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Patton ’77 discusses marriage, sexual assault at panel discussion

Susan Patton ’77, who recently released her new book, “Marry Smart,” urged women to accept sole responsibility for their own happiness on Thursday at an emotionally charged and at times chaotic panel discussion on campus.

“It’s disempowering to tell women they’re not responsible for the situations they find themselves in,” Patton said.

Some audience members reacted with angry outbursts at Patton’s discussion of her views on sexual assault, which were recently criticized in a recent letter to the editor from University faculty.

Along with fellow writers and panelists Sara Eckel and Claire Fallon ’10, Patton discussed marriage, sexual assault, work-life balance and feminism.

Fallon is the Books Editor for The Huffington Post and wrote an article entitled, “The 10 Worst Pieces of Advice from Susan Patton’s ‘Marry Smart.’” Eckel is the author of “It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single” and has written an article in response to Patton’s book, “Why We Can All Relax and Ignore the Princeton Mom.”

Patton suggested that for undergraduate women at the University who see marriage and family as critical for their happiness in the future, it’s important that they start planning early on.

“I don’t like the term ‘husband-hunting’ per se, and I’d rather we say, ‘searching for a meaningful relationship,’” Patton said. “If you see that as a priority, double down on it.”

Fallon, however, drew on her own recent experiences at the University and cited divorce statistics in her counterargument.

“If you want to just get married, you can do that I guess, but if you want it to last, you have a better chance later in life,” Fallon said.

Eckel said she doesn’t believe one can plan out love.

“When you marry out of fear, when you marry because you want to stick to some time-table, you’re not going to have as much a shot at staying married,” Eckel said.

Patton vehemently opposed the idea that any one person out there will be a perfect match for someone.

“There’s no such thing as the absolute most perfect person out there,” Patton said. Directly addressing Fallon, Patton went on to add, “I understand, in your 25-year-old life, that may not seem true, but there’s just no such thing as the absolute most perfect person.”

Instead, Patton said that she believes women at the University who prioritize marriage and family should work at it and should start now because men at the University are “the absolute best.”

“You will only increase in attractiveness and desirability, you’re all going to do incredibly well for yourselves professionally and you will never want for attractive women,” Patton said, addressing the men at the University. “They will all flock to you because you’re attractive, talented, incredible men.”

For women, however, she had very different advice.

“I think you have to plan for the personal components of your happiness,” Patton said. “I advocate always for women to take complete responsibility for their own happiness. Don’t say, ‘It’s not my fault.’ You are not victims of your life; you are the architects of your life.”

When the panel discussion was opened to questions, both male and female undergraduate and graduate students voiced concerns about the privileged, heteronormative focus of the panel.

“We’re all coming into an understanding of new ways that modern families are formed, and I think that’s wonderful,” Patton said, adding that she fully supports same-sex marriage.

On the topic of privilege, Fallon said she believes there is a lot of progress left to make.

“I think that what we need more is for people like the ones at Princeton to be working on issues that affect those without this privilege,” Fallon said.

Patton also acknowledged that every Princetonian is privileged.

“If you’re on this campus, you’re clearly living a life of privilege, but I think connecting with someone on this campus is meaningful,” Patton said. “If you could find yourself a life partner here who understands that privilege, that’s a very good thing.”

Revisiting the topic of sexual assault meant several audience outbursts, heated exchanges between the panelists and Fallon receiving a boisterous round of applause for saying she had a hard time staying calm through Patton’s suggestions that women take responsibility, too.

“Sex can’t be unwanted after the fact,” Patton said. “That’s not assault. It’s bad but it’s not assault. I don’t like the idea of diluting the true horror of rape with mistaken sex. I’m advocating for women to take control of themselves and take responsibility for themselves.”

“Isn’t unwanted sex what rape is?” Fallon responded.

Patton remained unwavering in her belief, clarifying that “both parties are responsible, but it’s women who are the more likely to be overpowered.”

“Don’t be that guy that preys upon women who are overserved; don’t be that girl that allows yourself to be preyed upon,” Patton said, offering advice again to both young men and women.

In response to an audience outburst of, “Men are raped too,” Patton said, “I don’t know. I guess so.”

Patton noted after the panel that she does not know much about male rape but is aware that it exists.

The panel discussion, entitled “Building a Career or Finding the One?: What Princeton (Women and Men) Ought to Do With Their Time,” took place on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Whig Senate Chamber.  

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