By Kelly Wallace | CNN
(CNN)—Before sitting down with “Princeton mom” Susan Patton, I was fairly certain there was nothing I would find redeeming about her or her new book, “Marry Smart,” with its message that women should spend 75% of their time in college looking for a man.
After all, her letter to the “Daily Princetonian” last year, which went viral, outraged many women, myself included, with its message that a woman should find a husband on campus before she graduates.
What? Haven’t we come a long way, baby, from the days when a woman’s only focus was marriage and motherhood?
After my hourlong conversation and polite give and take with Patton, a 59-year-old human resources consultant and executive coach, I found myself still not agreeing with much of what she thinks but understanding the reasoning behind her efforts to get the conversation going.
I remember seeing a magazine piece shortly after I graduated college in the late 1980s that pictured a 40-something business woman with a title something along the lines of “I Forgot to Have Kids.”
That image, and the harsh reality at that time for many highly successful professional women, stayed with me for years. I continued my career as a fairly hard-driving news reporter, but in the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted children and didn’t want to wake up one day regretting that I never made motherhood a priority.
In a small but highly controversial way, Patton may be doing something similar for young women in college who want to get married and have kids someday. “Honey, keep this in mind. You cannot wait forever to get married and have children,” she tells them, citing declining fertility rates for women in their 30s.
While I understand Patton’s desire to have young women feel more comfortable admitting whether they want motherhood in addition to (or in the absence of) a career, I wondered if her delivery, and her words, are doing more to set modern women back.
Patton, who is divorced and whose sons followed her to Princeton (one is still an undergraduate), didn’t mince words during our conversation. An edited version of our talk is below:
Kelly: Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Patton: Of course, I am fully supportive of equal rights and equal opportunity for women, and I recognize that I am one of the earliest beneficiaries of the good works of the women’s movement. …
However, feminism has taken a turn to the dark side. Feminists have become antagonistic. They’ve become bullying of women who aspire to traditional roles, women who want anything for themselves different from what the feminists, the very strident feminists’ doctrine, is directing them towards.
Kelly: Forget the feminist label. Many modern women like myself believe in empowering women to make the choices they want to make, and that many women would choose a career and marriage and motherhood, too.
Patton: In my experience, I certainly agree that modern women today do want marriage and motherhood. The problem is they’re afraid to say so because of the vitriol, because of this antagonist feminist doctrine that would have them believe that marriage and motherhood is somehow not cool. … It’s so retro. It’s so backwards. It’s so 1950s.
Kelly: I don’t know if people would say it’s so retro. … You want to be empowered to have the career choices you want to have as well as be a mother and be in a relationship if you want marriage and family, too.
Patton: If you delay starting a family and finding a husband until your mid-30s, a few things happen. One, from the perspective of your fertility, you’re out of luck or maybe you’re out of luck. …
The other component of this, so you’re 35, who are you going to be looking at to marry? I’m going to say most women who are 35 are going to be looking for a man around the same age, or maybe a year or two older. So let’s take the man of 36. He’s quite happy to actually be with a woman 10 years younger.
Kelly: You say women should spend 75% of their time in college looking for a man versus 25% on their career. How is that not setting women back professionally in terms of their future careers that you admit are important?
Patton: I don’t think it hurts them at all because you can make up lost time at work. Work a little harder, it’s OK. You can make up that lost time if you are focused on your personal happiness, which I guarantee you will outlast your professional happiness. Your career is going to come to an end eventually.
Kelly: Had I married any of my boyfriends in college, I’d be divorced.
Patton: I’ve heard this argument before, that in your early 20s, you don’t know who you are going to evolve into by the time you’re 30. If you wait until you’re 30 to get married, you don’t know who you are going to evolve into by the time that you ‘re 40, but I can guarantee you it’ll be somebody very different than you were when you were 30. …
I think the smartest thing that a young woman or a young man can do is find a life partner who shares your values, who shares your love of learning, who shares your intellectual curiosity, who will applaud you, who will encourage you, and who you can grow with and evolve with through the decades.
Kelly: I’m lucky. I got married at 36.
Patton: Right under the wire.
Kelly: You talk about “Marrying Smart” and spending more time in college to find that right person, but you have to believe it’s also very important for women, at the same time, to be fulfilled and find what they want because their marriage could end; 50% of marriages end in divorce.
Patton: I’m saying by all means develop your career, develop your professional self because that’s critically important. … Women have to know that they are responsible for their own safety. They’re responsible for their own happiness. I am not saying a man is going to make you happy. I’m not saying that a marriage will make you happy. I hope it does, but don’t expect that.
Don’t expect to only be happy because of your marriage. Happiness comes from within clearly, and obviously nobody knows better than a divorced person how happy a marriage can make you (or) not.
Kelly: I cracked up when I read what you wrote: “Be aware of marrying a dumb guy for good sex. The sex won’t improve, and he’ll never get smarter.”
Patton: There are two barnyard analogies that I cite regularly. The first is men will not buy the cow if the milk is free, and that’s the truth. If you give men sex without commitment, you have eliminated the incentive for them to commit. …
An equally important barnyard analogy has to do with just what you’re talking about: the bad guys, the crazy boys, just the men you know you shouldn’t spend time with. I’m telling women avoid wasting time with the pigs for the sake of a little sausage.
Kelly: Can’t stop laughing.
Patton: It’s absolutely true. I understand that women have needs, but not with that.
Kelly: You basically say if you require major (cosmetic) bodywork, get it done in high school. That’s pretty outrageous. We want to encourage our girls to love themselves. The last thing we want to do is push them to have plastic surgery.
Patton: I would never have plastic surgery, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anybody except if you have a tragic flaw, something that enters the room before you do such that you are hounded by it, such that it so impacts your self-image.
Kelly: How do your sons feel about your newfound celebrity and your views?
Patton: There’s not a thing that I’ve said that they haven’t heard me say for decades. They are delighted that I found another platform by which to share my views with a broader audience, and they are absolutely delighted that I am having so much fun doing it.
Kelly: You have to have a pretty thick skin, I think, to put yourself out there with a very controversial position and not feel the blowback.
Patton: It doesn’t bother me at all because I am so completely confident in what I’m saying. … There was nothing in this for me other than my absolute conviction that this is a message that our young women need because all they’re hearing is you have to focus on work, work, work.
Kelly: Do you feel misunderstood by many women who are criticizing you and who say you are setting women back?
Patton: Well, they clearly haven’t read what I’ve written. They’ve controverted what I’ve said for their own purposes, or they’re so caught up in trying to look politically correct that they’ve gone in a different direction from where I’m writing. I’m not criticizing anybody. I’m not suggesting that you not pursue a career. I’m just saying if you know this is what you want, plan for it because it doesn’t just happen.
Kelly: Many people think you are evil.
Patton: I’m not the one that’s evil. I’m trying to encourage a conversation. I’m trying to bring to the fore a dialogue that’s been suppressed. It’s the feminists that are looking to continue to suppress the conversation. That’s evil.
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