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.
“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.