With 3 girls and 2 boys in my house, the children have access to all types of toys and dress up clothes. My two year old girl had a dinosaur themed birthday party because she was very much into dinosaurs and I don't mean Dinosaur Train. She likes realistic looking dinosaurs that look like the ones in the Discovery Channel documentary Walking with Dinosaurs. So I bought her party supplies from the boy section at Party City. I don't really influence or discourage, I just provide options. When my oldest DD turned 3 she wanted a Power Puffs Girl party (she will be 16 this August) and I let her have her pink girly party. My 13 year old DS has pink braces on his teeth. He wanted pink and he got pink. I care less about girly stuff/ boyish stuff and more about what are boy roles/ jobs and girl roles/ jobs. I am a geologist (male dominated field) and work full time. My DH is a SAHD who does most of the childcare, cleaning and cooking . . . ok ALL the cooking. So by example we break stereotypes.
With our DD I was at first really against all the girlie stuff. It makes me uncomfortable and I can;t relate. But then she hit 18 months and was really drawn to pink and purple, flowers, etc. Now she soes have a lot of pink and purple clothing. But also bright green, orange, red, etc.
She used to say her favourite colours were pink and purple and that she didn't like any other colours. I told her she can have favourites and still like others as well. So now when asked she says "My favourites are pink and purple, but I like blue, green, orange, red and black too. I don;t like yellow"
She is four.
What I limit is the branding, and princesses, and disney, etc.
I do hate all the princesses.
However she does like to dress up as a fairy. And she likes Princess Poppy and Fancy Nancy books.
However, I just introduced her to Ramona books, and she is loving and relating to Ramona.
Our DD is a spunky kid who likes to play in the mud pit and stuff.
I am hoping that she will be a well-rounded, strong and independent girl/woman as she ages.
We have two sons. But they are only 7 months old. So only time will tell how they will be. Hopefully have more interests than cars, balls and dinosaurs.
Due to poor planning a lot of my daughter's wardrobe between ages 1-2 years was pink. And I think that encouraged her to get more into that color than others. She just turned 2, though, so we have time. Her 2T wardrobe is more varied and she's adjusted to not having so much pink all the time. I have tried to limit her media exposure. She has no exposure to princesses and her favorite TV characters are Elmo and Curious George. I am trying to put off the notion of "this is what girls are supposed to like" for as long as I can, to give her more time to develop different interests and me more time to critique different things. If I were going to introduce Disney princesses it would be as one choice among a variety of things. But I think she's too young for a full-length movie now so I see absolutely no point to Disney princesses at this time.
With ElderSon, now in his 30's, I actively encouraged gender-crossing toys and clothing. He sometimes chose pinks, sometimes blues. He had baby dolls as well as toy dinosaurs, learned to fish as well as cook along with me before he was 6. We lived a very isolated life: on a sailboat in the Caribbean, we had no TV, and only occasionally were around other kids. He had nearly zero exposure to any commercialism for the first 5 years. As he grew older, I strongly encouraged his artistic side (gender neutral in my eyes). Although he was on a Little League team for a while, he was not too much interested in sports or other typical boy-stuff through his later childhood and teen years. We never had toy guns. He was mainly homeschooled (unschooled), although he went to high school for a couple years. I supported nearly any interest of his, but especially celebrated his gentle, sensitive aspects.
Well, this is all a prelude to my conclusion that "It doesn't really matter". He grew up to join the Army, and is just now retiring from this career. There is nothing in his upbringing to predict just how macho and traditionally male this boy of mine became. After 4 overseas combat deployments, he spent several years as a drill sargent. This is not what I had in mind! I think he spends his free time at NASCAR races and tractor pulls with his son (I am making this up, but it wouldn't surprise me!) I really believe (for this and other reasons) that our children grow up to be who ever they are. We have very little say in the whole matter.
BigGirl, now 18, never ever chose pink frilly clothing. Even as a preschooler, she chose demure, conservative colors and styles. Seriously, grays, beige, and like that. And has maintained that all through life (so far!). But always androgynous, leaning toward feminine. Like a mini-banker, she would have loved a business suit with a skirt to her knees, in conservative gray! Again, we had no TV for her first 5 years or so, living in a small village in Central America. This was truly her own style. Mainly unschooled also (we tried public school in the US for a few months), her interests always turned to childcare and baby-raising. She had a job as a mother's helper from the time she was 7, and now nannys for a special needs kid. Plans to adopt special needs kids. She is in charge of decorating our home, and chooses the most traditional styles you can imagine. She has taken over most of the cooking and cleaning that happens around here. So domestic! As traditionally feminine as all this sounds, she is also an ardent feminist, considering a career in international women's rights. Or possibly as a politician.
I am a traditional hippie - rainbow tie-dye and Birkenstocks. Grateful Dead and Bob Marley. Unschooled myself, I naturally raised my kids crunchy/AP/child-led. I work as an activist/social worker. My kids have been raised at Gay Pride events, political protests, out of the mainstream in so many ways. There is nothing in their upbringing that would have predicted these paths for my children, unless this is their individualized form of rebellion. Like I said above, we have very little influence in who our children become.
We don't buy much because of $$ issues but I will say this...L has just as many trucks and little cars as she does fake dishes and foods...
No, we don't discourage them away from girly/boyish stuff. If dd wants to paint her nails and then push her baby brother around in a stroller with the other girls on our street while the boys run around playing with toy cars and wrestling, it's all fine with me. They're having fun.
I don't discourage them from any interests. We try to expose them to as many things as we can, and let their own interests take off. DS1 got more exposure to cultural gender norms than my other kids, because he was in school, and they're homeschooling, but his interests were pretty varied. He was never a "real boy" (gag), in terms of liking sports, trucks, etc. But, his interests were all over the map, in terms of what our culture considers "gender appropriateness". His interests have included (off the top of my head): trapeze, gymnastics, blacksmithing, leathercrafting, art (he sketches extensively, and plays around with clay a bit), Tae Kwon Do, acting (his intended career), videogames, superheroes (esp. Spider-Man) and woodworking. He wants to learn to blow glass one day. He also loves swords and knives, and plans to collect them - and to take lessons at a local swordfighting academy.
My family contains a lot of movers (not as many as it used to, as my dh doesn't move furniture, my BIL changed jobs, and my dad retired, but they're still around), so my kids have certainly had a lot of exposure to the "macho" mindset, but dh and I both just kind of do our own thing, with no regard to whether it's gender "appropriate". We do have an old-fashioned breadwinner/homemaker dynamic, except that dh does a lot around the house. I'm also the only driver in the family, which shakes that dynamic a lot.
Anyway - I basically just support their interests, whatever they may be. DS2 is a screen junkie, with very limited interest in doing much of anything else (although he's now bulding his second Lego model of the day - yay!!). He does like some very typical "boy" interests, such as dinosaurs and space travel...but so does dd1. DD1 is interested in everything...she's the girl who'll go do nail polish at her friend's place, then go digging for bugs, or whatever. I don't care what they like to do, or what their interests are - as long as they like to do something, and have interests.
The toys we picked were more practical, because we had so many little kids (3 under 2, 2 boys, 1 girl) and they shared a lot of stuff. So...blocks, books, dolls, animals, games, dressup, ect). But I never censored gifts.
My older kids are 11 (girl) and 10 (boys). My daughter does dress "girly" I suppose, but she also enjoys archery, fencing, hiking, building. My boys still like to play dressup, and one in particular is extremely nurturing, and they are both quieter than my daughter, prefering less active pursuits. They all enjoy video games, but that's genetic, poor things.
All of my kids, regardless of gender, were encouraged to do sports, martial arts, dance, music, riding, ect. until each individual found their niche, but I did have them all try all sorts of things.
Like some other posters have said, I believe that fixation on this on either side does more harm than good. I didn't, and my kids are thus far fine. And I didn't have to get into a ton of fights with family members and stress myself out about it either, and lose energy/happiness out of my life.
An interesting book on the subject is The Gender Trap by Emily W. Kane.