Shawna Atteberry

Baker, Writer, Teacher

Why Susan Patton Is Wrong About College Women & Marriage

Susan Patton would be vastly disappointed with me. The mom of two Princeton sons, whose letter to Princeton and now an editorial in the Wall Street Journal telling women in college to marry while there before all of the good fish in the sea are gone, does not want to hear how I didn’t even meet my husband until I was 28, and then I didn’t bother to marry him for another eight years. According to her, I was a very lucky woman who had focused on my career and graduate studies to find a man at all since I didn’t grab one up in college:

Could you marry a man who isn’t your intellectual or professional equal? Sure. But the likelihood is that it will be frustrating to be with someone who just can’t keep up with you or your friends. When the conversation turns to Jean Cocteau or Henrik Ibsen, the Bayeux Tapestry or Noam Chomsky, you won’t find that glazed look that comes over his face at all appealing. And 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.

So what’s a smart girl to do? Start looking early and stop wasting time dating men who aren’t good for you: bad boys, crazy guys and married men.

College is the best place to look for your mate. It is an environment teeming with like-minded, age-appropriate single men with whom you already share many things. You will never again have this concentration of exceptional men to choose from.

The biggest problem I have with Patton’s view is her poor opinion of men. She seems to imply that men hit their peak in college then it’s all downhill from there. If I was one of Patton’s sons I’d be pretty depressed about my mother’s view on men. She seems to think that men are these delicate flowers whose egos have to be constantly assuaged, and after college they are just not going to become more intelligent, better people as they continue to grow up. To be honest, I’m pretty insulted on behalf of all the wonderful men in my life who are incredibly intelligent and love strong intelligent women. I have more than one male friend who has no problem with his wife, partner, or significant other making more money than he does. Patton’s view of men and their delicate egos does not line up with the men I know. Neither does her view that as a woman gets older she’ll find fewer and fewer intelligent men available. I have found the exact opposite to be true. And yes there are men who once they hit their 30s only date women in their 20s, but I don’t think it’s as normative as Patton implies. I have plenty of friends in their 30s who have married in the last five years to people the same age as them (or close to).

I’m sure this is exactly what Patton’s Wall Street Journal readers want to read. After all the old white boys club does not want their patriarchy to change. They want women put back in their place, so that men can continue to rule the world without worrying about pesky annoyances like maternity leave, family leave, equal pay, or the fact that birth control is basic healthcare. Patton is doing everything she can to help them out. Thanks Susan. I wonder if her views would be different if she had daughters instead of sons?

There is also one other huge problem with Patton’s article. She’s wrong. Women with college educations are more likely to be married by 40 than woman without college degrees, whether these women married in college or not. In College Women, Don’t Listen to Marriage Concern Trolls Amanda Marcotte cites a study done by Paula England who said: “[Women with college educations] marry later, but they catch up. By age 40, 75 percent of college-educated women are married, compared to 70 percent of those who attend high school or some college and 60 percent of those who did not complete high school.” Older men don’t seem to be turned off by smart women their age if 75% of those women are married by the age of 40. England’s study also found that college educated women who married later stayed married longer. How many friends do you have who married in college and are now divorced? So not only are women who didn’t marry in college more likely to get married than women without a college degree, they are more likely to stay married.

I also have theological concerns about Patton’s views on women, men, and marriage. The biggest concern is one I have talked about over and over on this website, and it comes straight from Christian conservative circles as well: it’s the belief that a woman’s primary purpose in life is to marry and have children, and everything else in life should be subsumed under those two roles. It has to be that way because woman was made to be a “helpmate” to man. Of course no one wants to talk about how that word is a mistranslation of the Hebrew phrase it interprets (it is not a translation). Ezer Cenegdo literally means a help or power equal to. Woman was created to be a help and a power equal to a man. In English Bibles the King James Version has the most accurate translation: helpmeet. They also never talk about the reason woman was created is because it was not good for the man to be alone. You will never hear any of these conservatives say that a man’s primary responsibility in life is to be a husband and father to the exclusion of everything else because it is not good for a man to be alone. Just because human beings are created for companionship does not mean that one relationship and family unit should override everything else.

In fact, Genesis 1 has a very balanced view of work and family life:

Then Godde said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So Godde created humankind in Godde’s image, in the image of Godde Godde created them; male and female Godde created them. Godde blessed them, and Godde said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28, adapted from the NRSV).

The creation story in Genesis 2 interprets humanity’s dominion over the earth into the man and woman tending the Garden of Eden. Again in that creation account human beings are told to work and reproduce. They were to make the earth fruitful and be fruitful themselves. Work and family have always gone hand-in-hand in the Bible. The main difference today is that men and women no longer work at home as was true in the Bible, but both men and women have always worked to financially provide for their families from the very beginning. This idea that women have to devalue their education and career to be marriageable is not Biblical, and I would go so far as to say it is sin. It encourages us to disobey the greatest commandment: to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and with all of our strength (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).

I’m not saying marriage and parenthood are not vital roles in life or are not needed. I’m happily married. I have to say it’s one of my favorite sacraments. I’m just saying it’s not the be all and end all of life for women, and we need to stop talking about it that way. Especially as Christians with a call to love Godde above all else and commanded to build her kingdom on earth. Churches should be encouraging their women to do everything in their power to hone their Godde-given skills to build the Kingdom of Godde in our lives, neighborhood, and cities. Kingdom building may start in the home, but it never ends there.

Yes, Susan Patton is wrong. She’s wrong about women. She’s wrong about men. And she’s wrong about marriage. Women and men created in Godde’s image are to be revolutionary world changers bringing the love and peace of Godde into their worlds through the gifts and callings Godde has given them. They should be taught to encourage one another to continue in their faith and education, and to spur each other on to be better Christians and better human beings. They can’t do that if half of them are being told to hide their lights under bushels and pretend to be less than they are for the other half. Potential husbands and wives should be taught that the stronger they are as individuals the stronger they will be as a couple. And this is how Godde intended it.