PROX: Columnist Conversations: Responding to Susan Patton’s Guest Column


Lily Alberts:  I think my biggest takeaway has sort of been an annoyance in how the national media responded to the letter. I didn’t love Patton’s points, but I wish the response hadn’t been so focused on how she structured her argument since it could be used as a jumping-off point for productive conversation.

I think we’re as ready to think about marriage now as ever. My friends and I talk quite seriously about our thoughts for the future and the values we have regarding our potential partners and mates, so I don’t have a problem with someone giving me advice regarding that. I think Patton’s use of absolutes and imperatives made it harder to stomach as advice and made it feel like an admonition — but I also think she knew she was doing that.

I think it gives Princeton a terrible image, and I deeply begrudge Patton for using the Princeton name and fame to grab her own 15 minutes in the national spotlight. There is certainly a way to present her point that is less elitist, classist, heteronormative, etc. and still make her same point. It’s a skill many of us learn; simply by using less stringent language, you can broaden the audience to which you’re speaking, and by actively choosing not to do that, I think she made her letter much more abrasive than it had to be.

Rich Daker: I’ll just jump in then. I think that if the point of this letter to the editor was to make people talk about the issue it addresses, then it’s been wildly successful. This is true on Princeton’s campus at least, even if the national attention it has gotten hasn’t really sparked that much of a public discussion on any of the points made in the article. But to think that an opinion like this might hinder progress seems strange to me. If anything, this slightly outdated ideal that the person you marry is the key to your happiness (though admittedly, it does seem like an important component) can be used to challenge and even help solidify some of our more contemporary ideals, and even if the points that are made are a little off base, it gives us a great opportunity to revisit what our own beliefs on the matter are.

Susannah Sharpless: So I agree with Rich that it’s good to reexamine some of what we’re striving for on this campus, and I’m also not even that offended by Patton’s suggestion that real success has more to do with personal happiness because of friendships, marriages, etc. than it does with monetary gain. I feel a little sympathetic toward her, having read a few articles in which she explains that she had a bad divorce partly because of the discrepancies between her level of education and her husband’s — that sucks. However, I disagree entirely with the whole premise. I think people feel sympathetic toward her because this whole thing blew up in her face, but it is a ridiculous thing to say and a ridiculous thing to expect of Princeton women (and men, for that matter), but that’s been pretty well covered. We’re past this, we just are, and I think Lily’s right to be sensitive to this being more about a national fascination with an “elite” education than anything else.

Rich: To me, it seems that if you remove a few of the components of her argument, take out the Princeton name, take out the thing about age, you get an argument that has its main premise based on the idea that men will be happy marrying women who are less intelligent than them, but that it doesn’t work the other way around. If you accept this fact, which is probably one of the most contentious points made in Patton’s letter, the rest of it does make a little bit of sense. She really hurt her argument, in my opinion, in insisting elsewhere that every woman here should find a Princeton man as a husband. I don’t think it’s that controversial to say that if you are looking to marry an intelligent human being, Princeton’s not a bad place to look. But in doing so, you are going to come off as elitist, and you are going to make your school come off as elitist. One of the things that has bothered me most about the reaction to this is that a lot of the emphasis has been put on Princeton as opposed to what Patton really wanted to convey, which is that finding an intellectually equivalent husband might ultimately make you happy.

Chelsea Jones: I think the idea that one should try and find an intellectual equal is a fine takeaway from the letter, regardless of whether or not you agree with it. But I must say, I think it is giving Patton too much credit. I think that was part of her argument, and I could see a completely rational, modern-minded person making that statement as well. But that point is so bogged down by so much nonsense and elitism that I don’t think even Patton meant to have that overarching idea as her main point. The letter seems too Princeton-centric for it to be that broad. I think it’s somewhat generous to imbue her words with that deep meaning.

Rich: That is a good point, Chelsea. I’ve read this letter so many times that I think after a while I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, but if you read it carefully and you examine her comments elsewhere, you’re probably right to point out that we shouldn’t read her letter in such a generous light. Even so, as you pointed out, that is one thing that we can take away from the letter, no matter its intentions.

Susannah: Yeah, everyone’s being super polite and generous hearted toward her, which is good, obviously, but I wish there were more pushback from Princeton in the national media just affirming that no one, really, thinks this on campus, and no one, really, agrees with her — no matter how empathetic we can be toward her, her alumni sons, her hard divorce, etc.

Rich: The thing is, I have talked to some people who do agree with it, which is perhaps one of the most surprising things that has come from this letter. They are definitely in the minority, but I’ve talked to people who see no problem with her argument and think that she’s right.

Chelsea: Do they agree because they actually believe in the sentiment or do they “agree” because they feel it’s just one of those truths that people are too conscious about being “politically correct” to say aloud? Is there is a way that the argument could be revised to actually be worthy of merit (one that maybe brings out the generous interpretation we discussed earlier)?

Susannah: I think she’s right to suggest that men are intimidated by women who are “smarter” than they are — like that Princeton Hustle video suggested last year. I put smarter in scare quotes because it’s just the idea that a name like Princeton connotes something inherently different about a person, which I categorically reject, but she’s not wrong in her sensitivity to those gender politics and the expectation of how a smart woman should behave in a social setting as opposed to an academic setting. This is not a problem that can be fixed by simply marrying a guy who is smarter than you are and therefore not having to worry about making him feel stupid sometimes, though.


4 thoughts on “PROX: Columnist Conversations: Responding to Susan Patton’s Guest Column

  1. “”I sincerely feel that too much focus has been placed on encouraging young women only to achieve professionally. ”
    I don’t think it has anything to do with encouraging women only to achieve professionally. Both men and women go from their parents home into college and then into the real world. As Judge Judy says they need some time to grow into maturity. To many get married without any concept of budgets, paying bills, buying groceries, medical costs, etc. I think students need 2 years of living on their own, working for a living and taking care of themselves financially before they enter into marriage and/or starting a family.”

  2. I am not a Princeton student, however I think that the underlying message of Patton’s argument applies to more educational institutions than just Princeton.

    The homogeneity of many private universities (whether elite or not) makes them a good starting point for searching for that person that you want to spend the rest of your life with – if this is the path that you desire. At my University, we are known for having a very high marriage rate, simply because the people who attend have a lot in common, thus making them more likely of being compatible to one another. Lily was right when she stated that it is not too early for college students to begin thinking about the future involving a life partner. My friends, men and women alike, have discussed the concept, and marriage is a topic on the top of many’s minds.

    Unfortunately her argument was clouded by a few elitist comments and other controversial points regarding age that people are primarily focusing on. This article has definitely done it’s job in stirring up conversation and has made me think.

    My question to Patton would be, what about grad school? The selection pool will most like exhibit the same homogenous characteristics and people will be getting closer to an age that is culturally viewed as more appropriate to start thinking about marriage. Just a thought!

  3. Thank you, I’ve recently been searching for information about this topic for ages and yours is the greatest I have came upon so far. However, what concerning the bottom line? Are you positive about the supply?

  4. Men and women are attracted to each other bcoz of gender polarity…a male is attracted to a woman’s femininity-her free flowing nature,her relaxed state,her ability to not control,her ability to let go,her ability to express her emotions and a woman is attracted to his masculinity-his leadership skills,his love for her which makes him overcome all obstacles just to spend time with her,his taking care of her and her kids.
    It does not depend on the school,college or university…
    I also believe that highly intellectual men have a less-developed masculinity and similarly highly intellectual females have less-developed femininity.So it is advisable to find their suitable polar match in the university itself as they will meet similar women.

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