Opinion
Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
Opinion Op-Ed

Daum: Which comes first, husband or career?

Maybe it's spring fever or maybe it's the centrifugal force from all that Sheryl Sandberg-led "leaning in," but it's been a big week for outrage about women and their place.

On Friday, Princeton alumna and parent Susan A. Patton published a letter in the Daily Princetonian urging female students to "find a husband on campus before you graduate," lest they're forced to search for a mate among the teeming masses of the outside world. The letter triggered such a severe case of blogospheric dyspepsia that by Monday, Patton was attempting to clarify her point.

"I sincerely feel that too much focus has been placed on encouraging young women only to achieve professionally," she wrote on the Huffington Post, adding that they'd better cast their lines into the sea of eligible men while they are in college, because "the odds will never be as good again."

Patton's letter prompted a juicy mix of snide humor and feverish indignation. Several bloggers emphasized the fact that Patton had two Princetonian sons, one of whom was still matriculated (and now presumably hiding in the deepest stacks of the Firestone library). "Some Poor Kid's Mom Wrote a Letter to Princeton's Student Newspaper Begging Girls to Date Her Son," went the Gawker headline. Meanwhile, it was pointed out that, as a divorcee, Patton really had no business bullying people into matrimony. (Though, in fairness, Patton suggested that her marriage failed because her husband hadn't gone to Princeton.)

On the chance that Patton is still single and looking for someone who shares her values, she might try her luck with any of the unhitched, old-fashioned gentlemen of the New York Times obituary desk, of which there must be at least a few. In the race to offend women this week, the New York Times was the clear winner. When an obituary for famed spacecraft propulsion scientist Yvonne Brill led with "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children," the Twitterverse exploded.

Why would someone who'd been awarded a technology and innovation medal by the president, someone who was an actual rocket scientist, get an obit that gave top billing to her cooking and her son's testimony that she was "the world's best mom"?

The Brill obituary, like Patton's letter, could have benefited from a rewrite (it got one; the lead was changed without comment). Though each in its own way underscores one of Sandberg's chief talking points — that women should not underestimate what's at stake as they make their choices — I'm not sure they can be submitted as evidence that women are systematically being steered away from careers and goaded into Stepford wifedom. The obituary, to me, was more an example of clumsy writing than intentional chauvinism (as the editor explained it, the intention was to turn "rocket scientist" into a zinger by leading up to it with a list of domestic achievements — some effects work better in the writer's mind than on the page).

As for Patton's manhunt manifesto, it's shrill and spiky, but it's not entirely wrong. Women — and men — who are certain they want marriage and family someday would do well to keep their eyes open in case their ideal mate comes along before they've hiked in Nepal or bought a condo or done whatever constitutes their pre-marital bucket list. True love doesn't magically appear as you get your act together. Sometimes getting your act together requires finding someone to do it with you.

What is problematic about Patton's message is that it assumes that matters of the heart can be approached as pragmatically as matters of business. If you've met your soul mate by the time you're 22, great. But the truth is, most people don't. Often they think they do, only to realize that souls can be fickle. Early marriage proponents might chalk this up to immaturity and a culture of protracted adolescence, but marrying someone not for who he is but for the life he might facilitate for you down the road is pretty immature, too.

That said, Yvonne Brill seemed comfortable with her strategy. "Good husbands are harder to find than good jobs," she was known to say.

Fair enough. But not everyone's a rocket scientist.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Goldberg: The wisdom of Dan Quayle

    Goldberg: The wisdom of Dan Quayle

    His 1992 speech criticizing 'Murphy Brown' stirred controversy, but he was right about the importance of marriage in raising children.

  • Opinion: Anthony Kennedy and the Supremes

    Opinion: Anthony Kennedy and the Supremes

    Good morning. I’m Matthew Fleischer, Web editor of the Times’ Opinion section, filling in for Paul Thornton. It’s the Fourth of July. Fire up the barbecues and have a look back at the week in Opinion. Subscribe to the newsletter Shock waves from the Supreme Court's recent run of mega-decisions...

  • #EmergingUS: Diversity is our destiny, but how do we talk about it?

    #EmergingUS: Diversity is our destiny, but how do we talk about it?

    As we celebrate our country's birthday, let us also acknowledge that the country that declared independence in 1776 does not look like the country we live in today.

  • A welcome focus on job creation by L.A. officials -- but can they deliver?

    A welcome focus on job creation by L.A. officials -- but can they deliver?

    Ten months ago, when Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed raising the city's minimum wage to lift people out of poverty, The Times, along with business groups and others, called on him to develop a comprehensive job creation strategy and to focus on attracting the kinds of $20- and $30-an-hour jobs Los...

  • Gardena, release the police video

    Gardena, release the police video

    As more police agencies put video recorders in their patrol cars and issue body cameras to their officers, policymakers must grapple with how and when to release the recordings to the public. These can be difficult questions, but the legal fight over the recordings of a shooting of two unarmed...

  • There's already a law for that

    There's already a law for that

    American criminal codes are a mess, and every year they become more convoluted, more likely to foster injustice. States across the nation are trying to clean up the muddle, but prosecutors often threaten those efforts.

  • Deprogamming the Southern California lawn

    Deprogamming the Southern California lawn

    My first lawn in Southern California was at a Burbank rental where the landlord asked my husband and me to keep the yard watered. A dewy-eyed newbie to this end of the state, I thought, “Not a problem.” The landlord paid for the water and it was mid-1980s cheap.

  • The tide finally turns on L.A. County beach access

    The tide finally turns on L.A. County beach access

    In the ongoing battle between the California Coastal Commission and property owners over public access to the beach, one of the lengthiest skirmishes has been the one the state agency waged with Malibu resident Lisette Ackerberg. But after more than a decade of legal wrangling in and out of court,...

Comments
Loading