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."
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.