Flanagan Hoopla

When the March issue of The Atlantic finally arrived in the mail, I immediately started reading Caitlin Flanagan’s cover story, How Serfdom Saved The Women’s Movement (now available online.) I figure anyone who can inspire such feelings of disgust in both Maud and Emma while at the same time earn Jessa‘s admiration should be worth a look. But merely a couple of paragraphs into the article I found myself disliking Flanagan’s smug tone, the way she feels superior to (or bad for, depending on how you want to interpret her) other women who have to drop off their kids at day care because, you know, they “worked more because of economic necessity than because of a desire for professional advancement or emotional fulfillment.” These women, she says, were missing out because they couldn’t stay at home and note “every little moue of delight or displeasure” that crossed their children’s faces. But Flanagan did. And she did it all thanks to her very industrious nanny who “did all the hard stuff.” It would be easy to dismiss all of this if it were just a matter of tone. It isn’t, of course. Flanagan practically pillories mothers who keep their jobs and have to hire nannies. Of her own choice to do so, she says only

Why was I supposed to endlessly wipe down the kitchen counters and lug bags of garbage out to the cans and set out the little plastic plates of steamed carrots and mashed bananas that the children touched only in order to hurl them onto the floor?

Why indeed? Shouldn’t the answer to this question somehow involve the man of the house? Flanagan doesn’t say. She goes on:

Wasn’t I designed for more important things than putting away Lego blocks and loading the dishwasher? I was! It was time. Cherchez la femme.

And femme she does find, in the person of a nanny. Flanagan proudly says that she pays her nanny’s salary as well as her Social Security taxes. But while she is letting herself off the hook about her nanny hiring she hurls an enormous amount of guilt towards working women who hire nannies, accusing them of advancing their careers at the expense of thirld world immigrants. Where are the men in all of this? In our enlightened times, shouldn’t men share in the responsibility of raising the children and therefore face up to what their nanny choices entail? Why not throw a little responsibilty and guilt their way? But, no. Piling on women is so much better. The single worthwhile point that Flanagan makes is about Social Security. She makes it (very, very) abundantly clear that while the women’s lib movement has decried the loss of Social Security wages for women who stop working in order to have babies (the Mommy Tax), it hasn’t made an equal fuss over the fact that few nannies receive those wages. Okay, point taken. But again, a quick look at her Slate article about this confirms the argument that she is focused on women–not couples–as being the hirers, and therefore exploiters, of nannies. The rest of the 10,000-word article is more filler material. To top it off, Flanagan cites the loathsome Girlfriends books, playfully derides a woman’s choice to work outside the home (“leaving the New York Times! exposing herself to snubs at cocktail parties!”), and makes silly quips (“[Naomi Wolf] had wanted a revolution; what she got was a Venezuelan”). There is a point in the article somewhere, but you’ll have to slug through all the self-satisfied bullshit first.