What was wrong with me? Was I just selfish?
I was polishing off a doughnut late last night when I happened upon an article published in your paper on February 13, 2014 by Susan Patton titled: ‘A Little Valentine's Day Straight Talk,’ in which Patton surmised that “Young women in college need to smarten up and start husband-hunting!” (Exclamation mine.) I mention the doughnut only because it served to heighten my enjoyment of this particular manifesto.
Patton has given single women everywhere a little 'motherly' advice to chew on in order to avoid “Another Valentine's Day, another night spent ordering in sushi for one and mooning over 'Downton Abbey' reruns,” as the author puts it.
But there are more than a few factual errors in Patton’s treatise -- not the least of which is that the TV show of choice for singles and couples alike this past Valentine’s Day was actually 'House of Cards' -- so I’d like to take this opportunity to correct them.
Patton begins her essay by stating that:
“Despite all of the focus on professional advancement, for most of you the cornerstone of your future happiness will be the man you marry. But chances are that you haven't been investing nearly as much energy in planning for your personal happiness as you are planning for your next promotion at work. What are you waiting for?"
The idea that the cornerstone of a woman's happiness is the man she marries is beyond hackneyed, but we're only 20 words into her proclamation at this point -- so I was inclined to give this essay the benefit of the doubt. But then:
"Think about it: If you spend the first 10 years out of college focused entirely on building your career, when you finally get around to looking for a husband you'll be in your 30s, competing with women in their 20s. That's not a competition in which you're likely to fare well. If you want to have children, your biological clock will be ticking loud enough to ward off any potential suitors. Don't let it get to that point."
Patton's conceit here is that men only want to marry younger women, specifically those in their twenties -- despite evidence that when the age of marriage goes up, the divorce rate goes down. Her assertion is devoid of any evidence (even anecdotal!) of this being true -- and conveniently ignores the fact that many of these young marriages actually end in divorce.
Later in her decree, Patton muses on women who choose to pursue careers and college degrees:
“An extraordinary education is the greatest gift you can give yourself. But if you are a young woman who has had that blessing, the task of finding a life partner who shares your intellectual curiosity and potential for success is difficult. Those men who are as well-educated as you are often interested in younger, less challenging women.”
Patton appears to be echoing author Maureen Dowd’s 'Are Men Necessary?', a 2005 dissertation about how feminism has failed women. Dowd’s book posited that men are put off by women in power -- that they prefer women who serve them, such as maids, masseuses, and secretaries instead of their intellectual equals.
However, in the nine years between Dowd’s manifesto and Patton’s current motherly musings, the social landscape has changed. The participants Dowd based her thesis on are all now octogenarians, and boy, are the times different since they were of the marrying age.
Current findings from the Pew Research Center actually show that a record number of women are in fact ‘marrying down’, as nearly 21% of married women in 2012 were better educated than their spouse -- while just less than 20% of men had more education than their wives. It would seem that knowledge really IS power.
Then there's Patton’s warning to young women that:
“If you start to earn more than he does? Forget about it. Very few men have egos that can endure what they will see as a form of emasculation.”
The old adage that men are intimidated by women with more earning power is usually trotted out in tandem with the trope that women should withhold sex in order to seem ‘more marriageable’. Patton doesn’t disappoint on that front -- as she drops this brand new, never-before-heard truth bomb just three paragraphs after chiding smart young women to be a little stupider to snag a man:
“Men won't buy the cow if the milk is free.”
Some people actually do purchase things after getting a free sample first. (Has Patton never been to Costco?!) But female sluttiness aside, Patton’s reasoning that men don’t want a woman that earns more than them is patently false.
In ‘Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women’, Dr. Christine B. Whelan uses U.S. Census data to show that smart, successful women marry at the same rates as all other women -- and that more income and education may in fact increase a woman's chances of marriage. TIME Magazine’s March 2012 cover story about the rise of the female breadwinner further proves that this sort of advice to young women is flawed, foolish and incorrect. All things being equal, it seems men can be ‘gold diggers’, too.
I’d like to close this letter with a quote from Patton’s marriage-frenzied testament that seems to defy not only the laws of physics but also those of the space-time continuum:
“You're not getting any younger, but the competition for the men you'd be interested in marrying most definitely is.”
So we should assume that if today’s college-aged women are not devoting their time to husband hunting, they will somehow be activating a powerful force within the earth’s core that causes the female ‘competition’ to age in reverse -- like an army of perky, collegiate Benjamin Buttons? That if you, as a woman, are not actively husband-hunting from an early age, you are selfishly dooming all of humanity to certain extinction?
If we take this idea to its logical conclusion, it would seem that not hunting for a husband early enough actually leads to premature aging for women. But the men who have been hunted and their savvy huntresses will remain eternally young, beautiful and carefree! I humbly suggest that Patton’s findings shouldn't have been published in a mere daily newspaper -- they deserve an airing in a publication dedicated to phenomena unexplainable by modern science. (Perhaps the Fortean Times?) Because this new theory really is something.