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."
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.