Should women in college busily pursue the stereotyped “Mrs.” degree along with their BA or BS degrees?
Susan Patton, a Princeton alumna, dared to argue in favor of just such an old-fashioned strategy in the Daily Princetonian. Not surprisingly, the newspaper’s website melted down from the outpouring of furious responses. Patton’s March 29 letter, “Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had,” was prompted after she attended a Women and Leadership conference on campus. The human resources consultant graduated in 1977, in one of Princeton’s first classes to include women. She observed that the undergraduates attending the conference displayed only passing interest in learning networking tips. What they really wanted to talk about was relationships, and were fascinated to learn about Patton’s 40-year best-friendship with another alumna, with whom Patton attended the conference.
“You girls glazed over at preliminary comments about our professional accomplishments and the importance of networking,” Patton wrote. “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.”
Patton, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, argued that young women aren’t being told certain essential life truths, including the truth – not so universally acknowledged – that happiness for women is inextricably linked to who they marry. She pointed out that women have a greater need than do men for an intellectual equal (“a marriage of true minds,” in Shakespeare’s inimitable phrase), and therefore it is wise to husband-hunt while in college:
“Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated,” she wrote. “It's amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman's lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can't (shouldn't) marry men who aren't at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again – you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”
Media response to Patton’s letter was rapid and vitriolic. New York Magazine’s Maureen O’Connor wrote: “What an excruciatingly retro understanding of relationships she has. If men are happy with bimbos, but women aren't happy with ‘men who aren't at least their intellectual equal,’ then the conclusion is that a successful relationship requires the man to be smarter than the woman.”
This is decidedly not what Patton argued – she only said that women require an intellectual equal, not an intellectual superior, but never mind the facts. Other women columnists from Gawker.com and Jezebel.com wrote about her in a manner both vicious and crude.
Toward the end of a segment about Patton and her op-ed on ABC News, co-anchors laughed when the reporter noted that Patton was divorced from her husband, who apparently was not her equal in intellectual or career achievements. It’s so easy to ridicule and demean the politically incorrect.
The fiery insults continued, wrongly implying that Patton’s advice would lead to women foregoing meaningful careers, and smugly insinuating that women who wanted to marry young might even lose their ability to discuss “important” topics, such as politics.
When I attended UC Berkeley in the early 1980s, there was a popular bumper sticker around town that read, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” This mean-spirited male-bashing unfortunately grew to become socially acceptable. It also inevitably led to the devaluing of marriage that has caused great pain to untold numbers of women who craved marriage and family, but bought into the feminist idea that there was no rush, take your time, build your career first. I personally know women who learned too late that the biological clock waits for no one. This hostility toward marriage and men is also breathtakingly at odds with other modern imperatives, such as the need to be sensitive and to celebrate diversity. In college, I aspired not only for a career in journalism but also for a husband and family, but I understood this was a goal better left implied rather than stated overtly.
To me, the explosive anger leveled against Susan Patton for encouraging young, smart, capable collegiate women to consider the personal and yes, strategic benefits of finding a husband at an Ivy League college reveals a deep-seated insecurity among feminists as well as flagrant hypocrisy. Despite feminism’s claim to support women’s “choices,” it’s clear that some choices are considered more valid than others.
On the road to a successful life, relationships trump career almost every time.
Those who mocked Patton so mercilessly are those who endlessly campaign for women to gain more influence and even “power” in the workplace, and dismiss the impact of a woman who chooses to focus on home-based pursuits. But jobs come and go. For a woman who is fortunate enough to be married to a good man and to have children, there is no greater sphere of influence, no greater “power,” than in her own home. When a Jewish woman applies the singular wisdom given exclusively to her to her family, the impact of her work reverberates for generations.
It’s clear that Patton’s reminder that relationships matter even more than career is one that resonates today. In a Pew Research Center study from April 19, 2012, young women (18-34) placed a higher premium on having a high-paying career or profession than did young men. But a whopping 80 percent of both women and men reported that having a successful marriage is “one of the most important things” in their lives. Even more remarkable, more than 90 percent reported valuing being a good parent. In comparison, only about half of women or men place the same level of importance on professional success.
I would guess that this crop of young adults has seen first-hand the costs of trying to “have it all,” and understand that on the road to a successful life, relationships trump career almost every time.