College Women, Don’t Listen to Marriage Concern Trolls


Susan Patton may be the only person in the history of the world to get a book deal by being a crank who writes nutty letters to the editor. Back in March, Patton wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Princetonian—both her sons went to Princeton—warning college women that they best find a husband before graduating college or, well, she didn’t exactly say they’d be dried-up old hags who would only have a handful of uneducated boors left to marry, but that was the general gist of it. (Her opinion of people who didn’t go to college, like her seeming opinions on most things, is very low and seems to be sourced solely from stereotypes instead of actually engaging with people, or else she would know that plenty of people who didn’t go to college are very bright and plenty of people who did are nonetheless dull.) The letter went viral, feeding off widespread cultural anxieties that young, well-educated women are shirking their duty to put men and marriage before their own ambitions, and so now she’s back with a book and an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

The editorial covers the same ground that her original letter to the editor did: instructing college women to spend less time on their studies and fluffing their resumes and more time on husband-hunting. “You should be spending far more time planning for your husband than for your career—and you should start doing so much sooner than you think,” she writes, though notably she doesn’t really tell you what “planning for your husband” looks like. Maybe she gets around to that in her book, or maybe—and frankly, more likely—it’s because she doesn’t really have a good answer for that.

The closest she comes is to tell young women to “stop wasting time dating men who aren’t good for you: bad boys, crazy guys and married men,” demonstrating fairly conclusively that she pretty much has no idea what young women are up to these days, not that ignorance of women’s lives has ever stopped a sexist from feeling their opinion on any matter would be welcomed. Where is she getting this weird idea that your average college girl spends her time sleeping with married men? Or even “bad boys” or “crazy guys.” In reality, the college girls she’s yelling at are sleeping with basically the same men she wants them to marry. And they will eventually marry them—contrary to Patton’s dark predictions that college-educated women are practically un-marriageable, college-educated women are more not less likely to get married than their peers without bachelor’s degrees. It’s interesting how the “good guy” that every woman should be clamoring to marry suddenly turns into the “bad boy” that a woman is wasting time on if she dates him without any intention to marry any time soon.

But really, all this talk about wasting time on bad boys is merely to distract from the fact that Patton’s piece, like pretty much every conservative lecture to women to marry often and marry young, is based on a false premise: that women are single because they’re making an active choice to avoid committing to a relationship. When they snootily lecture low-income women and single mothers about the value of marriage, it’s particularly obnoxious because there’s no reason to believe that these women would reject being married if they had a chance to get married to a man they loved.

With college women, the ground is slightly sturdier—it’s true that most women in college are not eager to get a ring on it as soon as possible—but giving it a moment’s thought should make the flaw in her reasoning more obvious. The problem here is that she assumes there’s some course of action college women could be taking that would net them a husband. Say a young woman decides to take Patton’s advice, and puts down those schoolbooks to start going out looking for a husband. What would that look like? What steps would she take? Going out to parties and meeting people? Going to classes where the college men are? Going out on dates? I guarantee that’s exactly what young women are already doing. There’s no reason to think that scaling back on the schoolwork will suddenly mean that the boys that you’re dating now start looking more like husbands. Nor would scaling back on schoolwork mean that you do a better job sussing out which of the guys around you are eager to get married. All she does is tell women to have less sex, which is the traditional conservative formula to turn errant young men into devoted husbands. (The assumption is that all men are misogynists who only put up with women in order to obtain sex, so you have to extract a higher “price”—having to spend, ick, time with you—from men in exchange for the sex. Why women should want people who hate them to marry them is never really explained.)  But spending less time on sex would free you up to study more, so that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In the real world, most people—including college kids—tend to stick by someone if they fall in love and, if the relationship works out, they will eventually marry. Sure, there’s a lot of couples who met in college and who don’t marry for another decade, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t together and devoted the whole time. The reason women tend to marry someone they meet after college is not because they were too snooty to marry a classmate, but because the relationships they had while younger didn’t work out and the ones they created later did. Which is they way it should be—people are better off in healthy marriages than unhealthy ones.

I have my suspicions about why the “go get married, ladies!” lectures always ignore this reality. That’s because these articles aren’t really meant as sincere advice for single women. These articles are about perpetuating a nasty stereotype, trying to convince people that giving women access to financial independence and higher education has “ruined” them. The argument embedded in a piece like Patton’s is that sexual liberation and women’s equality are failed experiments because women are too silly and stupid to use their rights responsibly. The audience for a piece like this is not college women, who are unlikely to be reading the Journal. It’s a majority male, largely conservative audience that wants to hear that women’s precious freedoms need to be clipped for our own good. It’s a classic concern troll, and should be understood as nothing more than that. And if a mean-spirited relative gives you Patton’s book under the phony guise of “concern” about how you’re ruining your life by living so freely, ladies, I have some serious advice for you: Don’t feel bad about promptly tossing it in the trash. You have better things to do with your time, like studying.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte

  • jeevmon

    Oh, don’t throw it in the trash! Return it to a bookstore for store credit. Preferably Barnes & Noble so you don’t feel bad about sticking your local bookseller with a crap book in inventory.

    • TheBrett

      Definitely do that, since it will also zing the publisher who was foolish enough to publish this crap when the bookstore returns the unsold copies.

      • Victoria Pynchon

        they publish her for the men who read the Wall Street Journal; you think they think college women are reading WSJ in droves? No. They want to soothe their male readers with a little old fashioned crap about “women’s place” in the world

        • HeilMary1

          WSJ men pretty much blow their money and affection on hot pole dancers with no high school degrees.

  • fiona64

    I have joked for ages about girls who left high school in pursuit of their MRS degree. Statistically speaking, people who wait to get married tend to have more stable marriages than those who marry young. What is that old saw? Oh, yes: “marry in haste, repent at leisure.”

  • flan59

    Great article. Heres a mixture of sorts…I met my husband while I was going to college, but he wasnt going to college. He was a sound man for a band and a radio dj. I have an A.S., but I never did finish college because Uof I rejected me and we were already a couple. So I got a job as a bookkeeper.

    Nothing was planned, it just worked out that way. I actually wasnt looking for a husband as I was caught up in the ERA movement at the time. I just fell in love.

    Weve been married 31 yrs and have twin sons 27 yrs old . We’ve switched off being home with the kids when they were young. I was not stay home mom material.

    • lady_black

      Me either. I would have gone nuts staying at home.

  • expect_resistance

    Susan Patton is a crank. I can’t believe the crap she wrote. Why would anyone publish her?

    • AZDem9933

      Because, unfortunately, a lot of people eat this stuff up.

    • fiona64

      Because there is a very large audience for dreck.

    • lady_black

      Only two things are limitless, according to Einstein. Human stupidity and the universe. And he wasn’t sure about the universe.

    • CJ99

      Apparantly people still read the national inquirer. It’s still crap but if crap sells then somebodies gonna sell it. Which in itself is just depressing

  • TheBrett

    Good article. I get the same vibe, which is that she got the book contract and Wall Street Journal editorial because she’s selling a concern troll book that appeals to conservatives who want to believe that women are “giving away the milk for free” and “turning off men” with their assertive, college-educated ways.

    • lady_black

      Trust me, the types of men they are “turning off” simply aren’t worth the effort. I met my husband during my limited social life during nursing school. He understood that school came first, and that was a turn-on to him. His supportive attitude was a turn-on to me. I could NEVER be happy with a man who thought I could have any career that I wanted… so long as his dinner was on the table when he got home from work.

      • TheBrett

        I agree. I’d tell Susan Patton that, but she’s not really speaking to our audience – she’s speaking to the old conservatives who read the Wall Street Journal and are hopefully just buying that book to read themselves (and not to give to their college-age daughters as some kind of perverse gift *bleh*).

  • cjvg

    If you read the original letter and subsequent interviews with her, this mostly was about her son(s) who could not find any young women who were interested in a committed relationship with them.

    She then wrote that letter to “warn” young women that they better get in commited relationships with men (like her sons) while they had the chance since their opportunity would pass soon

    Can you imagine this one as a mother-in-law.
    This woman might just have singlehandedly committed her sons to life long bachelorhood

    • lady_black

      If her college-age sons were not concentrating on their studies, and instead conducting a search for a marriageable woman, that is not a good thing. They were then wasting someone’s money on a college education. I willingly gave up any rights to much of a social life twice. Once during nursing school, and then later while earning a degree. Both were very expensive both in terms of money and time invested, and I wanted (naturally) to get the most out of them that I could get. If that meant putting pleasures on the back burner for the duration, so be it. The other issue might be that she raised her sons to be misogynists like herself, and no woman wants them. She can take her pick. Either way, it’s not a pretty sight.

      • cjvg

        Of course you do realize that it is a waste to educate a female (snark)
        I completely agree with you on the importance of prioritizing education until you achieve your goal.

        • lady_black

          Damn right. I was paying for it. I had better prioritize it, or I may as well flush the money down the crapper.

      • expect_resistance

        Great point. For anyone who is paying for their own education and working two jobs to do it, is not going to be overly concerned with husband hunting.

        Patton writes from a unrealistic privileged point of view. She does’t understand the reality of college life.

    • L-dan

      So her sons couldn’t find anyone willing to put up with them for long and the conclusion is…all the college women are at fault? That’s some crack investigation there…or maybe investigation while on crack.

      Sounds like her influence has made her sons unpleasant companions, thus warning women off before they even need to contemplate the horrible mother in-law possibilities.

      • cjvg

        That is what my conclusion would be.

        However she apparently decided that the lack of interest by “quality” girls in her sons and their friends must be because of the girls unseemly focus on their education and their careers.

        Despite the very apparent evidence that plenty of other males can and do have committed relationships with “quality” girls (as she calls it) her sons and their friends lack of such can not possibly be because (gasp) the girls just do not find her sons such a great catch.

        I have to say it would be a small miracle if her sons did not happen to be unbelievable jacka$$es with such a mother.
        Of course stranger things have happened but note that her sons have not contradicted their mothers assessment of their wonderfulness.

        • lady_black

          Perhaps that’s the excuse they give her when she badgers them about getting married. If they are recent grads, they are likely to be fairly young and not good marriage material or just plain not ready yet. Mom needs to lighten up. Her sons have their whole life to be married.

      • expect_resistance

        Maybe her sons don’t want to get married. Do you think she’s thought of that?

        • L-dan

          Also a point.

          Though obviously she expected her sons to make their catch while in college? I wonder if she’d have been as upset if they’d chosen not to focus on their career and education while they were there in favor of trying harder to hunt for wives.

          • lady_black

            I’ve never met a man who is looking for marriage while college age, nor any mother who would think that was a good idea. In college, you’re supposed to be focusing on your education, not looking for your soul mate. That’s more than enough responsibility, and I’m speaking as someone who’s done it. Of course, I didn’t have parents who had hundreds of thousands of dollars to hand me an education. I went on scholarships and my own dime. I think you appreciate an education more when you work hard for it and it’s not just another expensive present.

          • CJ99

            When I was in college I was on student loans which were a B**** to pay off afterwards, not counting the banks screwups during college. Plus in the program I took (Electronics) there were very few women involved. A class with more than 1 or 2 women was often a huge surprise.

        • HeilMary1

          They might even be gay but afraid to tell her.

    • expect_resistance

      The writings of Susan Patton are like nails on a chalk-board. The way she scolds and shames women is highly offensive. Obviously, marriage is not the goal of college. I don’t think anyone should be “planning for their husbands” while in college. And it’s very hetrosexist too. Does she think all women are straight?

      • lady_black

        I have no time for “planning for my husband” and I’m married. His planning is HIS responsibility and not mine. Of course, I will do any favor he asks of me (and vice versa) but he needs to do his own planning.

    • Mirable

      Just a heads up: marcus fenix relies almost exclusively on semantics

      He will also argue that unless a woman is directly killed by pregnancy, pregnancy is not in fact dangerous, and that ‘car accidents’ are also tallied as ‘pregnancy related death’, and that pre-existing conditions are responsible for pregnancy complications, never the pregnancy

      • cjvg

        Thanks, now I have to figure out where I was when I encountered that one!
        Obviously if that is his sole recourse there is depressingly little braim matter to work with there.

        I’m finally home after having been out of town for a while so I’m baking bread. Since it takes a long time in-between risings and proofing I was bored and had some time to surf the web extensively.

        • Mirable

          He replied to you on Secular Pro-Life.

          He’s a bullshit artist.

          • cjvg

            Secular pro-life always seems to come down to the fact that women have the accept the feelings and believes (faith) of these so called “secular” lifers as unassailable!

            They are all BS artists

          • Mirable

            Most of their arguments are written by Christians.

          • CJ99

            Marcus is a gamer troll who probably got banned for life off xbox live and needs to fill in the time. Not surprisingly he brought his talents to non-gaming sites as they’re the only ones who’ve not banned him outright (yet). Whats really depressing if you do hit some of the gaming sites you’ll find an army of trolls just like him, and not surprisingly that’s an area thats male dominated. I don’t think I need explain why either.

      • Ella Warnock

        Marlise Munoz’s second pregnancy killed her. No pre-existing conditions there.

    • CJ99

      Brings up the questions what are her sons like? with a parent like that I suspect they’re likely quite screwed up.

  • HeilMary1

    And looks. All the subservient husband hunting in the world won’t be successful if one doesn’t have the looks to begin with. That’s why I ended up with no one. And so many women who did end up with someone soon got dumped because their looks were affected by pregnancy and most husbands don’t have patience for disabled kids.

    • disqus_ok9xndxFPu

      Many men are better than that. Not meeting society’s definition of beautiful can be a barrier, but it’s not a death knell. Plenty of so-called “ugly” women marry and are very happy because there are plenty of men out there who don’t care as long as their partner has a compatible personality.

      And most dads actually do have the patience to care for their children, disability or no… Working with the disabled community, I know of a lot of marriages that dissolved because of disabled kids, but none where the dad doesn’t take on his fair share of the responsiblity. Usually if the marriage dissolves it’s just because the stress of dealing with the situation prevents them from maintaining their relationship.

      • expect_resistance

        I’m sorry but you don’t understand what HeilMary is saying.

        • HeilMary1

          Thank you! Having lived in Baltimore, Philly, Topeka, and now the Washington, DC area, I’ve always been surrounded by snooty looksist males and their in-denial wives and girlfriends. One proudly non-looksist male bragged about having the hots for grandmotherly Barbara Bush types. But he was severely visually impaired with glaucoma and had a very abrasive personality. Never met his girlfriend, but she reportedly fit the bill.

          • expect_resistance

            Thanks Mary. I was afraid I was out of line in my reply.

          • HeilMary1

            Disqus_ok is missing the point that the exceptions he/she knows about haven’t helped me at all. Moreover, I’m stuck with the massive shortage of men caused by our century of non-stop wars. My family’s goal, like the antis with their time-wasting laws, was to run out my clock by denying me plastic surgery until I was too old for anyone worthwhile to marry. They viciously interfered with my attempts to use my own wages to pay for surgery and they harassed my surgeons. One surgeon said he was ready to sue my mom because she tried to get his license suspended. She was livid that 25-year-old me might get a date afterwards, and she pushed one young handsome sex offender priest and a severely CP-disabled and blind friend of my Ayatollah anti-abortion brother on me as compensation prizes!

  • Jennifer Starr

    This advice from a woman who just divorced her husband of twenty-seven years and now says that she regrets her marriage because he wasn’t a Princeton graduate and had no respect for the ‘orange and black’ ?!? Her marriage is her business, but that’s got to be one of the strangest statements I’ve ever heard.

    • lady_black

      Her problem is that her husband isn’t a Princeton grad? Surely she knew that when she married him. This woman HAS no problems, outside her own mental issues. She wouldn’t know a real problem if it fell out of the sky, landed on her face and started wiggling.

    • HeilMary1

      As a disfigured old maid with a low-income B.F.A. who couldn’t even land a homeless drunk, let alone a janitor, I’m appalled at her ingratitude for the dumped hubby.

      • Aquaria

        Maybe the reason you’re rejected is because people can sense how you judge them as being so shallow as to care only about your looks. That’s sort of insulting, and it will show in your behavior toward them that they pick up on.

        If you don’t want to be judged or have people make unwarranted assumptions about you, don’t do it to them!

        Really.

        P.S. Don’t want guys to want to be with you despite your looks. Expect them to want to be with you for things about you that make your looks irrelevant.

        • Mirable

          I don’t think it’s that easy. Especially after a lifetime of abuse + being judged by shallow people.

          • HeilMary1

            Exactly!

        • expect_resistance

          Take your foot out of your mouth. Your post is very judgmental. You need to stop that crap right now. You have no idea what you are taking about.

        • HeilMary1

          Actually, they don’t give me a chance because their opening lines are insults about my looks. Strangers, whose faces I couldn’t see, have hurled insults as they drove by! And I’ve met plenty of men who’ve passionately agreed with me on most topics, but they couldn’t get past my looks and told me so.

  • bitchybitchybitchy

    More trees and Kindles will die for this book which will end up on a remainder table at Books-a-Million, B&N, and Wonder Books.

    • CJ99

      I’d say leave it in public washrooms in case of toilet paper shortages.

  • lady_black

    I think I would have loved your mother. She sounds a lot like mine. Not all men want airheads in their 20s. Believe it or not, some men are looking for women who are intelligent and educated, and have goals in life. Those are the keepers. Those are the men who want a partner, friend and companion in a relationship of equals. The ones looking for 20 year old hot pole dancers are usually bad news, and thus they want someone who won’t know how much better they could do.

    • HeilMary1

      Most wolves of Wall Street belong in jail.

      • expect_resistance

        Yes they do!

  • CJ99

    She sounds like one of those cult members who marry off 12 or 13 year old girls to much older men. Disgustipation is what I call it. On another part of the same coin people have to face facts that in this world many families need 2 incomes to survive.