Monday, July 18, 2005

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Rashomon in the nanny world

Continuing the theme of the professional downsides of blogging, Helanie Olen had a piece in yesterday's New York Times about firing her nanny because ofher blog:

Our former nanny, a 26-year-old former teacher with excellent references, liked to touch her breasts while reading The New Yorker and often woke her lovers in the night by biting them. She took sleeping pills, joked about offbeat erotic fantasies involving Tucker Carlson and determined she'd had more female sexual partners than her boyfriend.

How do I know these things? I read her blog.

She hadn't been with us long when we found out about her online diary. All she'd revealed previously about her private life were the bare-bones details of the occasional date or argument with her landlord and her hopes of attending graduate school in the fall.

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.

The ex-nanny posts her rebuttal, naturally, on her blog, which starts off as follows:

If you have come to this little blog today looking for prurient details of a "nanny gone wild" and another "nanny diary" detailing the sordid life of a family she works for, I am very sorry to disappoint you. Contrary to an essay published in the Style section of the NYTIMES, I am not a pill popping alcoholic who has promiscuous sex and cares nothing for the children for whom she works with. Nope. If you look carefully through my archives, instead you will find a young woman in her mid-twenties who decided to work as a nanny for a year while she prepared to enter the next phase of her professional life; namely the life of an academic pursuing a PhD in English Literature specifically focusing on the Late Victorian novel. But for those of you who dont want to comb through the archives, I will offer a refutation of the salacious, malicious, and really quite silly essay written by Ms. Olen.

I'd tell you to read the whole thing, but it is very, very long. Bitch Ph.D., who knows the blogger in question, posts her own thoughts on the matter:

In the end, of course, Olen's essay really isn't about [the nanny]; it's about Olen. She wanted her nanny to take care of her children, but it seems she also expected her nanny to take care of her.

UPDATE: Click here if you're wondering what ancient Chinese Philosophers would make of this issue.

posted by Dan on 07.18.05 at 09:56 AM


There are many reasons to blog, and there are people with all levels of good and bad judgment who blog. If I were in any kind of a sensitive position, from an adjunct faculty member or assistant prof up for tenure to a clergyperson to a therapist to a nanny, I would blog pseudonymously, and not only that, but I wouldn't post on things that could remotely identify me. Those who don't, it seems to me, display bad judgment. I'm not even sure from this story if the nanny posted under a pseudonym but let her employer in on her identity, or what.

There are those out there, though, some very popular like Mimi Smartypants, who seem determined to burn brightly.

posted by: John Bruce on 07.18.05 at 09:56 AM [permalink]

Hey, boomers. Welcome to the Disclosure Generation. (or Generation Springer, as a friend derisively calls ‘em).

This is really an issue of privacy. Or, more elementally, a question of what is privacy.

I am 43 and never have been married. I date regularly, and if anyone reading these comments happens to single and around my age, you most likely spend a large amount of time with people 15, maybe 20 years younger than you. What I have noticed is how, well, (I'm searching for a word ...) frank, how willing younger people are to DISCLOSE the more intimate details of the sexual and private lives.

When I date or visit friends my age, I navigate a unspoken rule involving boundaries: Don't go there unless invited. When visiting friends in their 20s, the rule tends to be: No surprises.

The DISCLOSURE GENERATION: that's what a friend of mine (creative writing grad student currently teaching freshman writing) calls his students. Just about every essay he reads contains some kind of disclosure statement. We live in a public culture where disclosure is expected and failure to is to be punished.

Think about it, just about every blogger I respect regularly discloses potential conflicts of interest.

Everyone is expected to disclose ... if not, if someone holds back, we tend to become suspicious. Credibility is forever strained. Ask Paul Krugman.

The CEO and/or chairman (Andrew Fastow?) of Sun Microsystems once famously declared (or, at I thought I read him famously declare): "Privacy is dead, get over it."

The kids are ahead of the curve than we are.

posted by: Desmo on 07.18.05 at 09:56 AM [permalink]

If you listen to orthodox scholars of a more prim and proper generation you'll notice that the issue of 'life history' or 'lived experience' is avoided as one would today avoid talking about say, flatulence. One's life history is embarrassing, a historical accident, a burden that repeats itself, in short, something best hidden away from prying eyes. Today, in an actively therapeutic culture to 'disclose' is to grow, to reveal to others is to 'know' more about oneself. Many people want to disclose as much about themselves as they believe they can because they think that underneath all the posturing and the 'lies' lives a real and authentic identity that is universally likable.(or this could signal that many are craving intimacy and disclosing represents a pragmatic 'get close to someone quick' strategy)

To be more cynical, if students are disclosing information like 'my mother died of breast cancer last year' then any professor with a heart would be somewhat hesitant to give the student a D even if the work warrants a F.

On the issue of privacy, you'll also read many articles lamenting the 'softened/pampered' condition of today's youth. While college students in the past had few problems with sharing a room because they'd long shared with sisters/brothers, todays youth are often sharing a room with another for the very first time. Most need enough air to breath but many are also craving support and sympathy.(schopenhauer's porcupines)

posted by: michelle on 07.18.05 at 09:56 AM [permalink]

While I mostly read political blogs, I daily check out a blog called Dooce which can be reached at

The author of that site was the first person ever to be fired because of something she wrote on her blog about work and actually had an entry in based on her name.

If you don't want to get fired for it, don't write about it on your blog. And if you don't want to know about your employees sexual proclivities, don't read their blogs.

posted by: Kate on 07.18.05 at 09:56 AM [permalink]

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