I think there are some inherent personality traits and characteristics that we are born with, and I think there are general trends tied to gender. But how much is inherent and how much is learned?
I don't decorate well, I'm not titillated by dressing up, and I certainly won't consider wearing women's jeans (come on--there are simple structural/anatomical problems there), but I was a sensitive kid and have some tastes and interests that are not of your typical macho variety.
I think the world could certainly use more men who aren't friggin' afraid of showing tenderness towards their wives or their brothers. More women who know how to be truly assertive and confident. I like seeing little girls play in the mud, and I like seeing little boys baking. Not because I gain some perverse pleasure from seeing the little ones become twisted to make me feel less freakish. I like it because what I see is little individuals becoming well-rounded and shedding the imposed shackles of meaningless, popular tradition.
Many traditions are good. Good traditions are good. And change for the sake of change is a frivolous ideal. But I suggest that to stifle a child's natural development and slap labels on non-'normal' behavior is probably destructive. Parents are there, in my opinion, to direct their children's interests in positive ways, not to stomp out the interests the parents don't understand.
I remember a study we learned about in a college Sociology course in which they gave children stereotypically masculine and feminine toys to play with and watched their behavior from behind one-way mirrors. When they did the study with toddlers, they found no statistically significant difference, if I remember right, between what the little boys chose to play with and what the little girls chose, indicating that gender roles may be largely defined for children by the models they see around them from a very young age; that many preferences may, in fact, be primarily taught, not inborn.
Maybe those differences develop naturally as the biology advances, much like the anatomy becomes more and more dichotomous with age, but that's pretty hard to research ethically (I mean how do you really study that--make sure these 50 children are raised around only women, without ever seeing a man, and those 50 children around only men?).
Don't get me wrong--again, I tend to believe men and women have inherent differences. I just don't think those differences have much to do with whether or not you let your boy have a doll or your girl a truck if they ask for one.
Why take those inherent male/female differences and entrench ourselves in them? Why not embrace and accept our respective roles or uniqueness while learning from each other? Why do you think we hear (admittedly mostly from church leaders) about how it's so important for families to have two parents? Of opposite sexes? Is it so dad can teach his boys to be 'men' and disregard what mom can teach them? Is dad to raise the boys and mom the girls? I think not.
My two cents, but then, I'm a boy who's attracted to boys, so you should probably ignore any thoughts I have on the matter.
Besides, easier said than done, right? If I ever have a boy who wants a doll, I'm probably going to have a bit of hesitation...and I might have to eat my words. I understand the gut reactions, the "feelings," but do they really make sense? Should I really let the fact that I like to bake cookies define me as gay? Come on!
P.S.--If I remember right, there may even have been a statistically significant difference in the behavior of the children when they were left completely alone in the room versus when they were with other children...again indicating learned behavior and social pressure...but I'd have to look the study up to find out for sure. I don't like quoting things incorrectly, so I'll acknowledge I just don't have the study in front of me and am not sure about it--I could be way off. Anyone have any sources? I'm too lazy right now to look them up myself. I'll just settle for spouting my rhetoric.