I’m pretty sure that one thing we all can agree on right now is that television nowadays is the perfect platform to depict new, and very different, ways of represent people. TV shows now, more than ever, excel at creating true characters with an incredible capacity to be a voice of certain groups of individuals. Now we can see ourselves reflected in the Mauras, the Hannahs, the Leslie Knopes, the Teds, the Barry Allens, even in the Frank Underwoods, all in the interest of fairness and representation.
Manliness and masculinity certainly have changed too along the years and many manly characters tropes have evolved in pro of a more approachable and well-suited representation that would suit better with today’s gender narratives.
Long gone are the dated representations of the manly man and already worned out Macho trope, defined only by his lack of sensibility, his obsesion with the hero complex and his violent attitudes towards women. Now, a man can be manly whilst recongnizing his own feelings and respecting women, not just because they are women, but because they’re persons too.
I want to invite you to close your eyes and think of an actual manly character that is relevant to his show’s story, and actually share the above featuress. If Ron Swanson went through your mind, then you’re probably right. He is the perfect example of this interesting representation.
If you have lived under a rock and don’t know who he is and what does Parks and Recreation means, let me explain it to you. The show revolves around Leslie Knope, the bubbly and optimistic Deputy of the Parks And Recreation Department of the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. Ron Swanson, on the other hand, is her boss and director of the same department.
Ron is, by any means, a manly character as he adheres to many stereotypically masculine treats. He constantly claims that he has only cried twice in his life, he loves to fish, hunt, camp and to do wood working, he also is very stoic as he stands on a particular point of view on not sharing any kind of feelings to and with anyone.
If this were any other TV show, Ron’s character could have easily fallen under the Macho trope, but this is Parks And Recreation, a show that aims to tell stories that are more concerned with depiction, representation and character growth than reproducing stereotypical gender roles. To Ron, manliness is not a synonym of violence towards women.
Ron’s character depiction in fact suggests something very real and relatable, that manliness is actually different for everybody as there is not just one way to be a man, but a handful of features, characteristics and ways to act that can be shaped and molded for each individual.
He has his own way to understand manliness, he does not cry nor does he shares his feelings, but he doesn’t feel threatened by anyone, specially not by women. He is actually able to recognize the strong influence women have had in his life and the way they helped him to become the man he is now, as he beautifully explains on this quote from season 4:
“I don’t consider my self an anything ’ist, but my life has been shaped by powerful women. My father once told my mother woman was made form the rib of Adam and my mom broke his jaw.
That’s what I think Parks and Recreation is all about, the perfect balance between the depiction of true and rounded characters and their realtionships with each other. Ron’s abilty to aknowledge the strong relationships he has mantained with women all his life it’s just one of many examples of this very idea.
He had a strong mother figure to loook up to, two empowered and determined ex-wives to share his life with, one stubborn and passionate asistant to learn from and an optimist protegee as Leslie Knope to share a friendship with.
I found really refreshing when a TV show I like allows itself to have an incredible pairing, conformed by a man and a woman, that shares a profound level of respect, admiration and caring between each other like the one Ron and Leslie have.
They are the ideal depiction of a friendship based on respect, where their genders doesn’t define neither themselves nor their roles within their relationship. He doesn’t need to explain to her how to act and be like a woman in politics the same way she does not tries to change who he is.
If Parks And Recreation has taught us anything is that friendship can trascend gender roles, that stereotypical roles does not define people and that a manly man can, and should, break the mold society is trying to put him into.