At 11 years old, my Member of Federal Parliament gave me a pin that said “A woman’s place is in the House of Commons”. I wanted to become a politician, and nothing filled me with more pride and determination than receiving this gift from a female politician whom admired. I fixed the pin to my backpack and showed it off to friends and family like a badge of honor. So for me, it’s mind-boggling to imagine a time, especially in the not so distant past, when women were told that Parliament is no place for a lady. At least, that’s what a woman named Margaret was told.
Once upon a time, there was a strong-willed woman named Margaret. She lived in the United Kingdom and ran for office twice in the 1970s. This did not please the male politicians of her party because they thought that a “young mother would be unsuitable for life in parliament.” But boy, were they wrong. In a few short years, Margaret was not only elected to parliament, but also leader of the Conservative Party and the first female Prime Minister in British history. Although her political platform was sometimes controversial, she earned the respect of the British people as well as other world leaders.
Margaret Thatcher rebelled against the status quo and made history. Her determination and resiliency have earned her a page in the revolutionary book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. Who knows what alternate reality our world might have hurdled towards had one strong, uncompromising woman, decide not to break the glass ceiling for women in politics? Feminism and female equality have certainly come a long way since Margaret Thatcher’s time, yet there are still miles to go before true equality can be reached.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (GNSRG) is an unprecedented work of art that captures the stories of 100 women who’ve made enormous strides in the march for equality. Notable rebel girls include Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth the 1st, Serena and Venus Williams, Maya Angelou, Malala Yousafzai, Ruth Bader Ginsburg… and that’s just volume 1! Each stunning story is written in a fairy-tale format and is accompanied by breathtaking illustrations from artists spanning the four corners of the globe. The books authors, Elena and Francesca, want to inject children’s literature with positive examples of female protagonists who take their destiny into their own hands. No wonder GNSRG was the most crowd-funded book in the history of crowd-funding platforms.
I purchased my copy of GNSRB immediately after viewing a promotional video online. No, I did not buy the book for a younger cousin, or a little sister, or even a future daughter, but for myself – because even grown up girls sometimes need a bedtime story to keep their dreams alive. I was eager to get in touch with the authors and I’m honored to share their answers to some burning questions I had. Below is a brief summary of our interview.
“We feel that the world doesn’t need more books inviting women to avoid disagreements. We feel the world needs books inviting women to be themselves, even when this means not being likable.”
Elena and Francesca, authors of GNSRG.
Claire: Can you share the story behind the idea for your revolutionary book?
Elena and Francesca: 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. 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.
It’s important for girls to see female role models. It helps them become more confident and set bigger goals for themselves. 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. 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.
Claire: What makes someone a “rebel” girl?
Elena and Francesca: Women are asked all the time to promote harmony and peace, even in the face of being victimized or denied their basic rights. We feel that the world doesn’t need more books inviting women to avoid disagreements. We feel the world needs books inviting women to be themselves, even when this means not being likeable. That’s why we use the word “rebel” in the title.
For so many girls and women all over the world being rebels is their chance of surviving, not just fulfilling their dreams. Because they have to rebel against violent husbands, child marriage, families that don’t want them to study, bosses who won’t promote them in fear that they may get pregnant… so yeah, we encourage girls to learn how to rebel against injustice, because it’s an important skill in a woman’s life. Also, there is not one single way to be a rebel, as the women in the book demonstrate!
Claire: How did you narrow down which 100 women to feature in your book?
Elena and Francesca: We wanted to feature women from as many countries as possible, because children’s media productions don’t just lack diversity in terms of gender, but also in terms of race, sexual orientation, religious background… We also wanted to feature women in as many careers as possible: we wanted to have trombonists, marine biologists, judges, Presidents, spies, chefs, surfers, poets, rock singers. Finally, we selected women whose personal stories had something that could be particularly interesting for a child, for example the fact that the famous chef, Julia Child, started her career as a spy, cooking shark-repellent cakes during WW2.
This is the most important thing we’ve ever worked on. It comes from a very personal place for both of us. We both deeply care about women’s rights and we wanted our work to have an impact on female empowerment. We want to get this book on the nightstand of every girl, because we’re sure it will help them make big inspirational dreams and encourage them to fight for who they are and what they want to accomplish.
Claire: Can you tell us about the art illustrating each Rebel Girl story?
Elena and Francesca: The book features original artwork from 60 female artists commissioned to illustrate stories that reinvent fairy tales to inspire girls and boys. The decision to seek out female artists was intentional. We think it’s our duty to give voice to the amazing work that female artists are creating every day, in every corner of the globe. We also wanted to have a huge variety of styles so that each woman could emerge in her own unique personality. Media tend to represent women in a very narrow way, for us it was important to showcase that femininity comes in many different ways and that there is not only one way to be a woman, and a rebel girl. Some of the illustrations are available as prints and posters.
Claire: Is there a Rebel Girl in particular that each of you connect with?
Elena and Francesca: There is a little piece of us in each of the stories! It’s been magic to work surrounded by all these great examples of leadership, courage, and compassion. 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.
If you want to be a part of the Rebel Girls movement, it’s easy to get started. You can buy your own GNSRG book online here, or check out the new campaign on Kickstarter featuring a second volume and new podcast. Don’t wait! The kickstarter campaign runs until July 20th, so check it out right away!