Lynne Peril’s book College Girls does a very good job tracking the American stereotypes about college girls from the 19th century onward: were they just in college to land a man? Were they sluts? Or worse, frigid, sexless grinds devoted to a life of the mind instead of a life of motherhood? And what if education destroyed their ability to be a wife and mother? They might learn Greek but not how to cook, or learn math and not learn how to look attractive (the really important skill for a woman, of course).
Depressingly, this bullshit hasn’t gone away — well of course not, that’s why it’s an undead cliche. Perhaps the most infamous example was Newsweek‘s once legendary 1986 article reporting that college-educated women over 40 had more chance of being killed by a terrorist than getting married. This was based on a study (not the terrorist claim, that was all Newsweek) that applied to women in their 30s and up at the time of the research, but the article presented it as a universal rule, something all educated women, of any age, would have to live with. The study’s authors retracted it later but the media and dating-advice books kept invoking it on into the current century. It just fits too well with the ambivalence many people have about women who aren’t stay-at-home moms.
And pundits are still discussing how education is going to ruin women’s love lives. Mona Charen, in her book Sex Matters, says that as more women than men are attending college and women want a man with more education than they have, lots of those women will indeed end up alone. Male supremacist Suzanne Venker says she’s was totally focused on being a wife and mother when she was in college but now “you don’t go to college to find a husband; you go to find your own single life and your career.” She seems to think this is a problem. So, I imagine, would Susan Patton, the Princeton grad who recommends young women marry before completing freshman year, and that they spend 80 percent of their time husband-hunting. And former NYT columnist and sexist John Tierney who sadly writes about the increasing number of women attending college: “You could think of this as a victory for women’s rights, but many of the victors will end up celebrating alone.”
Venker is also down on millennial women taking on student-loan debt to get a college degree (I can’t find the link right now, sorry): they’ll get their degree but debt will make them unmarriagable! An online blog post about how women should be “debt-free virgins without tattoos” says the quiet parts out loud: college will put ideas into your head your future husband may not approve of! Better to stay at home and avoid having any independent life.
Implicit in all these critiques is the assumption that nothing is more important to a woman than landing a man. And that if it is important — if she’s going to college because she values education and a career over marriage, or isn’t worried about landing a man yet — well, she’s wrong!
Oh, and contrary to the antifeminists, women who do want to marry after graduating college are okay marrying less-educated men. And women with college degrees do better getting and staying married than less-educated women. But as women such as Venker and Charen have built their career on punching down at other women, I doubt they’ll stop preaching bullshit.