Objectification: It's not just for men
Helaine Olen fired her nanny for blogging. Unlike many dooce'd employees, Tessy the nanny/blogger wasn't fired for naming names or blogging on company time. No, Tessy was fired for making Helaine Olen feel old and stodgy.
It all started when Tessy gave Olen the url for her blog, Instructions to the Double. Instructions is an anonymous chronicle of Tessy's daily life as a 26-year-old in New York City-- work, TV, drinks, grocery shopping, poetry, sex, grad school applications, etc. No real names, no identifying details. Frank, but not graphic. I started reading Tessy's blog after we met at a local blogger meet up.
Olen paints a spiteful and misleading picture of the blog and its author. If you read the article, you'd assume that Tessy is a selfish, arrogant, sneaky pill-popping alcoholic with an incredibly steamy blog. Olen doesn't tell us the blog's name, or provide a link, so the average reader just has to take her word for it.
Yet within two months of my starting to read her entries our entire relationship unraveled. Not only were there things I didn't want to know about the person who was watching my children, it turned out her online revelations brought feelings of mine to the surface I'd just as soon not have to face as well.
What were these feelings, exactly?
Suddenly, with her in my employ, I felt I was young and hip by proxy. I might be a boring mother of two, but my nanny, why, she dined in the hippest Williamsburg restaurants and rated the sexual energy of men and women she met. I was amused - and more than a bit envious.
I was about to turn 40. I'd been married almost 15 years. 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. I imagined the snoozefest that would ensue if I were to post.
But there was another element of her posts that unnerved me. Most parents don't like to think the person watching their children is there for a salary. We often build up a mythology of friendship with our nannies, pretending the nanny admires us and loves our children so much that she would continue to visit even without pay.
Olen was enjoying this vicarious living so much that she recommended the blog to her friends:
I told my friends about the blog, and even my childless acquaintances were riveted. They called, begging for more details. "Did she wear the rose negligee, the pink see-through slip or the purple Empire-waisted gown?" demanded one after perusing a post on the proper outfit for first-time sex. "She didn't say."
Yet I did not confront her. In part I felt empathy and sadness for this younger version of myself. But I also feared she would judge my life and find it wanting.
Olen's sense of entitlement is absolutely galling. If she has any doubts about whether her spiteful neuroses constitute grounds for dismissal, she doesn't let on. She says she wants to be friends with her nannies, to relate to them as something more than hired babysitters. Then her nanny did something friendly, even intimate--she chose to share her anonymous blog. So, the boss learned a lot about her nanny as a person, at which point she realized that she didn't really want to know Tessy as a person. Rather, she wanted a pseudo-relationship to make herself feel better about having a nanny. If the blog made her uncomfortable, Olen could have stopped reading anytime. Instead, she chose to dispose of the source of her discomfort by firing the person she claimed to want as a friend.
Olen's own indiscretion compounded her embarrassment. She "outed" Tessy to her friends, presumably without Tessy's permission. Yet, Olen doesn't seem to have any reservations about the ethics of that decision.
The whole article smacks of retaliation. Olen didn't like being an anonymous character on a small anonymous blog, so now she's turning Tessy into an identifiable subject in a national newspaper. By writing under her real name, Olen is once again exposing Tessy to public scorn. "Helaine-Olen's-recently-dismissed-nanny" isn't quite a definite description, but it's close enough identify Tessy to more than a handful of people.
Helaine Olen's article is narcissistic, vindictive, and shallow. She has enough self-awareness to acknowledge that her reaction was fueled primarily by her own prejudices and insecurities, rather than by any objective defects of her nanny. Yet, she seems remarkably blase about the fact that her feelings cost someone a job. She makes some interesting observations about how her needs got her into this situation, but she misses the larger moral point, namely how her hypocrisy created this terrible situation. She tried to be "friends" with her nanny, but when she actually learned the sorts of things that friends know about each other, she reverted to employer mode and discarded Tessy as a liability.
Dr B. has an excellent analysis of the Olen essay. She is much more charitable towards Olen than I can be.