Northwestern Medicine professor Alice Dreger writes in Pacific Standard that although gender roles are largely socially constructed, there is a strong genetic/evolutionary basis for them as well.
From her extensive research on the subject, Dreger points out the strong correlation across cultures of boys and girls gravitating towards certain preferences, like playing with toys that represent weaponry versus ones that represent cooking and parenting:
Any feminist mother who has ever seen her carefully-raised three-year-old son pick up a stick and pretend to shoot or sword-play with it, or her carefully-raised three-year-old daughter go into full princess mode, will tell you this. Is it possible these kids learned these things from their culture? Sure, but it's tough not to notice the persistence of the gender/behavior correlations anecdotally and in good studies.
And she also points out gender education's limitations in overriding biology:
I've met too many people who, in spite of careful gender educations—sometimes even intensive gender educations—just clearly felt the gender assigned to them was the wrong one. I've also seen a lot of evidence from intersex that prenatal hormone levels correlate with gender-type behaviors, gender identities, and even sexual orientation.
This is not to say that she believes in giving up the fight against oppression based on gender norms, but that being gender-typical can also be natural and fun:
It makes me crazy that some of my feminist friends try so hard to stop their kids from being gender-typical. I have one such friend who has a fairy-princess daughter, and my friend keeps trying to keep her daughter butch, as if she owes this to Susan B. Anthony. I asked my friend, "If your son wanted to wear a pretty pink dress, would you let him?" She turned red and said, "Yes." I answered, "Then why isn't it gender-based oppression to deny your daughter a pretty pink dress?"
Maybe Dreger overstates that last part about "gender-based oppression," but she has a point. Exhibiting certain behaviors typical of one's gender shouldn't just be a source of shame, whether there is a biological basis for it or not.
Image via Stefano Tinti/Shutterstock.