Is Susan Patton evidence of the American caste system? Or is she full of shit?

Susan Patton got a lot crap piled on her for a letter she wrote to the Daily Princetonian, warning young Princeton ladies to get their claws into their male classmates because once they leave those hallowed Ivy-covered walls, the pool of smart, eligible men dwindles.

Her letter unfortunately included a mild scold that these young ladies in question aren’t inundating her two Princeton sons with marriage proposals.

When I first read this – and I was able to access the woman’s letter – I can’t for some reason now – either because the Daily Princetonian removed her letter, or it’s gotten so much downloading the site’s crashed – not sure, but when I first read the letter I thought I was reading an Onion article that went viral and folks got confused. This has happened to me before (I was fulled into believing there is a species of spiders that are as large as the side of a mobile home and was doing fearful research into the ways of avoiding these monstrous creatures).

Apparently I wasn’t the only one because Patton went on the HuffPo to explain herself and insist that her letter wasn’t meant as a piece of satire but sincere. Unfortunately because Patton is Jewish, she’s played into the stereotype of the meddling, overbearing Jewish mama who overpraises her sons; peddling her elitist garbage is one thing, dragging her two sons into it is really f’d up.

So I did a tiny bit of research about Patton and Princeton and found a very telling Q&A in New York Magazine. In the interview Patton explains her position, backpeddling a bit about how she ignored lesbians (“…not all women are heterosexual. I get all of that!”), and insisting that it would be in the Princeton students’ best interest if they got hitched with other Princeton grads.

“Because these are the best guys. You’ll meet wonderful men outside of Princeton, but you’ll never have the numbers in your favor the way you do now.” The image Patton is conjuring is these female Princeton grads with nets, hoping to snag her a Princeton buck before it’s too late.

This reminds me a bit of Mame – specifically when the fictional Patrick is engaged with a lock-jawed New Englander who comes from “the right kind of family,” to the detriment of his social conscience.

But what gets me about Patton’s exchange with New York Magazine is a telling section where she admits her ex husband was not from an Ivy League school. “He went to a school of almost no name recognition…A school that nobody has respect for, including him really.” She then goes on to say that she regrets not marrying a Princetonian. “I wish I married someone who went to Princeton…That way I could have embraced Princeton for the thirty years that I stayed away from it because my ex-husband had no respect for the hoopla, the traditions, the allegiance, the orange and black … It wasn’t until both of our sons became Princetonians, and my marriage ended, that I was able to again embrace the university, and I did so with both arms.”

And after reading that I think I figured out what exactly is Patton’s deal. She’s seemingly wrapped her identity in her Princeton-ness that it’s really pretty sad. From her lament, I get the impression that her time in Princeton was pretty incredible, and maybe she feels that life since graduation hasn’t measured up – so, she’s idealized Princeton to the point of mythology.

Obviously her assertion that Princeton has the “best guys” is ridiculous. Also, her assertion that women have priced themselves out because they earned tony degrees is also stupid – it’s akin to that apocryphal statistic that told us women of a certain age have a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than to find a suitable mate.

What I don’t like about Patton’s snobbery is the assumption that women who don’t have expensive degrees somehow don’t deserve Ivy League mates – that it’s much easier for non-Ivy League grads to find good husbands because they are these common, everyday creatures, that can’t help but run into a guy that’s suited for her. In Patton’s world, Princeton ladies are these rare, highly-prized, highly coveted unicorns that must breed with their own kind, while women from state schools should be grateful to get men who can count without using their fingers.

And in the end, I think if a young woman is lucky enough to go to Princeton, she owes it to herself to keep academics a priority. If she finds a mate, that’s great – but it shouldn’t be something that she (or any student for that matter) plots out. At that age, she should experiment with lots of different guys – not look to getting a ring on her finger, because most likely she’s in her  very-early 20s and should be concentrating on growing as a person – and that includes playing the field (safely, of course).

But we should be grateful for Patton’s ridiculous advice because it does unmask a certain caste system that we as Americans find convenient to ignore. We like to sniff disapproving at our British cousins across the Atlantic because they still have a monarchy, and we are a country of equals with no societal hierarchies.

And that may not be true.

Patton’s wish that Ivy League-educated people pair up like an alumni mixer at Noah’s Ark is a wish to maintain a bloodline of sorts of a certain class of people and to maintain a sort of purity – imagine the horrors if at the next reunion a Princetonian introduces her husband, an affable guy who got his Associate’s from a local junior college.

It’s funny because this is my second post about socio-economic differences (I wrote about Lulu’s empty-headed article about how inspiring rich older women are because they still look great). These differences are embarrassing to talk about with people for a few reasons: the rich are worried that there will be a class war similar to the French Revolution where society matrons and socialites will be lined up for the guillotine (don’t worry, ladies – it won’t come to that), and the reason why the working-class don’t like to acknowledge it is because they still have some kind of hope that maybe they too will one day transcend their economic position and admitting that they probably won’t is distressing and demoralizing.

So, I’m grateful for Patton’s letter because we’re starting to talk more about the American aristocracy, a term that was once seen as an oxymoron.



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Filed under commentary, Nonfiction

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