I love Tom Haverford, the nasally-voiced government employee on “Parks and Recreation” whose R&B-esque musical outbursts and slang-laden vocabulary are constant sources of jokes and my adoration. But this is a blog about gender stereotypes in the media, so let’s momentarily forget about the comedic stylings of Aziz Ansari, and instead analyze his character sociologically. What is it about Tom Haverford’s depiction of maleness that I find so great?
He Provides Opportunities to Mock Male Stereotypes
Tom Haverford embodies the stereotypical belief that “real men” objectify women. Tom proudly flaunts his encyclopedic knowledge of the best and worst strip clubs in Pawnee. He constantly (and inappropriately) hits on Ann Perkins. He eagerly joins the judging panel of the “Miss Pawnee” beauty pageant because “if you don’t call in favors to look at women in bikinis and assign them numerical grades, what the hell do you call in favors for?”
This is why we laugh at Tom Haverford. His character is so over-the-top that the ridiculousness of these stereotypes comes to light. Furthermore, Tom is very rarely successful at achieving his romantic and sexual goals – think Ann’s consistent rejections of his sleazy advances. Plus, Ann’s rejections are often witty and serve to embarrass Tom, allowing a “creeper” to be belittled by a smart and confident woman, rather than allowing a meek and submissive woman to be overpowered by a “creeper.” Despite his efforts to portray himself as a ladies’ man, the woman he once desired most (his now ex-wife Wendy, a woman who only married him for a green card) doesn’t have any romantic feelings for him. These conflicts, combined with his many-failed business ventures into whatever industry he believes to be the hippest at that time, paint Tom as kind of a loser. Even he acknowledges his incapability; in one of the recent episodes from this season, he says, “One of the things I’m best at is riding coattails. Behind every successful man is me, smiling and taking partial credit.” Though Tom feels the need to wear his heterosexuality on his sleeve in order to prove his masculinity, it ends up just highlighting his failures, and thus proving the stupidity and ineffectiveness of acting upon such male stereotypes.
And of course, we can’t forget that Leslie Knope, the strong female lead, is always around to keep him in check, and remind the audience that Tom’s stereotypically male behavior isn’t something to emulate.
He Embraces His Feminine Side
One of the best things about Tom is that even in his efforts to present himself as a heterosexual male, he happily embraces “feminine” parts of his personality. Episodes have featured clothing montages depicting his indecisiveness when choosing an outfit. His clothes are colorful and flamboyant, and he pays special attention to detail and accessories. He moisturizes daily and he doesn’t care what you think about it. One could argue that the humor surrounding these scenes emasculates Tom, but I personally see it as a chance for a man to defy gender norms on television, and we like him more because of it.
He Supports Leslie Knope
How can we not like a character who supports the feminist TV character, Leslie Knope, in her political endeavors? Yes, Tom teases Leslie sometimes, but he respects her authority, intelligence, and ideals. In last week’s episode, he reveals a highly complimentary campaign video he made for Leslie, moving her to tears.
Tom Haverford simultaneously mocks and defies gender stereotypes, all while helping an intelligent and strong woman advance her political career. And that is why I love him.