The superpowers of Pippi Longstocking

I started my new job yesterday.

At close we gath­ered for a debrief­ing, in which we went over pros and cons for the night and sam­pled the new choco­late ice cream treat–did I men­tion I love my new job?

Since I’m the new kid, I was asked to tell the group a lit­tle bit about myself, and I did so, as awk­wardly as pos­si­ble, because that is just how I do.

I was also asked, “If you could be any super­hero, who would it be?”

Pippi Long­stock­ing,” I answered imme­di­ately. I have adored Pippi ever since my father intro­duced me to her in early ele­men­tary school via the 1969 Swedish tele­vi­sion series.

Pippi Longstocking

Love that answer!” said one female co-worker.

That’s a first! And she’s mine, too!” said another, bob­bing her head in agree­ment. I find that Pippi induces instant cama­raderie among women. She’s basi­cally secret code for female empow­er­ment, for FEMINISM.

But what are her superpowers?”

Well she eats cake for break­fast and nails for lunch, and she’s so strong she can lift a horse over her head,” I said.

We ladies are pos­i­tively swoon­ing over Pippi when a male co-worker asks,

Can you give us a male equiv­a­lent, you know, for the guys?”

A male equiv­a­lent? For…the guys??

You don’t need a male equiv­a­lent,” I said. I tried to hide my frus­tra­tion. I could tell by look­ing at the guy that he had no idea why this ques­tion would frus­trate me.

You don’t need a male equiv­a­lent because Pippi is the strong badass in all of us.”

If it had been the time or place, I would have explained what I meant by this. But I know my coworker is cer­tainly not the only one who needs to have a “male equiv­a­lent” for every­thing, so here goes:

I would have explained that white het­ero cis male is the default for every­thing, and that this is not okay. That if you are a woman (or oth­er­wise “other”), you and your work will be com­pared to what­ever the whcm default may be, and that this is not okay. That peo­ple who insist on ID’ing the whcm equiv­a­lent assume that you and your work are not orig­i­nal, that a whcm did it before you and prob­a­bly also did it bet­ter than you. That you, the other, can­not be known just as you are. That women, et al. strug­gle daily to cre­ate spaces for them­selves that have never existed before. That try­ing to find a “male equiv­a­lent” for Pippi, for “Brides­maids,” is the play toy equiv­a­lent of try­ing to fit a square peg into a round hole.

There is no male equiv­a­lent to Pippi because Pippi is a lit­tle girl who insists on being her­self despite and to spite the con­stant pres­sure to con­form. Pippi proudly defies the expec­ta­tions oth­ers, i.e. adults, have of her as a girl and as a child. She is sub­jected to all the ways in which soci­ety tries to mold its chil­dren, includ­ing the impo­si­tion of girl­ish­ness; yet she is every­thing that chil­dren, girls espe­cially, are not sup­posed to be: phys­i­cally strong, anti-authoritarian, adven­tur­ous, assertive…I could go on for­ever. This expe­ri­ence, Pippi’s gen­dered expe­ri­ence, can and should be appre­ci­ated by any­one, male, female, etc.

On the other hand, gen­der is impor­tant in “Pippi” only because of its utter lack of impor­tance to Pippi. She’s just a kid, after all, and so her expe­ri­ence as a child is uni­ver­sal. Pippi does not teach us how to be a girl; rather, she teaches us how to be fully human in a world that con­stantly seeks to limit our human­ity. There-in lies Pippi’s true super­power, which is her super­hu­man strength to be herself.

That’s a super­power I think we all secretly want more than anything.


For fur­ther dis­cus­sion of the female super­hero, check out Hero­ine With a Thou­sand Faces: The Rise of the Female Sav­ior.

Best news ever: Sony Con­jures Archie’s Sab­rina For Live-Action Super­hero Movie


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