Who would think that a letter advising Ivy League college women to think about marriage and children while they’re still in school would launch a global firestorm? But it has. Late last week, The Daily Princetonian published a letter to the editor from Susan Patton, a career coach from the Princeton Class of 1977. Patton advised today’s female Princetonians to mine the treasure trove of brainy male colleagues for a husband. Her advice created such an outcry that it shut down the student newspaper’s website.
Part of what she said was this:
“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. ... 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. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal.”
Patton’s remarks have created a global dialogue, if not a verbal war, around whether it’s beneficial for highly educated women to put family before career. Patton says she’s only speaking to a small and elite audience of women attending Princeton, Harvard, Yale and other top-quality educational institutions. For her troubles, she has been called anti-feminist, elitist and worse.
Some of Patton’s advice is solid. But some of it is downright old-fashioned, seemingly offered by someone unfamiliar with — or unaccepting of — the ways in which marriage has evolved during recent decades. She also bases her counsel on some pretty rash assumptions about Ivy League men and women that — in my experience as an Ivy Leaguer — have not proven true.