Thursday, April 25, 2013

A feminine critique: If you like it, there's no need to put a ring on it

By Ruthie Kovanen, Columnist
Four weeks ago, a letter to the editor written by Susan Patton appeared in The Daily Princetonian, Princeton University’s school newspaper.

And it caused an uproar.

Patton, a class of ‘77 Princeton graduate with two Princetonian sons, composed a letter that urges the women of Princeton to search for their future husbands while still in college.

Because of its place as the "cornerstone of your future and happiness" and because "you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you," she argues that it is imperative — or, at least highly advisable — that women find their husbands in college.

Despite good intentions, Patton’s argument is problematic on many levels.

Firstly, Patton overgeneralizes the Princeton student body by implying that all women want to get married. Many people, both men and women, choose not to marry and are just as happy — if not happier than — those who are married.

Another overgeneralization in Patton’s letter is the implied message that all women who want to marry, want to marry men. Patton disregards the options of women marrying women and men marrying men entirely.

Secondly, her statement that, "for most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry" is highly problematic as well.

Not only does this statement further assume that all of her readers want to marry a man, it overgeneralizes women’s aspirations and trivializes their future and future happiness as "inextricably linked" to men. It strips women of the power to create their future and happiness for themselves.

Aside from her overgeneralizations and the implied control that men apparently have over women’s happiness, the letter contains sexist overtones. Throughout the entire letter she encourages women to marry the "smart" men in college as soon as possible — because there won’t be any smart guys left afterward, or at least, "not that many of them."

She doesn’t limit men’s choices in terms of partners, however, as illustrated when she writes about her two sons and their relationship statuses.

Regarding her first son, she says he "had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone."

Later, speaking about her second son, she says, "the universe of women he can marry is limitless."

This distinction made by Patton — that men have a limitless universe of women to choose from while women have, in Patton’s words, "a very limited population of men" — is unfair, restrictive and sexist.

Further developing this sexist divide, Patton writes that "by the time you are a senior, you basically have only the men in your own class to choose from, and frankly, they now have four classes of women to choose from. Maybe you should have been a little nicer to these guys when you were freshmen?"

It is painfully archaic to permit men to date individuals from a wider age rage than women. Rather than empowering women and encouraging them to live up to their full potentials, Patton reinforces outdated mating rituals and dampens women’s autonomy and choice.

Marriage is by no means inherently evil or "anti-feminist." However, Patton’s argument that overgeneralizes her audience’s desires and creates an inequitable playing field between men and women must be taken with caution.

Remember that it is okay to ignore Patton’s argument and the pressure to get a "ring before spring" of your senior year of college.

In the end, one’s personal happiness takes precedence over societal rules and rituals of coupling.

Ruthie Kovanen hails from the great state of Michigan, is a sophomore at Pacific Lutheran University and is studying anthropology, Hispanic studies and women’s and gender studies. Aside from reading and writing about feminism, Ruthie enjoys chatting over a cup of coffee, baking bread and spending time outdoors.