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.