Earlier this month, the world met Susan Patton, a 1977 graduate of Princeton University, authoress of the world’s snobbiest letter to the editor of The Daily Princetonian. Its utterly-sincere advice that female undergrads marry fellow Princetonians because they’ll never find men as intelligent anywhere else in the world — followed by the news that Patton had recently divorced and blamed her husband for attending a no-name college — made her an instant Internet villainess.
It also got her invited back to speak to Princeton last week, where she shared more of her dating tips, including: “A woman looking for a husband in her 30s gives off total desperation.” Such spinster harridans are absolute “man repellent,” she warned.
Patton spoke on Thursday night at Princeton to an audience of 200 as a guest of the school’s American Whig-Cliosphoic Society, a political, literary and debate society. In her speech, Mama Patton, whose younger son still attends Princeton, reiterated the opinions that made her infamous (and has already gotten her a book deal). As reported by NJ.com, Patton told the audience:
You’ll never have a better concentration of outstanding men to choose from. After college, your pool of men will shrink dramatically. … Educated women should not feel ashamed or uncool or unpopular by saying, yes, I want to be married and I want to have children some day. … If we do want to marry men who are our intellectual equal, we’ve almost priced ourselves out of the market. Finding a husband as smart as you is going to be hard if you don’t find him at school.
I already debunked the elitist snobbery of what Patton says here in my original post about her letter to the editor. But her comments that 30-something women who want to settle down “give off total desperation,” are “man repellent” and have a “shelf life” are just asking for a smackdown. Such an opinion surely reflects the sexist idea that a woman in her 30s is worth less than a woman in her 20s, as youthfulness and sexual inexperience are a woman’s best assets on the so-called marriage market. Yet what this magical thinking ignores is the facts: marrying in your 30s is a thing women do all the time. The median age of first marriage (27 for women, 29 for men) is roughly six years later than it was 50 years ago. More importantly, college-educated women, which the ladies of Princeton most certainly are, tend to marry “later” — and benefit from it. As Eleanor Barkhorn explains on The Atlantic, college-educated women earn more money in their careers than younger brides and tend to have children within a marriage, affording them a measure of stability. Presumably not all of these (one would hope happily) married individuals wed someone with whom they attended college — or even attended college at all. A college education is, after all, a privilege. But more to the point, marriage in the late 20s, 30s, or heaven forfend 40s to someone you met at the office, on a softball league, or on OK Cupid (for the truly brave), may still mean happily ever after. Fear not, ladies! You shan’t wither on the vine!
To be honest, I don’t disagree with Susan Patton’s point that second- and third-wave feminism have not exactly embraced women who have chosen “traditional” marriage and child-rearing. (What “traditional” even means nowadays when two incomes are the norm rather than the exception is another post entirely.) Still, her opinion that women’s marriageability potential drops with age are the same-old sexist poppycock we’ve been fighting against for, oh, centuries. Susan Patton was one of the first-ever women to enroll in Princeton University. It’s a shame that this would-be pioneer is so backward-minded.
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