nannies & class
February 16, 2004 02:59 PM
I picked up a copy of The Atlantic Monthly at an airport last week out of curiosity over the cover article, "How Serfdom Saved the Feminist Movement". You'll have to leaf through a copy yourself to read the whole thing, but there's an interview with its author on the Atlantic's website, which serves almost as an abstract for the article proper.
The article itself is actually a massive book review, with a narrative that circles around several semi-recent works on the topic of the nanny as feminist icon/problem/whatever (of these, Domestica looks to be the strongest example). In any case, the article does a decent job of presenting multiple perspectives on the shaky practice of wealthy professional women hiring nannies to maintain their careers and the class issues this brings up. While it's clearly targeted at the Atlantic's wealthy professional demographic (and written by someone who is part of same), it takes to task some of the "oh, poor me" schlock written for that demographic recently, which I have to admire.
One thing that I found unsettling, though, is the presentation of the nanny-as-member-of-household concept as preferable to the modern disenfranchised nanny. Flannagan implies throughout the article that it's better to be secure in one's old age than to negotiate for oneself in the present, thus a Reconstruction-era nanny/mammie had things better than your immigrant nanny might. It's a very white, privileged view to take, particularly as most of the books reviewed/cited don't consult the domestic workers who are their subjects as to their personal preferences.
I'm curious, for those of you who have kids or have cared for kids (or have thought about either) - how much does class enter into the picture in your own childcaring interactions?
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most nannies i see are older blk women caring for the children of youngish, rich, white heterosexual couples. i can't even call it new nanny work, as it smacks of slave/ master relationships as far as i'm concerned. the only real differences are that the nannies are (theoretically) free to go when they want, & it's illegal to discriminate against blk ppl, so they take the kids all over instead of caring for them exclusively at home. something deep within me is very much disturbed by the fact that most of the nannies i see are brown women, immigrants who've come to make a living for themselves & might find themselves neglecting their own children for the sake of making a buck. with the immigrant status of these women, being "lower class" is pretty much a given. it seems to me that no one wants a nanny (or other servant) who's as educated as they -- that changes the relationship from one of ordinate/ subordinate to something much more level. going to the high school i did, where nannies were as commonplace as sports activities, it seemed to me that it was assumed that the nanny was to be respected only to a certain extent; she was a servant of the parents, but still deserving of respect from the child(ren). it was a very complex dynamic, but as a blk woman i felt a special sensitivity. i've rarely ever encountered well-to-do blk familes who rely on nannies for their children. culturally, it's the norm that a close family friend or relative would act as babysitter (othermothers, as patricia hill collins calls them) for a nominal fee, or for absolutely free.
i forgot where i was really going w/ this, but maybe it'll be of some help to you.
these are the thoughts of lenée on February 21, 2004 09:47 AM
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