WTF Friday, Princeton Edition

This advice, from a Princeton alumna to the young women who are studying there today, is pretty much the worst:

“Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there.”

You see, “[m]en 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.”  Women’s possession of erudition, on the other hand, is apparently unforgivable to the dudelier sex:

“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.”

One wonders if Patton believes that there’s a sliding scale for women who are super-duper-exceptionally pretty.  What if a girl looks like Natalie Portman?  Would that be enough to make men “forgive” the fact that she’s also able to think like Natalie Portman – herself a Westinghouse semifinalist, Harvard graduate, and Oscar winner?  Or should we just conclude that Nat landed Benjamin Millepied by laughing at all his jokes and complaining that math is sooo hard?

Lest any of you think that I’m being too harsh, and Patton is really delivering a message about the benefits of creating a lifelong partnership with an intellectual equal, she then gets down to brass tacks, telling the young women of Princeton that they’d better be “nicer” to the men around them before they get too old to be appealing.  And by old, she means “22”:

“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?
If I had daughters, this is what I would be telling them.”

Snark aside, this is tremendously sad. I don’t have any daughters, but I do have younger sisters, cousins, and nieces, and it pains me to think that any of them would judge their lives and successes by how palatable they had made themselves to “worthy” men. And it seems like there was also a time when it would have pained Patton herself. In this earlier letter to the Princetonian from 2006, Patton paints a very different picture of her values. She describes the courage and independence it took for her to get a Princeton education in the first place:

“It was a spring day in 1973 when I received my acceptance letter to Princeton’s Class of 1977. It was the affirmative answer to a prayer I could only whisper. It was the promise of a life beyond the Bronx. There should have been great joy and hearty celebration at home. I had forgotten until this week that my admission to Princeton was joyous only to me. It was upsetting and shameful to my parents.

I would be the first woman in my family to attend college. The necessity of my continued education eluded my mother and father. My leaving their home before marriage was an utter disgrace to them. Princeton was unknown to my parents. They saw no honor in my admission to such a prestigious institution, and they were confident that I should be investing myself in other things. It wouldn’t have mattered where I wanted to go away to school. They were adamant that a young girl’s place is in her parents’ home, until she is in her husband’s home. European immigrants and concentration camp survivors, my parents couldn’t understand why at 18 years old, I didn’t direct my efforts towards finding a mate.

As a very young child, I understood that my parents were different. The memories of Auschwitz for my mother and Bergen-Belsen for my father would haunt them all their lives, and often render me feeling more than one generation removed from them. The explanation of how I would benefit from a Princeton education fell on their deaf ears and paled in comparison to their fear of the horrors that could befall me if, as an unmarried daughter, I lived other than under their roof. They wanted nothing to do with my college application and refused to sign the required financial documentation. For many years, filing my application to Princeton as an emancipated minor made me feel strong and independent.

Thirty-two years later, I feel sad that my parents couldn’t accept the pleasure and pride of having a daughter at Princeton. Through loans, grants, and working multiple jobs on campus and during summers, I paid my own way through school. The cost of a Princeton education today is more than 10 times what it was in 1973. I have long dreamed that someday I might be the proud parent of a Princetonian. It will be a (very expensive) pleasure to pay my son’s University bill.

All freshmen begin their undergraduate experience hoping that they will fit in, make friends, and succeed academically. I remember that the support and encouragement from family was often the thing that carried my classmates over their early adjustment hurdles. I was fortunate to find a sympathetic roommate (the granddaughter of an Orthodox rabbi), a caring Schools Committee alumnus (who has remained a lifelong mentor), and happiness singing and dancing with the Triangle Club.”

That is not the life story of a woman who only cared about getting an MRS degree.

What happened to the Patton of 1973, who was willing to sacrifice so much to achieve her dreams of education, instead of “direct[ing] her efforts towards finding a mate”? The Patton of 1977, who became president of her graduating class? The Patton of 2006, who wrote about her own accomplishments, and her son’s, with such obvious and well-earned pride?

If only one of them could have attended that Women in Leadership conference.

(H/T Jezebel.)

Amanda Taub


  1. Excellent article! As a high school drop-out and the father of a teenage girl, suggesting that women trawl a university to find a worthy man is offensive on a number of levels. It’s also very sad to think that if women heed that advice and still haven’t found a man by the end of their degree, they’ve missed the bus. Educated or otherwise, anyone who wants to find love needs to concentrate on how they complement another, not how they compare.

    My daughter is 14 – the other day I sat her down to watch this video, which I suspect you may like if you haven’t already seen it.

  2. In addition to everything you’ve said, which I agree wholeheartedly with, Patton’s concept of men as omnipotent beings who can choose any woman they want seems a tad unrealistic. That’s certainly not how I remember college, in any case.

  3. I think you talk at different levels. You talk about how things should be, or what is right, is talks about what is practical.

    In a nutshell, this is what she says:

    As a woman, you want to marry a man who is your intelectual equal, and it would be easier to do it while in princeton.

    You can argue with that – It won’t be easy at princeton, because the students are basically kids and don’t want to marry yet.
    Why would a woman want a man who is my intelectual equal? why not a handsome, confident guy?

    The things is, what you are saying and what she is saying – are not contradicting eachother. She didn’t say women shouldn’t study, or shouldn’t advance themselves in other ways. She didn’t say: “just get married, that is all you need”.

  4. @Yoav, there are so many things wrong with the whole idea, but I’ll outline three that I think are the most prevalent:

    1) Considering that the only suitable marriage partners are at Princeton has all the charm of an arranged marriage. I suppose that a clever mathematician could devise an algorithm for software that dynamically adjusts her “hubby-list” as some graduate and leave and she gets older, meaning that she has to lower her expectations to ensure success.

    2) imparting on women the idea that they should start getting concerned about being single from an early age is dumb, for so many reasons. The easiest to grasp is that they’re currently spending a fortune on tuition, but the implied objective is to get married and start popping babies – the career will wait.

    3) The idea of seeking out an intellectual equal with whom to negotiate legal union conjures images of Frasier and Lilith. Intellect should no more form the primary criteria for a partner than dick size should. People are packages, displaying all manner of characteristics – some that infuriate us, some that make us happy, some that make us proud, some that just make us want to hold them. A brain alone won’t keep many people warm, though it may for some.

    • Now you are saying stuff I can agree with, and are in direct opposition of her article.

      1) I agree. But, and this is a big But, intelect is the desired trait, princeton does try to select for it. I mean, there are tons of smart guys (we are talking about guys now) in other places, but if you are studying in princeton – maybe that it would be hard to find so many together later in life. But that really varies.
      2) I completely disagree. First, with the assumption that getting married or “popping babies” should somehow stop or interfere with career life. Second, that women shouldn’t worry about it at young age. It is a personal decision, but female fertility is highest and best at the 20-30 decade.

      3) Here, I completely agree with you.

  5. One change since 2006 is that the economy has worsened enough to make marriage much more economically imperative for a liberal arts graduate (of either gender).

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