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

Join the Conversation

  • Courtney

    Parks and Rec. is seriously one of the best shows on television and Leslie Knope is a character that makes HUGE stride for women!! How many other feminist icons do we see portrayed in such a positive light? She is such a well rounded real character and the pawnee goddesses portray young girls in a much better way than most TV shows today.

  • billy williams

    HA!–I watched this last weak,-HILARIOUS! & FINALLY!–A show with a leading woman who does stuff you don’t see women doing on t.v.(parks department,outdoor activity,etc…)–& Leslie isn’t the only woman there,–Ann Perkins,April Ludgate,Donna Meagle-Strong women who are All valued for their smarts & treated with respect!-Parks & Rec is the best show on T.V.(not just for it’s strong women)-& it’s on tonight at 8:30–A repeat,Born & Raised,-& Can’t wait 4 the new one next Thursday!-GREAT ARTICLE ON SUCH A FANTASTIC SHOW!!!!

  • albonie

    I love “Pete and Pete” and “Malcolm in the Middle.” How come there are no shows like this for girls? Like “Harriet the Spy” and Ramona Quimby. God, I love Harriet the spy.

    • Jen

      Oh man, I LOVED “The Adventures of Pete and Pete”!

  • Liz

    Amy Poehler is an amazing feminist and she should be recognized as such. Her show Parks and Rec really reflects her feminist awesomeness. Now we need her to write a fun, cool show for girls so they see other girls who reflect their reality and grow up to be awesome feminists so we can have more Amy Poehlers in the world!

  • davenj

    Let’s not forget the Swansons! I love the message of that little coda: boys and girls can want to be Goddesses or Swansons, and there ought to be a place for all of them.

    Oh Pawnee, you’d be a utopia if not for the raccoon problem and the Sweetums plant.

  • Yael Chanoff

    I love Parks and Recreation. So much.

    But you said, where are the kids shows that are doing this- check out The Mighty B, Amy Poehler’s show on nickelodeon. It’s for little kids, maybe not the Hannah Montana crowd but it’s totally feminist and really similar to the Pawnee Goddesses, it’s about a girl scout troop. Also, Amy Poehler made a webseries a few years ago called Smart Girls at the Party, check it out:

  • FabuLeslie

    Well said! I am in love with this show and I don’t understand why more people aren’t! Why is it not winning all kinds of awards? It is so smart and funny. I convinced my parents to watch it and they said that it’s “not for them…” And then they had the nerve to accuse me of only liking it because the main character shares my name. Well, I guess they’re half right. I love that she shares my name, but I also love that she is all the things you said she is. Love this show, and I love your take on this episode. I couldn’t stop thinking about Treat Yo-self, 2011. I’ve decided I should organize a Treat Yo-self 2012 very soon!

    • billy williams

      I KNOW!!!–Parks & Rec is WAY better then Modern Family!-& it deserved awards 4 comedy series,directing,writing,lead actress 4 Amy,& supporting actor 4 Nick Offerman–Instead,Modern Family gets like everything–Just cause it’s relatable-“It’s a modern family-Just like familys are now-Relatable!I don’t work in a Parks Department!”-Tragic!

  • Amy

    I love this show and this episode so much. This article sums up how great I felt to watch a camp of young women who are just young ladies – not boy-crazy looks obsessed caricatures. Parks and Rec is a great show that is hilarious and smart and I hope more people watch it. Also, did everyone else just die when the one girl held up her “Gertrude Stein”?

  • Jackie

    The Pawnee Godesses sound similar to the Honeybees troop on The Mighty B, in which Amy Pohler voices Bessie Higgenbottom. The Mighty B would be a kid friendly version of the Pawnee Goddesses, the show is airing on Nicktoons. If you search it on, there also are a few DVDs as well.