The new fairy-tale princess

‘Gangly Sister’ presents educated heroines for young girls

Characters Nine (left) and Purple try to solve the world’s problems through new inventions. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Characters Nine (left) and Purple try to solve the world’s problems through new inventions.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Little girls all over the world play dress-up; they put on their mother’s pearl necklaces, paint lipstick across their faces, and prance around in high heels. Similarly, fathers across the globe call their daughters “little princesses,” with machines in grocery stores carry princess accessories for a mere 25 cents.
The world is obsessed with princesses.
This fixation is exactly what Miriam Lottner and Rebecca Rachmany, the founders of Gangly Sister, are trying to change.
Lottner and Rachmany want girls to shift their focus from trying to find their prince to becoming scientists, engineers and computer programmers. Gangly Sister was founded by the pair in 2006 to encourage girls to enter STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics, fields which traditionally have been dominated by men.
Lottner and Rachmany found inspiration through frustration; being talked down to at board meetings in their previous careers and desperately unhappy with the programming choices for their own daughters, they decided to create what they could not find. This is how Gangly Sister came to join the millions of videos currently swirling around YouTube.
The co-founders have created what they hope will ultimately become a television series, noting that they have been contacted by television stations. For now, it remains a single online video, with the lofty goal of providing a platform that inspires girls to enter STEM.
The two are thoroughly involved in every step of the process, although they have hired someone to assist in writing scripts and to do the animation and art. Their staff generally has experience in business and entertainment, with Lottner having previously sold television shows internationally, and art director and animator Ofer Rubin having worked on several animated projects himself. There are plans to bring on another writer with specific cartoon experience.
Yet Lottner and Rachmany take pains to emphasize that they are just two women wanting to make a change.
While they both attend and speak at various events and conferences, they admit there is no system for creating a script, and no specific process or formula is followed. Instead, they are “constantly talking to people.” This method, while ironically unscientific, has inspired the first 12 episodes they hope to create, once they can secure the necessary funding.
This is also something they are still figuring out, and like their ultimate goal of a television series, the road to each is yet to be determined. Each episode costs $12,000 to produce and they have currently raised less than $6,000. Focus is now being shifted from grassroots fund-raising to seeking out seed investment.
There are currently 12 episodes planned and, like the pilot, each is based on inspiration from real life. Whether it’s an invention discovered at a technology conference or an idea thought up by staff, the aim is to be universal, for young girls to broaden their minds.
Gangly Sister’s pilot episode has already been released in both English and Spanish, with plans to release it in Chinese within the next month. (While it is an Israeli production, the pilot has not been released in Hebrew, but has Hebrew subtitles.) Lottner notes that English, Spanish and Chinese are the top three languages online, and their goal is a global audience. There are plans to expand this audience, to build off their current success – the tens of thousands of views the pilot episode received.
That being said, a simple Google search reveals that there are thousands of videos with similar numbers. Attention spans these days, particularly those of children, are increasingly short. As such, the more time passes, the more important it is to capitalize on their success.
Topics for the series range from transportation to clean water, electricity, navigation and ecology. Gangly Sister also aims to tackle topics like bullying, and encourage inclusiveness. One of the ways they have tried to do this is in the creation of the characters Purple and Nine, which are specifically designed so that girls of all races and nationalities can relate. Lottner and Rachmany want girls to see themselves, no matter what their origins, as equals, and believe anything is possible.
Moreover, the characters are physically imperfect, even flawed. They have acne, wear glasses and have unmanageable hair; all this is done with the intention of inclusiveness. In this way, the co-founders consult a psychologist and educational consultant to ensure their characters are not exclusive in any way, and that if such situations arise, the scripts teach girls how to deal with the stress in positive ways.
The series does not have any purely evil characters, unlike many traditional cartoons. Rather, there are characters that are neither all bad nor all good.
These characters can get in the way and be a hindrance, but are also an inspiration.
Lottner and Rachmany feel there is no need for more violence in entertainment, and that there are enough characters out there using magic to kill evil villains. They are instead working to teach young girls to solve their problems through creative and positive avenues.
The staff at Gangly Sister strives to find a balance between teaching technology and productive methods of problem-solving, while avoiding overwhelming their current target audience – girls whose average age is seven. They are not trying to counter any one specific program; instead they are like Goldilocks, fighting programming that is either too young or too mature, too evil or too unintelligent. They are looking to create something that is just right.
The two have had it with magic and unicorns, Lottner explains: “I have seven- year-old twin girls and there is literally nothing I want them to watch on television. It’s horrible programming.”
This is the need they are trying to fill, to create programming mothers can feel good about encouraging their daughters to watch. Lottner continues: “We are a generation of smart women, and we are accepting that we are letting our kids’ watch demeaning, demoralizing, dehumanizing, sexist programming.”
Ultimately, women enter a number of fields through various avenues, and how do Lottner and Rachmany plan to translate Gangly Sister into something tangible? How do they know they are inspiring girls to enter these male-dominated fields? This is something they say is in the works; one thing they are working on is an app that will enable accumulation of tangible results after each episode.
Lottner and Rachmany also believe that the hundreds of emails praising their work is such tangible proof; however, it is yet to be seen how many – if any – of the girls watching their video will so be inspired that they enter a STEM field.
Something tangible they do want to get involved in is Girls Who Code, a branch of Women Who Code, a national nonprofit working to close the gender gap in the technology and engineering sectors. Additionally, they have been contacted by both American and international science foundations, with whom they hope to create relationships and programs. In fact, the creators say they are overwhelmed by the numerous responses and offers of partnership.
What Lottner and Rachmany ultimately desire is to make an impact, to create something different that will inspire girls to succeed in using their intelligence. They want their girls, and girls all over the world, to grow up into superheroes – but not the traditional heroines, believing that “very little of the media reflects the values our children need to grow into superhero adults.”
Lottner and Rachmany want to inspire heroes who do not need or use glitter or magic, but instead invent out-of- the-box solutions to their problems using math, science, and technology – and positive messages.