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Over the past few years, I have been exploring the meaning of being female in a post-feminist world. And I have come to a very surprising (even to myself!) realization about “girl power” — it seems to mean the exact opposite of what I had always been led to believe.

Let me explain. I was raised in a world where “girl power” was defined as “doing what men do.” And I did. I took auto shop and woodworking classes in high school (along with only two other girls in each class), went to college, got a career, made good money, supported myself, started a business, and more.

I was opening doors, and for myself, thank you very much! I avoided things traditionally considered “feminine.” I wore unisex clothing like jeans and t-shirts, avoided “the domestic arts,” shunned girly-primping, wore flats, and told myself that I would, “be taken more seriously” for it.

Was I taken seriously? Actually I was, but not because I did my best to avoid anything “female” related. I was taken seriously because I did what I love and have followed my passions and put my heart and soul into everything that I did.

Well almost. I cringe to say, but I did not put my heart and soul into my marriage. Rather than be a wife in the traditional sense, I strove to emulate the supposed “marriage of equals.”

Long story short, that didn’t work out so well. For either of us. And I regret it. Not that it was all me, but if I am honest a part of it was. At least half. But what is done is done, that’s 7-plus years of water under the bridge now.

A few years ago I started looking at my life and wondering what had led me to the place where I found myself. I had executed the feminist script to perfection. But despite being practically the “single independent woman” poster child, I found the end results to be lacking. I was lonely. I didn’t “get it” when it came to relationships.

And so while exploring this angst, I stumbled across the red pill. As I read blogs and message boards populated mostly with men talking about men and women and relationships, I was shocked to learn men weren’t happy with this brave new world, either.

They encouraged each other to explore what it means to be masculine, to be a man, to do things men traditionally liked to do. This made me wonder, what would happen if I did the same, explored what it meant to be feminine?

So I did. And the results have been pleasantly surprising! Rather than find it drudgery and oppressive, I found that I like pulling an amazing loaf of fresh baked bread out of the oven, and that folding fresh, warm laundry can be surprisingly sensual. I’ve been potting up flower baskets and fluffing up my nest ever since.

While I have a ways to go, I have to say an increasingly neat and orderly home is a big improvement over my formerly half-assed, last ditch, and cluttered surroundings. Oddly, I have found the more beautiful I make it, the happier myself and my children are getting. And it’s been more sweat equity than shopping spree — I have found it doesn’t have to be expensive to create a home that provides cozy refuge from the world. It’s a work in progress but I am slowly editing room-by-room, getting rid of “stuff” and keeping only what I truly love. My girls are loving it, too!

I’ve also been playing with the traditionally feminine spheres of beauty and fashion. Again, this has all been on a budget, but with some creativity and a few great consignment shops, I’ve replaced much of the jeans and t-shirt wardrobe with flattering, feminine attire. I still have jeans and t-shirts, but now they emphasize (modestly and tastefully) my female form rather than disguise it. I wear skirts a lot more. I even ordered a pair of strappy summer sandals with (gasp!) heels. I got some shimmery make up and learned some new techniques for applying make up via online videos, and I have been painting my finger and toe nails, too!

Along the way I have redefined the meaning of “girl power.” I have been shocked to discover I find more joy in embracing my feminine side than I ever did trying to act more like a man than a woman. And yes, I am still taken seriously, maybe even more so!

To trying to be a man, I simply say, “Pfffft.” I’ll take the shimmer, and flounce, and channeling my energy into making my surroundings beautiful for me and mine over trying to be more like a man any day!

What do you think? Should we redefine the meaning of “girl power” to mean reveling in the power of femininity? Or is it better for women to act just like men?