Parks and Recreation Season 7, Episode 9
In its 7 season run, Parks and Recreation was (WAS…sniff) never been a show to shy away from gender issues. It was only a matter of time before they tackled how wives of political candidates are treated. Over the course of her career, Leslie has faced how she’s been treated as a woman when SHE has been the driving force of her life (“Women in Garbage” for example) but now she’s in the backseat for Ben’s congressional campaign. How does that turn the tables for her? That is what we explore in “Pie-Mary”.
The thing with Leslie Knope is that she has never been a woman who is content to just sit back and smile and wave. If you ask Leslie a question, she’s going to answer it. If you want her opinion on something, she’s going to give it to you in a hour-long dialogue where she probably ends up telling you her entire life story. Leslie is passionate about her life, the people in it, and the things she believes in. It’s what made Ben Wyatt fall in love with her in the first place and it’s what scares the bejeezus out of Jen Barkley, campaign manager (well that and the fact that every surface in the Knope-Wyatt house is sticky). “It’s the smarties that freak people out,” she says, trying to prepare Leslie for what’s to come. Leslie (naively) believes that the voters WANT a spouse who is more than a puppet because that’s the kind of person SHE would want to see. Jen’s expression says it all: “Oh, honey”.
Of course, it takes all of three minutes for Jen Barkley to be proved right (she usually is). Ben and Leslie attend a press conference that is meant to be promoting how the Gryzzl Headquarters will be revitalizing the economy of a forgotten district of Pawnee (you know, important stuff) but the conference quickly turns to Leslie’s decision not to participate in the annual Pie-Mary. Leslie’s response of “The last contest’s loser was all women” immediately provokes the press into asking Leslie if she is making a statement by skipping the Pie-Mary. This leads to them questioning her skills as a mother, whether she values family, and how much her haircut cost (“None of your business, but thank you for noticing.”). I’d laugh if this weren’t OH SO CLOSE to what actually happens to political spouses in life.
By the time Ben and Leslie get home, Mike Patterson and his family values cronies are openly attacking Leslie on the air, claiming “she’s saying women who love their families are stupid”. Leslie sees only one option to avoid completely torpedoing Ben’s campaign: Divorce. Or just entering the Pie-Mary. Whatever is the lesser of two evils, I guess.
Leslie, Ben, and their spare can of whipped cream are interrupted by a knock at the door (that sounds like a dirty fanfic in the making). It is NOT one of the triplets, as Leslie initially feared, but Elise from the Indiana Organization of Women (remember how desperately Leslie wants to win their Woman of the Year award? Foreshadowing). Initially Elise is there to praise Leslie for not entering the Pie-Mary but when she learns Leslie plans on entering after all, she warns that they WILL protest her if she does. Basically, Leslie is screwed either way and this frustrates the HELL out of her. This is about BEN, after all. Leslie believes in Ben and believes in what he could do as a Congressman. She believes that he can do a lot FOR women once he’s elected…so why shouldn’t she participate in a stupid pie making contest if the end result is his victory? Leslie, for once in her life, is looking at the big picture here. She’s spent much of her career focusing on the small battles, not the wars…but for Ben? For Ben she sees the big picture. And that’s worth sacrificing a small pie slice of her dignity.
Of course as Leslie is waxing poetic about what a feminist her husband is, this happens…
Did anyone else get the vibe that Ben was getting into a little bit of roleplay for some sexytimes since the kids are all asleep? I mean I know he’s pointing at his belly but he could also be pointing elsewhere and there IS the spare whipped cream and OMG have I been reading too much smutty fan fiction this week?
(Sage: No, you can never read too much smutty fan fiction.)
Once Elise leaves, Ben comes up with the perfect solution. He will be his own wife and enter the pie contest himself. Frankly, I think it’s what he wanted to do all along. He gleefully says that they will change the idea of what a pie is. After all…there’s crust, filling, and then more crust. What are pies really? They are just sweet calzones! And we all know there’s never been a calzone that Ben Wyatt didn’t love. Other than the ones that betrayed him.
At the pie-mary, Ben and Leslie are very proud for how they’ve beaten the system. By having Ben enter, they are showing that tradition gender roles don’t matter to them (which keeps the IOW off their backs) but they are still there representing a great Pawnee tradition (which should keep the Family Values people at bay). Everybody wins, right? Ben, in his customized apron, proudly gets up and presents his calzone pie…right as a men’s rights group shows up to protest his apparent emasculation. They demand that Ben be freed (“From what?” #bless) from the tyranny of his wife. “Behind every successful woman is a man she has oppressed,” the ringleader Kipp Bunthart declares. Leslie tries to explain that Ben WANTED to do this (“He has five personalized aprons!!”) but Kipp immediately fires back a statement that almost every woman has said at some point in her life. “So he was asking for it because of how he was dressed?” Men have had it VERY hard recently, don’t you know? Everything is so pitch perfect, I basically seal clapped for the rest of this storyline.
Like it or not, Jen advises Ben and Leslie to hold a press conference so they can apologize for all their offenses (“Ignore the fact that you’re right and put on your blandest outfit.”). Naturally, the conference is full of men’s rights protestors holding up signs, including a GENIUS “Yes All Men” sign. Leslie starts her scripted apology but Ben Wyatt, prince among men stops her (“My wife is a very independent woman…so I’m not going to let her speak.”). He’s not going to allow Leslie to apologize for being who she is. Above anything else, Ben and Leslie are a TEAM and Ben refuses to allow Leslie to compromise who she is. She wouldn’t be the woman he wants standing by his side as he pursues his political career if she changed who she is so she could fit some pre-determined mold. But above all else, she wouldn’t be the woman he married if she did. And that, ladies and gents, is why their marriage is one we should all aspire to have.
This is what I love about Leslie Knope and this story in general: Leslie is not at ALL saying that women who choose to bake pies and enter contests are dumb. She’s not saying that she is a better woman than them because she has chosen to pursue a career. Amy Poehler says in her book Yes Please (aka my new life Bible) that we should all look at everyone else’s choices with a view of “Great for her, not for me”. If you want to choose to stay at home and raise kids, that’s great. If you want to be a mom who continues to pursue her career aspirations, great for you. Hell, if you don’t want to have kids at all, that’s great for you. Amy and Leslie BOTH preach the gospel of pursuing YOUR life choices outside of what other people expect of you. Find what works best for you and don’t apologize for it or let anyone else judge you. Decide what is and isn’t for you and own it…and do the same with another woman’s choices. “Great for her! Not for me!”
I love that “Pie-Mary” skewered the #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen movement in a way that was peppered with absurdism. It’s a freaking pie contest, for crying out loud. However, it managed to roast the movement in a pro-feminism way. It felt incredibly timely that this episode aired in the middle of an Awards Season where the ladies of Hollywood began outright refusing to do the mani-cam (AND THEY WON). (Also do you remember when Cate Blanchett called out E! last year for panning down her dress by kneeling down and asking into the camera if they did that to the men? I love that all of these women are using their place in the spotlight to call out these issues.) It’s amazing that this aired in the midst of the #AskHerMore campaign, spearheaded by Queen and Hero Reese Witherspoon, where she demanded that women be asked about more than what they were wearing on the Red Carpet. Ben deftly points out that HE never gets asked if he’s trying to have it all or where his kids are (WHERE ARE THEY?) so why should Leslie be put under the same scrutiny just cause she pushed three babies out of her body? It was all so perfect because underneath the comedy of “Pie-Mary”, Parks made a very strong statement on how the media treats women. As Ron Swanson says, “Bully for you” show.
Because Mike Schurr and company enjoy tormenting Leslie JUST ENOUGH, the episode ends with Ben being awarded the IOW Woman of the Year award. Perfection.
– What Parks has done so deftly in this final season is balance all the stories with equal humor and heart. The big B-Story centers around Ron, April, and Andy trying to track down the spare key that Ron gave her when she was his assistant. This served to reassert how much Ron Swanson loves puzzles (his giggle of delight when he realizes this is a massive scavenger hunt is everything) and the strength of the paternal relationship he has with April and Andy. He has such a mix of pride and sadness on his face when April tells him about her new job because while he is proud of his surrogate daughter he also feels pain at losing her constant presence in his life. The scavenger hunt serves as one last absurd adventure the three of them can have together. They’ve come so far together. “What matters is that I trust you and value you as a person,” he tells her after he admits that the key is useless because he changes his locks every 16 days. My heart, you guys.
– “Boy oh boy did you love Andy.” Do you remember the April that always hung out by the shoeshine stand? I loved reflecting on how April and Andy began. I love how they are still together and strong. These two may not have always known exactly what they wanted out of life or where they were going but the one thing they’ve always known is that they’ve wanted to go through life TOGETHER. They’ve never wavered in that.
– Punching me in the feels, show.
– “You big B word.” *Garry looks confused* “Buddy.” As far back as “Know Your Boo”, it’s been clear that Donna and Garry have the kind of friendship that can only be established from years of working in close proximity. As much as Garry is teased for being the worst, it is obvious that Donna has a great affection for him (calling him by his given name is evidence enough of that). I love how she sat and kept him company as he tried to fish his ring out of the grate. I love that they ordered take-out from Tom’s Bistro (where WAS Tom in this episode? Having all the sex with Lucy I hope.) and sat and reminisced about their years together. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have tears streaming down my face when Donna showed up at the Gergich house with a bag of EVERYTHING Garry had dropped down the grate over the years.
– In case you are wondering, Leslie’s 5 favorite talks are: Shop, Pillow, Real, Girl, and Ted.
– Where can I pre-order The Feminine Mesquite?
– “Excuse me, but I have to get back to a city where things happen.”
Were you as proud of the blatant feminism in “Pie-Mary” as I was? Let us know in the comments. As always, thank you for your patience as we catch up on these recaps!