Editor’s Note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of “Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pot in America.” She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.
Donna Brazile: If only Susan Patton had offered her man-catching advice earlier
Then, says Brazile, she might have chosen to live through a man instead of her own goals
She says Patton successfully satirized the Princeton stereotype with her retro advice
Brazile: Maybe Patton thinks Princeton women should be taught how to be pretty?
Susan Patton kicked up a firestorm with her letter last week to the editor of The Daily Princetonian urging female students to find a man to marry before they graduate because “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.”
If only the Princeton alum’s advice had come out 30 years earlier when I was in college, perhaps I could have avoided the costly mistake of focusing on what makes me come alive and then pursuing it for a living. Perhaps if I’d focused instead on nailing down a man by the time I was 22, I could be going to cocktail parties and co-opting my husband and children’s successes, bragging about them as if they were my own, rather than being forced to talk about the current state of politics or what we can do as a society to engage the next generation in the struggles of today.
Perhaps, if I’d had Ms. Patton’s wisdom and foresight about what really matters in college, I wouldn’t have taken so many pesky classes, and instead concentrated on designing my hair, makeup, attire and personality to create the perfect man-catching machine.
Perhaps it would have all worked out exactly as Ms. Patton implies – the perfect house, kids, husband and future. And yet I’m skeptical. I made a lot of stupid decisions in college; I’m really glad the choice of life partner wasn’t one of them. How many people, do you think, could choose a tattoo at 22 years old and still be happy with it by the time they are 50? Let’s be generous here: maybe a quarter of all people? And tattoos don’t even talk.
Choosing a life partner requires a maturity and self-awareness that I can’t imagine more than a small fraction of college students have. I know I didn’t. Not only that, but people change. Who you are at 22 is not who you will be at 35, and in my experience, the decade following college is the interval where the rate of change is the greatest.
So while it may be tempting to imagine the white picket fence and 2.5 children I could have had with my hastily chosen college boyfriend, I can’t help but think a divorce at 28 or 32 would have been more likely, had I chosen that route. What then, Ms. Patton?
I find it refreshing that as the same-sex marriage debate swirls through society, Ms. Patton remains untouched in her heteronormativity. Does it even occur to her to question the premise that “the cornerstone” of a woman’s future is finding a husband? No! Of course not! It simply must be. I haven’t heard regressive rhetoric like this since I mistakenly tuned in Dr. Laura on the radio.
I have to ask, what are lesbians supposed to do? Must they also find mates while in college, or are lesbians the only privileged group of women allowed to search for self-fulfillment before partnership?
That said, Ms. Patton really must be commended for what has to be her grasp of satire. She knows the stereotype of Princeton is that it’s filled with self-satisfied, conceited, bloviating jerks, and she captures that tone perfectly to make her point. Without such bold elitism – an op-ed that took the perfectly defensible position that college is a target-rich environment free from the awkwardness of bars, set-ups or online dating – there would have been no stir.
Certainly it wouldn’t have crashed the servers, and the women of Princeton might have spent another day thinking the future is filled with untold adventure and opportunity, rather than simply another day closer to their expiration date as a desirable partner.
I applaud Ms. Patton for her bravery. There aren’t a lot of well-educated women who would be courageous enough to completely sell out the feminist movement responsible for securing women’s equal social, political and economic rights (to the degree that we have them) in favor of the 1950s’ mentality that a woman’s worth is determined by her marital status. Also, to come out with it while her youngest son remains unmarried? Brave. Though the “universe of women he can marry is limitless,” the universe of women who would be willing to be her daughter-in-law is finite.
In all this advice to “the daughters (she) never had,” there is one point on which I cannot disagree with Ms. Patton: “It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty.” Perhaps Princeton should forgo academic requirements for its female students and instead teach “How to Be Exceptionally Pretty.”
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.