As a female, a Princeton grad, and former editorial Chairman of The Daily Princetonian, I have observed with fascination the brouhaha surrounding the publication of a letter by Susan Patton ’77 in the Prince.
Here is the text of the letter. Here is the excerpt creating all the controversy:
When I was an undergraduate in the mid-seventies, the 200 pioneer women in my class would talk about navigating the virile plains of Princeton as a precursor to professional success. Never being one to shy away from expressing an unpopular opinion, I said that I wanted to get married and have children. It was seen as heresy.
For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.
Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there.
Predictably, the feminists went wild. Jill Dolan, Princeton’s Director of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, wrote in with a rebuttal. Gawker chimed in with a predictably nasty piece. The Huffington Post’s Women’s Editor, Margaret Wheeler Johnson, posted an attack on the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, who had the audacity (and good sense) to point out the merits of Ms. Patton’s advice.
So what has the feminists so exercised? Contrary to the claims of some of her critics, Ms. Patton never says the only reason for women to come to Princeton is to find husbands. She simply observes that many of the intelligent women there will never have such a large supply of intelligent potential mates from which to choose. If women care more than men about marrying someone who is an intellectual equal or superior, this is certainly an important consideration for female Tigers.
Certainly, evidence suggests that women are prone to hypergamy (as James Taranto has pointed out). But on a practical level, Patton’s advice is also relevant when one considers the male ego. Although women aren’t likely to want to marry “down” in terms of intellect, it would likewise take an unusually secure man to want to marry a woman who is his undisputed intellectual superior.
Patton is simply articulating crisply a truth that I suspect most Princeton women already vaguely grasp. As a verbal, highly opinionated Princeton and Harvard Law grad, I knew I wanted to marry a man who was, at least, my intellectual equal — not only because that would be necessary in order for him to gain and retain my respect for a lifetime, but also because I had no interest in downplaying or hiding my own talents to “level the playing field” in the interests of marital harmony.
I was blessed. At 30 — while living in St. Louis, Missouri — I met an accomplished, wonderful Californian who has all kinds of business, mathematical and practical brilliance I totally lack. He’s a Stanford guy, not from Princeton or Harvard. And we fell in love and got married. Theoretically, it can happen. But for a while, I wondered whether it would. And — as women who are waiting until their late 30s to have babies are learning — sometimes it’s best not to rely on beating the odds. That’s all Susan Patton is pointing out.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a new issue for intelligent women. Remember the advice Elizabeth Bennett’s father gave her in Pride & Prejudice — back in an era when “marrying up” was defined primarily in terms of wealth and social status, not intellect:
I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.
Feminists may hate these truths, because they defy the feminist narrative peddled to women for decades now, centered around the precepts that: (1) “equality” (defined as sameness) is the indispensable aspect of male-female relationships; and (2) professional success is — or should be — the primary defining aspect of everyone’s life.
If they were smart, feminists would pay attention to a different part of Susan Patton’s letter:
You girls glazed over at preliminary comments about our professional accomplishments and the importance of networking. Then the conversation shifted in tone and interest level when one of you asked how have Kendall and I sustained a friendship for 40 years. You asked if we were ever jealous of each other. You asked about the value of our friendship, about our husbands and children. Clearly, you don’t want any more career advice. At your core, you know that there are other things that you need that nobody is addressing. A lifelong friend is one of them. Finding the right man to marry is another.
In other words, the feminist monomaniacal focus on career is failing women by ignoring and downplaying one of the most important aspects of their lives: The quality of their relationships. And this is costing them credibility and relevance with the cohort they most want to attract.
Ultimately, whether feminists like it or not, the truth is that (1) Deciding whom (or whether) to marry is a key defining aspect of a woman’s life; (2) Most women genuinely like men and want to look up to and love one of them for a lifetime; and (3) Many young women have concluded that happy marriages, homes and children are (or can be) as rewarding as paid jobs — if not more so.
Today’s young women are smart and savvy enough to suspect they are being sold a bill of goods. They know there is more to life than having what the world defines as “success” — and they are looking for guidance in making those sorts of decisions that no one is offering them. Susan Patton tried, but by offering politically incorrect advice that threatens the conventional feminist narrative about life and happiness, she stumbled onto a hornet’s nest.