Culture 29 March 2018
Once upon a time, the heroes in fairy tales-- the ones who dueled dragons, climbed up castle walls, and fought through thorn-filled forests-- were burly men with swords. As the years passed, young girls around the world dreamt of becoming princesses, who too would be rescued by gallant princes. Sadly, these girls didn't realize they were heroes too.
Then one day in 2016, two wise women decided to let girls everywhere know that they were indeed the central heroic characters of their own lives. The two media professionals dreamed up a new kind of fairytale called Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, and it was an immediate hit. Written by journalist, Elena Favilli, and playwright, Francesca Cavallo, the inventive tome has gone on to become the most successful crowdfunded book in the history of publishing. Telling the stories of 100 inspiring women in history like Virginia Woolf, Jane Goodall, Ada Lovelace and Cleopatra alongside enthralling fantastical images- Goodnight Stories has sold over a million copies, and has been translated into 42 languages since its late 2016 debut. Next up for Rebel lovers is a power-packed sequel, which Cavallo and Favilli say is even more rebellious and female-celebrating than ever before.
“This idea that history is made by men is constantly planted in your mind since you're in elementary school," says Cavallo. “There's very little that challenges these ideas so how can we expect anything different when these kids become grownups? We wanted to create a different world where girls could grow up surrounded by more female role models."
Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo dreamed up a new kind of fairytale called Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, and it was an immediate hit.
In fact, Cavallo says, even in Finding Nemo, there is only one female character- the flighty Dory-of all the marine characters Nemo encounters. “How is it possible that in the entire ocean there's only one female character?," she asks. “We know children's media is so packed with gender stereotypes, from movies to toys to books. You don't think about it until someone points it out to you, but it was eye-opening."
The two Italian natives told SWAAY the idea for Rebel Girls came about when they began brainstorming how to create something meaningful for young women via an entrepreneurial project. Once they started digging into the children's literature genre, Cavallo says she started finding that only a small percentage of female characters for kids have jobs or professional motivations. In fact, a survey of more than 6,000 children's books found that 37 percent had no speaking female characters at all.
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson are the women who sent John Glenn into space.
“We wanted to create something that counterbalances this lack of empowering content for girls, but also responds to a need of young families who want to raise children in a different way, free of gender stereotypes," says Favilli. “We did not want an encyclopedia. We worked a lot to understand what is exactly the style that is a combination of fairy tales and biographies."
After the overwhelming success of Rebel Girls, Favilli and Cavallo thought how to further their goal of sharing the untold stories of women. They decided to do a second iteration of their bestseller, this time even more powerful than before. In the new book, there were to be more women from as many different fields as possible, including firefighters, doctors, and surgeons, from countries all over the world. The founders also decided to tap their incredible global community of fans and followers to get suggestions on which women should be included this time around. The nominations poured in and the founders began researching, settling on 100 new barrier-breaking women.
“Whenever someone comes to us with a suggestion, we write it down and research it, and in fact, many of the women we decided to include in Volume 2 were suggested by the community," says Favilli. “The global community that formed around this is the most surprising and amazing thing, which is something we could not have imagined when we started. It's a truly collaborative project, with the reader at the center of it."
Adds Cavallo; “One thing that our book demonstrates is that it's not just the final project that matters; it matters who created it. If you don't involve diverse voices, you won't come up with such a diverse finished product that is truly inclusive of each of us. One of our goals is that we don't need a Diversity Officer because it's ingrained in the company."
Aside from diversity, another important element, for both founders, was that the second book feature women who may have failed during their journeys through various industries. “It's not fame that makes you a role model," says Favilli. “Our book is not a book of only winners, or successful and famous women. It shows girls you can be a role model even if you fail at what you do. It does not depend on the outcome, it depends on trying,"
She went on to share the example of Irish pilot Lilian Bland, who is included in the Rebel Girls sequel. This history-making hero named her plane- the first plane in all of Ireland- “Mayfly" because at the time time she wasn't sure if it “may fly" or not, and indeed while the contraption only soared for about 10 meters, Bland made history. “ “Sometimes as women, we feel we don't have the same freedom to fail as men, but we have the right to explore, and be creative in the enterprises we choose," says Favilli. “These are the kinds of role models we wanted the next generation of women to grow up with."
In both books, the ladies were careful not to talk down to their young readers. Many of the pages of the second volume, which include the story of Isis hostage, Nadia Ros, deal with dark subjects, but in a child-friendly way. According to Cavallo, in the case of Ros, the corresponding central image depicts the uplifting moment of her escape.
Billie Jean King is a professional American tennis player most known for her 'Battle of the Sexes' match.
“From the very beginning, we have always stayed away from any style that would be talking down to kids," she says. “We really integrate ourselves on the reason we tell a story. We don't want to shy away from difficult themes and stories." Adds Favilli, “One thing fairytales teach us is that kids don't shy away from darkness. Kids can have dark thoughts and conflicted feelings and if we only focus on the positive, then we aren't serving them, they won't have the tools to walk across the woods. We want them to understand dark moments happen, but they can be turned into something beautiful."
In terms of the eye-catching illustrations, the second Rebel Girls will include the work of 100 female artists from around the world. From soft watercolors to funky graphic novel styles, the images are diversely reflective of the book's dynamic female voices. “The art has always been at the center of the project just as much as the writing; two pieces that go hand in hand," says Cavallo. “We had a clear idea in mind of the format that we wanted the stories and the portraits to have the way we worked with artists is to give them a very precise refe for composition of portrait the kind of colors we wanted them to use."
The idea for the books' cover was another “clear idea," as they were designed in a “graphic" style by a design firm based out of Italy named Pemberly Pond, owned by two sisters, Lalla and Luisa Lodetti, who created the imaginative hand lettering. “We had a clear idea of a blue cover with a night sky, a moon on top and the names of the women in the background," says Favilli. “We wanted to create something iconic."
Cavallo and Favilli, first launched the business in their Los Angeles apartment in 2012. After receiving funding from 500 startups, that chose to invest in them, the two decided to go the crowdfunding route, raising $675,614 from over 13,000 backers from 75 countries, in just 29 days. “Based on our experiences, we were confident we'd never get traditional funding, so we crowdfunded the book on Kickstarter," the founders told SWAAY.
Looking to the future, the two- who have donated $100,000 of their proceeds to the Malala Fund to help with child education-plan to release a full collection of books, and further expand into various platforms like podcasts. In fact, the two have just this month introduced a "Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls," broadcast, which will cover stories of women from both books with a varying roster of female hosts. “It will be a deep dive into their lives and adventures," says Cavallo. “We're starting with the first season and if it goes well, we see it as an ongoing project."
Ultimately, despite the challenging landscape for printed product in a world where Kindles rule, Cavallo and Favilli believe the owning the physical book can help uplift young girls: “The book is becoming kind of a magic object," says Favilli. “People hold it close to their hearts and take it to sleep with them."
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.