Friday Feature: Summer Spectacular Vol. 1

We Prometheans have been a tad busier this summer than we thought we would be, and that’s made it hard to keep up with our regular posts. We love bringing you a new article every week, but there comes a time when we just have to take a break. We’re coming up on our one-year anniversary, and I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished. With the exception of last December, we’ve been going strong for nearly a full year!

With that in mind, we’ve decided that we have earned a little bit of a rest, but we’ll be back in September with our trademark brand of geekiness that folk have come to expect. In the mean time, I am going to be doing a Friday Feature here and there, just to keep the dust from settling.

Welcome to the Promethean Playground Summer Spectacular, where we recommend our favorite beach reads, shows to binge-watch after the sun goes down, and games to play when it’s just too hot. And maybe we’ll throw in a cocktail recipe here and there to keep it fresh.

Beach Reads

I’ve always thought it was a little bit unfair to the beach that the only books we ever bring out there are harlequin romances and bottom-shelf fantasy. I get that we want something that’s relatively easily digestible when we’re relaxing in the warm, salty coastal breezes, but there’s something to be said for taking that time to really delve into a book you’ve been meaning to read for years!

Last year my summer book was Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, the year before that I brought Tolkien’s The Hobbit to the beach – both books I had started long ago and never finished until I carved the time out of my summer vacation to get going with them again!

I’m going to recommend classic sci-fi for you all as this week’s beach read: Dune by Frank Herbert. I read this one something like 5 years ago between shifts bar-tending at a lakeside resort in Texas. I’ve written about this story before on the Playground, so long-time readers will be familiar with some of my thoughts, but there’s a lot about Dune that appeals to me. It’s a different kind of sci-fi than I’m used to. Interstellar travel is available in Dune‘s universe, but it is costly. There’s a mystical/spiritual/religious element to the story of Arrakis (the desert planet on which Dune primarily takes place), which I really enjoy. And Dune sets up a complicated political landscape that makes for good dramatic storytelling.

Binge-Watch Shows

I always think winter is a better time to pack on new shows to binge-watch, because that seasonal affectiveness disorder makes you not want to leave the couch anyway, but never-the-less we all have to come in from the pool at some point in the summer, right? So if you’re not caught up on your favorites, why not then?

This week I’m going to tell you that, if you haven’t by now, it’s time to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. The follow-up show to AvatarLegend of Korra, just began it’s third season and it served to remind me how absolutely amazing Avatar: The Last Airbender really was. (NOTE: We are talking about the Nickelodeon cartoon, not the pathetic attempt to make the cartoon into a movie.)

This show was and still is, broadly speaking, my favorite show ever. Sure I enjoy other things here and there, but Avatar has it all: humor, action, drama, characterization, a complex and compelling setting, and feelings (I weep like a child in season 3 when [spoiler redacted] reunites with [spoiler redacted], and there’s nothing anyone can do about it).

Fun fact about Avatar: The Last Airbender – each of the trademark “bending” styles is based primarily on a real-world martial art style. Airbending is based on a style called Ba Gua, which is reflected in Aang’s quick, circular movements. Waterbending is based on Tai Chi, which emphasizes slow, flowing movements that are more interested in healing than aggression. Earthbending is based on a style called Hung Gar, which uses strongly-rooted stances and powerful strikes. Finally, Firebending is based on Northern Shaolin kung fu, which is an aggressive, fierce, and powerful martial art, much like the benders from the show.

Summer Games

In the video game world, the summer slump is the time right before big publishers begin gearing up for their Fall and Christmas releases, where they expect to make their real money for the year. In spite of that (or maybe because of it) Steam has a now-infamous Sale every summer where games are marked down by very enticing amounts. I feel like I was pretty responsible this year, with the Steam Sale, and I still ended up buying about 8 new games. Summer gaming slump, my butt, now my backlog is even more embarrassing!

In any case, I think summer is the best time to plop down on the couch and play games with a pal, so I’m going to tell you to check out a game called Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine. As you might guess from the little subtitle there, Monaco is a heist-themed game. Players can choose from a handful of characters with different skills (knocking out guards, picking locks, digging tunnels, etc.) and play their way through increasingly difficult scenarios with up to 3 friends at a time. It’s a great same-couch game because it actually requires a lot of communication, especially as the difficulty escalates, and you just can’t beat physical presence for communication, no matter how awesome your mic is.

Fridge

Women and Geek Culture or Why the Fridge Has to Go

I grew up reading Green Lantern. Much like Doctor Who, there have been multiple Green Lanterns in the lifetime of the comic, and you always have your favorite (The 10th and Hal Jordan.) Yet, Hal wasn’t my first. That honor goes to Kyle Rayner.

I could go into the backstory as to why Kyle got the ring, and who his predecessors were, and why Hal came back; but none of that really matters. All that you need to know going in was that when he took the mantle of GL, he was the only one and he loved it. Kyle was young, reckless, and took his role with little seriousness.

That was until this happened…

Fridge

…yeah, that’s his girlfriend.

Long story short, she thought Kyle should take things more seriously; but he wasn’t the listening type. Unfortunately, one of his villains (aptly named Major Force) was, and decided to kill and stuff her into above fridge. The ensuing guilt propelled Kyle into being the hero that he was destined to be…

…and it also was the first instance of “fridge-ing”

Congrats, Geek Culture! We helped create a terrible narrative trope!

Unfortunately, things haven’t really gotten that much better as the years of have gone by. Female characters in comic books, games, and television have been mishandled, mischaracterized, and all together misused since then. For every Orange is the New Black, there are multiple shows, games, and comics that just do everything wrong.

Examples, you ask? Okay.

Game-wise, the two most recent offenders are Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and Watch_Dogs; which both use “fridge-ing,” as a narrative technique to motivate their respective heroes.

MGS1

In MGS: Ground Zeroes, Big Boss/Snake is required to rescue former associates Paz (a female officer) and Chico (a young male soldier) from a government run facility. By the end of the game you have rescued them both, but it’s found out that Paz has had a bomb placed inside of her. So, in one of the most gruesome moments put to gaming, the male characters dig into her abdomen, un-anesthetized, and rip the bomb out.

PazGZ

It’s gross, over the top, and not the worst part.

After the bomb is removed and she comes to, she relates that she has a second bomb placed inside of her as well; and so she jumps out of the helicopter to save the rest, exploding mid-air. It is not revealed unless you go through some of the side content where the other bomb was hidden…

…her vagina.

Within the audio logs you find, you discover that Skullface (the villain) had not only his men rape Paz, but he had Chico rape her as well, and THEN placed the bomb into her. The audio logs are long, uncomfortable, and disgusting. There’s no narrative or gameplay value to their existence in the game outside of shock value and as a means to motivate the player character to revenge in the upcoming sequel.

Though not as graphic, Watch_Dogs is just as bad.

Watch Dogs

In the game, there are two main female characters, Clara (a hacker who befriends the player avatar) and Nicole (the player’s sister.) Suffice it to say, both ladies have little to no story arc simply because they exist only to continue to push the main character forward.

Nicole’s only contribution to the plot is to be captured, held hostage, and kidnapped multiple times over and over again to bring the player character to action. At multiple points in the game, the player has to hand hold her through an action filled situation, because she is unable to defend herself on ANY level.

Ironically, her subplot ends with her leaving her ENTIRE LIFE behind in Chicago, taking her son with her; as the player character realizes that her continued existence within the gamespace (Chicago) would only result in her getting kidnapped, killed, etc. over and over and over again.

(Did I mention that she had a daughter that the main character got killed because she was in a car with him when he was attacked by thugs? Yeah, that too)

Clara might be the bigger problem. She is introduced as a competent rival hacker, but soon afterward she just becomes an objectified character model walking around the hideout of the player. Unfortunately, this is not out of the ordinary for most video games. Because of her lack of development and any story arc to speak of, she becomes less a character and more a piece of set dressing.

(Oh yeah, there’s also the fact that her model is actually based off a well known porn actress too…which has very little to do with the argument above, but it sure doesn’t necessarily help matters either.)

The icing on this terrible cake is that she ends up being “fridged” as well by the end of the game. It is revealed that she had a hand in some of the events leading up to the game, which tangentially led to the death of the Aiden’s (the player’s character) niece. While visiting the grave of the girl, she is gunned down as the player is trying to rush forward to save her in real time gameplay.

This, of course, is followed up by the player having to listen to a 2 minute long voicemail she left, just before she died; apologizing for her involvement and wishing to “just disappear…”

…which in turn motivates Aiden into the final act of the game.

It’s all very frustrating, to say the least.

Yet, much like you see in other forms of media, there is a silver lining, a ray of hope that shows things are changing; if only ever so slowly.

Take a game like Transistor.

As fellow Promethean Stewart wrote,

Transistor is a beautiful story about a woman whose voice (literally) was taken from her. It’s about her lover. It’s about a city that they both love deeply, but isn’t what it used to be. It’s about change, and remembering the way things were without ever being able to go back.”

Most importantly, it not only stars a female (Red) as a lead, but it gives her a complete, well written, and genuine story arc. She is not used, she is not thrown around by events in the game space, she is the one CREATING those events. In other words, she is a fully realized character.

Red has more of a voice without having one, has more of a message without saying a word, than any of the previously mentioned examples above….

…Cue Dramatic Irony

Joss Whedon, known for his work on Buffy, Angel, The Avengers, and much more said in an interview once,

“When people say to me, ‘Why are you so good at writing at women?’ I say, ‘Why isn’t everybody?’ Obviously there are differences between men and women – that’s what makes it all fun. But we’re all people.”

It’s a pretty straightforward sentiment, but one that geek culture is now just starting to embrace, albeit slowly. Hopefully as we all continue to move forward, and as the medium continues to mature, we’ll see more games like Transistor, Gone Home, or Mirror’s Edge.

Geek culture has to come to terms with the fact that sexism and misogyny are deeply ingrained, and figure out what we can do to excise that cancer from our favorite hobbies. I’d like to believe that we are all better than this…

game ad

 

“Anti” matters — “Veronica Mars” had to answer its own call for complex female leads

Veronica Mars: The Movie

Kristin Bell as “Veronica Mars”

The Veronica Mars movie makes its debut in theaters (and for instant streaming) this Friday, March 14.

Fans of the show, many of whom contributed to its record-setting funding on Kickstarter (the project reached its minimum $2 million goal in under 11 hours and had raised almost $6 million by the end of the funding period), couldn’t be more excited — including me!

In preparation for the big day, I’ve been rewatching the series with my boyfriend, who’s never seen it before. And it is still excellent.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the show, “L. Hamre” on IMDB summarizes it thusly:

The murder of high-school student Lily Kane shook the seaside town of Neptune, California to the core. For once popular girl Veronica Mars, it meant the loss of her best friend, and being ousted from the affluent crowd that she once thought were her friends. Her father, Sheriff Keith Mars, found himself voted out of his job after making some unpopular accusations about the murdered girl’s family. In response, Keith opened his own private detective agency. Now, Veronica, with her sardonic wit and a few new friends, works as his assistant while also navigating life as a high school (and later college) student.

We’re about halfway through season 1, which aired on UPN in 2004-2005, and we’re both loving it.

For me, it’s especially fun to watch it with my significant other because he’s a filmmaker who’s actually dealt with actors, scripts, lighting, editing, all that good stuff — and, most fun of all, he’s a fan of classic noir (which I knew little about when I first watched the show).

Veronica Mars sits squarely in the noir genre — it’s got the traditional dens of corruption, questionable authority figures, greed and excess at the expense of the downtrodden, extreme wealth disparities, long dark shadows, rainy streets (sometimes — I mean it is Southern California), snarky private investigators and seedy underbellies.

There’s one major element that makes it different from most noir stories, though — its protagonist.

Can you guess? Here’s a clue – below is how tvtropes.com describes the main character in noir:

“The Anti-Hero is the most common protagonist of the Noir — a man alienated from society, suffering an existential crisis. Frequently portrayed as a disillusioned, cynical police officer or private-eye and played by a fast-talking actor, the Anti-Hero is no fool and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He faces morally ambiguous decisions and battles with a world that seems like it is out to get him and/or those closest to him.”

Yep, in Veronica Mars, our anti-hero ain’t a “he”.

Unlike the majority of noir stories (think of The Maltese Falcon, Touch of Evil, The Big Sleep, anything else written by Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler), Veronica Mars features a female lead as its hardboiled detective.

And this is pretty cool — not only because there’s still a dearth of shows with female leads (even more so back in 2004), but also because of the roles women are normally confined to in noir — the “femme fatale”.

The “femme fatale” is a villainous woman who may pretend to be a damsel in distress, but actually uses feminine wiles to ensnare, manipulate, and harm male characters. This traditionally included the anti-hero, who sometimes does, and sometimes doesn’t, resist her charms — but even if he does become entangled with her at one point, he always repulses her in the end.

From the beginning, Veronica Mars upends this convention simply through the gender-swapping of the protagonist. (And no, they didn’t swap Femme Fatales out for Phallic Fatales, either — though it’d be fun to say). Rob Thomas, the series creator, knew this going into it:

“Thomas initially wrote Veronica Mars as a young adult novel, which featured a male protagonist; he changed the gender because he thought a noir piece told from a female point of view would be more interesting and original.” –Wikipedia

But what makes this switch so successful is that, in every other way, Veronica truly embodies the traditional anti-hero. She isn’t a typical female character given a different label but with the same ole’ character traits still clinging to her.

Veronica certainly fits the cynical, disillusioned bit — she was abandoned by her mother, unraveled a murder mystery involving some of Neptune’s most “upstanding citizens”, saw her supposed friends abandon her in a time of need, and is now determined to see the world in black & white — and refuses to forgive.

Veronica does things no well-adjusted, reasonable person would do. She isn’t above running a background check on her father’s girlfriend, asking her best friend to risk expulsion for swiping students’ files from the school office, manipulating her new police officer boyfriend for access to evidence, or stealing her ex-boyfriend’s medical history from his doctor’s office.

And yet, we still root for her. She’s still the protagonist and viewers can still empathize with her. But we can also tell that her life — one that’s lived with gritted teeth and with a chip on her shoulder — isn’t something we’d really want to be living.

In fact, her father — the “official” private investigator who, on the surface, perfectly fits the noir protagonist role — is often a voice of stronger caution & morality. He’s the one who cautions Veronica that there are boundaries she shouldn’t cross, that there truly are shades of gray, and that most people still have some good in them. Veronica, of course, doesn’t listen.

Veronica has problems, and sometimes makes bad decisions. A lot of us would be justifiably leery of being her friend or dating her. In addition to smart, resilient, insightful, and funny, she can be weak, vindictive, petty, and foolish — like any male anti-hero (just think of Sherlock, Dexter, Tony Soprano… even Tony Stark will do).

But boring? Clichéd? One-dimensional? Most definitely not.

Veronica is an anti-hero first, and a female lead second. But this is why it’s important that she’s a “she” — Veronica Mars proves that a character doesn’t have to be simplified, flattened, or dumbed-down because the character’s a woman. Veronica doesn’t settle for being the “Strong Female Character” trope (she’s more than a princess who knows kung-fu). Instead, she’s still just as complex and flawed as the traditional male anti-hero.

Rob Thomas didn’t decide to have a female lead and then pick what her character could be from the existing pool of “women’s roles”. Instead, he started with a nuanced, complicated, challenging role, and then challenged its tradition by casting a woman in that role — to see what would happen. He thought it would be more interesting & original, and it was.

Unfortunately, few writers seem to have believed him & stepped up to the plate.

In fact, I tried to come up with more examples of female anti-heroes, and this is what my google search turned up:Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 9.29.18 AM.png

Though there have been a sprinkling of post-Veronica female anti-heroes (Nancy Botwin on Weeds, Olivia Pope on Scandal, anyone from Girls [though their anti-hero traits are largely reviled]) this list is cosmically dwarfed by the crop of complex male anti-heroes who have appeared since — just think of the likes of Walter White, Don Draper, Dexter Morgan, Dr. House… or the male lead of pretty much any HBO show. (Did you even need the names of their shows, by the way? Probably not, because they’re insanely popular).

The desire for these characters is clearly there, as is the frustration with their still-miniscule presence.

But ten years after Veronica Mars first aired, one of the most exciting anti-heroines to succeed her is, well… herself. The relative dearth of suitable successors is likely one of the reasons fans have clung so fiercely to the original, and why they were so eager to support her return to the silver screen.

Veronica Mars the TV show proved that the character could be built, and built to last through hundreds of storylines. Veronica Mars the movie, whose crowd-funding was so successful that Zach Braff shamelessly swiped its strategy for his own film, proves that viewers will pay to see them.

So, screenwriters: step up your game. Rob Thomas already showed you that it’s possible to cast a woman in a complex role. $2 million in 11 hours showed you writing her can pay well. So, what exactly are you waiting for?

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References & Further Reading:

Does TV have to go to prison to give women their own lives?

Most people* who’ve seen “Orange is the New Black” are thrilled with it—the Netflix-only series even got renewed for a second season before the first was released on the site in July.

Based on the memoirs of Piper Kerman, a Smith College alumna who served 13 months in the women’s prison in Danbury, CT, the show’s main character is Piper Chapman, a similar-but-not-carbon-copy of the real Piper, who serves the same sentence in a fictional Litchfield prison.

There are many reasons the show has gained such avid fans: stellar performances, references to the Kinsey Scale, “Weeds” creator Jenji Kohan at the helm, the awkward return of “American Pie” star Jason Biggs to something that’s actually popular.

Top among the reasons for its overwhelmingly positive reception is the way that the show uses a white woman (which is pretty typical on tv) as a kind of bridge that exposes viewers to other women’s stories—fully fleshed-out, 3 dimensional stories, at that.

WASP-y Piper Chapman, despite being the “Main Character,” is less interesting and less sympathetic than the women around her, which include (in numbers and heterogeneity virtually unprecedented on television thus far): women of color, poor women, elderly women, queer women, trans*women, and women without her prestigious collegiate degree.

These women rarely make appearances in mainstream culture, so an entire show centered around their lives is brand-spankin’ new to viewers.

However, beyond all these great reasons is one reason I haven’t seen pop up in any articles:

It’s the only show on television that passes the Bechdel Test almost 100% of the time.

Are you familiar with the Bechdel test?

Here’s the definition:

  1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man

Now, there are plenty of other shows with lots of female characters – even main characters. Shows like “Scandal” and “Once Upon a Time” and “Girls”.

(I actually haven’t seen “Scandal”, but it was referenced as a rebuttal to that “I Hate Strong Female Characters” article that was floating around a few weeks ago, so I want to open the floor for fans to make its case).

But despite the fact that (for example) “Girls” literally has 4 women as its main characters, most scenes don’t pass the Bechdel Test.

Now, not every scene needs to pass the test for something to be worth watching.

But when it’s rare for most shows or movies to have even one scene that earns it a passing mark, I think the antidote should be something stronger than, “a show that passes it kind of often.”

Just because a show has a qualifying scene doesn’t mean the show is the best it can be, and media is totally on board with the whole feminism thing. I’d argue that a show like “Orange is the New Black” (where nearly every scene qualifies) is much more of a true standard toward which scenes and characters should be aspiring—the Bechdel Test is really just the bare minimum threshold.

Even in shows that have female leads and pass the Bechdel test frequently, there’s a lot left unexplored.

For example, when the women on “Girls” aren’t talking about men, they’re usually still talking about how better to live up to some societal standard or another—how to act at their jobs, what to wear, what their parents expect of them, yadda yadda.

“Orange is the New Black” is different.

In OitNB, the women don’t have an external society whose expectations they have to live up to.

They’ve been removed from traditional society, and placed inside prison society, whose rules are completely different.

And in the prison setting, a new society is built from scratch—by the women themselves.

Of course, the (mostly male) guards have rules they enforce, but those lie only on the surface of prison society, just like the laws in our country are only a fraction of the influences we operate under in the non-prison world.

So when we watch OitNB’s Piper, Taystee, Pennsatucky, Big Boo, Poussey, et al go about their lives inside the prison, it’s a rare opportunity for viewers.

The women’s interactions are calculated exclusively to satisfy their own desires, aspirations, and agendas. They are not performing for the Male Gaze (in fact, it’s all from women’s perspectives). They are no longer conforming to standards anyone else created. They are “free” to create a society that exists only to support themselves, not to keep them down in relation to another, more privileged group.

And the show itself is free to give them the screentime to do this.

Though the women have literally less freedom than female characters in most shows or film, by removing traditional societal rules from the playing field, “Orange is the New Black” gives its female characters fewer limits and more room to portray a wide swath of women and interpersonal dynamics than any other show.

The time the show gets to spend—and the characters & actresses get to spend—purely on women’s stories can now take up almost the entirety of the show, instead of being restricted to just one or two scenes.

That’s progress. That’s what I think the Bechdel test is really trying to achieve.

But isn’t it kinda messed up that, in order to set female characters free from these boundaries, TV had to put ‘em in prison?

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*Of course, as with anything that’s gaining near-universal acclaim, there are dissenters. There’s even someone who thinks it’s today’s modern Slave Narrative. (But, really, when even Jezebel commenters think you’re overreacting—and you haven’t even watched the whole series—your argument may not be water-tight).

Friday Feature: Cosplayers

This week’s Friday Feature is actually more of an anti-feature.

After having watched almost all of two episodes of SyFy’s Heroes of Cosplay show, where manufactured drama rules the day and 3/4 of the conversation is about how much cleavage is too much, I’ve decided to feature:

10 Better Cosplay Costumes Than You’ll See on SyFy’s Heroes of Cosplay!

In the Video Game Character Category:

Gaige from Borderlands 2

Corvo Atano from Dishonored

In the TV Show Character Category:

Princess Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Zoe from Firefly

Marcy and Simon from Adventure Time (If you know the episode these cosplayers are referencing, feel free to take a moment to tear up now.)

In the Movie Character Category:

Merida from Brave

Bounty Hunter Leia and General Grievous from Star Wars Episodes VI and III respectively

And finally, in the Comic Book Character category:

Old School Animal Man (Who wins every costume contest I’m judging.)

Alana and Marko from Saga

And as bonus:

Brokeback Pose Hawkeye (A True Believer in the Hawkeye Initiative.)

This week’s Friday Feature is here to save you some time. Don’t bother with SyFy’s lame attempt at geek fan-service and sex appeal. Most of the images from this post are lifted from Comics Alliance’s “Best Cosplay Ever (This Week)” column. If you’d like to see great quality cosplay from ordinary folks that love what they do, do yourself a favor and go there instead.

The hidden feminists of Pawnee, Indiana

Watching Parks & Recreation is kind of like going to a women’s college.

Unfortunately, most men (the exception, for now, being transmen) will never get to experience the absolutely kick-ass, convention-busting, powerful support of a women’s college.

Which means men have to work way harder to bust those conventions. (They’re usually about what women vs. men should do or should want to do or are allowed to do. A lot of stuff about ambition & sexual agency, ya know).

But, for you awesome guys out there, there’s an easier way to be a chill, assured feminist man than to read Jezebel and bell hooks and Feministing all the time.

And that way is to watch Parks & Recreation.

Are you familiar with the show? A brief explanation (yes, minor SPOILER ALERTS):

Amy Poehler’s main character, Leslie Knope, is the deputy director of the Parks & Recreation dept. of a small town in Indiana – and also the town’s first-ever city councilwoman (beginning in season 5). She eats waffles constantly & reads political biographies; she has photos of Madeleine Albright, Barbara Boxer, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton & more lining her walls. Her mustachioed boss (Ron Swanson) is a libertarian who works for local government. Her best friend is a nurse, her husband is a campaign strategist/accountant/financial adviser, and she only needs to sleep about 4 hours a night.

“Well what makes the show so like a women’s college?”

Well, first off, the main character is a woman, and she’s in a position of power.

But more importantly: it’s No Big Deal. It just seems natural and obvious because, duh, she’s extremely motivated and endearing and talented and brings a ton of energy to her work. So it’s only right that she can carry a show by herself and excel at her bitchin’ job.

So, the show has a strong female lead (who is a politician). That’s obviously media-paradigm-breaking feminism, but it’s the quieter, more subversive feminist elements that make this show shine.

I think that the real game-changers in the feminism of this show are the men.

Yep, the men.

Let’s start with Leslie’s assistant, Tom Haverford.

Tom (played by Aziz Ansari) is unapologetically metrosexual. He’s famous among the characters for his Bumble & Bumble hair care products, his cheese plates, his chenille throws, his cashmere sweaters, his fear of grass stains on his summer linens, and his sweet sweet mixed drinks.

And while he might be a critique of the extremes of consumer society…

… The characters on the show do not emasculate him. He may be annoying, but it’s because he’s a hyperconsumer, not because he’s a man who acts like a woman. And thereby an opportunity to mark traditionally feminine behaviors as annoying, embarrassing, and inferior to traditionally male behaviors is skipped.

(Thankfully).

And, honestly, I get the impression that if a character did try to make Tom feel inferior by using derogatory female insults… he probably wouldn’t care. He likes how he lives his life and the fact that lots of women enjoy it too wouldn’t ever make him consider rejecting it.

Proceed on to Jerry Gergich.

Jerry’s both a schlemiel and schlemazel on the show. But one of the show’s big paradoxes is that his wife and daughters are smokin’ hot. His wife is played by Christie Brinkley, actually.

When the show’s very fit, very enthusiastic, very positive Chris Traeger (played to the hilt by Rob Lowe) starts dating Jerry’s lithe blonde daughter Millicent (basically the cliché of the tempting young thing in need of protection from… well… temptation), he offers to keep Jerry apprised of their goings-on and to keep everything PG for a while.

Jerry, instead of being the blustering, protective father who is enraged by the idea of his daughter as a sexual being, firmly declines Chris’s offer.

“Millie’s a grown woman,” he says, and he trusts her to date whoever she wants and do whatever she wants. It’s really none of his business, he says.

Thank you, sir – can I have another?

Seriously, I wish more TV dads were like this. (And more real dads).

Jerry doesn’t for one second think that he has anything to do with his daughter’s sex life, nor that she should be expected to desire or do anything different from what Chris desires and does.

Right on, Señor Gergich. Right on.

Andy Dwyer:

Andy is a goofball, who may veer into the Doofy Husbands Trope, however something about his character makes me feel like he evades that cliché. My best guess why? His doofyness comes from not taking himself seriously; not from failing to perform basic tasks and incurring the eye-rolling of a much-put-upon wife.

He isn’t ashamed to be excited and enthusiastic about anything, and while it’s played up for comedic effect, it’s never scorned. (It’s also part of a great dichotomy when paired with his surly, cynical wife, April).

For Andy, it would never occur to him to believe in or even absorb stereotypes.

He’s got the innocence of a child, but shows viewers how you can still be an adult… and somehow still have a child-like lack of jerkiness.

Plus, he takes a women’s studies class at the community college and LOVES it. And again, it’s really No Big Deal. It’s just an awesome class and he thinks his professor rocks and he’s just so excited about the cool women they’re studying because he is equally excited about everyone.

And finally, the cherry on top of our character cake: the ineffable Ron Swanson.

Nick Offerman’s mustachioed character is a complex and paradoxical man. He’s often viewed as a traditional Man’s Man – he’s a carpenter; lives in a cabin; consumes only steak, bacon, eggs, and whiskey; hates “feelings talk”; and is constantly annoyed by Leslie’s enthusiasm and verve for government work. (He’s “a staunch libertarian,” you see).

But his sometime distaste for Leslie’s political beliefs never crosses into a disrespect for her as a person.

He never suggests that she has less of a right to disagree with him because she’s a woman, and his “traditional” political ideas never bleed into support for traditional gender roles.

In one episode, Andy tells his women’s studies prof that Ron is a feminist role model for him. Ron notes, “I don’t really consider myself an anything -ist, but my life has been shaped by strong women.”

(While generally denials of being a feminist induce eye-rolling from me because “feminism” shouldn’t be a dirty word, this makes perfect sense in the context of Ron’s no-nonsense, secretive, allegiance-shirking, libertarian ways).

And, to seal the deal, he even starts dating sexy, powerful, no-nonsense Diane in season 5 – played by none other than Lucy Lawless, a.k.a. XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS.

The choice to have Xena play the role of Ron’s significant other was no coincidence, I am sure. It’s an obvious nod to the fact that Ron respects, and indeed is only attracted to, strong and powerful women, and has absolutely no compunctions about it.

The ferocity of and power wielded by his two ex-wives (Tammy I, a brilliantly brutal IRS auditor, and Tammy II, a sexually ravenous and manipulative librarian) only underscores this fact. While it’s clear that they’re crazy b****es, they didn’t gain b**** status because they lost their ladylike politeness/demureness/goodness when they took on these traditionally masculine traits of ambition and power.

No one’s got a problem with them being so power-hungry. Rather, they’re b****es because they literally try to ruin Ron’s life and steal the gold he has buried around his property. Not an exclusively feminine trait.

I’ll throw a nod in here to Ben Wyatt, Leslie’s admirable husband, for while I think his character’s deep vein of geekiness is an untapped opportunity to make a commentary on female geek culture, he at the very least constantly shows that his wife’s ambition is pretty much the sexiest thing about her. His character’s political and career redemption is only achieved through her political and career achievements, and later he is the one who takes a step back from his career to support hers.

• • •

OK, so did you notice a lot of negative words in those feminist bios?

A lot of “isn’t” and “no big deal” or “don’t”?

Well, that’s kind of the point.

We could be watching a show that’s constantly, directly discussing feminism and women’s empowerment and undermining traditional gender roles…

But we’re not.

Instead, we’re watching a show that simply doesn’t have misogyny in it.

And what are you left with when you simply don’t include misogyny?

You’ve only got feminist ideas.

So you don’t have to make a big deal about it. It’s just there. It fills the vacuum left by douchey guys and sexist jokes and clichéd women’s storylines with a laid-back, authentic, subtly empowering story that just happens to be feminist.

And that brings me back to my point about P&R being like a women’s college.

Women’s colleges are not a place to foster hatred of men or put them down or constantly duke it out with misogynistic ideas. They’re simply places where misogyny is largely absent. (This does not mean that all men bring misogyny with them, but it’s a lot harder for it to sneak in when it props up no one within the student body).

And when it’s absent, it becomes natural to not second-guess yourself or other women, to not avoid taking on leadership roles, to not compare yourself to gender stereotypes.

That’s what Parks & Rec does. It doesn’t have to make a big deal of actively doing or saying feminist stuff. They just make a point to not do or say un-feminist stuff.

That’s what feminism actually is – the absence of misogyny.

(Rather than the presence of bra-burning, or whatever other stereotype is popular today).

So, thank you Parks & Rec. Thank you, Amy Poehler. Thank you, Ron and Jerry and Tom and Andy and Ben and Chris.

Keep up the good work, and stay cool.