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."
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.