not having it all

Princeton Mom to All Female Students: ‘Find a Husband’

Photo: Cynthia Hart/Corbis

In the mid-seventies, Susan A. Patton was among the “200 pioneer women” to join Princeton University’s previously all-male student body. As president of her alumni class, she recently attended an Anne-Marie Slaughter–endorsed “Women and Leadership” event that “allowed current undergraduate women to speak informally with older and presumably wiser alumnae.” But the “girls” in attendance “glazed over” discussing careerism, she found. So today she wrote an open letter to The Daily Princetonian telling “the daughters I never had” what she wished she’d said:

Forget about having it all, or not having it all, leaning in or leaning out … Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there.

Oh no. She continues,

I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians. My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless. 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. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

Well, this will definitely be awkward for any future non-Princeton girlfriends of that younger son. But back to Susan A. Patton! What an excruciatingly retro understanding of relationships she has. If men are happy with bimbos, but women aren’t happy with “men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal,” then the conclusion is that a successful heterosexual relationship requires the man to be smarter than the woman. This is the same logic used by teen girls who feign stupidity to attract dates for the homecoming dance.

As for Patton’s elitist assumption that finding an “intellectual equal” outside of an Ivy League campus is next to impossible? Ugh. I’m not even going to unpack that one, but it’s worth noting that this embarrassing window into how Ivy Leaguers talk to each other should be as cringe-inducing to modern audiences as Patton’s take on gender relations is. Some of the dumbest and most intellectually incurious people I’ve known were in my class at Princeton. And some of the smartest I’ve known went to state schools, or community colleges, or didn’t go to college. I even dated a few of them. But back to Patton:

Here is another truth that you know, but nobody is talking about. As freshman women, you 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?

By the time you are a senior, you are an old crone who cannot be loved. It is physically impossible for a younger man to date an older woman. Touching the flesh of an older woman will actually cause a man to wither and disintegrate into dust, like sipping from the wrong chalice in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade.

Now, some will argue that Patton is merely offering advice for women navigating an already-sexist world. But she’s doing it by pushing women — and women alone — to define themselves by their spouses and to make life choices according to an outmoded understanding of romantic attraction. A woman’s mind doesn’t matter to a man, only her age and looks do; thus, if a woman wants to use her mind later in life, she must capture a male intellectual superior before she loses her age and looks. Princeton is but a high-end dating service for clever women with sharp wits. What a depressing world view. Not to mention luddite–doesn’t she know that Internet dating provides a a cornucopia of elitist options, all more efficient than freshman-year dorm parties?

Update: Q&A: Princeton Mom Wishes She Married a Princeton Man

Princeton Mom to All Students: ‘Find a Husband’