There has been a tremendous dust-up in response to Susan Patton’s (a member of the Princeton class of 1977) letter to the Daily Princetonian. In her letter, Patton exhorts Princeton women to begin the task of husband hunting in their freshman year, warning them that “[f]or most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”
Below is my response, a version of which was also published in the Daily Princetonian:
I have to say that while I disagree with most of Patton’s assertions, I don’t find them especially offensive. After all, women can take Patton’s advice or leave it. While Patton’s tone does seem overwrought and off key in several respects, I don’t find her message much different from any other piece of alumni advice. In fact, I find myself uneasier with the assumption by some women that Patton’s point of view is one that should be suppressed. I don’t agree with much of what Patton says. But neither do I think that Patton’s view should be silenced. Haven’t men told women to shut up long enough without women telling each other (for it is mostly women doing the silencing) to shut up? I for one think Patton ought to speak louder and longer to her points. If she did, we might engender fuller and more constructive engagement on the issue of women’s family lives.
I am especially uneasy with the class and race privilege evidenced in the outraged responses to Patton’s letter. There seems to be at work here an implicit understanding that elite college women who look for early marriage with classmates (or perhaps for any marriage at all) are turning their backs on stellar opportunities or are being untrue to bedrock feminist principles such as autonomy or equality. This is problematic because although women come in all stripes, too often norms of feminism are shaped by the elite few. Feminism has been and continues to be the province of the wealthy, the white and the well-connected. Many of these women want to have it all or want a larger piece of the pie. Other women might be content to get any of it at all or might be content with some of the crumbs from the pie much less a piece of it. It is difficult to frame a broad-based emancipatory feminist program in the face of such starkly contrasting metaphors for female success.
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-Lolita Buckner Inniss