Yes,Yes, Y’all Women Can Have it All: An Open Letter to Susan Patton

Dear Ms. Patton,

Last Saturday I came across an article you wrote in the Daily Princetonian about why women who go to Princeton should get their MRS degree before they graduate. Jaw-dropped and aghast I recounted the contents of your piece to my sister over lunch that day. My sister’s initial response was “Did she really say this?” “Well maybe she was kidding?” “Do you think she was kidding?” “Let’s hope she was kidding.” And 4 or 5 days later I got my answer when I came across the second post you wrote in the Huffington Post defending your original position to the ground. After having read both your pieces and watched the fire storm of video clips and interviews that followed I’m appalled on so many different levels. If there’s one thing that history has taught it’s that education has always been the path by which women (and many racial/ ethnic groups) have sought to gain and exercise their full potential. That’s why they fought for it. For you to suggest that the only way women can graft their sense of value is through men, by proxy is DIS-empowering and furthermore makes a mockery of the hard won achievements of the decades of women that have gone before us. It’s also heterosexist and in very poor taste. We have a (bad) habit in this culture of linking heterosexual desire, love, and romance whether intentionally or unintentionally to happiness. But what does that mean for our LGBT friends? Us heteros don’t own the patent on happy and valued relationships you know. And here’s a newsflash – TRADITIONAL IS OUT! Women (and men) for that fact are getting married later in life. Same-sex couples have been challenging the notion of what family is and looks like. In this day and age there are many ways for women at whatever stage of life they find themselves in to have the family and the love they want and desire. So, if a woman chooses IVF, adoption, and/or surrogacy who are you to suggest that she has lost out or it is tragic in some way? To be clear the difficulty that women have in achieving work-life balance has to do with unequal pay in the work place, un-equitable sharing of household responsibilities by men, lack of flexible work schedules, and feasible childcare arrangements. That is where the blame and critique has to lie – with our social institutions, inequality, societal expectations and norms around gender, patriarchy, and sexism, not with so called “flawed choicing skills” of educated straight women. Well-meaning advice about our biological clock ticking only adds insult to injury and exacerbates unfounded social pressures and fears that if we hetero women don’t meet our mates early in life we may well have missed our chance. Does marriage have an expiration date? Moreover, if the conventional wisdom is that men feel threatened by women who are more educated than them that should give us pause and we should really be concerned about what qualities we are socializing straight men to look for in a life partner. Really, it’s a criticism of masculinity that needs to be levied here. Also, there’s no guarantee that if well-educated straight women marry straight men from elite institutions they won’t be threatened by their intelligence either. Their male partners could very well be narcissistic in which case these well educated women could spend the rest of their lives competing with their husbands who feel the need to shore up their masculinity by always topping their wives. Lastly, I resent the implication that there are only two categories for women “dumb and pretty” and therefore by default “smart and ugly” – that kind of thinking and rhetoric is both reductionist and dangerous. If as you claim men are willing to marry girls who are less well educated if they “hot” or “good looking” then once again we should be concerned about what qualities we are socializing straight men to look for in a life partner. Like my friend Courtney would say “Am I not sexy with a book? Pretty in our culture is extremely objectified and a very coded word that is based on artificial norms which are racialized, class, and gender specific as well. As a thirty something African-American woman pursuing my PhD where would I fit in your dichotomy? I am never going to be a blond busty chick with long flowing hair and soft doe eyes, and petite lips. And if smarts don’t count for much according to your equation, I’m royally flushed. Bottom line Ms. Patton, the advice your dispensing is retro, outdated, passé but most of all its harmful and offensive! I think when it comes down to it its about choosing well and straight men from elite institutions are not the only partners worth having. To suggest that men can have it all but women have to make sacrifices is not a message that I am comfortable passing down to our sisters, daughters, or our sons for that matter. Instead we should tell women they can GET EVERYTHING and to surround themselves with people who will help them achieve, do, be, and have everything they ever wanted. Yes, yes, y’all, women can have it all!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s