Now and then, you’ll read something that makes your head just hurt. Sure, this seems to be happening more often lately, but this one really sucked.
A Princeton alum recently wrote a letter to the current students of her alma mater. Did she encourage them to embrace the moment? Did she push them to realize their potential? Did she ask them to venture boldly into the world to make a difference? Nope. She told them not to neglect their studies in pursuit of the rare Mrs. degree [emphasis mine]:
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.
Excuse me? Did a well-educated woman really just advise a group of young women that their happiness is dependent on finding a suitable mate? Did I just get time-warped back to 1956?
Please don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a criticism of marriage or partnership or romance. If that’s what you want, go for it. If it’s important to you, I get it. I’m not saying those are bad life choices, or even questionable ones. But to prioritize THAT issue for ALL female students at one of the most PRESTIGIOUS universities in the country isn’t just laughable – it’s offensive.
Patton had every right to say what she did. But that doesn’t mean she should have said it. Her language evaluates female worth according to male relationships, which (ignoring the insensitivity to LGBT communities – all women have to marry men?!) diminishes perceived inherent worth in a person by linking it to gender. Are you less of a person because you don’t get married? Are you less accomplished because you’re addressed as “Ms.” instead of “Mrs.”? Is it really the smartest use of hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt to spend time chasing after what you’re “supposed” to want, instead of – I don’t know – pursuing the education you came for? Of course not.
I tried to think of a way this message could have been delivered in a less offensive manner, but there really isn’t one. Her argument is not that individuals who are interested in marriage should focus on finding a partner during this time period; her argument is that finding a partner is the most important element of self-fulfillment and happiness. It’s this hierarchy that causes the problem.
When we place external, gender-based validation above self-love and betterment, we create a recipe for self-loathing and regret. How many more decades of failed or miserable marriages based on these faulty assumptions about worth must we endure before we stop telling women that they’ve arrived when there’s a ring on their left hand? Again, it’s not that marriage or relationships are bad. It’s the idea that these relationships are more important than who we are as individuals that’s bad.
And really, it’s an insult to marriage to frame it in this light. Marriage is about love and a lifelong commitment to someone for whom you care deeply. When we talk about it like it’s something to check off your list on the quest to a picture perfect biography, it cheapens that idea. That’s not something anyone should want.
My advice to the women of Princeton, and women everywhere? Love yourself first. Then figure out whether you want to be with someone else.