Pippi Longstocking: My Feminist Role Model
Fabiana Vilsan, Division 3, College junior #ws18e-s1d3

Pippi Longstocking, with her gravity-defying red braids and independent spirit, was the first woman that inspired me to break traditional gender norms. As a young girl, the rebellious Pippi and her never-ending adventures provided me with an exciting alternative to the princess tales I had grown tired of at bedtime. I found myself coveting Pippi’s financial autonomy, confidence and strength rather than the long, flowing gowns my friends seemed to obsess over. While Sleeping Beauty badly needed her Prince Charming to rescue her from her slumber, my feminist icon would never have accepted an apple from a stranger to begin with. I learned from a young age that I could write my own narrative without the help of a strong male figure to save the day. Thus, Pippi Longstocking is more than a book and movie character – she is a role model for millions of girls hoping to one day shatter glass ceilings, and she is the girl that I forever hold in my heart as I transition into womanhood.

To begin, Pippi has unconventional physical characteristics, however she never tries to conform to traditional standards of beauty, deciding instead to love herself as she is. Pippi has “hair the colour of a carrot, braided into two tight braids that stick straight up”, “a nose the shape of a very small potato” and “a very wide mouth with strong white teeth”. As opposed to princesses with long, flowing hair and perfect features, Pippi is characterised by her distinctiveness. But she is unapologetically herself. When asked if she “suffers from freckles”, a conventionally undesirable trait, Pippi responds: “No, I don’t suffer from them. I like them!”. Instead of allowing strangers to force insecurities upon her, Pippi’s response demonstrates her self-confidence and maturity in the face of the impossible beauty standard women face. In many ways, Pippi is a feminist icon in that she inspires young girls to embrace their unique features rather than strive in vain to emulate the unattainable features encountered in fairytales and magazines. Further, instead of dressing in typical flowing gowns, Pippi is often dishevels, wearing raggedy clothing and shoes that don’t match. Again, unlike many women, she is unconcerned by her appearance. She does not wish to be treated as an object for men to leer at or admire, but rather wants to be treated and respected as an equal. Thus, Pippi Longstocking breaks stereotypes regarding how women should look and dress in order to be successful.

Perhaps the most striking distinction between Pippi and the traditional female characters encountered in children’s’ books is the emphasis on Pippi’s strength. She is remarkable, not because of her beauty, but because she is “so very strong that she could lift a horse if she wanted to”. Traditionally, incredible strength is portrayed as a decisively masculine trait. While women are praised for their slim physique, men are expected to provide physical protection. In damsel-in-distress stories, female characters are always physically inferior to their male counterparts. Indeed, the male protagonist is often depicted battling armies or slaying dragons to rescue the helpless princess. Pippi, on the contrary, needs no such male assistance. In fact, she “out-lifts the strongest man in the world, Mighty Adolph”. Pippi’s reliance on her own physical strength inspires girls around the world to have faith in their own abilities rather than rely on the help of a selfless gentleman.

Orphaned at a young age, nine-year-old Pippi lives on her own in a tiny town in Sweden. Although she had inherited her wealth from her father, Pippi is responsible for her own financial decisions and must manage her wealth sensibly. Again, in traditional fairytales, the female characters are almost always reliant upon their family’s or husband’s income. Unlike Cinderella, Pippi need not ask her evil stepmother if she can buy a lavish gown to attend a glamorous party – Pippi is financially autonomous and thus enjoys all of the benefits generally accorded to male characters. Free of these financial chains, Pippi is able to follow her own moral compass and live her life as she wishes.

Finally, in the absence of parental figures, Pippi has learned to discipline herself. Proving her maturity, Pippi states that she “first tells [herself] to do something in a nice way, then she tells [herself] more sharply, and if [she] still doesn’t listen, then [she’s] in for a spanking”. Further, she attends school daily just as the other children do, valuing her education above the possibility to skip class. Acting as an adult at the age of nine, Pippi has mastered self-restraint and introspection. Unlike most young characters in children’s book that require supervision by their parents in order to avoid irresponsible behaviour, Pippi is acting as an independent woman.

Pippi Longstocking unsurprisingly became a role model in the women’s movement, inspiring young girls around the world to challenge existing gender norms and embrace their individuality. She achieves anything she puts her mind to, and she has mastered a self-confidence that is rare in adult women. As a young girl, I was much more attracted to Pippi’s rebellious nature and galvanising independence than I was to the dusty princess tales about grown women incapable of acting alone. Today, as a young woman myself, I continue to hold the lessons I learned through Pippi’s tales close to my heart. Although it may seem like a simple children’s book, the Adventures of Pippi Longstocking have ignited in me a desire to define my own path in life, shatter glass ceilings, and never lose the child inside me.
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