A cartoon for smart girls

The cartoon features two 10-year-old girls, Purple Isosceles and Nine Helix, who attempt to resolve their problems using technology.

Nine Helix of the Gangly Girls. (photo credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT)
Nine Helix of the Gangly Girls.
(photo credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT)
It’s difficult to believe at the start of the 21st century, but throughout the Western world, professional women are still banging their heads against the glass ceiling – the invisible barrier that prevents women from reaching the higher echelons of authority in corporations and other organizations.
“We’ve been hitting our heads against the ceiling for essentially the whole time we’ve been in hi-tech in Israel, and now we’re saying enough is enough,” asserts Miriam Lottner, who, with co-founders Rebecca Rachmany, Michael Church and Ofer Reuven, has created the animated series Gangly Sister.
Touted as a “cartoon for smart girls,” Gangly Sister launched on YouTube a few months ago. It features two 10-year-old girls, Purple Isosceles and Nine Helix, who attempt to resolve their problems using technology.
In the first episode, Purple unintentionally breaks some chess pieces that her father brought her from Africa, and she learns how to build a 3D printer in order to reconstruct the broken pieces. Helping the girls in their efforts is a mouthless ferret, who runs amok through the Internet collecting information.
“We want a million girls to think a little differently about technology,” says Lottner. “That’s why we chose the subject of 3D printing for our first episode. To a 10-year-old girl, 3D printing technology could be really intimidating and challenging, or it could be, ‘Wow! We can print a heart valve, or we can print solutions to problems that can save people’s lives.’ We want to show young girls the exciting, fun side of technology, engineering and math.”
Lottner and Rachmany first came up with the concept of creating an animated series to encourage young girls to explore the worlds of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) some 10 years ago.
“We made a pilot,” says Lottner, “but at the time there were no distribution channels other than the traditional TV networks, which told us, okay, give us an entire season and we’ll buy it from you. But we didn’t have the resources to create that many episodes, so the project was put on hold until now.”
Without deviating from the basic concept, the original script was rewritten to reflect today’s issues. Ten years ago, the story described how the girls were sucked into the Internet, and together with their helper, an Internet worm, they fought off predators.
Explains Lottner, “In those days, it was more about personal security, and Purple and Nine had all sorts of adventures within the Internet, helped out by their friend, the worm. The challenges are different today, and we came up with the idea of a ferret who would carry out contextual searches; ferreting out information is much more relevant today than security.”
She adds, “We chose the ferret because it is a really funny and positive character. A ferret is the friend you never wanted but can’t get away from. It’s a pleasure-seeking, information-gathering creature that combines intellectual curiosity with a lack of social skills, has no understanding of social mores – and it also allows us to be creative and keep the kids interested without the need for magic wands, fairies and stardust.”
Lottner and Rachmany made aliya in the early 1990s from Los Angeles and New York respectively, and over the years held a number of managerial and marketing positions in Israeli hi-tech. They were inspired to resuscitate Gangly Sister when, after they had been running a successful technical communication outsourcing company together, Microsoft approached them with an offer to manage a start-up.
“We did the research,” says Lottner, “and we realized that we were looking at a $5 million business. And then we asked each other, are you passionate about this? Does this make your heart sing? Are you going to get up in the morning and scream with joy? And we both said no. And that’s when we said, let’s go back to Gangly, because that’s what we’re passionate about.
Their goal, she continues, “is to interact with a million girls. We want a million girls to think a little differently about themselves. Ask little girls today what they want to be when they grow up, and they answer: a Disney princess.
I think we’re doing them a disservice. I think we’re failing.
We want our daughters to think, math – cool, science – cool. If girls believe that science, engineering and math is too hard, then they are not going to study these subjects when they get to high school. This is simply leaving matters too late. They’ve closed themselves out of the world of possibilities. So the idea is to start earlier and to send girls messages that it’s not too hard for you, it’s not too difficult – it’s exciting, it’s challenging and it’s fun.”
According to Lottner, the participation of women in management positions is declining, despite an increase in the number of women STEM graduates.
“Women tend to devalue themselves,” she says. “We tend to ask for a lower salary, to apologize for having children, to shy away from taking a more responsible position. I want today’s girls to open themselves up to the world of possibilities, to know that everything is accessible to them.”
The name Gangly Sister stems from the awkwardness of girls who fall into the tween bracket, between 10 and 12 years old; girls whose legs are too long, who feel out of place and that nothing fits or feels right. Purple, the creators say, is a universal name representing every girl of color, whether she’s Hispanic, black or Asian.
“And purple happens to be our favorite color, too,” smiles Lottner. “We wanted a name that wasn’t pink and sparkly, but a color that people could relate to. The most amazing feedback we’ve received is from girls of color saying, you’ve nailed me to a T.”
Feedback from both young girls and their mothers has been encouraging. One mother of a 12-year-old related how her daughter, who hates math and science, spent 45 minutes looking up 3D printing after watching the episode. Responses have come from the US, Africa and Asia. The first episode was also produced in Spanish and proved popular in Spanish-speaking countries. Remarks Lottner, “We didn’t do too well in England, though – I guess we don’t get British humor.”
Providing the voices of Purple and Nine, respectively, are Maya, Rachmany’s daughter, and Liat Shapiro, daughter of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro.
Co-founder Church is the scriptwriter who brings Lottner’s and Rachmany’s ideas to life, and Reuben is the animator and in charge of all technical aspects of production.
Scripts have been written for two more episodes, and the Gangly Sister creators are actively looking for investors in order to continue production. Plans for the future involve the development of an app that will allow viewers to interact with the episode.
Summing up, Lottner relates a conversation she had with one of her six-year-old twin daughters: “One of my girls is interested in the moon, the stars and constellations, and when I said, you can be an astronaut, she said, really, girls can do that? And I said, people can do anything, you just have to want it. Yes, you can be anything.” 
Website: https://www.youtube.com/user/GanglySister