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The “Marry Ivy” Mom Sure Knows How To Ruin Valentine’s Day, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:13am


A sad state of affairs. It’s Valentine’s Day, 2015, and the most egregious advice on sex and marriage out there has co-branded an institution I love. No, I’m not referring to Mr. Kinsey and his club, or even Dr. Ruth and her empire, rather, to Susan Patton as the “P*ton Mom.” I’m eliding the university name for reasons that will become clear.

Ms. Patton first came to public attention when she advised young women who attend an Ivy League school to find their husbands among  schoolmates, as anyone they choose later in life would be stupid. I abridge, but, not too much. Recently, Ms. Patton upped the ante by suggesting  on CNN that date rape was a learning experience.

And there, my friends, the patience of reasonable people shattered.

A group of more than 100 of my classmates wrote this letter to the Daily Princetonian. Very gracefully, they manage to make very clear the extent of Ms. Patton’s misstep, without ever mentioning her name.

We are members of Princeton’s Class of 1978 who feel it necessary to speak up about sexual assault and rape in response to the undue repeated attention the media has given to the self-proclaimed “Princeton Mom.” We believe we speak for the great majority of Princeton moms and dads, as well as alumni who do not have children, in saying rape in general — and date rape in particular — is inexcusable, rape survivors deserve our help and support and anyone who sexually assaults another person should be prosecuted legally.

The media noticed.

Time Magazine picked up an article written by Princeton student, Logan Sander. She quoted more of the letter.

“The wider world continues to see this woman dressed in orange and black associating her out-of-touch personal beliefs with our alma mater. We—along with many other alumni—see these views as outrageous and unworthy of being associated with Princeton,”

The Washington Post reported on how the letter came to be written,

Like lots of people, Julie List had seen what a fellow Princeton alumna, Susan Patton, had to say in her book about the importance of finding a man at college. (Manicures and weight loss recommended). List held her tongue.

But when she heard that Patton, who has become known as “the Princeton Mom,” had said some date rapes weren’t rape so much as clumsy hookups that could be a “learning experience” for women, List couldn’t take it.

“I became really enraged. I was boiling mad,” said List, a therapist in New York, after hearing about Patton’s December interview on CNN. “She’s basically telling these young women that it’s their fault that they got raped.”

Facebook conversations ensued, the letter was written and sent.

The Chronicle of Higher Education noticed, so did Salon.

And Jezebel headlined (asterisks mine),

Mortified Classmates Of P*ton Mom Wish She’d Shut The F*ck Up

Well. At least no one’s confused. Except. One lingering issue remains. Can we stop calling her P*ton Mom. How about if I ask nicely? Send a valentine?

I can’t bear her co-opting Old Nassau’s brand any longer.

We might call her “Date Rape Mom,” but that would be inappropriate, and recommit her sin, i.e. trivializing a serious issue. So, may I suggest, “Marry Ivy Mom?” I’d propose “Marry Smart Mom” but that’s the title of her book and let’s not market her.

In all seriousness, Princeton, like all trusted organizations, needs to watch out for its reputation and behaviors around abuse of power. The university was known for anti-Semitism in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time, and has been until recently one of the less diverse Ivies. Some eating clubs still suffer from bad actors. I am glad my alma mater takes a stand against against Ms. Patton’s stupidities. Luckily, the faculty had already spoken up, even before my class got involved.

My experience as a student, as I have said before, here, and here, was complicated. When my parents left their High WASP world, they drove fast, they took a train that didn’t stop. Although I loved my academic work to the point of intoxication, I was wholly confused by Old American social strata and mores. Even so, I remain a devoted alumna to this day.

As proof, I sent both my beloved children to New Jersey, from whence they take their sweet time in returning.

Ms. Patton shouldn’t be allowed to piggyback on what’s good about Princeton, and that about Princeton which needs to improve shouldn’t be masked, or supported, by her idiocy, sound, and fury.

I thank you in advance for your consideration. Have a wonderful weekend, whether you’re a fan of El Big Red Heart or not.


43 Responses

  1. Wow!
    That’s quite shocking that she would suggest that rape was a learning experience…really?
    What is she thinking? Obviously she is very seriously misguided.
    The wrong “hook up” is perhaps like saying that 50 shades of Grey is a life lesson…Jian Ghomeshi from the CBC here in Canada is going to be tried in court for his misdeeds involving women and it will be very interesting how they spin it in the court room…I wonder if the young women involved will have their reputations on the line and be subject to fierce interrogation as to their sexual history. Brave women indeed to come forward and speak out…let’s not condone rape by remaining silent anymore.

  2. I’ve seen this fatuous woman being interviewed about her views on the purpose of an “elite” education for women. I guess the attention petered out and so she found something much more outrageous to say. Very strange woman, and I pity her kids (presumably she has some).

    It’s really too bad, because it’s still a struggle for women. The NYTimes magazine has an article about a Stanford student who has sued a “mentor” – an older man who made billions in high-tech who was officially assigned to mentor her by Stanford – for sexual abuse. It’s an awful story, the young woman is emotionally fragile and the guy is probably a creep, but in my view the real villain is the girl’s mother. The article touches on some issues that I experienced decades ago as an undergraduate and grad student going into a male-dominated field (physics). It’s discouraging that 30+ years later so much is still the same.

  3. You know, the whole concept is flawed. First of all, they denigrate her educational credentials by tacking on that “Mom,” which to me says, well, she might have gone to Princeton but she’s not REALLY smart (and that’s not to say that mothers aren’t smart, of course they are, but I think in this case it’s meant to both praise her and criticize her).

    I suggest that she own her disgusting remarks and we just call her by her name. That the media can label her whatever they want (because they will continue to do so), but I suggest that others is dialogue regarding her use her full name so that we reinforce that she and only she is responsible for this nonsense. That her degree, from whatever university, doesn’t really matter. Let’s just call her by her name so that she can’t hide behind whatever “cute” moniker that the media dishes out.

    1. @Claire, I agree – the concept *is* flawed. The media does tack on – mom to all kinds of ideas, as a diminuitive, interesting point. I suggested another -mom name only because in my experience as a marketer of sorts, you gotta have a term to sell if you want to win at mindshare.

    2. I think she originally got the “Mom” designation because this all started as an open letter to her son’s female classmates. She said she wanted to give them the advice she would give a daughter if she had one.

  4. I just realized that as a ’77 or so graduate of Princeton, this woman must have been a truly outstanding student. I had a couple of friends who transferred from equally prestigious women’s colleges to Princeton the first year they admitted women possible. These women, who were superb students, graduated in ’75 or so, which means that the “Marry Ivy” woman must have been one of the first to be admitted as a freshman. (As you must have been, Lisa.) She must have been a lot smarter then!

    1. @Marie, She’s clearly smart. And tough as hell. To an extent, oddly, I admire her thick skin. I only wish she used it in some other way.

  5. Taking the most charitable point of view, it sounds like Ms Patton was trying to make a banal generalization – sometimes, bad experiences can teach you something – and it came out all wrong. I can only surmise that she is addicted to public attention and sadly clueless about how her remarks will sound.

    But don’t you think – and this isn’t meant to be critical – that in some way, we are reacting to the embarrassment of hearing things we know are true but don’t want to acknowledge? I’m talking about “Marry Ivy.” Assortative mating has become the norm among people with elite educations. In typical WASP fashion, it’s just gauche to talk about.

    1. @Ben CS, Although it’s offensive, saying that one must “Marry Ivy” to marry intelligence, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with mothers counseling their children to look for it in a mate. That is, if it matters to their child. But guiding daughters to find their mate While In College? Yikes.

  6. Lisa, this was a fascinating read. I knew nothing about this lady. but wow, she sounds out of touch, making me wonder if perhaps she was a victim of date rape herself and hasn’t processed it. Just a thought. Anyway, wishing you a very happy Valentine’s Day. I’m back blogging again. Hope you will stop by and say hi.

    xo Mary Jo

  7. I too, suspect that this woman had an experience in which she permitted or encouraged levels of intimacy that left her guilt-ridden when her “date” did not take “no” for “no”. Our Mothers (and perhaps our Fathers might have said that she was “leading him on”. It is easier for P-Ton Mom to frame it as a learning experience than to see herself as a victim of rape, or see the offender, (for whom she may have felt affection, or even love,) as a rapist. As the Mother of 3 daughters I know how I feel about this, but I wonder what my point of view might be if the young man in question were my son. Not every thing is as simple as it seems.

    1. @kathy d., Not everything is as simple as it seems, in a way that’s what is most pernicious about these kinds of arguments where people use plausible statements to hide larger problems. Sure, it would be bad if someone’s son were wrongly accused. But that happens far less frequently than the wrongly attacked, so I don’t like it when people – as in this case – use the plausible statement to attack the really true.

    2. @kathy d.,Ah, but it wasn’t a question of the “falsely accused”. A careful reading indicates a more than casual dating relationship where the young woman was a willing participant in other intimacies (which would explain her ambivalence in the way she views the event.) If she loves, or thought that she loved this young man, she might frame it differently. So, I wondered if, perhaps as the mother of a son I might not also frame it differently? It was just a thought.

    3. @kathy d., P.S. In NO way did I mean to be perceived as defending Ms. Patton. It is just my suspicion that she WAS this woman, a victim herself, who refuses to say “rape” for reasons more complicated than she can explain.

  8. This makes me sad. I graduated college in Boston in 1970 and at that time this type of thinking was common. I thought we had advanced from this way of thinking.

    1. @Jane, I think we have, for the most part. I believe she is using outrageous statements to get visibility, and I do admire her thick skin. It’s just that there’s a point where outrageous becomes harmful, and she hit it.

  9. I think she’s in that same category as Huckabee, making crazy statements to pander to her supporters and get her name in the news. Sorry she’s dragging your alma mater with her.

  10. Dear Lisa, I found this piece brilliant and on point. With one exception, I only wish that you had authored the 1978 oped. Your readers are equally perceptive and sensitive. My question is whether it is fair to headline P*ton Mom as being dismissive of date rape when she did not use the words “date rape?” Or to call her “Date Rape Mom” here? My own suggestion would have been to use her actual words, so I do like P*ton Mom – Marry Ivy may cast too broad of a net. Best regards, Ron.

    1. @Ron P, Thank you. However, coming from high tech marketing, I’m extremely wary of vague language and euphemisms. The point here is to call a spade a spade. If you feel Marry Ivy is too broad, how about Marry Smart, the title of her book? Clearly she thought that was narrow enough. I just can’t bear the leveraging of my school experience for monetized outrageousness. Like making my diploma into hate radio.

  11. Phew… sure glad I didn’t have a mum who cared one whit about whether I looked for a man at University. She was too busy, worrying (and hoping) that I would eventually graduate and be able to find a job.
    There has been lots of talk about date rape in general, not “Marry Ivy” in particular, on both sides of the border these last few months. As Hostess mentioned we have our own sex scandal here in Canada, surrounding Jian Ghomeshi, a very popular radio show host on CBC. The indepth talk has been mostly around the idea of “consent”… legal and otherwise. As Shakespeare might have said…”Now is the winter of informed consent.”
    Sorry. I don’t mean to make light of the issue. I can’t stop myself sometimes:)
    BTW Really interesting post!

  12. Not only did I go to a big state school, but so did my husband. I wonder how our son managed to be a National Merit Scholar.

    1. @AK, That’s worthy of a whole separate discussion. The current obsession with school “brands” for actual matriculation, vs. us old alums just trying to keep our alma mater from sounding like a horror show. I used to frequent College Confidential, and the discussions around school prestige are so, so painful. Anyone who thinks a state school diploma is in any way indicative of lower intelligence is completely nuts.

  13. Ick, ick, ick. Despite my decidedly excellent university and graduate education at Boston University, I am at a loss for other words to react to this horrible woman and her verbal tripe.

    I am sorry that she happened to attend the same university as you, Lisa, but perhaps we could consider her the exception that confirms the general excellence of its alumni.

    1. @Rubiatonta, Ah, thank you for sparing me the tarnish. Greatly appreciated. And aren’t you glad you aren’t in Boston right now? Or did you love the snow?

  14. One minor nitpick:the columnist’s name is Logan Sander, not Logan Sanders. (We’re both Princeton freshman at the moment.)

  15. I went to a state school in Ohio & am truly annoyed that women are still spouting such idiocy. I have not worked as a feminist for decades for such lunacy to continue. Thanks for calling out the Princeton mom.

    1. @Holly Rose, My pleasure. Maybe her mistake will be a good thing in the end – the ridiculous showing up the ridiculous. And you do mean the “Marry Ivy,” mom, right?:)

  16. As always, I so appreciate your frank and incisive commentary, especially when so many colleges and universities are embroiled in very complex situations around date rape. The horrid and insensitve comments of one person can derail years and years of progress and call the attention of the press, for all the wrong reasons. Good for you and your classmates, Lisa, for standing up to such idiocacy.

    The NYTimes magazine over the weekend was so sad, and I agree with the reader above that the real problem was the young woman’s mother, the worst kind of stage mother. She egged on her beautiful, smart and vulnerable daughter for what seemed like a match made in heaven – except that it was way beyond her daughter’s sophistication, and social and emotional maturity, no matter what “he said” and “she said.”

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