2013 Academic Advice for women: Find a husband? Really?


Read this:

The Daily Princetonian: Letter to the Editor

In her March 29, 2013, letter to the editor of The Daily Princetonian, Class of 1977 President Susan A. Patton tells Princeton women to find a husband: quick.  She claims smart women – in this case the cerebral women of Princeton – will only be happy if they marry an “intellectual equal.”  According to Patton if Princeton women wait until they leave the Ivy League they’re unlikely to run into many marriageable (read: smart) men.  She admits that “soaring intellect” might not be the only thing that makes a mate desirable, but “ultimately,” she writes, “it will frustrate you to be with a man who just isn’t as smart as you.”

Patton writes to the “daughters [she] never had.”  This is her advice to women at the top of their academic game? Get back to the old habit of seeking a Mrs. Degree? Get your ring by spring?

I suppose it is possible to read her commentary as heartfelt advice about long-term commitment.  Men and women operating from the same intellectual plane may be better suited for one another. They may have more to talk about – or argue over – as the years add up.  They may grow in similar directions and value similar approaches to life’s curveballs.  Maybe she’s just suggesting that a man with a good brain is easier to put up with.  Or that there is already enough misunderstanding in marriage without adding incompetency to the mix.

What strikes me about Patton’s letter is that she believes she holds the secret to happiness – she claims she’s willing to say what no other woman has the guts to utter out loud. Patton’s answer, her tough-love truth, is that marriage is the “cornerstone” of a woman’s happiness.   She writes this so unequivocally, that it’s easy to dismiss her ideas as backwards and uninteresting. She doesn’t leave room for other sources of happiness – friendships, or service, or intellectual achievement. However, it’s not Patton’s answer that resonates with me, but rather the question that precipitated her letter.

The woman of Princeton wanted to know about navigating life’s most important relationships.  They asked Patton about her friendships and her family. Women are looking for leaders.  We crave models and mentors who navigate the mixed up world of career and family with honesty and genuine concern for ethics and happiness.  And we want there to be an answer – some singular idea that will allow us to be content in a world ruled by chaos and change.

I want to dismiss Susan Patton out of hand.  But here’s the rub:  I did exactly what she suggests. I married while the marrying was good.  While it wasn’t Princeton, I did leave university with a BA and Mrs.  My path was far less calculated than anything Patton suggests.  It was a romantic risk perpetuated by some pretty good luck.   But it was my path – one I stumbled upon and one I choose every day.

There is plenty of advice out there at the moment: Lean In, opt-out, have it all, marry young. Patton’s suggestion to find an intellectual equal might be a good piece of advice (or an excuse to indulge in  distraction from college academics), but it is only one of many pieces. The arduous task of culling the pile of ideas is instructive. It seems possible that in the gathering of information, in the act of amassing and ditching theories and secret keys, we discover our allusive goal.  We forge our own paths.



9 thoughts on “2013 Academic Advice for women: Find a husband? Really?

  1. What I find disturbing here is the assumption that one goes to college to find a husband. While I understand the worry that one’s childbearing years will be jeopardized if one does not marry young, I still find it unsettling to think that women might be going to college not to become better educated themselves, not to discover all the worlds that are out there, but to find a husband. As someone who did marry young (but did not have children immediately) and whose marriage has lasted many years, I can think of a host of “what ifs.” What if I had not been married, and therefore, could have done a “semester abroad” or a year of foreign study? What if I had moved to a large city and had to make my own way there? I can think of the benefits of those kinds of choices for my own growth, intellectual, emotional growth.
    I learned to be an independent person when my husband was a medical student and I worked to support us, but what if I had come into a relationship already an independent person? My husband and I have known each other since our early teens, and so had foundation of many years before we got married, but we were both pretty unformed individuals when we did get married. Ultimately, it seems to me that the college should be about developing into fully realized adults. I would like to believe that people do better in marriage when they are adults with clear ideas about who they are and what they want.

    The other piece that I find disturbing is the unspoken classism infuses Patton’s assumptions.

  2. The conversation needs to get more honest in many ways. I agree, Jane, that the most disturbing part of the discussion surrounds the “point” of an undergraduate degree. But it seems that women are reluctant to talk about the trajectory of a career AND marriage AND parenthood. Maybe because all the endpoints are too depressing. And as you know (and have said before) it’s seems wrong that half the population is not worried about this trajectory – are men having these conversations about balance and choice?

  3. if we are to believe popular media, men are not having these conversations, (see “Knocked Up” and any number of other movies) but when I talk with the young fathers that I know, I see them trying to have some of these conversations as well..

  4. “And we want there to be an answer – some singular idea that will allow us to be content in a world ruled by chaos and change.”
    This is it, Sj – this is the crux of the problem. We need to teach our girls (and ourselves) to follow our instincts, trust our gut, and make decisions based on what is best for each of us.
    Each path, each life, is going to look different. And that’s what I think bothers people. The “have it all” idea is such a destructive one, in my mind. There is no way to have everything in life, whether we are male or female. We make choices as we go – accept some things into our lives and sacrifice others.
    I feel like the way we can look back on our lives with the least amount of regret is by making conscious decisions as we go, and by truly knowing and trusting ourselves…and by accepting that what is right for us might not be right for someone else.
    Why does it feel like we are all still looking for the “right” or the “best” way to do things? Is that a modern issue for both genders, or more so for women?

  5. Why do women even need to focus on marriage in the first place? We don’t live in the day and age where the term ‘spinster’ is an insult, or even in typical use, anymore. This paternalism is ridiculous.

    All of this back and forth is ridiculous – if a woman doesn’t want to get married until she has a Graduate degree, good for her. If she doesn’t want (key word) to have children until she’s 40, good for her. On the other hand, if a woman wants (there’s that word again…) to do the opposite… Good for her!

    Coming at this issue from the perspective of my own little minority, I think we face similar issues from our families – even though we don’t become involved in relationships that would naturally result in the birth of children, we’re still pressured to have them. I call it ‘Grand-baby’ism, and it can become a serious point of contention in a gay person’s relationship to their family. As with most things, of course, I really don’t care what my parents want from or think about my personal relationships, but the pressure is culture-wide.

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