04/02/2013 06:03 pm ET Updated Jun 02, 2013

James Taranto Didn't Tell The Truth About College Women And Marriage


The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto wrote a remarkable piece yesterday: his op-ed, "Susan Patton Told The Truth," ostensibly praises a woman -- the Princeton alumna who wrote an instantly viral letter to the editor of the Daily Princetonian Friday encouraging undergraduate women to hurry up and find husband while in college. In reality, the piece drips with disdain for women, especially women who voice their opinions. Much of Taranto's response to Patton reads like an April Fool's joke, and not a tasteful one.

He paraphrases Patton's advice to college women as encouragement "to take advantage of ... their own peak nubility." He refers to Patton as a "feminist pioneer" and describes the discussion her letter provoked among female journalists as a "kerfluffle" in which "every feminist of childbearing age in America (we exaggerate, but only slightly) simultaneously arched her back and let out a deafening hiss." He spends four paragraphs reassuring Susan Patton's son, currently a junior at Princeton, that his dating prospects are as excellent as his mother claimed in her letter, maybe even better. He blames feminism and sexual liberation for the ability "high status" men supposedly have to get any girl they please. And he trots out the old argument that if women were more interested in marriage and refused to give the time of day to men who weren't, "high-status men would face greater pressure to commit and a smaller pool of playmates in college and prospective wives later on."

We could dismiss this as abject trolling on Taranto's part, but since it's possible some people will take his argument seriously, it's worth itemizing its various flaws. The multiple counterarguments to Patton's piece that Taranto mentions and links to in his 2,393-word response demonstrate the ways in which Patton's argument isn't feminist, so I won't dwell on Taranto's claim that she's a pioneer. Let's focus instead on his description of an ideological discussion among respected fellow journalists as a catfight and his dating advice for Patton's son. Both underscore the overall theme of Taranto's piece, which is not to let these tiresome women get you down. Let's also talk about the unfairness of his notion that it's up to college women to tame college men by forgoing any sexual experimentation and dating only husband material, thus offering young men fewer "playmates." Unfortunately for Taranto, most female Princeton students will know the history of putting the ladies on pedestals as a society's keepers of virtue. It's a convenient way of keeping them from asserting certain rights, and also from having any fun.

Topping off the whole thing is the title the Journal chose for it, "Susan Patton told the truth." Which truth? That women at an elite college won't be surrounded by people with the same average SAT score after they graduate? That's probably accurate, though of dubious importance. It is not, however, the truth that a woman's primary focus as an undergraduate should be finding a husband, any more than it is the truth that women are responsible for men's unwillingness to commit. It is not the truth that women need husbands to have children or be financially stable or happy. More women than ever are remaining single, and as Hanna Rosin demonstrated in The End of Men, they have more and more incentive to do so as marriage and motherhood increasingly involve a woman being the family's sole breadwinner, with very little time or energy left for personal fulfillment.

We once accepted Patton and Taranto's "truth" the way we accepted "the truth" that women couldn't handle money and couldn't possibly run companies and "the truths" that if you were too career-focused, no man would ever be attracted to you, and if you enjoyed sex, no man would ever marry you (thank you, Helen Gurley Brown, for taking care of both those myths).

It will remain the truth that women hold only 20 percent of seats in the Senate and 17.7 percent in the House, that girls aren't encouraged the way boys are to think of political office as a possible career path, that women are encouraged at every age and by a multitude of different entities to focus on their appearances above all -- unless individuals like the female journalists Taranto calls out push back just like they did. The entire project of educating women has been about the discovery of new and different truths.

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