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No need for women to play dumb

We often have new residents at the independent living facility where I've lived for more than two years. People here are friendly, generally. I've met a few women whom I enjoy being with and a few more that I hope will grow into friends. But getting adjusted to a new place and new people can take time.When nothing important happens, the talk usually turns back to meals.

Everybody becomes a maven on food. You'd think they led a previous life as a gourmet. Each person knows what lettuce is healthier. Everyone is an expert on how to make lasagna.

All are concerned with the proper baking time for pastries. I'm amazed.When I was mistress of my family kitchen, I ventured to cook what my family liked with my fingers crossed, hoping my creation would be a success. Or when I felt brave, I would hazard into the exotic and try something new -- with a spare menu in mind to fall back on if it failed.I refrain from entering the culinary fray.

I wait for a subject that interests me, like how do people like President-elect Barack Obama or a topic that directly affects us, like the price of gas or a fun subject like wondering when the queen of England will pass the throne to Prince Charles.Often, the talking is by someone who doesn't know how to get into the conversation.

For example, one will tell how yesterday she wore her new eyeglasses all day when she knows they are less comfortable than the old ones: "I'm so dumb about such things." Or, the person will dwell on an inability to master the Internet: "I'm too stupid to tackle the computer at this late date."There's not much interest in such foibles.

Such statements remind me of my father's oft repeated proverb: "Speak not and let people think you a fool rather than speak and remove all doubts."When we, who now make up the Third Third, were growing up, women were taught to behave primly and properly, like little ladies: seen but not heard. Even if we had an opinion about issues, like voting, we weren't supposed to say anything because it was not appropriate to trust our own judgment and we were supposed to seek the advice of men.

Silence was golden because we were mere girls, thus couldn't express an point of view.However, since World War II, things have changed. Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique. We spoke out. Women have been elected to Congress, serve in top leadership roles, like Condoleezza Rice, and this year we had Hillary Clinton running for president and Sarah Palin on the Republican ticket as the vice presidential candidate. Industries have trusted women for top roles and they have proven capable of managing their companies.

Women have achieved as scientists, educators, diplomats and just about everywhere they have assumed the challenge.Why do some women in 2008, especially women in the Third Third, still feel too inferior to trust themselves in doing well, in showing off what they've read or learned? Why do some women of today revert to being "mere . . . "