This week in Brave Souls: Maureen O’Connor has infiltrated the tiger’s den to speak with Susan Patton, aka Princeton Mom, the spirit animal for professionally accomplished women who wish they had married young. The profile is rich in delicious details, like Patton’s “ringleted bouffant updo,” her dachshund Lucille (with “naturally orange fur,” because Princeton), and the fact that she wishes to remarry in the campus chapel, surrounded by orange roses.
The PM urges 29-year-old Princeton alum O’Connor to decide immediately whether she wants a husband and children, and it sounds a lot like momsplaining to O’Connor that she definitely wants a husband and children. When O’Connor floats waiting until the divorce wave and then “[marrying] into stepmotherhood,” PM is chagrined. “Is that what you want?” she asks. “You want to raise another woman’s kids? Terrible, Maureen. Terrible, terrible, terrible.”
This, in three words, pretty much sums up most people’s reaction to the Princeton Mom. And I agree: She is a nut with a devastatingly retrograde vision of gender relations, an unpardonable elitist streak, and probably two very embarrassed sons. (Hang in there, guys!) She is a lady who unironically compares young women having casual sex to lonely cows. She believes date rape should be called “mistake sex.” She’s against interracial and interfaith marriages, has weird hang-ups about older women courting younger men, and as far as I can tell views love as an economic transaction between two resumes.
That said, O’Connor writes, “it’s hard not to be charmed by Patton’s spirit.”
Her snobbery is actually quite modern, and fueled by an unexpected streak of feminist gumption. Patton was raised in the Bronx by Eastern European immigrants….Though she was at the top of her class at her public high school, her parents opposed a college education. To apply to Princeton, Patton had to declare herself an emancipated minor. ‘I wanted a much broader life than just motherhood. My parents didn’t see the value in that, they couldn’t understand. They saw it for my brother, but not for me. And he would tell you this: He wasn’t much of a student. But I was, and I always wanted a bigger life, a more creative life, a more engaged life, out of the Bronx.’
Patton's life experience sure seems to contradict her advice to young women. (In her star-minting Daily Princetonian op-ed, and in a new book she has coming out called Marry Smart: Advice for Finding THE ONE, her argument appears to be that “just motherhood” actually fulfills us more than professional success ever could.) Still, Princeton Mom has an incredibly positive view of what women are capable of. She just thinks she knows better than we do what will make us happy.
Many sexists uphold traditional gender roles because they believe women can’t hack it outside the home. Patton claims the opposite: “Incredibly accomplished women,” she tells O’Connor “come to me when they’re in their mid- to late-30s. … I’m talking about women who are editors-in-chief, heads of marketing, publishers. They’re making 400 or 500,000 a year. They have wardrobe budgets, salon budgets, T&E budgets. Endless budgets! They’re on every A-list in town.” Princeton Mom’s pet subject is women with resplendent CVs, a Rothko in the living room, and a hole in their hearts; she likes to warn girls about the frustrations of dating “someone who just can’t keep up.” Her take on the post-graduation dating pool: “Can you meet brilliant, marriageable men after college? Yes, but just not that many of them. Once you're living off campus and in the real world, you'll be stunned by how smart the men are not.”
In a way, the women in the Pattonverse are victims of their own worth and success, and PM's looney tunes ramblings take female megastardom for granted. Princeton Mom is wrong about what All Women Want, but for slightly less offensive reasons than the people who think ladies are too weak/emotional/dumb to do anything besides arrange canapés on a plate. Her breed of backwardness is kind of refreshing.
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