Olivia Wilde & James Van Der Beek Stick It to the Parenting Patriarchy

Tearing down centuries of systemic oppression and gender norms is hard, but that hasn’t discouraged actors Olivia Wilde and James Van Der Beek from tackling the patriarchy.

Wilde, who shares kids Otis Alexander and Daisy Josephine with husband, Jason Sudeikis, has long been open about her desire to raise her kids as feminists and her efforts to break down gender inequality at home and in her career. But even Wilde admits that sometimes she slips up.

“You have to check yourself,” she told Us Weekly at the Alice by Heart opening in New York this week. “Sometimes, because of the way we were all raised, you find yourself falling into the grooves of the old paradigm, and you say things like, ‘In that crown, you look like a princess,’ instead of a king or a queen. I caught myself doing that the other day. I really was ashamed. I thought… I’m perpetuating the patriarchy.”

Wilde doesn’t let such hiccups deflate her for too long, though. “I try to correct that by just encouraging [my daughter] to be whoever she wants to be,” she added.

It’s refreshing to hear anyone, let alone a celebrity with a significant platform, admit that sticking it to the patriarchy is an everyday process that requires energy, time and compassion when people inevitably make mistakes.

It also requires adults to lead by example, which is something Van Der Beek says he’s striving to do for his son.

The father of five shared a heartwarming Instagram post on Tuesday in which he called out toxic masculinity and phrases like, “Be a man,” “Don’t cry,” and “Suck it up.”

“Being a real man means being strong enough to be empathetic. To be sensitive. To be caring, kind, and confident enough to appreciate and nurture your feminine side,” the actor explained. “If you start with that as a base, all that other stereotypically ‘manly’ behavior (none of which is exclusive to males, btw) might just accomplish some good.”

While I’d argue that traits like empathy, compassion and sensitivity aren’t “feminine” in nature (all genders have emotions!), Van Der Beek’s overall point is a good one. Far too often, society tells boys they have to be strong and emotionless, that they are less valuable if they cry or enjoy anything other than contact sports. Additionally, society expects girls to be meek, subservient and bubbly. All children should have a chance to experience the things that bring them happiness, whether they love theater, rock climbing, dolls or toy trucks.

Will it always be easy encouraging our children’s interests, especially when they challenge our preconceived notions about gender? No, but as Wilde and Van Der Beek demonstrated, that’s OK. What matters most is that we try to give kids the best chance possible to grow up in a household, and one day a world, that values them for who they are: unique individuals who deserve to experience all of the joys life has to offer.

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