Nannygate

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It seems I've missed quite a dust-up in the lefty blogosphere: the cyber-lynching of one Helaine Olen over a New York Times article about how she and her husband fired their nanny over the nanny's blog, to which the nanny herself had given Olen the link. (The article is no longer available at the Times site, but can be found in its entirety here.) This bizarre controversy came to my attention via an essay by Rebecca Traister in Salon, in which Olen's article became a centerpiece of a diatribe about the Oppression of Women. Traister claimed that Olen, in rankly sexist fashion, fired her nanny for the crime of daring to be her own person and an openly sexual being. Which has been pretty much the standard charge in the Olen-bash, links to which can be found in this post at Atrios.

Full disclosure: I know Helaine Olen. We had a few dinners and lunches some ten years ago, mostly as professional acquaintances, and then lost touch after she moved to Los Angeles (she now lives in Brooklyn). I am not defending her for personal reasons, and frankly, her Times piece belongs to a journalistic genre I don't much care for: the Me Chronicles. Most of it is about Olen's conflicted reaction to the nanny's blog with its descriptions of partying, sexual adventures and sexual fantasies: she felt envious of the young woman's freewheeling lifestyle and nostalgic for her own single life, "young and hip by proxy" (enough to brag about her cool nanny's cool blog to friends), sympathetic to a woman she saw as much like her younger self, and threatened by the thought that the hip young nanny would judge her own married-with-children life and find it wanting.

Personally, I find it a bit baffling that Olen saw something impressive in the Nannyblog. The pseudonymous "Tessy," who is working toward a Ph.D. in English, comes off as mix of a lefty intellectual poseur (she writes papers on sadomasochism—oh, the banality of radical chic!) and an immature exhibitionist (who cloaks her rather flagrant heterosexuality in the trendily PC persona of a "lipstick lesbian who mostly has sex with men").

But all that aside—here's the thing. Olen did not fire the nanny for blogging about sex. Indeed, she specifically says that while her husband wanted to terminate "Tessy" right away because he felt that her online discussions of her sexuality were "inappropriate," she herself defended the nanny's freedom of expression. Traister's article (among other distortions, such as wrongly implying that Olen did not mention the nanny's grad-school plans and dismissed her interest in literature as a youthful hobby) manages to completely omit the two incidents that actually led to the dismissal. First, after having an argument with her husband while the nanny was in the house, Olen read a blog entry which included the following: "i heard a couple fighting within the confines of couples therapy-speak. i wanted to suggest they hit each other. its true. i wanted to say, smack him, bite her, pinch, pull, and wince. make each other believe you really care." Then, finally, there was the last straw: "I am having the type of work week that makes me think being an evil corporate lawyer would be okay. Corner office, subordinates, no bullshit. Or at least a different order of bullshit. Seriously. Contemplated sterilizing myself yesterday."

So, let's see. Nanny gives Olen link to blog. Nanny uses blog to make veiled snarky comments about life chez Olen and the burden of caring for the Olen children. (Not to mention such lovely revelations as, "I woke up three hours later with a terrible hangover and obligations to very small children.") Nanny gets fired. And Olen is the bad guy?

Apparently so. Her essay, one blogger tells us, "fails to transcend its own sexism and achieve some kind of feminist solidarity"; besides, she dares to refer to Tessy's sex life as "promiscuous," thus passing sexist judgment on female sexuality. How awful! Because, of course, we would never pass judgment on a man who blogged about his sex life even though, by his own admission, his girlfriend hates it. Or who whined online that he resents his girlfriend's insistence on monogamy even though he wants sexual fidelity from her. Feminism, in some circles, seems to have become an abbreviation for female narcissism. And it brooks no thoughtcrime.

Let's hear it for lack of feminist solidarity.

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  1. I think you are right Cathy, she did have a right to fire the nanny and I would have done the same thing. That said, its pretty damn funny to see some self-important, rich, leftest, intellectual who hired a slave to raise her child, get eaten alive by the very same PC elitest clique that Ms. Olen is no doubt proudly a member.

  2. I would have fired her for being whiny and boring. What a wretched piece of c**p (worktype mind you) blog. If blogging becomes a federally protected class we are in some serious trouble.

  3. I thought we all had more important stuff to worry about, what with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the erosion of civil liberties at home and the economy blahblahblah, than this sort of claptrap.

    -Sarcasm off-

    Cathy, thanks for once again bringing your compassionate laserbeam to bear on this issue. I love reading your stuff because your view never quite sits right with me. I personally think that is because you are smarter and better informed than I am, but enough eAss-kissing. I really appreciate it when people get called out on the carpet regarding the squalid details of their lives and try to back it up with words that start with capital letters and have hyphens in them (or blame the other party). In the words of the Bard, you practice like you play, and the demonstration of character in the smallest of issues tells a lot about a person.

    Sack up, America.

    Of course I mean that as a gender-neutral declaration that would encompass all, regardless of their scrotal status. (Damn sarcasm button keeps coming unstuck).

  4. Of course she was in her rights to fire her, but canning someone because you suspect they are sneering at you is a bit silly.

  5. Is it not bloody obvious that Helaine did not want this woman around her husband?

  6. Maybe I’m a bit “born on a Michigan potato farm,” but if you’re not actually going to RAISE your children, why are you HAVING children? It’s not like this woman is some high-powered lawyer or businesswoman who’s actually changing the world or even helping others do so. She’s a frickin’ columnist (which, yes, is lower than a real journalist)! If you can’t find time in your busy day of (what? Talking about yourself?) to take care of your own spawn, then you’ll not get sympathy from me.

    The flip side of this is…
    1. Have a blog
    2. Recommend blog to employer
    3. Complain about employer and write about your lack of professionalism on blog
    Nope. Can’t generate any sympathy there, either.

    But always remember that people do love to be righteously angry.

  7. I can’t claim much sympathy for anyone in this little tempest in a blogspot; I just remember being shocked that someone who claims to be going for a graduate degree in English can’t write worth a damn.

  8. Silly bitches, both of them. And yes, the narcissism and thought police mentality of the current “feminist movement” would be sad if it weren’t so funny, and if the movement itself weren’t so irrelevant. Great post, Mizzzz Young.

    Normally, anyone who awoke with a hangover and an obligation to small children would have my em/sympathy, but not this bimbo.

  9. Amused (in an “of course!” kind of way) rather than surprised to see she’s a Pomona College graduate. Ah, the days of stumbling back from Pitzer to Harwood…

    It’s no particular surprise she’s a self-identified lipstick lesbian who leads a largely het life, pursuing a po-mo grad school degree that lets her intellectualize about her own narcissism. Been there, done that. (Except the po-mo part. And the LL.)

    Now, if she’d actually follow through on the one fantasy and go to law school, she might make something useful out of it. Or at least learn to write.

  10. I’ve always wondered about these liberal types with hired help. Isn’t that whole master/servant relationship supposedly repugnant to them? Hiring someone to raise your children seems so…aristocratic.

  11. I stumbled across the Olen NYT Op-Ed the other day and thought it was a blip, but Cathy’s right – it did create a bit of a stur in the blogosphere. I am at a loss as to why. Anyone familiar with the concept of “employment at will” (or anyone whose ever held a real job for that matter) should understand that an employer doesn’t even NEED a reason to terminate someone. Having said that, CHARACTER most certainly plays a part in hiring decisions. By feeling the need to publicize her most intimate indiscretions, “Tessy” has definitely put her character into question…and women’s rights has absolutely nothing to do with it.

  12. I’m not a huge fan of either woman in this little spat. That said, for me the issue isn’t the termination itself but rather that she went and wrote a New York Times article about it. It bespeaks a shallow narcissism that I really deplore–at least intellectual narcissism has the potential to be comical or well written. Pseudonymity or not, a NYT article is a lot of attention to bring down on someone, and doing so without the consent of the person being sandbagged is just low.

  13. True Johnny, but isn’t the whole “family values” a conservative idea though? I guess they’re left in limbo.

  14. Of course she was in her rights to fire her, but canning someone because you suspect they are sneering at you is a bit silly.

    Canning someone who works in your home, caring for your children?

    I think that’s a bit different from the usual employer/employee setup.

    Oh, and Jeff: At least according to Olen, her husband was far more intent on firing the nanny than she was.

  15. From the infamous blog:

    “Yes, I mention that I want to do “dirty dirty” things to Tucker Carlson. I dont offer details. So, I am assuming that Ms. Olen’s imagination ran away with her and she decided that it was very sordid. But on a closer reading of this post you will find I use Tucker Carlson, a noted conservative pundit, as an example of how opposites attract. How intellectual tensions between two people can actually fuel romantic desire. And then I do something really really deviant. I compare my crush on him to the romantic tensions in Jane Austen’s famous Pride and Prejudice. Yep, my version of the erotic has more to do with long walks and serious conversations. Of course, Ms. Olen does not point that out in her essay. My interest in literature and how I weave it through more common daily reflections would probably detract from her intent to show me as an irresponsible party girl. But there it is, on the blog she so strenuously objects to.”

    Good God. That’s what this is all about? Somebody please, get a life.

  16. I thought the complaint was that Olen made the nanny’s name public in the New York Times, when it otherwise wasn’t very obvious from the woman’s blog. But I haven’t paid any attention to this at all.

  17. The nanny’s name wasn’t mentioned in the article.

  18. Of course she was in her rights to fire her, but canning someone because you suspect they are sneering at you is a bit silly.

    Well, her mistake was making her sneering public; last I checked all service workers sneer at their employers.

  19. If this were made into a movie, my review would be that it was impossible to understand the motivations of either of the main characters and that the attempts to use feminist themes to make the action seem more compelling were unsuccessful.

  20. If I could afford a nanny, I’m not sure I’d care if she twisted her breasts while reading The New Yorker and sneered at us until she was blue in the face, so long as she performed her tasks with a reasonable degree of competence. Then again, I rather enjoy the thought of firing “Tessy” on a whim. Do you suppose she’ll work for cheap now that she’s damaged goods in the nanny-sphere?

    It must be said, however, that Mrs. Olen appears to want to have her cake and eat it too:

    “My ability to attend literary readings and art gallery openings was hampered by two children, and my party life was relegated to the toddler birthday circuit.”

    Isn’t that one reason to hire a nanny or babysitter in the first place, presuming one suffers from the burning desire to attend gallery openings, literary readings, Human Be-Ins, and other manifestations of wild, transgressive, anti-bourgeois freedom?

    “Instead of opening a dialogue, I monitored her online life almost obsessively. I would log on upstairs to see if she was simultaneously posting entries below me on her laptop while the baby was napping.”

    Again, a lifestyle so tightly cramped by the existence of two mewling brats paradoxically seems to admit of an unnatural amount of time for monomaniacal web monitoring/creepy fantasizing.

    “Self-righteousness and inflated self-regard? Affirmative.”

    And de rigueur, of course, for publication in The New York Times. Actually I think the two should start a joint column — let’s see, depressive, pampered, manipulative Jamsians, how about “The Golden Trolls”? — to appear alongside Ms. Dowd’s.

    (“Affirmative.” Sheesh. What a sanctimonious hack.)

  21. She’s childish and fairly untalented, but still I feel somewhat sory for the girl with the blog. Olen had every right to fire the girl for whatever reason or no reason at all, but then wrting a column about it and providing details that would make it possible to figure out who she is was uncalled for. The only people who had any business in the matter were Olen, her husband and the girl. I won’t lose any sleep about it, but it still seems more than a little self-indulgent and petty on Olen’s part.

  22. That’s Jamesians. Not lovers of jam.

    I mean, who doesn’t love jam?

  23. “But on a closer reading of this post you will find I use Tucker Carlson, a noted conservative pundit, as an example of how opposites attract. How intellectual tensions between two people can actually fuel romantic desire. And then I do something really really deviant. I compare my crush on him to the romantic tensions in Jane Austen’s famous Pride and Prejudice.”

    Perhaps someone would like to engage in this close reading and report back to us? Endnotes, not footnotes, please.

    Austen’s novels reek of sex, by the way, just like all the best 19th-Century fiction. So “Tessy” has yet to convince this reader, at least, that she isn’t at heart a naughty nanny. A very naughty nanny indeed.

  24. I thought the problem with Olen was the ridiculous amount of self-indulgence required to muse in the New York Times about the nanny you just fired, apparently partly because she kept a slightly risque blog that you showed off to your friends. Olen obviously has every right to fire her nanny for any reason at all.

  25. I’m not terribly impressed with either of these ladies, but “she makes me feel boring” is a shitty reason to take away someone’s livelihood, and kick someone with whom your young children have a relationship out of their lives.

  26. Yeah, yeah, I know, there I go, thinking of the children.

  27. Yeah, yeah, I know, there I go, thinking of the children.

    So you would want your children cared for by a person who expresses contempt for the children’s parents?

    I agree that Olen doesn’t come off looking good in all this, either. That she showed off the Nannyblog to friends for some vicarious coolness is, to put it mildly, sad. If she did anything that was irresponsible toward her children, it was to allow them to be cared for by a rather obviously unstable person. Consider, for instance, this entry:

    I hate to sleep alone. Former boyfriends who might on occaision read this page, know that I really throw a serious pout when left for more than one day and certainly a weekend. A terrible sleeper since toddler days, I wake up often throughout the night. And when I am so lucky to partner off for a time, I have someone to look at, perhaps pinch and often bite when I wake in the middle of the night.

    Uh-huh.

  28. “I have someone to look at, perhaps pinch and often bite when I wake in the middle of the night.”

    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a bite.

  29. Rather uncalled for Stephen, don’t you think? 😉

  30. You know, I don’t really care about who got fired for what by whom. I’m just appreciating some irony:

    Nanny says stuff about employer and children in blog. Mother fires nanny for revealing too much to the world. Mother then tells the whole world about it in her newspaper column.

    OK…

  31. Oh, and Jeff: At least according to Olen, her husband was far more intent on firing the nanny than she was.

    Come on, the guy’s obviously married to a dragon lady and is so whipped he knows which tune he’s going to have to dance even before it’s called. Why the hell else would he want to kick a loose drunken college chick out of his house?

    That is one windy blog though, god she takes forever to say something.

  32. The irony and un-solidarity I’m seeing here isn’t along the feminist axis, it’s along the writerly axis. As amusing as it would be to think that fate pushed these two people together, I think it’s more likely that Olen picked Tessy for the job in some part because of what she was – an intelligent (or at least credentialed) feminist writer. After all, whatever motivates us to raise our children to share our interests and outlooks would presumably motivate us no less to select for someone likely to instill like interests and outlooks when searching for a child-rearing agent.

    So when we get down to things – and here comes the irony – Olen, who presumably saw in Tessy a kindred soul, and probably encouraged her writing (for I can’t see why else Tessy would deliberately point her to the blog), got hot and bothered about Tessy’s breezy-but-vapid, empowerment buzzworded, self-aggrandizing, self-centered personal essays, fired her, and then wrote… well, you know the drill.

    Is no one else seeing it from this angle?

  33. Actually, now that I look at it, thoreau seems to be seeing it from precisely the same angle. I blame this on Trader Joe’s’ cheap tequila. On which note, thanks to everyone who gave recommendations on living in LA, wish me good luck as I start viewing Los Feliz studios tomorrow.

  34. Feminism is the formalization of nagging – something’s wrong and men have to change to fix it. It’s directed at men in general (formality) rather than a specific man (husband).

    The female urge to nag comes from quest-sending, where the man is given something to achieve, which is rewarded with her signs of being satisfied with him; only it’s dispensed with the being satisfied part, producing a nag. Feminism dispenses also with the man part, and goes for men in general.

    Feminism hasn’t made any progress at all, but is that marching in place that it has always been, when it says it makes progress. The marching is the point.

    It’s parasitic on an original that actually works – the male likes being sent on quests when they result in the woman being satisfied with him.

  35. So “Tessy” has yet to convince this reader, at least, that she isn’t at heart a naughty nanny. A very naughty nanny indeed.

    Down, boy!

    I can tell Stephen wouldn’t have kicked her out of the house for typing dirty. Like joe says, for the children, eh, Stephen?

  36. Cathy,

    “So you would want your children cared for by a person who expresses contempt for the children’s parents?”

    Your friend made it perfectly clear why she fired the nanny that had raised her children – because she made her own life seem boring.

    And no, I would not be horrified to discover that a 19 year old employee had carnal thoughts, or that an employee of any sort complained about her boss. You’re really reaching.

  37. Read Olen’s article and you come across gems like this…
    “And when she came down with a stomach virus twice during a period when the rest of us were sick only once, I wondered about her confessions of boozy nights out followed by coming to work hungover.”

    ? uh hu, sure…and for the coupe de grace…

    “I hadn’t exactly been a stranger to the sexual shenanigans of our previous baby sitters. One got pregnant accidentally by her longtime boyfriend and asked me for advice. Another was involved in a mostly off-again relationship with a fidelity-challenged college football player. Yet those were problems I could feel superior to”

    She could feel superior to….

    Olen is the most dangerous of Americans. She appears to style herself after french aristocracy from the 17th century. Lovely woman. One I wouldn’t like living next door to.

    Just as an FYI, I would never want my daughter to work for her.

    The article would send a freudian into convulsions. The only certain thing is that Olen is a very, very sick woman. And no doubt a complete stranger to Socrates admonition to “know thyself”.

  38. These chicks make me hope the terrorists win and put them in burkhas!

  39. If you read Atrios’s full thoughts on the matter, the problem isn’t that she got fired.

    In addition, the fact that the nanny in question got fired is also almost entirely irrelevant. It may or may not reflect badly on the parents who hired her, but the nanny decision is a parenting decision. No matter how silly the decision sounds I’m not going to question the right of parents to choose who they want to spend significant time with their own kids.

    The issue here is that the former employer decided to turn this incident into a piece for the New York Times, and that the Times thought it worthy of being published. It’s that the Times allowed a woman who was upset that her nanny would dare to have a life and dare to very rarely reference her employment to call the nanny a drunken slut for a national audience. It’s that the Times took a private individual and made her life public, over her protestations, for its readers without any justifiable news angle. It’s that it’s somehow acceptable for an employer to talk shit about an employee in a national newspaper but not okay for an employee to briefly mention her personal employment on her weblog. The Times decision to publish this story legitimized the view that not only was she within her rights to fire her (surely true) but that she had the additional privilege of talking trash about her in a respectable national newspaper.

  40. Ok, I just got the kids-keep-me-from-enjoying-my-high-falutin-pastimes angle.

    So hire a freaking babysitter whenever you want to go out. She can certainly afford it. That would save all the serial nanny drama, wouldn’t it? Ah, but it would also mean doing some child rearing all by yourself and I think she realizes that, not only does she not want to care for her kids, she’d probably not be very good at it.

    There. Now I feel superior.

  41. I like it that Olen was too gutless to fire the nanny herself, conspired with her husband that they wouldn’t mention that the blog had anything to do with it, and then sold a revenge article to the Times personally trashing the nanny and quoting her blog. What a passive-aggressive bitch.

  42. digamma,

    Come on now, if you are actually going to quote the article and what was actually said, you are just going to ruin Cathy’s narrative and attacks on the left. And nothing should get in the way of a good narrative that attacks the left.

  43. I’d like to be the 3,000th person to publicly proclaim that I couldn’t care less about this whole little affair. Nope. I’m not the least bit fascinated by the evolution of someone who was once beset with “Self-righteousness and inflated self regard” into a wisened NYT writer with a broad world view who is willing to ask herself life’s tough questions. Nor could I even be bothered to contemplate how a slice of coffee-clatch whine from a well-nested twit in a Northeastern echo chamber became a NYT op-ed piece. I’m not remotely interested.

    And I can’t recall even the slightest detail of that racy Washingtonienne flap from last year.

  44. For my part, I’ve managed not to know the name of the “Runaway Bride.”

  45. Well, Ms Young, of course there’s honor among thieves, and dog doesn’t eat dog, and so you clearly have to root for your friend and fellow columnist, but there’s no way around it — face it: that gal Olen’s really a bitch!

  46. You’d think someone getting a PhD in English would be able to spell.

  47. ..or punctuate:

    “The real problem isnt how sex is graphed on gender, its how it isnt.”

  48. Or to write a sentence that, you knows, means something.

  49. Spare your phallocratic logocentrism, RC.

  50. For my part, I’ve managed not to know the name of the “Runaway Bride.”

    I don’t know it either, but I am one the biggest fans around of her loony facial expressions.

  51. For my part, I’ve managed not to know the name of the “Runaway Bride.”

    Me either, but didn’t they find her in Aruba?

  52. People actually thought the nanny shouldn’t have been fired? My God, I would have fired her in two minutes for no other reason than the bad judgment she displayed by giving her employer the link to her blog complaining about her job. No sensible person wants an idiot like that in charge of children.

  53. Oh, and Jeff: At least according to Olen, her husband was far more intent on firing the nanny than she was.

    Was he also intent on finding Nicole Brown Simpson’s real murderer? You don’t need x-ray specs to see that Taylor hit this one on the head.

    And Jane Austen’s novels don’t reek of sex. They reek of money. That’s why they’re so famous.

  54. Sorry, Tim, I disagree. Don’t buy the “all men are hound-dogs” idea.

  55. Firing the nanny was a no-brainer. Olen’s sheer vindictiveness, however, required comment.

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