Girls should be seeking an education, not a husband, at university

Kelly Yang says women shouldn't see university as a place to search for 'Mr Right'. Rather, it's a time to learn, about life and oneself

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 July, 2013, 4:46am

Hey girls - study hard. Go to Princeton and find your husband! That's the advice Princeton alumna and mother Susan Patton had for Princeton women when she wrote a controversial letter to The Daily Princetonian.

"As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market," she wrote. "Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again - you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you."

Surprisingly, many Hong Kong mothers completely agree with Patton. One very talented girl, now studying at Harvard, told me her mother always said that her brother should go there because it's a great university and that she should go there because she'll be able to find a suitable husband.

What's driving all this advice is the fear that girls will become "leftover" women or shengnu, if they don't hurry up and find a spouse. Here in Hong Kong, the number of unmarried women between the ages of 30 and 39 had increased from 164,000 in 2001 to over 187,000 in 2010, according to census statistics. Patton later warned Princetonians that a woman in her 30s looking for a husband reeks of "total desperation" and is akin to a "man repellant".

Personally, I think this is ridiculous. The point of going to higher education institutions is to learn, not check out the guy sitting behind you in class. To reduce university to a dating service is degrading to education, as well as women as a whole.

Furthermore, Patton assumes that just because a man went to Princeton, he will somehow make the best husband. I hate to break it to her, but marriage - at least a good marriage - is not a status race; husbands are not designer handbags to tote around. Even if high intelligence is your No1 factor, there are many types of intelligence and an even wider array of intelligent people - and they're not all at Princeton.

As for the shengnu argument, it's dangerous to tell women that, if they wait too long, they'll expire like spoiled milk. Even worse than not finding a life partner is finding the wrong life partner. Marriage is hard. There will be times when you want to give up, and you need to genuinely like the person you are with in order to get through those rough times.

That said, if you do happen to find Mr Right in college, don't avoid him. A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania showed an astounding number of female undergraduates eschewing relationships because they fear it might hinder their career prospects. Instead, these girls are opting for "hook ups" - a term that can mean anything from making out to casual sex.

The problem with all this advice - to "lean in" or not, to marry young or wait and date around, or not date at all and find "hook-up" buddies - is that women are all different. When it comes to issues as personal as love and career, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

I know women who did exactly what Patton said, actively seeking out a husband at Harvard. They did their research on the guys and were engaged by spring. Some ended up very happy; others are now divorced.

The only way to know which path is right is to first know who you are. That's what going to college is really all about.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. kelly@kellyyang.com