Sunday, June 17, 2007

Book Reviews and Nannies

From Jennifer Weiner's blog, Snark Spot:

So I’m having my own little Kanye West “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” moment over on the New York Times’ book blog...

...Things started on Tuesday TBR senior editor Dwight Garner posted a roundup of what other newspapers were reviewing: Michael Chabon, Woody Allen, your typical assortment of Living Dead White Men who the Times routinely covers to death and beyond, leavened with a review of Tina Brown’s take on the ten-years-dead Diana.

I posted a comment pointing out that it was interesting that the Times itself has reviewed all of those titles (in Chabon and Brown’s cases, twice), and wondered whether book review editors the world over got some kind of top-secret list as to which books to write about each week...

To find out what happened next, follow the thread here. You can read my comments on Jennifer's MySpace blog here. I was incensed, yet humorous. It sounds like something catherine would be interested in, since she "of course [she writes] romance novels."


Next. From Salon via Racialicious: The other mothers, by Lynn Harris.

Separation anxiety, race and class, our very identities as women and parents: This is precisely the bumpy terrain that Lucy Kaylin explores in her new book, "The Perfect Stranger: The Truth About Mothers and Nannies." Said "truth" -- refreshingly -- is not, say, research twisted to assert that mothers who employ nannies have higher rates of self-hate, or that their children tend to grow up to be sociopaths. Kaylin's book -- her own nanny story, woven into interviews with other mothers and nannies, too -- shows that, actually, it's messier than that.

Kaylin's responses to the interview questions said more about her than I think she intended:

"I see what a cliché I've become, you know, when I come in the house with my hard shoes and dark clothes and I'm hugging my kid with one hand and working the BlackBerry with the other. You see yourself like that and it's awful; you're exactly the person you have long decried or felt superior to. A nanny can give you a really clear perspective on what it looks like to them...

...[My nanny Hy] is very frank, and if she thinks something's wrong she'll say it. And there was this one day when my husband and I were being so harried, doing that "two ships passing in the morning" thing, and she literally gave me a command: She said, "Kiss your husband." I was about to run out the door without doing so. And I thought it was great because she has a really macro sense of our operation. It's not just "I've got to make the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches this afternoon and make sure they have their bath by 6." She really cares about the health of the whole family. She cares about people getting kissed before they go out the door. She knows that it matters. And God bless her, it does matter."

Thank goodness Kaylin's nanny can function as her therapist and personal assistant, in addition to taking care of her kids. I wonder how her husband fits into the "operation." I'm not sure. In response to the question, "How do fathers feel about nannies?", Kaylin stated:

You'd think in this day and age that fathers would be as affected by the presence of a nanny as we are, that they would be as involved as we are in child rearing -- since we do have these great, well-adjusted feminist dads these days, wearing Snuglis and going to play dates -- but the reality is, the brunt of the childcare still falls to the mother. If something goes wrong with the kid, [people] are going to look to the choices the mother made to see what went wrong. And there's just no sense in which a father is hiring someone to be his proxy when he brings a nanny into the home. The nanny is a mother figure. So as a result, it's the mother who's overseeing the relationship and managing it.

Did Kaylin consult any fathers who may actually be the primary caregivers in their homes? Did she even ask her own husband how he felt about the nanny in their own home? Nope, she made a sweeping generalization without referring to any research at all.

My favorite part of the article was the comments. Some people were ticked off. An excerpt:

Add me to the "Who Fucking Cares?" Camp

I can't believe that there is an entire book industry dedicated to the minutia of motherhood. Every little aspect of being a mother/working mother/stay at home mother has been fetishized to a point beyond ridiculous. So now there is a book that dedicates at least 100 pages to dissecting how upper-middle class mothers FEEL about their nannies?

I don't care how these women, who have all the choices in the world, feel. What interests me more is how the illegal Mexican nanny who has had to leave her own children behind feels about being paid subsistence wages? Or how the working-poor mother feels about not being able to work at all because of the lack of daycare, period. Or how another working-poor mother feels about having to work nights at a corner store while her husband works days, and then having to haul yourself around all day after not sleeping. So to complain that you feel JEALOUS of your Nanny is whiny and self-indulgent.

Incidentally, I am working-mother who has more choices available to her than almost 90% of working Moms. I pay 45% of my take-home for childcare costs. I pay my childcare provider 25% more than the going rate to insure that she'll stick around, and because I really believe that my commitment to feminism and social and economic equality starts with me and my bank account. The endless navel gazing of upper-class women does little to alert our consciousness to the class implications of hiring other women to mind your children for subsistence wages.

Your thoughts?


Stephanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catherine Avril Morris said...

Gah, bleah, ptooey, I'm so sick of the whole nanny thing! I've been trying to read The Nanny Diaries and I just can't seem to get through it, as I hate everyone involved in the whole equation, including the kid/s. The only nanny situation I care to read/hear about is my favorite children's book (besides The Story of Ferdinand), Eloise.

And that's all I have (unconstructive) to say.

Catherine Avril Morris said...

Oh, dur. I also meant to comment on the Jennifer Weiner stuff. Hey, Bianca, I didn't know you read her blog! I like her a lot. Her books, I'm sorta "eh" about. I dunno, she's a really good writer, but her first book took this horrible, unexpected turn 3/4 of the way in, and I can't seem to get over it. I'm like a trauma victim: Can't trust her even in subsequent books to uphold her promise to me, writer to reader.

Anyway, she's one of many authors who blogs about that issue--the NYTBR and other "respected" review venues passing over anything related to romance, chick lit, etc., except when it's something sensational (sensational in the sense of "scandalous" or "celebrity-oriented," not "great").

I agree with everything JW says, except...I just can't be bothered to care. I don't know why we have to waste time and energy on railing at the NYTBR, trying to convince them to review our books. Why not just ignore them, not read their publication, and keep on doing our thing?

There's an ongoing, very similar issue within RWA, too (RWA = Romance Writers of America, with 9,000+ members in the US, Canada, and I think Australia and New Zealand as well; I'm a member). They did a redesign of their logo a couple years ago, trying to "change the face of romance" (their words). They spent a shit-ton of money on getting this new image designed, one with NO pink and NO hearts in it. Oooh, revolutionary! They were trying to make romantic fiction more palatable (marketable) to the general public. But WHY? I mean, sure, people want to make as much money as they can, so maybe the redesign would help them "get more respect" from...I'm not sure who. But I still don't get why they had to eat shit like that. Buy into the idea that pink and hearts and romance are clearly not worthy of respect. Compromise their own power and ethics in an effort to make someone else, someone basically irrelevant, accept and approve of them.

I feel like $ is one of the biggest deciding factors in our society (yep, the almighty dollar). It's how you vote, in so many ways. So why not stand against publications that show that kind of supercilious misogyny by just freezing them out financially? Because the woman-centered book biz is doing pretty fine, financially. We're certainly doing plenty well enough without the NYTBR and like publications' help. I think it's so much more effective to disempower the shitheads of the world by just treating them like the negligible whatevers they are, and keeping on going. I think you empower the bully by railing against them and trying to convince them to play nice.

God, I could go on and on about this. It's the same with GWBush&co. Let's stop trying to convince them to play nice; they're assholes and bullies, and they're not gonna. So let's operate above and around them, and nullify them in that way.

Argh. Now I'm all worked up. :)

Thanks for posting this stuff, Bianca. It's really interesting and I have to admit I like getting all worked up.

Shannon said...

Well, heck. I responded to this and I dunno what happened but the post never showed up. Drat! Anyway, I'm in agreement: one more book about nannies from the POV of a mom is one more book we don't need. She says that there are about 1 million nannies in the US. Okay, but according to the 2000 federal census, there are about 100 million families in the US. So we're talking about 1% of families that use nannies. And if we look at the entire population, the percentage is negligible. My point: there's only a handful of people who care. Give the rest of us a break already!

Bianca Reagan said...

stephanie, I'm glad to hear that your friend enjoys her nannying.

catherine, you're welcome for the posting of stuff.

I read The Nanny Diaries once. I thought the book was shallow, so I gave it away to one of my friends. A year later, I bought a discount copy and read it again. It was still shallow, but I related to the story in a different way.

I have never read any of Jennifer Weiner's books. I read part of the first chapter of Good in Bed, after my friend recommended it me. But then I got distracted by something shiny and forgot about it. I do like her blog, though, which makes me think of the comparison between fiction and nonfiction, along with edited material versus nonedited material. I had similar thoughts when I've heard talk about what her publishing company wants her to write about versus what can and does write about on her blog. However, the concept of corporate control over artists and their work is a post for another time.

I agree with both your take on the situation as well as Jennifer's. Artists should work around the closed review system. But artists should also acknowledge that the system is closed and speak about it. Silence is both complacency and agreement. Furthermore, complaining about the system draws attention to both the problem and the squeaky artists. I don't think artists should focus all of their energies on complaining, and not at the expense of their art. But I do applaud those who do have the courage to say something.

Bianca Reagan said...

Thanks for your comment, Shannon! I agree with you and stephanie that we don't need another book on this particular topic. A book that would be helpful, though, is one that explores why different kinds of families need child care, how expensive child care can be, and why many employers refuse to properly acknowledge that their employees have children to raise.