indiana, on the second Thursday of every month. That's a regular gig he commits to. And somehow, with everything else on his plate, he manged to turn around and hand craft all the chairs for Tom's Bistro with a day's notice.

It's clear that he leads a pretty full life, but, yeah, he seems to have a great work/life balance with time for both family and himself.

And Mouse Rat concerts, Little Sebastian tributes, openings at Snakehole Lounge, and hunting trips.

Then again, when people evoke "having it all" in the context of women, somehow they're always talking about being a partner in a corporate law firm while also baking cupcakes for the school bake sale and completely DIY redecorating your house, in a major US city where life is crazy complicated (recommendation letters for preschool! designer wardrobes at the office!) and also upholding outrageous unreachable standards in almost every other facet of life: reading the right books, going to the gym, having the perfect marriage, etc etc etc.


Now that Leslie is pregnant, will she "have it all" like Ron does? Of course not. Or, like I said: Ron has either sacrificed his passions of playing music in clubs and woodworking, or he's sacrificed time with his family, or the character has nothing to do with reality.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:05 AM on April 26


Oops, I lost a sentence somewhere, but in reference to your description of having it all with the corporate job, cupcakes, etc. that's exactly what I was talking about when I said tv was perpetuating what I perceive to be a myth, which is the basis of the TFA's premise that "Of course women can have it all."
posted by Room 641-A at 12:24 AM on April 26


Everything this article says was negated by the season finale.
posted by mokin at 9:23 AM on April 26 [3 favorites]


Now that Leslie is pregnant, will she "have it all" like Ron does? Of course not.

I don't think that's something we can know right now. It's true that, by choosing a more high-powered career than Ron, it's unlikely that she goes home from the office at 5 and her work day is completely over. It also probably depends a lot on what Ben is doing for work.

My hope is that next season will not do a whole lot with the "Having It All" question. It seems pretty clear that the writers are going to allow Leslie to continue to pursue her career while also raising children.

Either way, the show doesn't seem to be asking whether, but how. And I like that.
posted by Sara C. at 1:59 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Everything this article says was negated by the season finale.

... the last two minutes of it in particular. In fact, I think the triplets would have been kinda cool if they didn't show them until that 3-year leap forward. Now, I'm still trying to figure out "why kids," but then it has to be ...

as a stay-at-home dad, it's hard not to see Ben going that way (as painquale suggested), but that's probably my prejudice showing. I'd love to see it though ... I mean, who was the last famous stay-at-home dad on TV ... Joey from My Two Dads? ... MORK?! (There must be one real one, but I am coming up blank, and I've seen a LOT of TV).

Someone please tell me that Elaine Benes is not the only leading woman on television who was childless by choice in the last thirty years. I am coming up completely blank.

There are probably more than you think (depending on how you define "leading," though I would call Elaine "supporting"). The first that sprung to mind for me was Catherine Martell.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:01 PM on May 2


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