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“Daughters can also be heroic!” is the message the authors Favilli and Cavallo give children and their parents through their book on iconic female heroes.
“Research shows that by the time girls reach elementary school, they already have less confidence in themselves than boys. That is why changing the narrative early on is so important.” Those are the words of Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo—women on a mission to change the narrative, a mission to tell the stories of women heroes, and create the ideal fairytales where women command the action and save the world.
“We’re both in our early 30s, we’re female entrepreneurs, and we know firsthand how hard it is to succeed, to be considered, to be given a chance,” they say, and that’s why their book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls focuses on women and girls who snatched that chance from the world through the sheer force of will.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is an outstanding book that subverts the traditional fairytale and turns the spotlight on 100 women heroes from diverse countries—and the list includes India’s heroes Mary Kom and Rani Laxmi Bai as well. Italians Favilli and Cavallo—the former a media entrepreneur and journalist and the latter a writer and theatre director— together founded children’s media company Timbuktu Labs, and this book originated from their desire to “put women’s lives centrestage.”
“We had been working in the children’s media space for the past 5 years and witnessed from the inside how gender stereotypes still permeate books for children of all ages,” they explain. “Parents are offered little resources to counter this trend and they are especially concerned about the lack of strong female role models in children’s media. That’s why we decided to create this book.”
But breaking gender stereotypes also needs the inclusion of men, and stories of inspiring women cannot be confined to girls alone. Shouldn’t boys be reading about female heroes, too — so they can break free from patriarchal notions and admire female strength? Why should this book be positioned only ‘for girls’?
The authors insist it’s not just for girls. “It is for boys, too! We chose this title because we believe that focusing on one gender does not exclude the other. Boys love these stories! ”
And then they make a pertinent point: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they grew up in a world where boys didn’t find something demeaning just because it reads “for girls” in the title?”
These thoughts mirror closely those expressed by feminist icon Gloria Steinem in her Leaps of Consciousness speech from 2004, where she emphasized the importance of women and men being supportive of each other’s abilities and ambitions—rather than feminism being a war of the sexes.
Favilli and Cavallo support this wholeheartedly. “The book isn’t putting men against women at all. It’s just highlighting extraordinary women and their abilities and ambitions. It’s important for girls to see female role models. It helps them become more confident and set bigger goals for themselves.”
And to present these role models, Favilli and Cavallo worked dedicatedly for over a year, not just digging out stories of female heroes but also working on their crowdfunding campaign: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls carries the distinction of being the most highly funded original book in the history of crowdfunding—raising over a million dollars on Kickstarter and Indiegogo! And with good reason. From scientists, athletes and mathematicians to politicians, war heroes and explorers — every single tale is a saga of overcoming great obstacles. The story of Wilma Rudolph, for instance, who overcame polio to become the fastest woman in the world, or Fadumo Dayib, who became the first female presidential candidate in war-torn Somalia. From Amelia Earhart and Helen Keller to Zaha Hadid and Malala Yousufzai, from Hijabi weightlifters to refugee swimming champions —they’re all here.
But how difficult did it prove to pull it all off? The authors recount: “We launched the campaign in April 2016 so we could self-publish the book. Before the launch we had tested out the interest for Rebel Girls by sending samples of some of the stories and art in Timbuktu’s newsletter. The campaign immediately took off.”
“We worked for 8 months on the campaign. We rewrote the script 16 times, and we built a community interested in girls’ empowerment in the months leading to the campaign. The book raised more than a million dollars with the help of 20,000 backers in 71 countries. Our original fundraising goal was $40,000, which was met in 30 hours. During the 29-day campaign we raised $675,614 and then we continued on Indiegogo’s platform InDemand where it passed one million dollars! It is the most funded original book ever in the history of crowdfunding.”
So which stories among these would they term as their personal favorites? “There is a little piece of us in each of the stories!” exclaim Favilli and Cavallo. “Being Italians, we particularly love the stories of the Formula 1 pilot Lella Lombardi, who is the only woman in history who has scored points in a Formula 1 race (and who learned how to drive delivering steaks and salami with her dad’s truck in the hills of Piedmont, Italy) and the cyclist Alfonsina Strada, who fought for her right to race in the Giro d’Italia, one of the toughest cycling competitions in the world.”
And 100 stories are clearly not enough, because they’re already working on their second book that chronicles yet more female heroes.
Ultimately, what Favilli and Cavallo wish to tell all the girls of the world is this: “They have the right to explore wildly, to be as ambitious as they want and that – as Wang Zhenyi said – “daughters can also be heroic.”
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Zehra Naqvi is a journalist who has been writing for a decade on gender, literature
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