You may have heard of this female hero from shows like Saturday Night Live or Parks and Recreation. You may also know her from Chicago’s Second City or for Broad City, a show she produced. If you don’t know about any of this, you probably know her as Tina Fey’s TV wife. Yes, I’m talking about Amy Meredith Poehler.
Amy Poehler was born in Newton, Massachusetts in 1971. When she attended Boston College, she joined an improv troupe called My Mother’s Fleabag. This is where it all started. After graduation, she moved to Chicago and joined Second City—as well as Improv Olympic—and became friends with Tina Fey. After Second City, Amy moved to New York City to create the comedy troupe known as Upright Citizens Brigade. After the success of the UCB Theatre that came out of this troupe, Amy joined Saturday Night Live. Her first episode was the one immediately after 9/11. One can imagine how nerve racking that must have been, but she killed it. The episode was a huge success.
Saturday Night Live gave her the fame she deserved. She and Tina Fey were a power duo on that show, starring in Weekend Update together, as well as many other skits. She began to star in hilarious films and created her own show called Parks and Recreation that became a big hit, which brought her higher up in the comedy social class. From this, she became known as Amy Poehler—not Amy Poehler from Saturday Night Live. She used her fame to empower girls and women all over the world. Her character on Parks and Recreation was a new type of woman that has almost never been depicted in television and film. She was a strong, independent woman who was able to be thought of as a hero without the help of a male counterpart. She gave everyone the idea of working in teams. Her character, Leslie Knope, told viewers to find their teams. Teams are heroes in themselves.
Then, Amy (and Meredith Walker) founded Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls organization. The organization, according to the website, is dedicated to helping young people cultivate their authentic selves. They tell people that intelligence, imagination, and confidence in themselves is more important than fitting in. Aside from the movies she’s currently working on and the shows she’s producing, this organization is where most of her time goes to.
So, what are two theoretical frameworks that relate to Amy Poehler as a heroine, you ask? One is feminist criticism, which gives a feminist outlook on analyzing how males and females relate to each other in the world. It also talks about oppression of women in real life and how women are depicted in literature. Barry states, “The ‘women’s movement’ of the 1960s was not, of course, the start of feminism. Rather, it was a renewal of an old tradition of thought and action already possessing its classic books which had diagnosed the problem of women’s inequality in society, and (in some cases) proposed solutions” (116). Well, Amy Poehler is the definition of feminist criticism. She created Leslie Knope, a person who only analyzes every single thing she does as a feminist criticist. Every episode has Leslie questioning why an antagonist on the show is speaking down to her. Every time a character tries to look at her with a male gaze perspective, she turns them down and talks about how women are not the misogynistic stereotypes that are given to them. In one of the episodes “The Debate,” an episode Amy contributed on writing, Leslie debates against Bobby Newport, the other candidate for city council. Any time Bobby says something (which never actually makes sense), everyone cheers and applauds for him. Any time Leslie speaks and gives her opinion on something (which is always the one that makes sense), everyone criticizes her. She based this off of real life situations where women are called bitches for giving the same opinions that men give or for giving any opinions at all. An example of this would be with Hillary Clinton. Hillary and Bernie Sanders gave a lot of the same opinions, and people only called Hillary a bitch. Everyone thought Bernie was being strong for expressing his opinions. Amy Poehler uses feminist criticism to write episodes like this. She shows through satire that women have been seen through the male gaze in television and in life for years, until shows like Parks and Recreation.
The other theoretical framework is structuralism, which is the analysis of human understanding, experiences, and culture. Barry says that the “structures in question here are those imposed by our way of perceiving the world and organizing experience, rather than objective entities already existing in the external world. It follows from this that meaning or significance isn’t a kind of core or essence inside things: rather, meaning is always outside” (38). Amy Poehler relates to this through the work she has done with Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. The organization is dedicated to helping young people cultivate their authentic selves, which means it has been doing more for young people than schools have. The United States school system hasn’t been doing a great job at telling students that their imagination is one of the most important parts of them. Amy Poehler has been doing her best to prove that imagination is key. Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls has analyzed the culture and experiences of young people—mostly girls and women—to figure out what it is that motivates them. They show off the work of women and girls on their social media accounts, so that these people know that someone out there is proud of them. They aren’t compared to the boys; they’re just themselves. Amy uses structuralism to find out what it is about the different cultures and experiences that these girls and women encounter that is so important for other people to know. She makes a huge difference in this world, not only as a comedian (which is my kind of a hero), but as a woman who supports other women.