In a letter to the editor of The Daily Princetonian entitled “Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had,” Susan A. Patton, an alumna from the class of 1977, gave some interesting advice to the women of Princeton: Find your husband while in college.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Patton starts off her letter by telling readers that she’s going to give them a snippet of advice that they’ve never heard before, different from the advice on “professional advancement, breaking through [the] glass ceiling and achieving work/life balance” that Princeton women have heard a million times before. Instead, she proposes that women should spend more time looking for a man than hitting the books.
Wait, aren’t colleges for furthering one’s education?
As a person who firmly believes that getting married before 27 is akin to leaving the party before 9 p.m., Patton’s letter left me aghast. While others may find that the right path for them involves the fabled “ring by spring,” I would hope that even those people would agree with me that college is foremost a place for education.
Patton presents college as the time to meet a potential mate because “you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.” Fundamentally, I can agree with this statement. In what other situation in life are you going to be presented with such a large, varied pool of potential mates that are also motivated and working towards achieving a higher education? Unless you’re planning on going to graduate school, this statement will never be more true than it is now. And when Patton says “men who are worthy of you,” she means “intelligent and mature men who are worthy of an equally intelligent woman.” Patton is not advocating in her letter that women should lower their standards, which is something I can get behind.
Now here’s what I don’t agree with: This message was written only to the women of Princeton.
According to Patton, men don’t exactly need to be on the lookout for eligible women during college because they literally have the whole world of women open to them all the time. She details her sons’ relationships both Princetonians, stating that her older son “had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone,” and that for her younger son, a junior in college, “the universe of women he can marry is limitless.”
Patton concludes her letter with a mystifying breakdown of a collegiate woman’s options for finding men. She ultimately concludes that as you move up the ranks in college, the amount of men from which you can choose grows smaller because you can only pick someone from your own class year or older. Men, on the other hand, “have four classes of women to choose from.”
I think the argument that Patton is trying to make here is that in order to find someone with the same intelligence and maturity level, a woman needs to aim for someone her age or older. But is that necessarily true? Everyone is different, and lumping everyone into the same categories is taking a step backward. Also, the idea that men can basically choose whomever they want at any point in life while women should essentially find their mate freshman or sophomore year while the “pickings are still good” bewilders me. Patton is doing nothing here except furthering the patriarchal idea that “this is a man’s world” with her portrayal of the social pecking order.
I also find fault in the fact that the letter is explicitly addressed to women, as if females have to work to meet a suitable mate while suitable mates just fall into men’s laps. I can see Patton’s letter to male Princetonians now: “Advice for the young men of Princeton: keep doing what you’re doing because the whole world of women is at your fingertips!”
Frankly, male readers should also take offense with Patton’s argument. She asserts that men “regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent and less educated,” saying that “it’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition if she is exceptionally pretty.” While biology and science may argue that the male eye is attracted to women of beauty for their potential offspring’s sake, her reduction of the male species to a simple biological reaction makes all men seem like pigs trolling to get with women with big breasts and pouty lips. I don’t know about you, but I like to think that men are more complex than that.
Furthermore, Patton’s idea that college is for finding a husband is fundamentally infuriating. College is for learning. College is for expanding one’s worldview. College is a time for self-reflection, travel and growth. Though you may have a huge pool of fish in front of you, you don’t have to pick up that fishing pole unless you truly want to. This is not the 1970s, Patton. Not everyone’s “cornerstone of … future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the [men they] marry.” I can make my own happiness perfectly fine, thanks!
Katie Sieger ’14 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Duluth, Minn. She majors in English.