Sisterhood Blog

'Princeton Mom' Is No 'Jewish Mom'

By Emily Shire

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Princeton mom Susan A. Patton

I have a few choice words for Susan A. Patton, the infamous “Princeton Mom,” but I fear my ugly language would cause her to clutch her pearls so tightly it might cut off the oxygen to her brain. Then again, maybe that’s what she needs to smarten up.

Earlier this year, Patton sparked outrage and, we can only assume, mortifyingly embarrassed her two sons when she wrote in the newspaper of her beloved (I cannot stress that word enough) alma mater the Daily Princetonian. Her essay, “Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had,” had at its core one simple message: Ladies, grab a Princeton man (any fellow stumbling out of an eating club in a garish orange-and-black polo will do) and marry him! Quick! Marry him before you’re lost in a world of non-Princeton grads that will never fulfill you, neither intellectually nor romantically, and you die alone, yearning for Ivy League loving.

I exaggerate … but only slightly. Here are some keys pearls of wisdom from Ms. Patton:

You will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

Another:

Find a husband on campus before you graduate.

And, my personal favorite:

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?

I must concur with Ms. Patton that as I’ve reached the spinster age of 23, there’s nothing I regret more than not marrying the senior with Keystone-flavored breath the instant he dove at my freshman face at a house dance at my own fair, ivy-covered institution.

I could go on skewering Ms. Patton’s letter, but it’s kind of like shooting fish in a barrel for a 20-something female blogger who attended an Ivy League college (though, if you are interested in more skewering, Maureen O’Connor at New York wrote an excellent takedown). However, since it was announced this week that Patton has received a deal with Simon & Schuster to write an advice book called “Smarten Up: Words of Wisdom from the Princeton Mom,” I’ve decided the tigress deserved another revisiting.

First, I do want to say that buried in a lot of the sexist and elitist nonsense that Patton spews, there is at least one good point worth noting. “At your core, you know that there are other things that you need that nobody is addressing,” she wrote in her Daily Princetonian piece. “A lifelong friend is one of them. Finding the right man to marry is another.” Patton’s advice that your personal life may end up meaning more to your happiness than your professional success is not unwise. Relationships of all sorts, both friendships and romantic ones, may ultimately make the greatest difference in the satisfaction we feel with our lives, and that is a fact often overlooked by male and female college seniors on the cusp of graduation struggling to figure out career paths.

However, it is truly unfortunate and antiquated (and why I feel an intense urge to track down whichever admission official thought Patton would be an acceptable “pioneer” for the first class of women at Princeton) that Patton narrowly views personal happiness as inextricably tied to the man you marry. Aside from being hetero-normative and aside from idiotically assuming that choosing men who attended similarly snobby and overpriced private institutions are the only way your mate will be your intellectually equal, this vision of happiness overlooks the value of friendships, family (not the kind you married into), and all of the other personal relationships that bring joy to our daily lives.

But, let’s assume only (and I mean only) for the sake of argument that marriage is the absolute path to true happiness for any woman. How does Patton envision her Princeton daughters will trap that man? I don’t know when the last time was that she spoke to her single son who’s a junior at Princeton and for whom “the universe of women he can marry is limitless,” but I highly doubt marriage is on his mind.

In fact, I would bet dollars to doughnuts her little tiger is far more interested in getting laid than getting a wife, assuming either is an option after Patton’s letter, which is sure to send any smart girl (even if she’s not Princeton smart) running. Then again, if he has half the charm and modest disposition of his mother, I am sure the panties just drop to the floor for him.

Let me drop some knowledge on you, Princeton Mom: Stop shaming twenty-something women for not being married, when men like you’re son and his male classmates are just as disinclined.

The problem is, Patton puts the full onus on women to trap a man. If today’s female Princeton students were actually her daughters, they’d resent her for breathing down their necks, move across the country and live with unemployed drummers just to spite her.

Princeton Mom, if you want to ignorantly define marriage as the only way to achieve happiness, that’s your prerogative, but spread the blame on your son as much as your imagined daughters for what you, apparently, perceive as a frighteningly low marriage rate among Princeton seniors.

Patton is classified as a stereotypical Jewish mother, but at least a real Jewish mother would guilt her sons as out over marriage as equally as her daughters.


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