Well, if the Chronicle of Higher Ed isn’t enough to get academics in a tizzy, there’s always the New York Times, which ran a story yesterday about a woman who fired her nanny for blogging. There’s tons of commentary: here (Steven’s blog first hipped me to it), here, and here.
For me, this is less a story about blogging than about soclal class (okay, granted that it was probably a bad idea to give your employer a link to your blog). The blog’s just a vehicle for something more disturbing.
A great deal of the work that goes into nannying or any other domestic job is emotional labor. People who leave their children to nannies probably want to believe that the nanny’s work is “more than just a job” to the nanny (it is their kids we’re talking about here), even though it is obvious that money drives the whole thing: the parent has the money and needs to buy the time, the nanny has the time and skills and needs the money. In this case, we’re talking about a woman, Tessa, who aspires to go to graduate school and (I imagine) herself attain a level of success and income like that of Olin, the woman for whom she works. The real motivation for firing came when Olin read a poem that she imagined to be about herself. She imagined that she saw herself through the eyes of her nanny, and it was too much to take. At that moment, all the fantasies about being a “cool” mom who just needs a little help around the house came crashing down into Barbara Ehrenrich Nickel and Dimed territory. In the end, Olin was paying for emotional labor that was given as exactly that — not a true expression of Tessa’s inner feelings (though remember, the conceit of the story is that the blog is a confessional space where Tessa reveals herself, when in fact this need not be the case at all) but as a performance for money. Olin wanted to pretend away her privilege, which the existence of the blog disallowed. And forcing Olin to confront her own privilege is, apparently, such a transgression that she feels entitled not only to fire Tessa but also defame her in the pages of the Times.
NB: I don’t mean to moralize about hiring childcare. I have no problem with people who can afford it hiring nannies or daycare (well, EVERYBODY ought to be entitled to daycare) or people to clean their house or whatever so long as the employees are fairly compensated (this is obviously a whole other conversation about unpaid domestic labor that usually falls to women, at least in heterosexual couples). The horrific thing is the way in which Olin wields her privilege, the conceit that she is entitled to a piece, essentially, of her employee’s soul and the vengeful behavior that sits atop the self-reflective stance. Oh, and a pox on the Times for printing the piece.