I never expected to write an article in response to Susan Patton’s “Letter to the Editor: To the Women of Princeton,” from March 29. For one, honestly, I simply just did not care much about it when I first read it. Secondly, Patton’s underlying message was not something I had never heard before. Most of us have heard the basic question in some form or another: What would it mean to marry someone who didn’t go to Princeton or some other “seemingly comparable” school? It doesn’t seem to have any pressing impact on our lives as they are right now, but we have heard it. We may have discussed it, we may have quickly thrown it away, but to say it is not a concept alluded to from time to time would be a lie. It is a point of discussion on and outside of campus. Whether you agree with her or not (and don’t get me wrong, I don’t), I won’t say that I was utterly shocked that anyone could even possibly consider such a viewpoint. Whether they were conscious of it or not, even people close to me, even people who did not go to Princeton, have approached the subject before. The only difference is that they usually did it with a bit more subtlety.
So when I read Patton’s letter, I read it for what I thought it was — over-the-top sensationalism. As one of my professors might have described it, she seemed to be going for the “sweeping, sexy claims” that will get people’s attention. Even in her second response, posted on April 4, Patton begins with, “Now that I have your attention …” Maybe Patton has a point in her original sentiment; maybe she doesn’t. But there is a fact of the matter to the way the question was originally presented, to the tone that was used and the words that were chosen. Someone knew that it was going to cause undue amounts of controversy.
And it was quickly bought into. The amount of response was, frankly, overwhelming. There are 601 (recorded) responses and comments to the article itself. There are 12 officially printed responses or reactions to the letter from Princeton alumni, students, faculty and parents, not to mention responding columns from Lauren Prastien, Barbara Zhan and Isabella Gomes. It spurred national media coverage. People continue to talk about it.
Look very closely at the 12 responses that were published in The Daily Princetonian shortly after Patton’s original rabble-rouser. Not a single one of them is nearly as provocative. Even Nicole Clark ’09, who seemingly agrees with what she details as the basic points of Patton’s letter, presents her conclusions in a much less exaggerated, incendiary manner. She presents her claims in a — dare I say it — reasonably aimed tone of voice.
Really consider why this letter blew up to national proportions in the first place. Really consider what it meant for this letter to have been published in the first place, for it to have been read and consciously placed in the paper that day. Yes, it makes bold claims about gender, about marriage, about career-family balance. Yes, bold claims are meant to be made. But this was slightly different. To me at least, Patton’s original letter was meant to be unnecessarily overstated and inflammatory, and it was published knowing that it was. It was meant to shock you and get your attention by whatever means necessary. Her second letter is starkly different in tone, yet it tries to make the exact same point. So, if we were offended, incensed and enraged, then I think we played right into somebody else’s hand. I’m not saying the reactions weren’t necessarily warranted. But, if I am being perfectly honest, I think we were played.
In the end, if you want my opinion, it’s like this: Susan Patton’s letter is like the Octomom. Ignore it. Don’t fall for it. It’ll go away. Then, if you want to have any real discussion about marriage and career-family balance, maybe you’ll be able to really do so.
Kinnari Shah is a chemical and biological engineering major from Washington, N.J. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2013/04/09/32827/