Class of 2009

I was quite taken aback by the online response to Ms. Patton’s letter. The public outcry seemed to tout every possible position from elitism to sexism to antifeminism to she-must-be-totally-crazy-ism. But, truth be told, there are a good very many Princeton women for whom the salient points of her argument are precisely spot on. Speaking from two positions — that of a young professional who is squarely focused on building her career, and that of a woman who would ultimately like to find an appropriate partner — I count myself as one of them.

There is such an incredible wealth of information and guidance available for the young professional woman on how to build her career. Even now as I work on my doctorate, there are career seminars for women on how to juggle family alongside scientific aspirations. There are lunchtime networking sessions with women who have risen to the highest ranks of their medical and scientific pursuits. There are entire conferences held to provide professional guidance to female students from across the university campus. It is a privilege to be so well-advised and to have so many resources available as we take these first steps in forging our careers.

But, what about the rest of it? There are so many extraordinary women who are completely revolutionizing this world that we live in. Some of them have built wonderful, lasting relationships with their chosen partners, but in the sea of advice that they offer, often the “love stuff” is left untouched. I am quite thankful that Ms. Patton brought this conversation to the table. At this point in life, solidly in my mid-20s, my present focus is on laying the groundwork for my future career. In the back of my mind, however, there is a consideration of the type of man with whom I would ultimately like to settle down.

Ms. Patton’s argument is based mostly on finding someone who is an intellectual equal. I would offer a modest refinement to her position by saying that I believe one — a man, a woman, a Princetonian or not — should strive to build a life with the person who would make the most ideal match. (It goes without saying that the foundation of that pairing should still be a great love and mutual respect.) For some that is simply an equally “smart” person. For me, best-case scenario, that is someone who is kind and thoughtful with sound morals. He gets me, encourages me, challenges me and is as capable, as curious and as confident as me. And, he’s a Princetonian.

Why? I counter with a resounding why not? We Princetonians are (mostly) a high-achieving, self-assured, cool, crazy and amazingly awesome bunch. The way I read Ms. Patton’s letter was not “QUICK! Get your MRS. degree,” but rather:
“Here is a pool of men who will share a great many of your interests, who will not be bewildered by your extraordinary capacity for greatness and who have an equally as potent appreciation for ‘the Orange and the Black’!”

She did not say to walk out of FitzRandolph Gate on graduation day and take your Princeton man directly to the chapel. It was simply that there are many of a woman’s classmates who in time could prove to be a great life partner. It would be up to us to use the good judgment to find a good one — because it must be stated for the record that not all Princeton men are gems — but, if romantic partnership is an important part of one’s long-term goals, why not consider the men seen everyday? If as an undergrad you find one, take some time, fill in the gaps, grow up a little and then commit to forever. She does not promise that this is the recipe for lifelong bliss, but it could very well be the start of something good — something really good. It is a valid piece of advice! At the very least, consider it.

Taken at face value, there are several questionable elements to Ms. Patton’s reflections, but we have all been through Writing Seminar and should very well know how to deconstruct an argument. The applicable takeaways as I see them:

1) As a Princeton woman you are exceptional. Do not settle for anything, and in the particular context of romance, find the partner who is worthy of you.

2) Finding a partner is not the only reason to go to Princeton — the suggestion alone is ludicrous — but, while you are on campus (or at Reunions!), perhaps it is worth your while to consider the Tigers among you. Some of them have potential.

3) Do not expect the good ones to always come to you. Sometimes as a woman you have to do a little bit of work. That’s OK.

4) Once you graduate you will, of course, meet men who could very well make you happy. But, practically speaking, the deck is most stacked in your favor while you are at college. Ideal match aside, it is a numbers game, after all.

In closing, a response from Ms. Lisa Belkin ’82 balked at the point Ms. Patton made about our “brilliant, resourceful, very well-educated selves” being capable of handling the various hurdles we will inevitably encounter along our career paths. Call me crazy, but I do not question our potential for professional accomplishment. If there were ever a one who could absolutely own the professional landscape, my money is on a Princeton woman.

Nicole Clarke ’09


10 thoughts on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Why not?

  1. Pingback: SPECIAL SECTION: Responses to Susan Patton ’77 | The Daily Princetonian

  2. See, if Susan Patton had written THIS letter, which articulates several of the same points, but lacks the condescension, presumption and sexism of the original letter, there would never have been such an outcry. Thank you Nicole, for sifting the few solid pieces of advice out of Ms. Patton’s letter, and presenting them in a well-reasoned fashion that doesn’t make me want to gag.

    • Hi, 13–

      Thanks for your comment. For me, the outrage is a reminder: it’s all in how you say it!

      I hope once the uproar dies down, people can begin to appreciate the validity in some her arguments.

      Warmest wishes,
      Nicole Clarke ’09

  3. Ms. Patton’s letter is indeed elitist and sexist, but that’s not the problem with it. The problem is that her logic is flawed. She erroneously assumes that Princeton women will never again be surrounded by such intellect. Although this may be true for Princeton women whose only ambition is to marry a smart man and be a stay-at-home mom (no judgment here; that’s a perfectly fine ambition), I doubt that the majority of Princeton women fall into this category. And let’s acknowledge, please, that this concentration of “worthy” men of which she speaks includes those who peaked in high school and/or whose privileged backgrounds helped them get admitted when they were just 17- or 18-year-old boys and not fully-formed human beings yet.

    I would argue that most women at elite colleges and universities will go on to bigger and better things after they graduate. Bright women who go on to law school or med school or business school or other graduate programs to become the person they want to be will find that, as they progress through their twenties and thirties, the men they will meet only get better and smarter and more ambitious. The problem, of course, is that the older we get, the less available these men become. There’s a point at which these curves intersect–i.e., the optimal point at which you should choose your life partner. I’m not sure when this happens exactly, but I’m pretty confident it’s after age 22.

    This argument is based on my life experiences. Then again, I only went to Northwestern so I guess her letter doesn’t apply to women like me.

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