When BW gchatted me this morning out of the blue to share something she described as rage-inducing with a http://www.dailyprincetonian.com URL, I prepared myself for something bad. But try as I might, I could not have been prepared for these levels of willful ignorance, raging unchecked privilege(s), elitism, and just plain damn foolishness.
“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.”
I’m sorry to have to be the one to break it to you, Susan, but Princeton women are not special snowflakes. Those of us fortunate enough to be in the 7-8% of applicants admitted to our alma mater are not, by definition, more brilliant, resourceful, or necessarily more well-educated than a great many of the other 92% of applicants, male, female, and other-gendered alike. Truthfully, I have met some amazingly smart Princetonians. I have also met Princetonians who work extremely hard, but don’t seem to have natural intelligence dripping like sweat from their pores. I might actually support the argument that our peers at less prestigious institutions have the potential to be far more resourceful than Princetonians, as Princeton does the hard work of being resource-full for us. And while Princeton opened my eyes to entire disciplines and ways of imagining the world that I’d never contemplated before, I think it would be impractically presumptuous to say I couldn’t have been exposed to the same kinds and levels of thinking at another institution, be it a peer of ours or not. The only thing Princeton guarantees is an education that will cost someone a lot of money. So I’m pretty sure that Princeton women should be up in arms about the issues that affect women in the workplace, rather than simply throwing their hand up and saying well, if ANYONE can avoid these issues, it has to be US!
“Then the conversation [at the recent breakout session after a Women and Leadership conference on campus] shifted in tone and interest level when one of you [current undergraduate women] 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.”
I think you mean that clearly, young soon-to-be-professional women today want advice about more than just our careers. It does no one any good to be prepared for work and not prepared for life, just as it does no one any good to be prepared for life and not prepared for work. I don’t speak for all recent female Princeton graduates when I say this, of course, but I know that for me personally, job I like and am good at + active social life including substantive friendships = “having it all” at age 23. Regardless, kudos to you for reminding everyone that substantive friendships are an integral part of the support system humans need to be functional in life. That’s not a thing I hear talked about at Princeton super-often.
And hey, assuming that all Princeton women a) want to get married and b) want to get married to men is a) patriarchal and b) heteronormative (on top of being patriarchal). But giving you the slightest bit of leeway here, finding the right person(s) to spend your life in partnership with (if spending your life in partnership with someone(s) is a thing you desire) IS a thing we, as Princeton women, and just as humans on the planet, need that no one is addressing. So I’m not particularly mad at you yet. You have yet to bypass the level of typical annoying shit I see on the internet that makes me question the notion of American progress.
“Yet” being the operative word in those last two sentences, because this is the only part of this article that will win any points with me. As soon as that small nugget of wisdom/worthwhile advice came out of your mouth, you put your foot into it.
“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.”
Saying that your life plan involves being a stay-at-home mother (for almost any significant length of time, really) is still seen as heretical at Princeton in a lot of circles. Seeing this as a worthwhile endeavor and one “worthy” of a Princeton degree is admittedly something I still struggle with, but I am actively working to curb my primal negative reaction when I hear someone mention this, because I recognize that the viewpoint I held/hold is highly problematic. Princeton women, like women everyone, should be able to do whatever they want. Okay.
But then you get back into that 100% buying into the heteronormative patriarchy thing. I’ll have you know that some of us have no interest in defining ourselves by our potential marriages to men. Some of us will go on to marry women. Some of us will go on to not marry at all. And even those of us who do marry men shouldn’t be expected to view them as “the cornerstone of [our] future and happiness,” as if our lives are bleak and worthless outside of home and family life.
And then you raise this idea that Princeton men are somehow more “worthy” of us than men from other institutions. I am gagging on your elitism. I hate to break it to you, but like I said before about Princeton women, Princeton men aren’t special snowflakes. Those of us fortunate enough to be in the 7-8% of applicants admitted to our alma mater are not, by definition, more brilliant, resourceful, or necessarily more well-educated than a great many of the other 92% of applicants, male, female, and other-gendered alike. While I do feel a marginal level of kinship when I meet other Princetonians in real life, there is not, in fact, a set of experiences we all share in the same way that would somehow make us all great potential matches. Race affects how people experience Princeton. Social class affects how people experience Princeton. Deciding to join a fraternity or a sorority, and which fraternity or sorority, affects how people experience Princeton. Deciding to join an eating club, and which eating club, affects how people experience Princeton. Major and chosen academic discipline affect how people experience Princeton. Being an athlete or not affects how people experience Princeton. Being accepted into an a capella group or Triangle affects how you experience Princeton. I could go on forever, but the point here is that even if you could list all of the things that affected your personal Princeton experience in terms of binaries, such as “people who lived up-campus/people who lived down-campus,” “people who did theater/people who didn’t do theater,” etc. and searched high and low to find someone who fell on the same side of all of those binaries, there is still no guarantee that you and that person(s) would be a perfect match.
On an even more basic level, there’s nothing that guarantees that all Princetonians are even good people. As one in six Princeton undergraduate women reported experiencing “non-consensual vaginal penetration” during their time at the University recently, some Princeton men are rapists. #notmarriagematerial I can tell you from personal experience that some Princeton men are racists. #notmarriagematerial Some Princeton men subscribe to this same bullshit argument that they’re God’s greatest gift to mankind and we should worship them. #notmarriagematerial
And while I know a handful of Princeton women from my year who are already engaged to Princeton men, and am happy for them that they found this happiness at Princeton, I will freely admit to questioning whether a 22 year old female Princeton graduate is marriage material either. So few of the people I know from the Great Class of 2012 seemed to be settled into their adult selves fully upon graduation. As we grow and change, our personalities, desires, wants, and needs will grow and change with us–what I wanted when I was in a relationship on campus at 21 is not what I want now that I’m 23, and I imagine that what I want now at 23 isn’t what I’ll want at 28 or 30. So I’m not sure how much good finding someone who was compatible with my not-yet-grown self on campus would have done me in the long run.
“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.
“Of course, once you graduate, you will meet men who are your intellectual equal — just not that many of them. And, you could choose to marry a man who has other things to recommend him besides a soaring intellect. But ultimately, it will frustrate you to be with a man who just isn’t as smart as you.”
Ooooh, now we’re adding a dash of sexism to our big pot of heteronormativity, patriarchalism, and elitism! If intellectualism is important to you, if your vision of the future involves mornings with your partner debating over worldly issues in the New York Times or both of you settling into bed with thick nonfiction books, then finding someone who is around your intellectual equal is probably pretty critical for your happiness in future relationships. BUT the assumption that all Princetonian women’s visions of their futures involves such intellectual activities as part of daily life is absurd–if a Princeton woman’s vision of her future involves owning a horse ranch or living in a cabin on a mountain, then she’s probably better off finding an outdoorsy man. If finding someone whose background is similar to yours is important to you in a partner, then many Princetonians of color and/or poorer backgrounds are drawing from an incredibly small pool at an already small university.
I’ll admit that I am attracted to intellect. When I’m browsing OkCupid profiles, potential matches lose serious points when they have no real literature or non-fiction in their Books section. I have imposed a rule against fucking men who do not own bookshelves. #readingisfundamental I am in awe of people who seem to soak up information like a sponge. I’ve developed crushes on guys by listening to them talk in precept. But I wouldn’t say that all Princetonians are intellectuals. And I certainly wouldn’t say that all intellectuals are Princetonians. I very nearly wasn’t a Princetonian. I know for a fact that there were many equally or more qualified applicants than me who did not, in the end, become Princetonians. I have a coworker who was the same major as me and idolizes the professor at Princeton who changed my life…but went to Virginia Tech. That doesn’t stop us from having great conversations about the prison-industrial complex or who exactly the recession is hurting the most. We graduated from school in the same year with the same major and minor (certificate for me) and are working at the same company with the same job title–I see nothing to suggest that he is “less smart” than me.
And even though “smartness” or intellect is something I respect, admire, and find attractive, it certainly can’t be the end-all-be-all of compatibility, especially in a system where we’re socialized to believe in notions of “smartness” based on biased tests and luck-of-the-draw admissions decisions. This idea of being “brilliant” as defined by a name on a piece of fancy paper in Latin is not what makes a potential match “worthy” of you. Dear Princeton women, my advice to you is the same advice I give to myself: find someone who can make you laugh. Find someone you can talk to for hours on end, someone you want to tell stories about your childhood and things you don’t normally talk openly about. Find someone who makes your body feel electric. Find someone who won’t bullshit you. Find someone you see important aspects of yourself reflected in, but who also has some significant streak(s) of difference. Find someone whose presence satisfies you. Find someone who makes time for the things that are important to him, and places you squarely among them. Find someone who feels like home. Or don’t do any of this, and spend your life with multiple partners, or moving from one to the next in a fashion that satisfies you. Do whatever the hell you want–just don’t feel pressured to do it here and now out of some backwards notion that you’re running out of time. Literally the entire world is in front of us.
“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?”
The patriarchy, it BURNS! I’m just going to play a little game of FTFY. As freshman women, you have
four classes of men the entire world of people to choose from. Every year, you lose the men in the senior class, and you become older than the class of incoming freshman men one older class of people including dear friends and yes, perhaps some potential partners, but are then introduced to a whole new class of incoming freshmen who can become dear friends and yes, perhaps some potential partners. So, by the time you are a senior, you basically have only the men in your own class still have the entire world of people to choose from, and frankly, they now have four classes of women have the entire world of people to choose from too. Maybe you should have been a little nicer to these guys more focused on making lifelong friends and picking the right clubs and classes when you were a freshman?
Because age differences are not insurmountable barriers. I dated a guy who was a year younger than me at Princeton, and I was not made to feel shameful. The masses did not point and snicker. When this relationship ended, no one danced around saying it was doomed from the start. It was, in fact, as much of a non-issue as if he had been the older one and I’d been the younger one.
Susan A. Patton, you are thankfully not my mother, but this is what I’m telling you. Here is something everyone is talking about, but you somehow don’t seem to know. The world is changing. As someone from the class of ’77, you were born in the ’50s and raised on housewifery, and I have a sinking suspicion you weren’t burning your bra with the revolutionaries in your teens and early 20. But the Princeton woman of today knows that happiness comes from within, from getting right with herself and where she is in life, not from finding a Prince(ton) Charming to sweep her off her feet. The Princeton woman of today, like women of today (with an average first marriage age of nearly 27) more generally, might want to spend some time focusing on a career or adding a few letters AFTER her name before thinking about finding someone to settle down with. The Princeton woman of today might not be heterosexual, and even if she is, she might not be down for the patriarchal institution of marriage as a way of life. The Princeton woman of today has more options than she or you can possibly imagine, and I think I speak for the vast majority of Princeton women of today when I say what we would like you to let us explore them at our own pace without the pressure to get some goofball 22 year old guy to put a ring on it first, thank you very much.