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Interviews with Interesting Jews: Laurel Wider, Creator of Wonder Crew

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Wonder Crew is a new line of toys for preschool-aged boys, designed to break out of the traditional stereotypes of masculinity in our society. Their creator, Laurel Wider, is a psychotherapist, and her idea for Wonder Crew came out of her work. She hopes that the Crewmates (dolls, really) will help boys to build emotional intelligence, confidence, and imagination. I talked with Laurel about the inspiration behind Wonder Crew, how to change the conversation about masculinity, and fighting with history teachers in Jewish day school.

What inspired you to create Wonder Crew?

I’ve always been aware of and frustrated by gender inequality and the way our culture categorizes and limits people based on gender. My lens for a long time was just my own experience as a girl and then a woman. I grew up in Dallas, Texas where at the time it seemed like boys got to do all the cool things and girls were left behind. I was a tomboy. I was the first girl to play on an all boys JCC basketball team–it seemed like I was constantly fighting to pursue my interests or to be seen as an equal to my male friends.

When I began my work as a therapist, I started to see the other side of the equation–I began to notice that boys and men were also limited by gender norms. Not just limited though: I’ve seen so much pain caused by feelings of failure. Failing at “being a man” or not living up to the boy/man code.

READ: Parenting Boys: Is it Different?

I was floored when my 3-year-old (now 4-year-old) son got a hold of the message that “boys aren’t supposed to cry.” These messages are everywhere and impact everyone. Play has the power to impact child development; play is how kids learn. I began to notice that so many of the toys marketed to boys were heavy on muscles and aggression and NONE offered a play experience that encouraged or validated connection or nurturing. I wanted to change this. Knowing that change is something that’s generally gradual, I went for the hybrid approach and basically merged a friendly action figure with the favorite stuffed animal. Wonder Crew is a line of Crewmates (aka dolls) that bring connection and kindness to boys’ play.

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What impact do you see Wonder Crew having on kids (including your own)?

Right now Wonder Crew is basically mixing what’s already popular in boy culture with opportunities to nurture and connect. In doing this, we’re showing boys (and everyone around them) that nurturing fits in with all kinds of play, even the kind that’s seen as “traditionally” masculine. Imagine if we encouraged ALL kids to connect, have their feelings, and essentially just be themselves… we’d have a much happier, healthier world.

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What stereotypes do you hope Wonder Crew will combat?

Enough with “boys will be boys!” Enough with “man up!” This isn’t working.

I want to help expand the conversation on masculinity. I want boys to embrace all aspects of themselves.

Also in the future Wonder Crew intends to be an interest-based brand, not gender-based. The goal is to represent all kids (race, gender, ability) and adventures will cover a variety of interests. This would have been my doll growing up!

Are there aspects of Wonder Crew that are inspired by Judaism?

I went to a Jewish day school until middle school–I recall countless debates with teachers over women’s roles. I remember feeling frustrated and at times angry with differential treatment between girls and boys–the world felt unfair. For example, I was the kid who convinced all of my friends to wear pants under their skirts because it seemed ridiculous not to have this option. This experience continued in public school, just in a different way.

As I got older, I was the kid who got in trouble for arguing with my history teachers about why we weren’t learning about the women. It wasn’t until I started my work as a therapist that I began to truly understand the other side of the equation: that boys and men also felt boxed in by gender norms.

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What makes you kvell?  

Kids being themselves!

For more about Wonder Crew, check out Laurel’s Kickstarter page (the funding deadline is April 2!), watch this interview she did on PBS, or check out these articles from The Chicago Tribune, Good Men Project, and the Rock Father.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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