This is a big one for me because I have an absolute feminist crush on Francesca Cavallo. She is one of the people that I look up to as an entrepreneur and children's author. She is one of the idols that I dearly admire and a woman that inspires me. She has walked the walk, done amazing things and then looked around and decided that there was still work to do so kept walking! And I, for one, can’t wait to see what else she does!
I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did when I received it! Please check out and support her new amazing project Undercats.inc
In your own words, who is Francesca Cavallo?
I am a 37 year-old Italian woman who loves to see what happens when you don’t do things the way they’re usually done. When I was four years old, I wanted to be a police dog. Despite having such a queer dream job, it took me 20 years to find out I was a lesbian. Along the way, I became a children’s book author, an activist and an entrepreneur. I live between Los Angeles and Rome.
You are the co-writer of the world wide best seller “Good night stories for Rebel Girls” what is your biggest learning from that experience?
That it’s incredibly important to listen to your community. When you’re brave enough to start your creative process by welcoming others in your space and by listening intently to what they have to say, you can reach results that would be unthinkable otherwise.
Your new adventure, Undercats, Inc., also champions the idea of creating more and better books to educate kids in values. Tell us a bit more about it.
Up until a few years ago, parents believed their job was to ensure their kids grew up healthy, landed a good job and had a happy family. In recent years, though, our view on parenting shifted. Millions of people around the world started considering parenting as a responsibility not just toward their own children, but toward the future of our planet. Movements like #metoo, #fridaysforfuture and #blacklivesmatter showed many grown-ups that parenting is actually one of the most consequential political acts they’ll do in their life.
With Undercats, I want to support those parents by publishing wonderfully illustrated stories that radically increase diversity in children’s media. New narratives about people of color, about people with disabilities, stories that promote gender equality but also stories that help kids explore their gender identity.
You have launched a new book, Dr. Li and the crown-wearing virus, a perfect tool for kids in these bizarre times, what are kids (and adults) going to learn from it?
"Doctor Li and the crown-wearing virus" is a picture book that helps children (and their parents) explore their feelings about the pandemic. I wrote this book to help kids stay resilient and hopeful through this very challenging time. The book tells the story of the pandemic as seen from the perspective of May, a seven year old American girl. The book gives kids the opportunity to see their experience (school closures, face masks, birthday parties on Zoom…) reflected in a cohesive narrative and it shows them that even through such complicated times it is possible to stay positive and to do good for our community. In the book, May’s hero is Doctor Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who was the first to raise the alarm that a new coronavirus was spreading in Wuhan. Over the past year, we heard Trump saying over and over again things like “the Chinese virus”, the “kung flu”, and it was very important for me to show children an Asian character who is an inspiration, rather than a symbol of the virus.
What is Feminism for you?
Feminism for me is the opportunity to think critically about the world we live in and to reinvent systems that may appear unmovable with the goal of helping as many people as possible to reach their full potential.
Which “everyday sexism” really bothers you?
Oh, the list is long. But one of the things that bothers me the most is being underestimated, despite the results I was able to achieve with my work. Maybe that’s the reason why I called my new company “Undercats”. The tagline I added to our business cards is one that I bet many other accomplished women out there could adopt: “you never see us coming”. No matter what our achievements are, we are constantly asked to prove ourselves. They never see us coming. Ain’t that crazy? “At least,” I thought, “I want to try and use that to my advantage.”
Do you remember when you start identifying as a Feminist and why?
Yes I do. It was at a conference called Kidscreen, an animation conference in Miami. The keynote speaker was Geena Davis. She spoke about the damages of the lack of female characters in children’s media. I was there to pitch two shows, the photocopies were on my lap. Her words fired me up, then I looked on my lap… and both pitches had male protagonists. I chose to throw them away and to start with something fundamentally different. Shortly thereafter, we came up with the idea for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.
Who is your biggest feminist role model?
I gotta say Madonna. When I was a child, she had a tremendous impact on what I thought a female artist could do.
What is your favourite Feminist quote?
“It is a blessing to know a free woman. Sometimes she will stop by and hold up a mirror for you. She will help you remember who you are.” -Glennon Doyle, Untamed
What is your proud feminist victory?
I’m so proud of my work as an entrepreneur at Rebel Girls first and now at Undercats. For me, entrepreneurship is all about changing all the rules that I don’t like and finding a way to play the game the way I want to play it. For an author, that’s huge because the publishing industry is - in many ways - a gigantic monument to toxic masculinity. This idea that someone needs to give you permission to tell your story, this obsession with charts and lists, the snobbish attitude toward whomever tries to do things differently and is creative about how to make their voice heard… I am proud of myself because I don’t buy into this delusion that someone else can decide what I’m worth. And knowing that allows me to push boundaries in ways that are hard to imagine for those who desperately want to belong to the hall of fame of traditional publishing.
What is your feminist recommendation?
- Book: My brilliant friend, Elena Ferrante
- tv show: Tuca and Bertie!
- Film: Not a film, a documentary: Disclosure
What is your feminist call of action to whoever is reading?
Believe that you can make mistakes. Believe that you can forge your own path. That there are no recipes. That you can and you will figure it out. And go! Be adventurous. Build your own company, put out that book. Surround yourself with people who love you because you embrace your freedom.