April 2 2013

Feminist Outrage at Princeton!

Charlotte Hays

Some of the best-known feminists in the country celebrated Women’s History Month (just ended) by beating up on a feminist pioneer.

“As if one, every feminist of childbearing age in America (we exaggerate, but only slightly) simultaneously arched her back and let out a deafening hiss. Rush Limbaugh, step aside,” is how James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal described the reaction to a letter in the Daily Princetonian by Susan Patton

Ms. Patton, also as described by Taranto, was a member of Princeton’s Class of ’73, only the venerable university’s fifth coeducational class. Her parents were concentration camp survivors who had settled after the war in the Bronx. They were mystified by Patton’s educational aspirations. Filling out the Princeton application made Patton feel like “an emancipated minor.”

She married eventually and became the mother of three sons.

So what did Patton do to attract feminist ire?

She wrote a letter of “advice for the young women of Princeton, the daughters I never had” that was published in the university newspaper. What did she say to provoke a firestorm?

Here is how the letter begins:

Forget about having it all, or not having it all, leaning in or leaning out--here's what you really need to know that nobody is telling you.

For years (decades, really) we have been bombarded with advice on professional advancement, breaking through that glass ceiling and achieving work-life balance. We can figure that out--we are Princeton women. If anyone can overcome professional obstacles, it will be our brilliant, resourceful, very well-educated selves.

A few weeks ago, I attended the Women and Leadership conference on campus that featured a conversation between President Shirley Tilghman and Wilson School professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, and I participated in the breakout session afterward that allowed current undergraduate women to speak informally with older and presumably wiser alumnae. I attended the event with my best friend since our freshman year in 1973. You girls glazed over at preliminary comments about our professional accomplishments and the importance of networking. Then the conversation shifted in tone and interest level when one of you asked how have Kendall and I sustained a friendship for 40 years. You asked if we were ever jealous of each other. You asked about the value of our friendship, about our husbands and children. Clearly, you don't want any more career advice. At your core, you know that there are other things that you need that nobody is addressing. A lifelong friend is one of them. Finding the right man to marry is another.

When I was an undergraduate in the mid-seventies, the 200 pioneer women in my class would talk about navigating the virile plains of Princeton as a precursor to professional success. Never being one to shy away from expressing an unpopular opinion, I said that I wanted to get married and have children. It was seen as heresy.

For 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.

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

As both Charles Murray and Kay Hymowitz have pointed out, college-educated women, unlike poorer, less well-educated women, recognize the value marriage. Unlike women who have not had at least some college, they marry before having children. Yet this commonsense advice about finding a mate from a pioneer feminist triggered outrage. Why? Patton was merely advising women to treat the selection of a mate seriously and to find a husband who is her intellectual peer. It's a nice column, admittedly old-fashioned. But aren't these issues worth considering? The outrage is almost more interesting than what Patton was saying. The feminists reveal themselves as people who still don't tolerate heresy.

Taranto prints the entire letter in his column this morning.

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