• Tue
  • Oct 21, 2014
  • Updated: 1:47am
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 July, 2013, 4:46am

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


Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school writing program for children in Hong Kong. At KYP, she teaches creative writing, public speaking and critical reasoning. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Follow Kelly on Twitter: @kellyyanghk

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


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This article is now closed to comments

I heard the author interviewed on Michael Medved's radio show. She gave a pretty good account for herself. From what I remembered, the author said that girls attending an elite university should make use of the opportunity of being surrounded by similarly talented, ambitious men to look for potential marriage partners. It sounded like a reasonable suggestion. Women generally don't like to marry men of less talent and ambition and the university setting is a rare opportunity to meet such men, that women may never be able to replicate. The author did not say that women should go to university ONLY to meet men, and not try to learn as much as possible once in university. What's so wrong with this advice? Most studies show that married people tend to be happier and more successful than single people.
I agree that socializing is a major part of university education. Will it lead to matrimony? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Do people go to bars to socialize or to drink? Maybe both. Same with going to school. You go there to learn something and to form relationships. You can do both. What's wrong with that?
Don't just take one part of someone's strand of thought and twist it out of context please. That's just too simplistic and lazy.
Très bien!
It is not an EITHER/OR but a BOTH/AND philosophical question. At the undergraduate age, in addition of pursuing your academic, it is also the best time to find your true love. It is not about Asian nor Western culture. It is also true for both men and women. A great career without a good family is hollow. By the way, love is not about having sex!
Well written. There is this obsession, especially among Asian cultures, for women to marry and, more importantly, have children. It is as if it is the end of the world if they do not. This leads to excessive pressure and focus towards such ends, often times leading them to forget everything else (such as learning at university).
How sad it is that so many girls/women these days still think that their purpose of existence is 'finding a husband, a rich one'. After many years of education and growing up in a modern society, so many young women still reduce themselves to such a state. Finding and having a partner / husband is part of life, not all of life. Instead of making good use of one's youth and prime years to learn about the world and establish themselves, these young women see themselves as an 'object' and want to get a man so that they can be set for life! Now, no wonder many men look down on women and think that they all have a price tag. We can't really blame men that they don't have much respect for women, can we?


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