Susan Patton, a ’77 Princeton alum who served as the president of her class, didn’t realize the backlash that her piece in the Daily Princetonian would cause. Yet since her letter to the editor, which urges current female students to find their husbands while undergraduates since they “will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you,” was published on Friday, it has created a media frenzy. Patton has been interviewed by numerous sites, as well as NBC’s Nightly News, and the attention crashed the Princetonian’s website, which was still down as of Monday.
Calling the female students “the daughters I never had,” Patton claims that her advice to the students is the same advice she would give to her own daughters if she had any; Patton has two sons, both of whom are Princeton men, with one of them being a current junior. I do believe her advice is well-meaning and not as anti-feminist as some claim. I think Patton actually saw her letter as an attempt to empower women by encouraging them not to settle for a partner who will not appreciate their intellect or stimulate them intellectually. Yet in response to her advice, Patton has been called everything from an elitist to an anti-feminist, and I have to agree with the majority of the negative reactions. One positive thing I got from her piece was the realization that I officially don't have the most embarrassing mother on the planet. But there are several points Patton argues that I must disagree with strongly.
The fact that Patton addresses her letter solely to women is an issue. Sure, Patton explains that she is overjoyed that her eldest son married a Princeton classmate, but her note puts the task of finding a suitable mate to female students alone. It seems that she believes that men can be just fine with a woman who is not as smart as they are, but women need a spouse who is at least their intellectual equal. As she says, “Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty.” Not only does she offend male students by suggesting that many of them will marry women for superficial reasons, but she also offends female students by implying that, for women, college is simply a vehicle for finding a potential mate.
Her argument continues to be narrow-minded and traditional, in the worst way, by suggesting that women should marry at a young age, and cannot marry a man younger than them. She urges female students to keep their eyes open for spouses as early as their freshman year, since, as they get older, the pool of potential men gets smaller and smaller since, she believes, they can only marry someone their own age or older. This also implies that women should marry at a young age, despite the fact that research proves that those who marry young are significantly more likely to divorce (as Patton recently has).
Finally, Patton’s letter strongly implies that to be smart, one has to have attended an Ivy League school (and I guess preferably Princeton). Well, that’s just ridiculous. In a follow up interview on the letter, Patton explained that her ex-husband, whom she met at work, “went to a school of almost no name recognition” and that this put a strain on their marriage. Yet if they met through work, one could assume that they had to be of similar intellectual levels. After all, plenty of people do not attend Ivy League institutions not because they do not have the intellectual capacity. Instead, many cannot afford to attend a private university. Others cannot or do not want to leave their families; others still do not want to attend these schools because they don’t think they’d be a good match or believe the school gives off an elitist vibe (Patton’s letter to the editor doesn’t help).
Patton may have been well-meaning with her advice. As she claims, she’s just a nice Jewish mother letting her fellow Princeton women in on some tips that people don’t often offer (albeit, in my opinion, for good reason). Nonetheless, her letter unfortunately demonstrates how expectations for men and women continue to be unfair and unequal. Fortunately, the reactions prove the opposite, or at least that they’re beginning to change.