Olivia Wilde isn’t kidding about equality.
The actress and mother of two penned an empowering essay for NBC News this week about how she’s committed to raising her son and daughter to believe that gender equality is universal, not controversial.
“As a parent, I’m trying very hard to reject traditional messaging of gender roles,” she wrote. “If my son equates his dad’s strength with Wonder Woman, I am given hope; hope that he never develops the artificial mental barriers — so prevalent in our society — that limit what women can and can’t do.”
Wilde says she encourages her daughter to embrace her love of male superheroes like Spiderman and the blue Power Ranger, while still playing with her doll collection. “I do really try to make sure that neither of my kids put themselves into binary categories,” she said.
When it comes to instilling values of gender equality in kids at home, Dr. Fran Walfish, an expert child psychologist, told Moneyish that it starts with parents getting real about their own personal biases, and being self-aware enough so that they don’t project them onto their kids.
“Each parent needs to take an honest, painful look within, and own up to their personal biases, values, prejudices, and expectations,” Dr. Walfish said. “Write down on paper your long-term future wishes for a girl and a boy child. Compare and contrast. Force yourself to face your own values and belief system. Do you want your daughter to grow up, get married and have children? Is a career for your daughter as important as one for a son? Fill in as much detail as possible. Your future daily ins and outs of parenting will reflect these biases.”
Once parents recognize any biases they may have, Dr. Walfish says it’s important to be self-aware about these when parenting, like when shopping for your kids’ toys, or allowing them to take part in sports or activities that may not be within their “stereotypical” gender roles.
What’s more, if you want kids to get the message about gender equality, then start early. Research has shown that by age 6, girls already think that boys are smarter, and they become less likely to associate intelligence with their own gender. What’s more, they’re likely to avoid activities that supposedly to require intelligence, a study by New York University, the University of Illinois, and Princeton University found.
It’s also important to monitor — to the extent you can — the types of books, shows and other media that kids consume. “Kids today are still being told: If you’re a boy, you’re more powerful, you are stronger and if you’re a girl, you are the nurturer and you’re less powerful,” Wilde wrote. “It’s in the stories that we tell our children and that our children learn from pop culture.”
Of course, influence from the outside world and from your child’s peers is inevitable — and you can’t control everything, Dr. Walfish notes, adding that it’s important to show your children characters, toys and messages that are inclusive when you can.
Toy companies are starting to do their part to push gender equality in their products. Last year, Mattel expanded its American Girl doll brand to include its first ever boy; American Girl said 35% of the proceeds for its dolls go to The UN Women’s HeForShe initiative for gender equality. Hasbro rolled out more varieties of its Baby Alive doll to include boy and girl dolls in more than half a dozen different ethnicities. The doll is also now programmed to say “daddy,” to attract more boys to play with it. Meanwhile, the collectible doll company Tonner Doll Co. made a doll version of transgender teen Jazz Jennings from her namesake TLC show.
Children’s book publishers are embracing many different kinds of characters, too. Indeed, as Moneyish explored recently, books with themes of girl power, diversity and inclusiveness are ruling the best-seller lists. Wilde said that toy companies have a social responsibility to make products that equally resonate with girls and boys.“I want my son and daughter to grow up thinking girls can be Batman and boys can be Wonder Woman and that gender equality isn’t controversial or political — it’s just common sense,” she wrote.