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July 17, 2005

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.

Olen writes:

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.

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Comments

What bothered me was the distinction between friends and childless acquaintances. Would a lack of children dull one's enthusiasm for the blog about a 26 year old nanny? Or would it simply reduce your chances of being the author's friend?

p.s. relatiation? Is that when your relatives get back at you, or when you have 'relations' out of spite? I like it either way.

Cold.

One thing I find mysterious in Olen's behavior is how she can be given access to her nanny's blog, a very intimate blog at that, and she has no desire at all to discuss any of it, intimate or mundane, with the nanny.

Total matriarchal snoothead. Pity the children.

Could she be writing an allegorical treatise on the hypocrisy of rove vis a vis Valerie Plame/Joseph Wilson?

Mind you, I doubt it, and I confess I have not read the actual piece, just the snips on the nets, but, just asking for the sake of not wanting to miss anything that's an attack on roveco.

Again, given the smarmy NYT holier then thou I write for the Times! attitude, not likely.

What does tbogg have to say, he's well versed in these sickening simpering narcissists? I'll check!

Of course it was petty. Real petty. But when you show your boss your blog, shit happens.

Never let your employer into your personal life. They are not your friends.

Lindsay, I notice you didn't mention the fact that Tessy blogged about an argument that Olen and her husband had. Don't you think that was out of bounds, maybe just a little? You're terribly concerned about Olen having given out Tessy's blog URL -- although at least from Olen's story, there's no indication that Tessy asked for it to be kept secret -- but what about Olen's confidentiality? And the fact that Tessy might not have used Olen's name doesn't change the situation -- I'm sure there were plenty of people out there who knew who Tessy worked for and who could put 2+2 together to figure out who the arguers were. I'm sorry, but I would assume that a sitter accepts a certain responsibility to keep the family's life confidential, and by blogging about it in any manner, she breached that trust.

Not fair to leave out the incident that actually led to the dismissal.

"A few days later her anger boiled over. "I am having the type of workweek that makes me think being an evil corporate lawyer would be O.K.," she wrote. "Seriously. Contemplated sterilizing myself yesterday.""

When you wrote on a blog that taking care of someone's children makes you feel disgusted - to the point you consider sterilizing herself, you lose your ability to whine about getting fired. Of course our employers piss us off. Just like some of our co-workers do. If we berate them for being assholes in a forum we've asked them to monitor, we can't be surprised when they hold it against us.

For her part, Olen probably should have spoken to her nanny. Maybe if she had she could have they could have solved this problem more amicably. But think, too, about the consequences of this approach. She didn't hire this woman to become her close friend, and presumably, the nanny didn't take the job because she was hoping to be hired as a friend. It's great if they get along, but neither of them should be forced into intimacy if they don't want it.

For god's sake, people, read the fight post. All it says is, "I heard a couple fighting." It could have been a couple on the bus, you know. Hearing couples fight is not some rare thing. Olen just assumed it was her.

Nanny writes about Olen on blog; Olen writes about Nanny in Times.

Wouldn't everyone concerned have been be better off just talking to each other.

Then her nanny did something friendly, even intimate--she chose to share her anonymous blog.

'Intimate' does not always follow from 'friendly'.

If the blog made her uncomfortable, Olen could have stopped reading anytime.

If my kids are in the hands of someone who makes me uncomfortable, the one thing I am *not* going to do is stop reading. Not to attack Tessy, but her prose does not exactly paint a picture of emotional stability, however responsible and reliable she may be IRL. Not to defend Olen's voyeurism here, but 'stopping reading' is not an option for a responsible parent.

I've got news for the for the poster above, everyone but the utterly obsessed parents enraged with their children at time, it's what you do about it that matters. In my case, after a day of traveling with my three young boys, my husband and I agreed that it didn't feel That good, as in the sex that created them. As for the article, it reminded me of Neal Pollack's pathetic article. Oh get over it, why don't they?!

Got kids? I do, although I prefer to do my own raising of them. Did Olen consider the impact on her children of firing their nanny? Or do their feelings in the matter not enter into the equation?

Not to defend Olen's voyeurism here, but 'stopping reading' is not an option for a responsible parent.

Except you just did.

By Olen's own admission, she never had any complaints about Tessa's job performance until she started obsessively reading her blog and making all kinds of wild inferences.

A good point from elmo. I wonder--did the children like Tess? Did Tess like the children? Olen wants props as a careful mother, but her children's feelings don't seem to count at all in this story. The fact that she never spoke to Tess about her blog is totally weird. If she was so worried about her privacy she could have made it a condition of employment that Tess not mention her family in the blog, and Tess could have either accepted it or found another job.

I'm a huge fan of English movies (things like "Howards End", "Gosford Park", tons of things from the 40's and 50's) and the one thing that's clear in them is the division between upstairs and downstairs. Olen should have watched some of those movies to learn the distinction.

However, Tessy was thick as a plank (tm Princess Di) to show her boss her blog. Dumb dumb dumb.

Lots of blame to be troweled around on this one, I'm afraid.

Here's the post that allegedly pushed Olen http://subvic.blogspot.com/2005/02/nap-break-blog.html>over the edge, the one about considering sterilization. It's really not that shocking--a one liner about considering sterilization. Big deal.

It's an offhand complaint about a hellish week. Again, no names, no accusations, no identifying details.

It's not like Tessy was constantly blogging about how much she hated her job, in fact, she barely mentions her job at all.

Olen is pathetically insecure about her choices.

The thing is, everyone already agrees that it was a bad idea to share the blog with the boss. Nobody is trying to argue that it was a wise choice, least of all Tessy.

Here's the post:


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 sterilzing myself yesterday.


It's an offhand complaint about a hellish week. Again, no names, no accusations, no identifying details.

But the issue here isn't necessarily that the employee complained publicly - it's the employee complained in a way that the employer became aware of it.


It's not like Tessy was constantly blogging about how much she hated her job, in fact, she barely mentions her job at all.

You don't need to chronically complain about your job to piss the boss off. That's been my experience.


Olen is pathetically insecure about her choices.

The employer was a wanker, the employee was a dumbass. I can't believe this is such a remarkable and controversial situation to so many people.

Except that employers rarely provide public explanations for the firing. Perhaps this firestorm reveals why.

It is NOT about whether she was fired. That is immaterial

Her boss wrote about her, LIED about her, and "sexed up the intelligence" (if you will) in a NATIONAL PUBLICATION

Letting her go : one thing

making a buck off of defaming your former employee : another thing entirely

getting called a hack from coast to coast: priceless

Seriously. Contemplated sterilzing myself yesterday.

Seems to me that any parent who's never had thoughts like that hasn't taken care of her/his own kids for long stretches.

Oh, wait.

It is NOT about whether she was fired. That is immaterial

I was responding to Linday's comment. And she was talking about the justification for firing.

I do think that Olen was an idiot too, for writing about the situation.

But the nanny was the first to go public. She has a smaller public, but it's still public.

In any case, I would not have read Olen's column except that I heard about it here. So if the problem is publicizing the issue, this thread is only adding to the publicity.

Do we really want to go back to a feudalistic society where employers are expected to be provident and manage all aspects of an employees personal life? George Pullman and the Pullman Car Co. rented housing, sold groceries, heating oil, and insurance to his workers as well as running their schools. He is buried not far from me 20' deep under steel and concrete. The enmity towards him was such that the survivors did not wish him to be dug up and dragged through the streets. Was there insubordination (even loosely defined)? Was there gross negligence? The "employer" acted wholly irresponsibly. Employees do not hand over their civil rights in agreeing to work for wages. The employer is a simpering nitwit.

Do we really want to go back to a feudalistic society where employers are expected to be provident and manage all aspects of an employees personal life?

That's the plan, yes.

What do you mean "go back to a feudalistic society" - if you mean an employer's absolute right to fire at will, we're IN a feudalistic society.

But if you tell somebody that you have a media outlet where you express your opinions, and then go ahead and criticize that person in your media outlet, you clearly have contempt for the person you are criticizing. You indicate you don't care that he/she knows about the criticism.

I would not want to employ somebody who had clear contempt for me, and expressed it in a public forum.

Would you?

I would not want to employ somebody who had clear contempt for me, and expressed it in a public forum. Would you?

That depends. Is the person competent? Does either the contempt or the public airing of it interfere with her ability to do her job? If not, then no.

Being resented is the inevitable and inherent result of being a manager or supervisor. I've been a manager for twenty years, and I bet there are a couple dozen people out in the world who wouldn't be able to hear my name without curling their lip.

Maybe I'm just silly, but I tend to think that the workplace is about getting the work done, and not about my desire to have the people I supervise sing my praises.

"Do we really want to go back to a feudalistic society where employers are expected to be provident and manage all aspects of an employees personal life? George Pullman and the Pullman Car Co. rented housing, sold groceries, heating oil, and insurance to his workers as well as running their schools. He is buried not far from me 20' deep under steel and concrete. The enmity towards him was such that the survivors did not wish him to be dug up and dragged through the streets. "

And yet every corporation buys health insurance for many of their employees in lieu of pay, and most people think they should be doing that for every employee and are somehow cheating their employees if they don't, and most of the people who don't think that think the government should do it instead. Funny how attitudes evolve.

"But if you tell somebody that you have a media outlet where you express your opinions, and then go ahead and criticize that person in your media outlet, you clearly have contempt for the person you are criticizing."

No, you don't. People get criticized all the time by people that don't have contempt for them. People can even be criticized publicly by others that don't have contempt for them. Being able to hear such criticism without assuming that the person uttering it had contempt for you was, last time I checked, one of the skills that children were supposed to master before they could be considered grown-up.

Not only that, but a statement that a job is difficult or that some recuperation from its rigors is welcomed is not a criticism of the boss, much less an expression of contempt. Everyone knows that childcare is a difficult job, and only an idiot would assume without any evidence that a childcare worker's frustration with the demands of the job come from the employer rather than the job itself.

And a few more expression of ridicule for employers that can't take the mildest expression of frustration with a job without assuming that it constitutes "insubordination" or "contempt" for the employer is definitely in order. While both sides should retain the right to terminate the business relationship at will, an employer that gets rid of good employees for reasons unrelated to the job or pisses them off unnecessarily is not a good employer and is not acting in the best interests of the organization he represents (or the family she is hiring people to care for, as the case may be).

"What do you mean "go back to a feudalistic society" - if you mean an employer's absolute right to fire at will, we're IN a feudalistic society."

Well, no. One of the big features of feudalism was that the serfs didn't have a right to quit at will, which employees do today.

And yet every corporation buys health insurance for many of their employees in lieu of pay, and most people think they should be doing that for every employee and are somehow cheating their employees if they don't, and most of the people who don't think that think the government should do it instead. Funny how attitudes evolve.

Health insurance in lieu of pay isn't feudalism. It's an attractive benefit because the employee saves money twice over: they don't pay income tax on the value of their health insurance, and they and their employer get a better deal because the insurance company gets to insure a large pool of people who are young and healthy enough to be working.

I'm all for single payer. Amongst other things, it would give people more freedom to quit bad jobs, and/or to go into business for themselves and compete as small employers who can't necessarily afford the juicy benefits packages that will attract employees.

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