Women in Power
In recent years, two of the most popular sitcoms have been fronted―and in one case, created―by women. However, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation (P&R) share more than just leading comedic actresses, they also portray the struggle of being female in a man’s world.
Both of the women work in male-dominated fields―government, in P&R, and television in 30 Rock. They are both in about the same age range and certainly stage of life―attempting to climb the ladder while also dealing with personal challenges. They both have male mentors who are more conservative than they are creating constant political or philosophical conflicts that are usually resolved by the end of an episode. Where the two shows differ is how the same female archetype is divided into two sides, and each side seems to be represented in each show.
30 Rock generally covers negative or “shameful” aspects of femininity― our insecurities and secrets as women, while P&R highlights our strengths. In 30 Rock, Tina Fey’s character is seen as an unattractive middle-aged woman who is constantly attempting to juggle her personal and work life and usually failing. Throughout the series, she slowly grows by emotionally detaching from work and more decisively live her life. By the end, she helps Jack Donaghy, the mentor portrayed by Alec Baldwin at least as much, if not more, than he helps her.
Insecurities about her looks, success, drive to start a family―while neurotically brought up repeatedly―are real concerns of women. It’s easy to make a lighthearted comedy series that deals with easily resolved issues, but it’s not easy to write complicated yet common female struggles that have no easy solution and can’t be wrapped up at the end of an episode.
On the other hand, P&R doesn’t have the theme of “trying to have it all,” even though the ages and positions of power of both women are comparable within their worlds. Amy Poehler does a tremendous job of playing a confident, intelligent woman without compromising her attractiveness. Stories may sometimes revolve around love life struggles, but not femininity. Her character is concerned with being an ethically sound human being in an often corrupt field. Her character is definitely not perfect. For example, sometimes her earnestness can be constituted as obsessive.
What I like Poehler’s character is that the audience hasn’t seen someone like her before while Fey’s character sometimes veers on the edge of being a stereotype about middle-aged women.
Both shows are places where women’s fears and dreams can be represented. Fey captures aspects of myself that I would be embarrassed to talk about–the parts of me that curl up on the couch alone, eating terrible food and watching bad TV. By creating this character, she presents this idea that women can (and do) have unglamorous moments and we don’t exist merely for men’s attention. P&R created an entirely new archetype of woman–ambitious, confident, intelligent, and charming. She’s also imperfect and thus relatable. Poehler represents the kind of person I aspire to be, and yet accessible enough that I feel I’ve met her before.
Each show may portray the modern woman differently, but they are both honest in their own ways. Together, the shows paint a complete picture of a certain class of woman’s experience right here, right now.