Susan Patton's Marriage Advice for College Women
In this series, Flyby Staff Writer Olivia M. Munk identifies, dissects, and discusses ideas, articles, and opinions found in popular media and popular culture. She's here to inform you and to make you think—about what's out there, what it means to us, and what it might mean for you.
WHAT IT IS
A letter to the editor posted on The Daily Princetonian's website outlines one female alum's main advice for matriculating women: Find a husband. Susan A. Patton, President of Princeton’s Class of 1977, writes , "Here's what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there."
Patton argues that had she given birth to a daughter, she would advise her to seek out a husband that is of equal intelligence, and that college is the number one place to find him. This, however, should not take the full four years. Patton notes that "freshman women... have four classes of men to choose from. Every year, you lose the men in the senior class, and you become older than the class of incoming freshman men. So, by the time you are a senior, you basically have only the men in your own class to choose from, and frankly, they now have four classes of women to choose from. Maybe you should have been a little nicer to these guys when you were freshmen?"
WHY IT CAUGHT OUR ATTENTION
Patton's letter, aside from offering advice one would expect to hear on a reality show along the lines of "The Millionaire Matchmaker," calls into question to what extent the notion of women's "place" in higher education has changed over the years. Traditionally, women have been expected to marry and have a baby; today, education and career equality have supposedly all but broken this standard. Still, it seems a kind of "cult of domesticity" thinking persists.
When my mother was a senior in high school, she told her guidance counselor that she was seeking a college program where she could pursue a degree in biochemistry. Even though it was the '60s, an era known for its Feminine Mystiques and bra-burning, my mother was calmly told that girls didn't do chemistry, so why didn't she just look into becoming a nutritionist?
Decades later, my mother is now a professor of biochemistry, and today's universities seek to integrate more women into their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs. A report from last year shows that since the 1980s, women have steadily outnumbered men in terms of college enrollment. Still, in the workplace itself, a gender wage gap persists: In 2012, women earned only 77 cents per dollar that men earned for the same work.
As a college-enrolled female myself, these two facts are somewhat disheartening. Even though my mother is now a successful scientist, is it possible that over her lifetime, she is earning less for the same work than her male counterparts do? Even though the women in my class will earn the same degrees, take the same classes, and do the same jobs as the men in our concentrations's graduating class, will we have to work harder just to make equal pay?
As the dating website boom demonstrates, meeting potential mates in the "real world" once one is past a certain age does become more difficult. College is a surreal time of life where you live and work with several thousand people of the same age who are, as admissions officers will assure you, of equal or—if you're lucky—even greater intelligence. So, yes, logistically, it would be very convenient to find one's soulmate in college, before career and financial worries take precedence over dating.
However, Patton's argument is troubling to many young women of college age in that it is woefully devoid of so much of the feminist sentiment that seems, to our generation, like it should be status quo. If college women are preoccupied with snagging a husband, as Patton deems appropriate, then maybe they won't place as much importance on their schoolwork; but after all, why get an A in organic chemistry and become a doctor if you're going to settle down with children and an investment-banking hubby anyway? Alternatively, who says men shouldn't be seeking intelligent women to marry in college? Why shouldn't men be just as concerned with finding a smart wife who can help them put a down payment on a home (and perhaps even provide them double-legacy children)? Patton also notes that 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." Should we, as college females, tailor our behaviors and ambitions because some men are shallow? Most women at Harvard would likely answer, simply, no. We went to college to change the world, not subscribe to its bygone social mores.
Patton certainly means well: She wants young, intelligent women to meet young, intelligent men, and, in her vision, all parties involved will go on to live happy, successful lives. Almost everyone at Harvard, male or female, gay or straight, ultimately seeks companionship in college, some with the hope that relationships will endure past Commencement. It's the reason we join sororities to have a cohort of sisters, and to meet boys at mixers; it's the reason DataMatch is so popular; it's the reason we have Sex Week and dating seminars to discuss how to meet people and sustain healthy relationships. It's not, however, the reason we go to college.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: April 2, 2013
An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that a letter to the editor written by Susan A. Patton had been deleted and then retrieved from The Daily Princetonian's site. In fact, the letter was never taken down.