Whether or not the timing of Susan Patton's letter to the editor of the Daily Princetonian was intentional or coincidental, it certainly appears to fly in the face of author Sheryl Sandberg's newly released book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
Interesting enough, Sheryl's Lean In advice provides the perfect segue to understanding the seemingly divergent messages of these two women, i.e. "reflecting someone's viewpoint clarifies the disagreement and becomes a starting point for resolution."
Susan Patton's message to the women at Princeton University was to find a husband at Princeton before they graduated college. However, just like Sheryl, Susan's viewpoint evolved from her personal experiences. While at Princeton, Susan claims she openly acknowledged she wanted to get married and have children. Although her letter doesn't address whether she also desired a career outside of the home, it clearly asserts that an intellectual woman will have a difficult time finding an equally intellectual man after college graduation. Reading between the lines, it appears as though Susan's viewpoint is a reflection of not marrying a man of equal intelligence, and now being a statistic of divorce.
Although both Susan and Sheryl acknowledge that a woman's future and happiness is significantly impacted by the man she marries, Susan's letter correlates a happy marriage to the sole factor of intellect. On the contrary, Sheryl acknowledges the difficulties of marriage, and the importance of being true partners.
As the saying goes, a person's perception is their reality. This reality is often dramatically altered after a divorce, and provides a person the opportunity to go back and play the game "what I should have done." Susan's viewpoint wasn't that women should get married before they graduate. Rather, it was that during college, Princeton women should find Princeton men to be their future husbands, as they are of equal intellect, and men of equal intellect will be harder to find after college.
Susan's viewpoint not only emphasizes the societal pressure of women finding a husband and getting married, but also compounds the pressure by telling women they need to find that husband in college. Although Sheryl didn't succumb to the pressure of marriage until she was 24, I feel confident she would not support adding to the already existent pressure. However, surprisingly enough, I do believe Susan and Sheryl actually share some of the same viewpoints. I think Sheryl would agree a true partnership requires a similar level of intelligence. In addition, the concept that an intellectual woman can be intimidating to men is a concept readily recognized by Sheryl, as she herself acknowledged she didn't want others to know she was voted most likely to succeed in high school.
A fatal flaw in Susan's advice is ignoring the reality that personal growth after college is significant. Even though there are some men who may be interested in finding their forever mate in college, the larger percentage are more interested in sowing their wild oats. The goals, desires, interests and maturity level of both men and women in their twenties are ever changing. How is a woman supposed to find a husband when the potential husband is still trying to find himself? More importantly, how is a woman to find a husband when she is still trying to find herself?
Susan's message about the importance of finding a husband with a similar intellect is a good message. However, it is just one of many factors that will lead to a marriage being an equal partnership. Perhaps the resolution of these ostensibly different views is to concentrate on the traits that are important if a person desires to marry versus the timing of looking for those traits.