Q&A with Princess Awesome

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Rebecca Melsky and Eva St. Clair weren’t impressed with the limited clothing options for girls, so they made their own! Princess Awesome clothing revolves around the idea that girls shouldn’t have to decide between dresses and dinosaurs or ruffles and robots.


Melissa Seymour: Hi, Rebecca and Eva! Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Eva: I’m a SAHM of four (ages 9, 6, 3, 1), and I moonlight as a web editor for a project in medieval philosophy.  I’m originally from Tucson, AZ, and I have a BA from Stanford University.

Rebecca: I’m mom to two (ages 4 and 2), and I teach third grade full time in DC. I grew up outside of Chicago in Evanston, IL. I went to Brown University for undergrad and got my masters in education from Northwestern University. I’ve been teaching for 10 years.

MS: Why did you create Princess Awesome?

R: When my daughter turned two, she began insisting on wearing dresses every day. We could occasionally get her in a skirt if we called it a two-piece dress. Because she also likes rocket ships and robots and trucks and things, I would buy her pajamas from both the girls’ side of the clothing store and the boys’ side. One day I went shopping for pajamas for her, and, as I headed out of the store with my motley assortment of jammies, I thought, “I really wish they made some of those cute, twirly dresses with spaceships or robots because my daughter would totally wear that.” And then, “Maybe I should do that!”

When I asked Eva if she wanted to work together on this idea, she immediately said yes. Since that first conversation, back in April 2013, we’ve been united in our goal to provide clothing options for girls like my daughter who love twirly dresses, sparkles, and pink and who also love spaceships, dinosaurs, and pirates. And to provide options for the parents, like me, who want to honor their daughters’ feminine fashion choices and also help maintain their interest in science and pirates. We know a lot of little girls out there who fit this profile, and we want them to be able to wear all that they are in one article of clothing.

MS: What do most clothes or toys in our current market tell girls? What do your clothes communicate to them?

R: I think when girls walk through the aisles of most mainstream clothing stores, they are implicitly told that dinosaurs, trucks, cars, space, pirates, and so many other topics are “for boys” because you simply don’t find those things on the girls’ side of the aisle. There is nothing wrong with the rainbows, butterflies, and flowers that are offered to girls – we love those things, too! – but we want our clothes to help communicate to girls that dinosaurs (and trains, spaceships, robots, etc.) are just as much “for girls” as they are “for boys.” We want our clothes to communicate to girls that having feminine style preferences and enjoying hard science (or construction equipment or conceptual mathematics) are not mutually exclusive.

MS: How have people responded to your Kickstarter campaign? 

E: It is so wonderful to hear the stories people have told us about how their girls dress and play – all the same things we’ve observed spending time around children – that kids have a wide range of interests and that they want to wear all of those interests all at once.

R: The response has been so overwhelmingly positive that we’ve been blown away. Parents are clearly looking for more and different options for their girls than what they can find in mainstream stores.

MS: What types of clothing do you offer? What are the prints or themes of your collection?

E:  Right now we are starting with play dresses and skirted snapsuits for infants in five themes: pi, dinosaurs, pirates, atomic shells, and ninja. Our play dresses are made from 100% cotton and are soft, stretchy, easy to move in, and easy to layer with a long-sleeved shirt and leggings.

R: We are also immediately moving our line of Busy Dresses into development. Each of our Busy Dresses features a different form of transportation – trains, planes, or cars – that is attached to the dress which the wearer can drive, fly, or chug around the tracks, clouds, or road stitched onto the shirt of the dress.

MS: What are your dreams for Princess Awesome? 

E: We hope first to change the way people think about girls’ clothes by offering something new and different. We hope our company is just the first of many to offer clothes that reflect everything girls are and do and can be.

R: We hope to continue to grow and expand and offer many different lines of dresses as well as other apparel that feature a range of themes from chemistry to fine art for young girls and up through teenagers. Throughout our growth, we are committed to manufacturing in the U.S. with sweatshop-free labor.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine? 

E: My own mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother have most directly influenced me and given me confidence and courage. Outside my family, my heroine is Judith Martin (Miss Manners), who taught me that being polite and proper does not mean being a pushover.

R: I’d also have to say my mom. She has taught me so much about how to understand other people, how to communicate effectively and clearly, how to understand myself, and how to prioritize what really matters.

MS: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

E: We are so grateful to everyone who has supported our project!  We are thrilled to be able to make awesome clothes for awesome girls, particularly here in America with sweatshop-free American labor.

R: We have also gotten to know many other companies that are expanding the clothing options for girls (and boys, too!). They were all founded by moms who had experiences similar to ours and couldn’t find clothes that fully encapsulated all that their kids were and enjoyed. Girls Will Be, Jill and Jack Kids, Jessy & Jack, Quirkie Kids, Handsome in Pink, and Princess Free Zone (as well at the current and upcoming Kickstarters Svaha and buddingSTEM) – just to name a few. These companies are doing amazing work.

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Like Princess Awesome on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Princess-Awesome/175354239328989

 

You can pre-order Princess Awesome clothing here: https://princess-awesome.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders

Q&A with Kathrine Switzer, first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon

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Melissa Seymour: Hi Kathrine! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Kathrine Switzer: While I was never a ‘professional’ athlete, it is running that shaped my life and is still a kind of hub of my life.  From that has come a profound determination and activism to empower women everywhere and help them achieve equal status in society. Running helps do that, or at least realize many inequities. I mostly earn my living as a speaker and also a TV commentator, but I am asked every day for my opinions; this questionnaire is another example. I am a journalist by training and by passion; next to running (and my husband!) I love to write and find that the most fulfilling thing for me. I have authored 4 books –‘Running and Walking for Women Over 40’ (2 editions, first in 1998; 2nd a re-vamped and updated E-book version launched last week), my memoir ‘Marathon Woman’ and co-authored with my husband Roger Robinson, ’26.2 Marathon Stories’.

MS: What was it like running the 1967 Boston Marathon? 

KS: I discovered early that running always made me feel powerful, free and fearless. The longer I ran, the stronger I felt so the 26.2-mile distance intrigued me. The Boston Marathon, which was founded in 1897, was the most famous race in the world to me next to the Olympics. Yet unlike the Olympics, it was supposedly open to anyone who wanted to try to run. So, of course, it was a frightening experience when the race director attacked me in the race and tried to rip off my bib numbers.  He was furious that I was a woman who had entered what he claimed was a men’s only race. The above photos of him assaulting me are in Time-Life’s book, “100 Photos That Changed the World.”

MS: How did that moment change your life?

KS: In short, it changed my life completely—and it therefore changed millions of women’s lives around the world.  It gave me a sense of vision, even radicalized me, and gave me a life plan.  Running a marathon always changes your life, but this was a particularly massive change.

MS: What was it like being featured in the documentary The Makers

KS: Overwhelming. First to be in such legendary company.  And also because I had no idea that they would use so much of my interview and that I would open the whole show.  But what happened to me in the Boston Marathon was a dramatic example of an ‘awakening’, and the first part of that Makers documentary was about how we see things often for the first time, when a moment of total clarity flashes on like a light.  Makers was important to me; it took my story to many thousands of people.

MS: What’s a motto you live by?

KS: Be Fearless. Be Free. Be grateful.

MS: Could you tell us a little bit about your new book? Why did you decide to write it?

KS: It’s an updated version of my first book, ‘Running and Walking for Women Over 40,’ which sold well  and continues to sell, but now is 17 years old.  So an updated version was important and it was also important to do this as an E-book, with so many millions of women entering running at 40, 50, 60 and even 75 years of age, they are needing current advice.  We’re into whole new generations. It is phenomenal seeing these women run and walk—some for the first time, some who are just getting older.  They are changing their lives and living so well and happily.   They inspire me!  Older women love E-books as they can enlarge the type. I loved this edition as I put in a lot of photos of women who just did the impossible after age 40, and it is cool to see their photos, as well.

MS: What advice do you have for other women going into careers/sports made up primarily of men?  

KS: That if you are personally fit and prepared yourself, you will have a sense of empowerment that nobody can take away from you.  And when you feel this way, you can meet men on equal and friendly terms and work well as a team, and not be intimidated.  Most people, men too, are perfectly companionable when you are not defensive and know your stuff.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

KS: All those women out there who finally give themselves permission to take time for themselves to do what they really want, and that includes getting fit, losing weight, getting an education, going for it in the job market and overcoming their own self-doubts and fears. As I say in my book:   “Sometimes our greatest acts of courage are when we take the first steps for ourselves.”

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Check out Kathrine’s new book Running and Walking for Women Over 40 here: http://diversionbooks.com/ebooks/running-and-walking-women-over-40

Q&A with NYT Best Selling Author, Andrea Beaty

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Melissa Seymour: Hi, Andrea! Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Andrea Beaty: I am the author of ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER, IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT, ATTACK OF THE FLUFFY BUNNIES and other books for kids. I previously studied biology and computer science and worked in IT for many years. Now, I write books about wonder, passion, and killer alien rabbits. I also visit schools around the world (in person and via skype) to share my passion for creativity, writing, and books.

MS: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Why?

AB: I never set out to be a writer. I was about thirty when I came to it. Before that, I was busy exploring everything that interested me: biology, computers, literature, history, music. Everything. When I started reading books with my kids, I started getting ideas for stories. My exploration ultimately made me a writer. It gave me stories to tell. That is why I tell kids to read everything they can and to explore all the things that interest them. Everything is connected. You never know where it might lead!

MS: We absolutely love Rosie Revere, Engineer! Why did you decide to write this book?

AB: Thank you. I also love this kid. She is smart and curious and passionate. (This seems to be a theme in my books.) I wrote the story after I saw David Robert’s illustrations for IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT. David is simply brilliant.

The students in Miss Lila Greer’s classroom intrigued me. As in any group of kids, they have their own personalities and talents. I was especially curious about Rosie after I realized that she never reveals both of her eyes in the book. She shyly tries to hide behind her swooping bangs.

I knew I wanted her to be an engineer because I figured she would have lots of great ideas. (And I wanted to see what wonders David would help her create.) As always, his illustrations were amazing. As with IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT, the illustrations are deceptively simple looking, but they contain so much humor and funny hidden details. I have read each book hundreds of times and still find things I had not seen before. Also, there are lots of tiny references between the two books. Kids love finding them.

MS: What was it like finding out that your book was a New York Times Best Seller?

AB: It was terrific affirmation that Rosie was reaching kids. Authors and illustrators send our books out into the world and have no clue how a book is doing for six months and often longer. I knew immediately that Rosie was connecting from the wonderful letters parents sent. Rosie inspired their kids to start inventing. They also wanted to hear the book over and over again. The NYT list was proof that lots of families were finding the book.

One of the most exciting things for me is that Rosie helps kids embrace the idea that it’s okay to fail as long as you don’t give up. That is an enormously big deal. Kids are so often their own toughest critics and they shut down if things don’t go the way they envision. Rosie shows them that it’s okay. Brush off the disappointment. Figure out what you can do differently. Learn from it and enjoy the process. And have fun! Joy is such a key to learning.

It is also thrilling to see so many girls read ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER and immediately decide that they want to be engineers. For many, it will be a passing idea. Personally, I had 7,000 careers before I was twelve. But for some, it will become a lifelong goal. And in either case, for engineer to be on that list of options for girls is terrific!

MS: Why are strong girl characters so important in children’s literature?

AB: We read literature for lots of reasons. It amuses us. It takes us to places and times we can’t visit on our own. It builds empathy. At its best, literature teaches us how to deal with life.

We can see ourselves in characters that are not exactly like us. That is why boys also connect to ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER and girls like IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT. But when a reader sees a character that is like them, it makes the story much more real.

Identifying with a character lets us envision ourselves facing and overcoming the same problems. If a shy girl named Rosie can overcome doubt, create a crazy cheese-copter, and deal with its failure, maybe a girl reading the book can make an invention to help someone. That belief makes her stronger and braver and bolder. That belief sets loose an energy that knows no bounds. I truly believe that when we embolden and empower girls, we change the world.

MS: How do you think women are represented in the media? Do you think this affects girls?

AB: The way media represents women is destructive and it affects our girls and our boys. I think it is a mistake to focus solely on how this affects girls. Both must have realistic views of themselves and each other. Neither can develop a realistic view of women (or men for that matter) based on the unattainable, hyper-photoshopped mutant models presented in advertising and the media.

When my daughter and son were very young, I made it my job at every single trip to the grocery store to point out the crazy stupid magazine covers. It was tedious and annoying and crazy-making, but it taught them to question the messages they see all around them. It is absurd and warped that anyone should have to teach their kids what women (and men) really look like. Our species has survived for a long, long time without having to do that. And yet, here we are.

I do take heart—a little—that people are starting to wake up about this. The backlash to the Princess Merida changes by Disney made my heart sing. Ultimately, though, we control this. We have got to pony up and stop buying into the nonsense. And that means stop supporting magazines, toys, movies, video games, or TV shows that distort how women are portrayed. Stand up and call people out on it. Money drives this whole thing. Stop making it profitable. Then it will change.

Also, we need to change how we talk to girls. We so often make appearances the focus of what we say to girls. We don’t do that with boys. I have been guilty of this many times and am trying to break this habit.

Now, when I meet kids at events, I ask each of them one simple question:  What do you make? The answers amaze me. AND, they do not follow expected gender boundaries. They are a wonderful jumble of art and engineering and everything else all tossed in together.

Every kid has something they are passionate about. Find a way to make that the first thing you discuss with them. It shows them that you care and that what they do is far more important than how they look. Ultimately, that is the best weapon to fight off all the other nonsense.

MS: What was your favorite book as a child?

AB: Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman was my favorite. I spent hour upon hour pouring over the illustration at the end and contemplating what I would do if I was invited to a big dog party like that. (We had dogs, but they never invited me to their parties.) The dogs in this book had a trampoline, a trapeze, and cake!  How could a person choose? As I got older, I loved Nancy Drew & Trixie Beldon mysteries. I even had a detective club after school with my friend. Our pledge was the Miranda Act. Clearly, I also spent too much time watching Dragnet.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

AB: My biggest heroes are my parents. They worked so hard their entire lives so that their six kids could have good educations. My success is only possible because of them. My mom gave us all an enormous love of books. I was raised in a town of 300 people and our house had more books in it than the rest of the whole town. Including the school. That made an impression.

My other heroes are my in-laws, my aunts and uncles and the people of their generation who literally saved the world in WWII. ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER is dedicated to them. We have an unpayable debt to them for doing what was needed when it was needed the most.

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Q&A with Dr. Meenakshi Gigi Durham: Author of the Lolita Effect

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Melissa Seymour: Hello, Dr. Meenakshi Gigi Durham! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Dr. Meenakshi Gigi Durham: I’m a professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa; my research specialization is feminist media studies, and I study and write about representations of gender and sexuality in the media.

MS: Why did you write the Lolita Effect? When did you become aware of these problems? Was there a specific moment?

MGD: I wrote the book for a few reasons: to draw attention to the issue of the sexualization of young girls in the media and the social repercussions of that phenomenon; to make a distinction between “sexualization” and more progressive, open, healthy conceptions of girls’ sexuality; and to translate my research and that of other feminist scholars into a form that was accessible and available to general audiences. I’m not sure I can identify a key moment when I became aware of the issue – it developed gradually, especially during the mid-1990s, when a number of studies were recognizing some of the complications and problems associated with girls’ adolescence in American culture. I began to wonder how the media were implicated in these problems.

MS: What’s the most important thing a parent can explain to their children about the media?

MGD: First of all, that the media, especially the entertainment media, are filled with myths — media images and messages are not “reality” but constructions that seem real, so they should be recognized as something close to fiction; and second, that these constructions of reality are tied to profit motives, so the representations are designed to maximize advertising revenues for the media industries and are not at all in the best interests of the audience members.

MS: Do you think that the media is changing? For better or for worse?

MGD: I can’t say I see any great changes, as the underlying structures — the dependence on advertising, the commercial motivations, the circulation of myths of femininity and sexuality — have stayed the same for decades now. But if anything, it’s getting worse: the media industries are targeting younger and younger children with sexualized and retrograde messages, and the constructions of “ideal” femininity have become even more unattainable and narrowly defined.

MS: Should we try to censor children from the media? Is this possible?

MGD: I’m absolutely not an advocate of censorship. I am much more in favor of open public discussions of important issues that could lead to pro-social change. But some form of regulation might be helpful; this is the case in Scandinavian countries, which are havens for free speech but which also recognize the developmental differences between children and adults.

MS: What are you planning to work on in the future?

MGD: I’m currently writing a couple of academic articles about sexual violence against women and girls. After that, I’m hoping to begin work on a book of essays about media and contemporary girlhood.

MS: How can people take action and try to change the media or advertisements?

MGD: Expressing your views directly to media corporations can be effective. Monitoring your media environment, as well as your child’s, to try to avoid misogynist and harmful media content is another step you can take. Boycotting products that use sexist advertising, and publicizing the boycott, is a good way to challenge sexism in popular culture. I’m also an advocate of media literacy programs that help people develop analytical skills so that they can be active media consumers rather than passive audiences.  I think media literacy should be part of every K-12 curriculum: in today’s media-saturated environment, it’s as important as reading, writing and arithmetic.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

MGD: That’s a really hard one! There are so many amazing women — and men — whose activism and brilliant social critiques have changed the world. If I started listing them, it would take all day! But my work is indebted to the work of all the feminists who have gone before me.

MS: Do you have any advice for young women that are hoping to become writers, directors, producers or activists?

MGD: I’d say, let your passion guide and inspire you, and find ways to combine your energy and emotion with articulate analysis. Forge strong bonds with others who are working to change the world — coalitions and networks are important, not only in terms of making a difference, but in terms of emotional and moral support. Read the work of feminist activists whose insights offer depths of understanding as we try to tackle the world’s problems; the brilliance of our feminist foremothers will enrich your own work.  Get involved with grassroots groups in your communities, and start creating the work through which you want to share your vision: short films, essays, plays, dance performances, whatever. These days you can post your videos to Youtube or blog or submit your writing to local literary journals; eventually, you will gain a wider audience. Above all, keep striving for change — there’s so much to be done!

photo credit: Overlook Press

Q&A with Brenda Chapman: Director of the Pixar film Brave

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Melissa Seymour: Hi, Brenda! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Brenda Chapman: I’m a mother, writer, director, artist and storyteller.


MS: What was it like co-directing the Pixar film Brave?

BC: Well, first, I didn’t co-direct. I was sole director of the film until I was replaced in the 11th hour. Sorry, it’s a bit of a sticking point for me. 🙂


MS: What challenges did you face?

BC: Well the big one is my answer above. I faced the challenges that most directors face – creating a compelling story, creating good characters – it just doesn’t come that easily. Also when you have many notes coming from many different people above you, it’s hard to hang on to your vision as the director.


MS: What made this project so rewarding?

BC: That despite it all, in the end, it was still the story I’d been struggling to tell. That I could still see my daughter in Merida – she inspired the character – and that the mother/daughter story seemed to resonate with so many people, not just women. I’ve had many letters and emails from mothers and daughters who relate so much with the characters, and I also have received quite a few from men who love that they can see their mothers, wives, sisters or daughters in Merida and Elinor… or themselves in Fergus. 🙂


MS: Tell us a bit about the A Mighty Girl’s “Keep Merida Brave” campaign. Why is it so important to 
keep Merida her child-like, stubborn, strong-willed self?

BC: Because she’s a different kind of princess – one girls can relate more to than the pretty, helpless heroines of the past. She goes out and gets what she wants. She makes big mistakes and has to try to put them right, and learns something about herself … and her mother… along the way. To change her to look like the other princesses of Disney past is to say she isn’t good enough as she is. That’s a horrible message to send to children.

And I hope no one tries to make another Merida. There are so many different types of characters that girls can be – let’s discover them! Let’s inspire girls with all the different possibilities – lets explore different stories in which girl protagonists can struggle and shine through.


MS: Why are campaigns like #BraveGirlsWant important?

BC: Young girls have so long been fed these stereotypically passive characters, sexualized characters, marginalized characters – it’s time to say “Hey! That’s enough!” We need to stand up for ourselves and not let society and the media try to make us less than who we are.


MS: How can we increase the number of women directors?

BC: Getting the men who run the studios to crack open their minds and give more women the opportunity. Or getting more women to run the studios. I know there are plenty of talented women out there who would be ready and willing to take on either job!


MS: Do you think it’s important for women to mentor other women in their field?

BC: Of course! And I think the majority of women do. I know it’s said that women tend to scorn other women in the workplace, but I have  yet to see that. Maybe it still happens, but I think the more we bring this issue forward, the less that will happen.

It’s important to mentor, but also important to set an example. Our failures are just as important as our successes. We have to show how we handle adversity, so when the younger women and girls come up against it, then they can look to us and say, “If you can do it, we can do that, too!”


MS: What are you currently working on?

BC: I’m developing a couple of projects for DreamWorks Animation… can’t tell you anything about them, unfortunately.


MS: What do you hope to work on in the future?

BC: Stories with female protagonists. In the past, I never thought about it that much, but after everything surrounding BRAVE, I realize that it’s sorely needed. I may make films, I may write books. I’m looking forward to it all.


MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

BC: My mom.


MS: Do you have any advice for young women striving to become directors, producers, or writers?

BC: Don’t give up. When you get knocked down, get back up. Watch movies, read books, love your art.

photo credit: http://www.hdwallpapers.in/walls/disney_pixar_brave-wide.jpg