Cathy O’Neil: Optimizing for Einstein and Other Homo-Erotic Theories

Yves here. This post may seem to be outside the ambit of normal Naked Capitalism fare. But have faith! As you’ll see, this post discusses how neoliberal thinking has come to drive how some people approach dating and marriage. Or perhaps to put it another way, while some men and women were mercenary in their approach to romance, they were generally decried as “golddiggers”. Now that sort of behavior is being touted as necessary and desirable….just like austerity.

By Cathy O’Neil, a data scientist. Jointly posted with mathbabe


At 41, I’m a grown woman. I’ve had enough weird and bad experiences as a woman in the mathematics part of “STEM,” inside and outside of academia, that my skin is relatively thick, a fact I’m proud of. Most of the time I let stuff roll off of me.

Even so, there are certain things that really get under my skin. Examples include terrible advice to young anxious women, and anything having to do with Princeton, New Jersey.

The recent appearance of the “Princeton Mom” Susan Patton (more about her below) has created a perfect storm inside me and I feel I have to comment, at the risk of giving her book more buzz. Note this post is not at all quantitative or even nerdy, except for some free market chit-chat which doesn’t really count. Instead it is much more straight-up ranting that I allow myself from time to time on mathbabe. If you want a more scientific and polite takedown, please see this Huffington Post article.

Princeton, New Jersey

There are two kinds of people in the world: people who hate Princeton, New Jersey, and people who are über successful white men (and sometimes Asian men). And I guess there’s a third kind, the people who have never visited Princeton.

I know that sounds histrionic, and I’ll make some caveats later on, but bear with me, it’s coming from personal experience.

I spent one horrific year (the academic year 1997-1998) as a visiting graduate student in the Princeton math department. Coming from the Harvard math department, I’d been socialized to think that spending all night in the library reading musty old French mathematical manuscripts was cool, and the very least one could do to impress one’s advisor.

In other words, I knew from male-dominated macho nerd culture. I girded myself for more of the same when I got to Princeton. But Princeton turned that up quite a few notches, and it wasn’t pretty. And it might have had something to do with being newly married, but that kind of makes my point stronger, not weaker, as you will see.

The first thing I noticed was that there were no other women in the math department. Well, that’s not quite true, since there were secretaries, and there was one female professor, who I never once spotted, and there was one other female graduate student, at least in theory, but it took me weeks and weeks to run into her.

But even so, I was kind used to that, being an experienced math nerd. I would normally just make do with hanging out with the social nerd boys. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any. It seemed like a department that either selected for anti-social people or efficiently turned them into anti-social people after they arrived.

As an illustration, let me tell you about the most social experience among graduate students I ever witnessed. It started out as a joyous scene: an enthusiastic young man bounded into the common room (which was almost always empty and didn’t really deserve the name “common room” at all) holding a book. He was showing off his newly bound thesis to an unusually large crowd of fellow graduate students – maybe 7 other men.

Instead of congratulating him, someone from the crowd grabbed the thesis and immediately and loudly proclaimed he’d found a typo. Everyone laughed. Long pause. The guy took his thesis and walked out of the room.

As you might imagine, I didn’t spend too much time in the math department. Instead, naïf that I was, I gave myself the task of finding friendly people I could truly connect with in the cultural wasteland that was Princeton Township.

The problem was, it felt like a village frozen in time. Of the perhaps 7 people I got to the point of trusting enough to share my desire for connection, no fewer than 3 of them suggested I join a church (that always made me wonder, what do Jewish people do in Princeton?), and the other 4 suggested I have a child in order to have company and something to do with myself. No shit. Human being as hobby.

I could go on – I could describe the pathetic attempt to attend a female graduate student mixer (“canceled for lack of attendants“) or the desperate time I sought counseling from the sole campus Mental Health Professional. Her exact words: “If it helps, I think I eventually see every female graduate student at Princeton.” Me: “Yes, it helps! I’m getting the FUCK out of here.” And I did.

I’ve been back once or twice, mostly to see the one person I became fond of in my year-long visit, and I am always amazed to see how little has changed. The last time I went, I attended a conference at the Institute for Advanced Studies, and after lunch one afternoon I was in the cafeteria there, looking for coffee, when someone (a man! an oldish white man!) asked me to “find more plates, please” because there were no more clean ones. I looked down at my clothes: was I wearing a kitchen staff uniform like other people working the kitchen? Not at all, but I did suspiciously have my boobs with me. I must be kitchen staff.

Hey, I Might be Wrong

Other people have been to Princeton in the past 15 years, and some of them tell me it’s gotten somewhat better, and there are sightings of more than one woman at a time in the math department, and so on. I mean, the standards are super low, so “better” doesn’t necessarily mean much, but then again I don’t want to make it seem impossibly fixed. I’m glad the President of Princeton is a woman.

On the other hand, another friend of mine had this to say about a very recent visit (less than 3 months ago):

I was a job candidate there. Put up at that Inn. Eating by myself, and there was a long table in the center of the room – all white men, many in bow ties, I swear. They were talking loudly about curriculum changes in the humanities over time, and what a shame it was that they couldn’t teach the classics anymore, laughing about having to teach world literature, etc. And everyone serving them was black. It was disgusting.

My Theory of Princeton

I have a kind of fun theory of why Princeton is like this. The short version is that the culture has optimized to producing “geniuses,” which started with Einstein.* In fact, Einstein’s success story also pinpoints the moment that time froze there. It was like the lesson learned for the town was that, if they could only keep the place exactly like it was the moment Einstein entered Princeton, then maybe it would be a breeding ground for many many more geniuses to make the town proud.

So that’s what’s happened: everything that is done there is done in the hope that more Einsteins will pop up among the population. Would-be geniuses are worshipped in weird ways, and anyone who is not themselves a genius candidate has to tailor themselves to those who are.

And since by definition geniuses are not women – and nor are minority men – we know what their roles turn out to be. Women, at least white women, are seen as useful in as much as they can have man-children who may grow up to be geniuses. Everyone else is even less crucial.

Do you think I’m being too harsh? Perhaps. To be honest, there is a space for white men to be tagged as successful without being full-blown geniuses, especially if they’re undergraduates. Namely, if they are potentially super rich, preferably by working in finance. In any case it’s all about the successful male narrative. There is no room for any other narrative.

Why am I Talking Shit About Princeton?

Here’s the thing. I have come to appreciate Princeton, in a wry way (“If you’re suicidal,” one character says, “and you don’t actually kill yourself, you become known as ‘wry.’ ”), and only as long as I’m not actually there. It is such a perfect example of old-fashioned, fucked up shit. You can’t make that stuff up.

But you can point to it and say, I will never live like that. It’s become a convenient counterfactual for me personally.

But not everyone has my perspective. My biggest fear nowadays about Princeton is that people are not sufficiently up front about how awful it is, and because of that people are sometimes tricked into visiting or even moving there.

It is this fear that I’m writing this essay, that I might be able to warn people away from that place, and possibly other places like it, although I don’t know of any. I’m a one-person anti-PR machine, but there’s only so much I can do.

Susan Patton to the Rescue

It turns out my job is getting easier, thanks to Susan Patton, self-proclaimed “Princeton Mom”.

As if to amplify my complaints about Princeton, Patton has come out with yet more advice for girls who are aspiring to be Princeton wives. Her new advice to young women is to get fake boobs and whatever other plastic surgery deemed necessary in high school so you can attract a man in college.

Let’s back up for just a moment, though. Who is this woman?

You have heard of Susan Patton. She’s the confused bitch that wrote a now-famous letter to undergraduate women telling them to stop thinking about careers and start getting engaged whilst in college.

Oh, and she also suggested in a recent Valentine’s Day column (subtitle: “Young women in college need to smarten up and start husband-hunting.”) in the Wall Street Journal (where else!?) that, if you want men to marry you, you shouldn’t fuck them too soon, because, in her words, “men won’t buy the cow if the milk is free.”

Yes, she said that. I’ve got two responses to that tidbit. First, this:

mooooooo, motherfucker, moooooooooooo!!

Next, Aunt Pythia mentioned this but it bears repeating: Patton is objectifying women by calling them cows.

She’s doing the same when she tells young women to get boob jobs in high school. That’s in fact the name of her game. She is insisting that women abandon any hope of intellectual curiosity, goals or ambitions while they are still teenagers and start in on a desperate competition to be a Princeton wife.

Why is Patton so Nuts?

By her own account, Susan Patton married the wrong guy – a non-Princeton guy – and later got divorced. She’s bitter about her lack of foresight. In some sense this is just a pathetic story about one sad person.

But in another way it’s not. I’ve been reading a super interesting book called Why Love Hurts: a Sociological Explanation that explains why Susan Patton has some things right. In fact she’s kind of brilliant, but for obviously weird reasons, and her plan to deal with the issues she rightly raises is completely fucked up.

Here’s what she’s understood: there has been a revolution in mating rituals and partnering, and it has become a competition, and it has become increasingly important to be sexually attractive to win this competition. And although it’s not the only competition young women are enduring in college, it’s the one she’s fixated on.

In fact to a large extent we’ve gone from a social contract partnering society to a kind of pseudo-free market partnering society. The results of that transition include various things like how men and women see themselves, and specifically how they (women, not men) blame themselves for failed relationships, and moreover how they are incentivized (or not) to get married, or have kids, or importantly, to keep their word.

One of the most interesting points, at least as it pertains to Susan Patton, is that whereas men used to need to get married and have children to assert their masculinity, this is no longer true.

Nowadays, according to this theory, men in question increasingly assert their masculinity to each other through the sexual attractiveness of their girlfriends, and they don’t care very much whether they get married and have kids, or at least they don’t feel any urgency (which gives rise to both “the noncommittal man” and “the woman who loves too much”).

So when Patton tells women to get boob jobs, she’s essentially telling them to improve their odds in that existing free market. It’s not about sexual gratification, or even “self confidence” for the women. It’s really a homo-erotic, all-male issue: be something that other men will be jealous of. And what is the measure of their jealousy? That other men are responding sexually to “my” woman. So this means men are focusing on signs of sexual responses in other men and deriving gratification from them.

Here’s what Patton has tragically wrong, though. Given that you’re willing to toss out your personal and intellectual growth for the sake of winning this competition, even given that, which is a sad way to approach life, it still doesn’t have a chance of working.

Because, once we’ve acknowledged and entered this free market for sexual and romantic partnership, it’s simply not going to work in this day and age to expect the men to want to get married when they’re 20 years old, and it’s also certainly not going to work to withhold sex from 20-year-old men and expect them to marry you. It’s just not where 20-year-old men are at in this system. In fact by doing those things a woman is signaling desperation, which – as is explained in this book – works against a given woman, not for them.

Patton and My Theory

I’d like to square her advice with my optimized-for-geniuses theory of Princeton.

The main point of my theory is that it’s all about the men, and specifically, it’s all about the successful male narrative. Whereas before it was enough for women to subjugate their personality, personal ambitions, and long-term goals for the purpose of potential geniuses and/or rich finance guys, Patton is now calling for women to also mutilate their bodies for the cause.

As a signaling device, it indicates real hunger for the role. As some guy said:

Fake boobs say, ‘I objectify myself, therefore I have no problem with you doing the same.’

But as I mentioned above, it is a failed signaling device. It’s an indication that the cultural worship of men has gone too far in Princeton, New Jersey. I’m hopeful that the smell of desperation will be so obvious that people will have to take a closer look and scrutinize the culture.

I’d also like to start a petition to demand that the Wall Street Journal make up for the publishing Patton’s column by also printing this excellent essay on getting laid really well when you’re a divorced fat woman. We need an antidote.

* Addendum by Yves. Cathy, who writes for a math/science-oriented audience, probably didn’t feel it necessary to belabor the branding hypocrisy, so let me spell it out: Einstein came to Princeton in 1933, LONG after he’d published the seminal papers in 1905 which shook the world of physics and cemented his reputation.

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  1. craazyman

    They May Not Be Men in bow ties, they may be Women in Men’s Bodies!

    That might explain it. Anyway, we don’t have any of these problems at the University of Magonia. If you’re slightly hot, and even a little past your prime, if you think you’re just not quite Hollywood startlet material but are still pretty svelte — even if you’re not as smart as Albert Einstein — maybe you’re even an “older woman” well past college age. So what? You’ll be welcome here! We like beers, spawts on TV (football), channeling, starting at the trees and long walks on the beach. We’ll even talk about things that interest you, if you can make sense for 3 minutes, which seems hard for most people. Don’t get down on men, OK. they’re everywhere! haha hahahahah

    Strange ideas keep churning through the mind theater. Strange ideas about economics. I’ve solved it all now. Just have to write it down somewhere. It all makes sense at this point.

  2. Ben Johannson

    I’m absolutely shocked that this woman used the word “fuck” and refuse to have sexual intercourse until she apologizes.

    That will show her.

  3. skippy

    Barter is a cognitive disorder which forces – pigeonholes – frames “human nature” into binary thought process i.e. win or lose, gain or loss, advantage or disadvantage, strong or weak, perpetrator or victim, successful or unsuccessful, rich or poor. A completely erroneous suggestion formulated in the form of a synthetic a priori or ex nihilio axiom supporting a mythological fundamental ideological bias by which to hang various babbles of self interest ethos.

    Through this “Survival of the Fittest” process, some how, an equilibrium is suppose to occur via da market forces, mutual assured destruction stuff, if every one had a gun thingy, if were all scared to die…. peace happens… or love{???]

    skippy… When all the insecure men are the priests of homo economicus… see history and the killing of the moon…

  4. John J

    Susan Patton has a son at Princeton. That is why she suggests that women get busy dating Princeton men. It is like when the west suggests Russia tries marked reforms. In other words, Cathy O’Neil are reading to much into what Susan Patton are saying.

  5. MGK

    I have a slightly alternative viewpoint on this topic. Let’s be honest, Princeton is a bit of an outlier, unique in that fact that there are no professional schools (medicine, law, business, etc). This relegates Princeton to a literal ivy tower disconnected from the real world as only pure academics can maintain that fiction. They are time locked because beyond filling academic libraries with more inscrutable tomes, they can’t relate to a changing world.

    I would argue society continues to blur traditional gender roles (work, parental responsibilities, household chores). As a result, when it comes to mating rituals, the traditional cues are missing. Being a good provider for a male is not as critical, when a female peer can make as much, if not more than he can. Most guys live on their own for a while and need at some rudimentary level to master cooking, laundry, etc. Smartphone apps and the web can replace the “nagging” of a partner to tend to business whether it’s dropping off drycleaning, auto service, or sending a birthday card to mom.

    As a result, physical appearances on both sides are much more important to discriminate among various candidates. It may be fake boobs for women, but it is whatever the latest muscle building craze for guys happens to be in the form of a supplement or DVD.

    As traditional gender role distinction continue to wane, the physical differences between men and women will be accentuated.

  6. allcoppedout

    I think I just died of boredom. Never understood the fake tits thing. One in five women admit they won’t answer the door without their make up on. My only reaction to the crud is to wonder how many beagles and whales died in the production and testing process. I think most of the ‘gaze’ that supports this dross is female.

    And frankly, I’m up to there with the manicured-class of bimbos (a gender-neutral term to me) oozing political correctness from slim, able-bodied, smiley, shiny. primary coloured newsrooms and other public perches. I care about what’s being hidden away. In a few tribes the men do the make-up. Most of these conversations are between genes and that self-interest so far up itself it thinks the rest of us care what goes on in the triple A closet. Discrimination is done in front of our eyes by those professing the politically correct who wouldn’t know how tough it can be to get a wheelchair on a bus because they would never slum it on a bus.

    Upper-class tommy-rot on all sides. Why do we have institutions like Princeton and plastic surgery-cosmetics in the first place, and smart people who can’t see equality in priviledge is just another play in the economic method of exclusion?

  7. allcoppedout

    The very idea of Princeton producing Einstein is weird. He went on faculty there in 1933, long after his important work, most of which seems to have needed little university help. And what do men think wandering about in departments with no women? I hated it. As to being mistaken for a kitchen servant, think why we don’t all lend a shoulder to the scut work. Too posh because we have maths-brains? Too dim to realise we ate ‘looking down’ at kitchen staff in the very statement?

    1. ex-PFC Chuck

      Actually I’m quite sure Einstein was never on the University faculty at all. He was affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Study, which is a completely separate institution. At least this was the case when my older brother was earning his physics PhD there 60 years ago.

      1. MacCruiskeen

        Well, for Einstein it was a good move. It was, after all, 1933. He was in the US and basically couldn’t go home. And it is true that the work that made him famous was in the past, but he was still doing productive work. The also-famous EPR paradox paper came out of this period.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Agreed, but I think what Cathy is saying is makes sense. Princeton is proud of its association with Einstein, so proud that it sees Einstein as part of its brand. Princeton has also attracted other geniuses, such as John Nash. And when I was a kid, and it may still be true, that Princeton and Harvard had the best theoretical math and physics departments in the country. So the branding hangs together, even if the actual foundation doesn’t stand up to scrutiny (but how many brand have dubious foundations? Lots, actually). And the resulting self-image then influences who gets admitted and how they are acculturated.

  8. TimR

    Great article, full of interesting thoughts. Some things that jumped out at me:

    “Whereas before it was enough for women to subjugate their personality, personal ambitions, and long-term goals for the purpose of potential geniuses and/or rich finance guys, ”
    Is this sort of saying that women ***have to have*** “personal ambitions” and “long-term goals” of some grandiose sort to be worthwhile? Isn’t this sort of enlisting women in some big cultural project of the Enlightenment tradition, Western individualism, that sort of thing, regardless of their personal inclinations.
    The quote about the white men in bow-ties talking about the classics and being served by black staff: I can see what “repulsed” the writer, but I can also see that there might be another side to the story… white dudes in bow-ties have written some interesting tomes, and the traditional classics have a lot to offer, and there probably is a lot of political currying favor for works that don’t merit it.

    1. just_kate

      TimR – no she is not saying that women have to have personal ambitions and long-term goals of some grandiose sort to be worthwhile. I read her piece to be saying that now its not enough for some people to think women should give up elements of our internal lives, we should now consider mutilating our bodies pre-adulthood plus withhold sex in order to hedge our bets of landing a good catch of a man. And how that is actually bad advice when you think the whole thing through to its logical ends.

  9. TimR

    Personally speaking… On these online dating sites a lot of women write that they’re looking for a guy who “has his $**** together.” Which I don’t, at least not to the umpteenth degree or anything. I sometimes think though, maybe I could get it together, with the support of a good woman. Sort of a catch-22. And maybe an old-fashioned idea.

  10. rps

    “The short version is that the culture has optimized to producing “geniuses,” which started with Einstein.”
    “The man is brilliant,” was the entire text of a letter of recommendation from Richard Duffin, a mathematics professor from Carnegie Mellon University. Duffin wrote the letter in 1948 on behalf of John Forbes Nash Jr who was twenty years old at the time and applying for graduate school at Stanford University.

    I would argue the term culture is a nice way of saying Princeton and other highly-exclusive Ivy League Institutions attract males with diagnosed and undiagnosed neurobiological brain disorders (NBD’s) often labelled “genius.” These may include: high-functioning autism and savants, aspergers syndrome, schizoid disorders such as Nash and so forth. Notice that the majority of these brain structure abnormalities have at least two commonalities, a higher prevalence in the male population, obsessive focus, and most importantly – introvert behaviors that are a common characteristic of NBD’s.

    A high percentage of these high-functioning geniuses are often attracted to academic institutions; that in turn, provide a stable and safe environment. Academia allows eccentric behaviors and promotes the genius obsessive compulsivity. Here, they are not questioned about their introvert and anti-social behaviors or lack of outside interests or hobbies. Again, this is part and parcel of NBD’s. Lastly, they ‘socialize’ to the best of their abilities but not in the terms of socialization she’s experienced as her normal .

    Cathy O’Neil assumed that her academic near genius mathematical abilities would open the pearly gates into the Princeton’s genius pool. Academic Institution, institutionalized, and NBD’s are the connections she’s missing in her essay. Instead she takes the path of least resistance berating a Phyllis Schafly wannabe Susan Patton who’s goal is to cash-in on a how-to-catch and marry a high-functioning dysfunctional Stanford male.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Aha, Cathy’s post triggered an open display of male bigotry? Larry Summers, is that you?

      Cathy came to Princeton married. Did you miss the advice that she have a child to keep her company? Did it not occur to you that four people in a convention-bound place in Princeton would never advise someone of limited economic means, aka a grad student, to become a single mother? Or did it not occur to you that some people like to have friends and not be totally dependent on their spouse for company and emotional support? In fact, making your significant other your one and only friend puts tons of stress on the relationship.

      1. rps

        Have no idea where you’re coming from “Larry Summers” since my comment was about academic preferences for male NBD’s often noted as geniuses. Her article posits white male academic bigotry towards others and her experiences among anti-social Princeton male geniuses and linking Patton’s female mutilation in the how-to guide for women in the marketplace in search of Princeton men. O’Neil theorizes about women entering “this free market for sexual and romantic partnership”… According to Luce Irigaray, the author of “This Sex which is not One,” part of her argument describes the socio-cultural status of women, “In our social order, women are ‘products’ used and exchanged by men.” She expands in this way: “Commodities, as we all know, do not take themselves to market on their own…..So women have to remain an ‘infrastructure’ unrecognized as such by our society and our culture.” Clearly, women are in a situation of specific exploitation with respect to male centric exchange operations: sexual, economic, social, and cultural (Irigaray).

        O’Neil concludes rightfully so on this front, “The main point of my theory is that it’s all about the men, and specifically, it’s all about the successful male narrative.” This is noted by the woman on finance guy’s arm, however she’s a trinket displaying his monetary success. Or as Irigaray theorizes, his ability to purchase the objectified symbol -a beautiful woman. Irigaray’s theory concludes that women only become relevant when designated as ‘utilitarian objects and bearers of value’ in exchanges among men.

        However, I disagree with Patton’s the definition of masculinity; “men used to need to get married and have children to assert their masculinity….” Men’s assertion of their masculinity noted within the financial success narrative of impressing the other boys in the sandbox is more along the lines of he who dies with the most toys wins.

        O’Neil should have reached another conclusion about how economics and academia is purposely designed for men and disadvantageous for women. Imagine if women’s work was highly valued and men work deemed menial and their intelligence inferior? Imagine if women were equitably compensated at the same rate as men and female intelligence glorified. Would men lose there economic desirability quotient and thus their privileged status to pick and choose? Would women’s economic independence make them highly selective consumers whereas the men must meet women’s expectations in the marketplace and academia?

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          It was this comment:

          Cathy O’Neil assumed that her academic near genius mathematical abilities would open the pearly gates into the Princeton’s genius pool.

          This is a hostile remark and I’d like you to tell me the evidence you find for this assertion. You insult her twice: as a wanna-be, and as less capable than the male “Princeton genius pool”. That is straight up Larry Summers “women aren’t as good as elite science and men” but you don’t want to own up to what you wrote.

          Did you miss that Cathy had been a grad student in Harvard’s math department, which is of the same rank as Princeton’s? She didn’t need Princeton to validate her math chops, as you incorrectly assert. She makes clear that she was looking to have a normal social life by the limited standards of math nerds, and found that impossible at Princeton, for reasons that point to institutionalized pathology.

          1. rps

            “That is straight up Larry Summers “women aren’t as good as elite science and men”

            My comment was truthful sarcasm about the normative academic male-think towards women competing in the male exclusive fields; and why her chances of excelling to ‘genius’ level along with all the accolades accorded to men is less than likely due to the exclusivity in these male bastions of academia. Not that I agree nor promote these gender discriminatory agendas, but there is a glass ceiling women bump up against in academia. Do you really think academia’s snobbery toward women as equals in intelligence has changed significantly since Harvard trustee Dr. Edward H. Clarke had written in 1874 Sex in Education, a book in which he presented biased evidence that women would biologically suffer from the strenuous effects of challenging the brain in the pursuit of a college education? In 1870 the rate of American women who attended college was just under one percent; in 1880 it was 1.9 percent; in 1890 it was 2.2 percent; in 1900 it was 2.8 percent; and by 1920 it had reached only 7.6 percent.

            Universities were built for and by men. Yes, times have changed but women are still fighting the male privileged club of higher learning that celebrates men while they look on mildly amused and highly irritated at the women who trespass their dominion even 140 years later. BTW, I’m a student and see the discrimination on a daily basis. Perhaps not as overt as in the 1970’s, but it lingers on, just look at who are the department heads, who has the higher salaries, who’s deemed genius in academia.

            As for the wannabe comment, that was directed at Susan Patton, a wannabe Phyllis Schafly who held conservative views about women and their restrictive roles in society as her writing attested to in the how to catch a Princeton man and marriage as their primary goal.

            1. rps

              To clarify the comment ‘universities were built for and by men’ I will add that the Seven Sister Colleges (Radcliffe, Mt. Holyhoke, Vassar, Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr and Barnard) were once considered secondary or finishing schools and female seminaries for women and not considered ‘chartered colleges’ or the equivalent of the established universities.

    2. rps

      Edit -High-functioning dysfunctional Princeton male, then again there’s an interchangeability of Stanford’s and other Ivy League NBD’s genius dilemma….

      1. nobody

        “neurobiological brain disorders… high-functioning autism and savants, aspergers syndrome… brain structure abnormalities…”

        Hopefully, it won’t take too long for this kind of thinking and talking about autistics to go the way, at least in educated circles, of thinking and talking of homosexuality as a mental disorder.

        Someday…we’ll look back on today’s ideas about autism with the same sense of shame that we now feel when talking about psychology’s pre-1974 views on sexuality.

        Autism is still widely regarded as a “disorder,” but this view has been challenged in recent years by proponents of the neurodiversity model, which holds that autism and other neurocognitive variants are simply part of the natural spectrum of human biodiversity, like variations in ethnicity or sexual orientation (which have also been pathologized in the past). Ultimately, to describe autism as a disorder represents a value judgment rather than a scientific fact.

        And by the way, Einstein was autistic.

  11. taunger

    Ya know, there are so many wonderful people in alternative/sub-cultures in the U.S. right now; if some people want Princeton, hopefully they’ll find their way out like Cathy someday. If not, f’em. I mean, we’re all sooooo screwed at this point, can’t I just enjoy finding confident, attractive people that care about caring, not jealousy?

  12. Erik

    Great piece to pick up!

    I lived in NYC from the age of 22 to 35, so I understand the dating dynamic she is talking about and the productification of romance. It works both ways. It’s the checklist approach (fit gym rat? good head of hair? Solid job in Finance or at least some other professional field? Check, check, check) to finding a mate along with the “can I do one better?” approach that makes NYC such a weird place to be young and single.

    And it really does come down more to how other people PERCEIVE your mate than what you think yourself. It’s about market signaling for YOURSELF to your peers, and it’s the path to many short-term “trade-up” relationships and unhappy marriages.

    I was lucky because I was on a similar path for many years and then I met the woman that became my wife in that process and broke myself out of that mind set. She wasn’t EVERYTHING I had been looking for, but there was something about her! Once I meta-cognitavly recognized the existence of the checkbox approach in my own dating life I was finally able to be happy with someone I was truly happy with.

    But it is extremely difficult to recognize this in advance of such an experience. I feel like we need seminars on this in NYC, DC and elsewhere. This style of dating leads to unhappy “product” marriages which green unhappy “product” children who are driven only to “be the best” which breed sociopathy and ultimately bankers and Princeton alums!

  13. Banger

    Once upon a time there was a band named Devo (yes they sort-of still exist) that said something about the human condition they saw evolving in the seventies.

    The fact is that the culture of narcissism has spawned people who are in competition with others and themselves–some of us give up on that (I did) and try to find meaning elsewhere. We are commodities who must be alert to our market value. Women get boob jobs and wear competitive makeup and fetish heels because they are fighting to gain or keep men with money and power. They move on to face lifts and other cosmetic surgery to compete to maintain their hold on their high-earning husbands in their 50s and 60s who attract twenty-something babes like shit attracts flies. I have a young friend who goes on endless job searches–so, a couple of months ago I asked him about a perfect job for him in which he was perfectly qualified for and he looked at me and said “pretty young blond” which always get jobs he wants.

    We live in a society that has lost it’s way at all levels. the criminality and dishonesty of the elites reflects a general trend in society from what were once thought virtues to radical selfishness–we have little trouble letting the earth heat up and burn–all we want is a chance to get laid a lot and tickle our fancies–that’s all there is.

  14. zephyrum

    Cathy, thanks for the article. It’s not just women who get mistreated in STEM. I’m a white man who grew up with upper middle class parents and I detested the attitude and behavior of my all-male classmates. My circle of friends was entirely outside of engineering in college; inside it was way too toxic. At least nobody asked me to clear dishes. I worked for HP as a new grad, with a female boss and a couple female coworkers. That was lovely. But school was brutal from elementary on up. My male classmates varied between indifferent and cruel, though it taught me self-reliance and toughness. Only my obsession with engineering kept me in the field. But it’s totally understandable why anyone–male or female–would bail out early.
    I’ve only been to Princeton once, years ago, for a conference during the summer when school was out. When I was leaving early afternoon, towing my luggage, I asked several passers-by to point me towards the train. They either ignored me or pointed randomly with a perfunctory “over there” until finally one person took pity and gave me specific directions. Happened to be a woman; now I realize why she had the empathy to help a lost stranger. No reason to return to that place; it’s distinctly unpleasant.

  15. kevinearick

    Princeton…the garden…expressway…crack me up…

    Why do you suppose Hitler, Napoleon, & Alexander were terrified of cats?

    Did I tell you about my cats?

    I fed my male raw hamburger from birth and my female milk. My male would jump out a second story window to catch a bird in flight, and swat an unsuspecting dog on the snout to let it know who was boss, but it was afraid of the female, because he never knew what she was going to do next. And neither of them knew what I was going to do next.

    That’s life; plan all you like.

    Labor always gets paid, one way or the other.

  16. allcoppedout

    As a young cop I found myself in a Metropolitan Police canteen asking for bacon and eggs. I was ignored by the black staff. I had to write my order. Apparently “we” didn’t speak to them and they didn’t speak to us. Some years later a judge pronounced the force institutionally racist, as though no one knew. One day we may “discover” universities are full of sinecured elitists teaching tired material that could be in the public domain at ten times the necessary cost. Silicone seems a whole lot less important than that. My brightest university maths student nearly killed himself because he was eating the plastic coverings along with his pizzas. One colleague wore stockings and women’s underwear beneath the bow-tie front. Who knows who hides what in our cultures?

    1. craazyman

      those sound like some sic fuchs.

      people count Einstein and Mr. Nash but what about all the boneheads who splashed around in their pools of eccentricity fingering their food in the cafeteria with a bow tie and a haughty disregard for reality, and didn’t figure out a thing in the world?

      It must be a ratio of 2000 to 1. Or higher.

      The 1, just the 1, and it’s “Princeton”. That shows people’s capacity for synthesizing by synecdoche. Look it up, boneheads. Never mind the other 2000. And 1 minus 2000 = -1,999. That’s not a very high number, unless you make it an absolute value and that’s kind of cheating, really.

      I keep trying that in the stock market and it doesn’t work. All I need is one 30-bagger. just one Einstein. But I can’t get lucky like ‘Princeton”. All I get — partly due to all the Doom & Gloom I read around here — is the dudes in the bow ties. This is a character building experience but i’d rather have the money. Isn’t is that way for most people? I don’t feel guilty about it.

  17. Calgacus

    Instead of congratulating him, someone from the crowd grabbed the thesis and immediately and loudly proclaimed he’d found a typo. Everyone laughed. Long pause. The guy took his thesis and walked out of the room. What a bunch of maroons. Guy should’ve quoted the author of those musty but ever-new old French manuscripts and said “Craindre l’erreur est craindre le Vrai.” A useful saying.

    1. Garrett Pace

      The story is, once it was clear that the first Star Wars film would be a huge success and make George Lucas very wealthy, Francis Coppola sent him the following congratulatory telegram:

      Send money.

      Moral: Praise can take subtle forms.

    1. skippy

      Yeah… racist’s jaw boning about other ethnic groups in a massively gross generalization and pigeonholing due to skin color.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          1. The number of reader comments says your view is not widely shared

          2. The Internet is a big place, and this does happen to be a blog written by white people. So I suggest you read other blogs rather than attack writers over what are matters of personal taste

          3. Your remark is separately a Rule #1 violation, as is your retort to Skippy. You are rapidly accumulating troll points.

  18. EmilianoZ

    Instead, naïf that I was…

    If Cathy is a woman, it should be “naïve”. Unless it is now considered discriminative to use the correct feminine form of the adjective.

    This article is so woman-centric! Man are also objectified by women.

    Une femme d’esprit m’a dit un jour un mot qui pourrait bien être le secret de son sexe: c’est que toute femme, en prenant un amant, tient plus de compte de la manière dont les autres femmes voient cet homme, que de la manière dont elle le voit elle-même.

    Maximes et pensées
    Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794)

    1. hunkerdown

      It seems clear to me she meant the noun. If it were meant as an adjective, I think one would write “[adjective] *as* I was”. “[adjective] *that* I was” sounds silly.

  19. John Mc


    I am deeply appreciative of this article’s inclusion today. First, I enjoy reading thoughtful, personal and qualitative accounts that apply feminist theory (as a white male with privilege). As with so many aspects of this website, it confirms my world view and makes life a bit less alone in my thinking and actions. Second, what is remarkable about this article is the application piece of how the neoliberal mentality trickles down into all of our most important social relations. More specifically, people are converted into numbers, stereotypes, and self-serving strategies that serve a very few. It has been my experience, that there is a dearth of analysis in the scholarship of the family system for unproductive neoliberal components.

    It is clear to me, the more we are able to imagine the future as a means of getting out in front of it (Denzin, 2009) to create change, the more realizations we are going to have like Cathie’s where outcomes are thoughtfully and critically considered, instead serving a culture mandate of the immediacy, and elite entertainment. Cathie’s point about how Patton’s ideas do not work out seems to me to one of the most important points of scholarship (as a family scientist) that I have seen in a while. Again, much appreciation.

  20. Charles 2

    Actually, Princeton University and the Institute of Advance Studies are separate institutions. The “Geniuses” are essentially in the second one, which, as Yves mentions, has a policy of recruiting them AFTER they emerged.
    Also, it is possible that there are more Jews in Princeton than in the average population. However one should remember that around 9% of population of NYC is Jewish, compared to 2% for the whole USA. Still, jews can be classified as a minority and one should recognize that the IAS was welcoming to them, especially when it was an oppressed minority in the 30’s.

  21. Lafayette

    In fact to a large extent we’ve gone from a social contract partnering society to a kind of pseudo-free market partnering society. The results of that transition include various things like how men and women see themselves, and specifically how they (women, not men) blame themselves for failed relationships,

    This comment reminds me of a Social Rule that was prevalent in pre-20th century civilization, that went “Women should not marry either above or below their status”. If they married above their status, they were obviously “whores”, if below, they were “fools”.

    Subliminal message: Get your status right!

    Fast forward a century or so. The rule still applies, especially in a society that has become so fixated on personal wealth, that status does indeed matter. The desire for women to marry above their status nowadays perhaps does not bring with it the same labeling it once did. Which is “progress” of sorts.

    After all, if there were a database of Newly Minted Megabuck-makers, I wonder what the male/female breakdown would like like. I doubt there’s much parity in the manner in which the generation of Income (that becomes wealth) has been shared in the US. It’s still the guys who make most of the moola.

    Perhaps we think that we live in an egalitarian society because we call it a “democracy”? Uh, uh. Even our founding fathers, fixed upon avoiding the political structure of male-monarchs in Europe, did not have the basic common-sense that “freedom was not gender specific”. It would take another 194 years beyond 1776 before the 20th Amendment was ratified to give women the right to vote in America. (Meaning 1920.)

    “You’ve come a long way, baby!” Have they?

    I’ll believe that when somebody at the Paris School of Economics demonstrates sex-parity in the World Top Incomes results broken down along male/female lines. (Thomas Piketty, go for it! ;^)

  22. berit bryn jensen

    Thank you for an excellent, highly enlightening blog!
    Coming to economics by way of trying to make sense of quasi-scientific biomedical psychiatry, I’ve learnt that the main lesson must be to follow the money, and for this purpose NC has become my everyday must-read.
    Einstein’s first wife bore him three children. One of the two boys was labelled with the unreliable, invalid, unscientific diagnoses schizophrenia. Long before that the giftet female mathematician/scientist probably acted in the fashion of the time, still around in most quarters and cultures, as lover, assistant, cook, coordinator, helpmate, soundingboard, till he left for America without her, accompanied by the childless woman who later became his second wife.
    As for calling women who marry above their status whores, that label must be gender and professionally neutral as we contemplate how many in high places that are prostituting themselves, the young prince Charles and Dominique Strauss-Kahn and droves of other ambitious males and ditto women.

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