Conversation with The New York Times

Dolls That Nurture Boys’ Empathy

By Emily F. Popek


“Boys have feelings.”

That’s the simple message behind Wonder Crew dolls, which Laurel Wider, a psychotherapist based in Northampton, Mass., developed in 2015 after her son came home from preschool and announced that his teacher had told him: “Boys aren’t supposed to cry.”

Ms. Wider said she remembers feeling “floored.”

“I couldn’t imagine how he could get this message,” she said. “I’m a therapist; we talk about feelings all the time at home.”

But she realized that despite her efforts, her son was still being exposed to rigid ideas about gender.

“There was a wave of toys coming out around that time, toys that were encouraging girls to get involved with STEM, changing the way girls see themselves, and I thought to myself, ‘What about boys?’,” she said.

She began to do research. She spoke with more than 150 parents, educators and people in the toy industry to try to answer that question.

“I heard so many stories about boys literally stealing their sisters’ dolls, or playing with dolls in private — there was definitely some shame around it,” Ms. Wider explained. “I wanted to find a way to bridge that gap.”

She came up with Wonder Crew dolls, which she said are “inspired by boys, but truly meant for any child.”

The 15-inch molded dolls, which come in a range of characters and skin tones, are packaged with dress-up gear so that the child and doll can take on the same pretend persona — playing as superheroes, firefighters, astronauts or other adventurous duos.

The “Superhero Will” Wonder Crew doll won Doll of the Year at the New York Toy Fair in February.

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