On the Hollywood front the media has been abuzz over the breakup of the Ben Affleck/Jennifer Garner marriage. Old Hollywood hands considered theirs to be the most solid marriage on the block. No one can understand what happened.
Or, no one did until they heard the rumor that Affleck had taken up with the nanny. Everyone believes that this makes the most sense, even if it feels like the plot of a movie. One needs to be wary of explanations that have a little too much narrative coherence, but this is Hollywood, and where else would you find people who believe that life must imitate art?
If it’s true, then Affleck is not the first Hollywood hunk to bed the nubile young girl who has been caring for his children. Emily Shire helps us to recall: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mick Jagger and Jude Law.
Some Hollywood stars even married their nannies. The names of Robin Williams and Ethan Hawke come to mind.
Shire points out that these big Hollywood stars are often very attractive to the young women who live in their homes and care for their children. It is hardly surprising that these women would not use some of their feminine wiles to seduce such men. Women all over the world crush on such men. The nanny has a privileged access.
Not that we want to absolve any man of responsibility for his own behavior, but we must recognize that women make their own free choices. Like it or not, some women are drawn to other women’s husbands. And after all, what does a nanny really have to lose. In risk/reward terms, it might seem to be worth a try.
As for the Affleck/Garner marriage, enquiring minds want to know what happened. How did that marriage, a marriage of equals if ever there was one, come a cropper over a young nanny?
The easiest and most obvious answer is simple: nannies are younger and more nubile than aging wives. This suggests, feminism notwithstanding, that sexual attraction might contain a hormonal component. By all appearances, this hormonal component is not a social construct.
Even so, why do said husbands not feel any enduring loyalty to their wives?
Are there other explanations? Shire suggests the following:
One doesn’t need to be a feminist scholar to make some educated guesses about why this image of the nanny emerged as more mothers entered the work force and created lives outside of the home.
These women were going against centuries of social pressure to focus only on their children. Their fears and guilt were ripe for entertainment fodder.
Just like nature, culture seems to abhor a vacuum. As modern women are throwing off the shackles of what feminists told them was domestic servitude, they have farmed out essential child-rearing chores to nannies. Or, at least, the women who could afford to do so did so.
In a marriage where both partners equally pursue their careers, children do not seem to have a mother and men do not feel like they have wives. Thus, a cultural vacuum exists and nannies are often called on to fill it.
Some feminist scholars must believe that men who have affairs with their nannies are punishing their wives for rebelling against the centuries of social pressure that forced them to focus only on their children. So says Shire.
As for the centuries of social pressure, you would think, reading the sentence and listening to certain feminist thinkers, that motherhood had been imposed on women arbitrarily, by accident. And you would think that women do not really want to be mothers to their children, but have been pressured into doing it by the big, bad patriarchy.
Of course this makes nearly all of the women who have ever walked the planet into complete and total dupes. One does not understand why women have accepted this insulting caricature of an activity that most of them have always taken as an extraordinarily serious obligation, the ultimate labor of love.
It’s one thing to balance motherhood and work. Many women do it and do it well. It’s quite another to abandon one’s children to the care of a nanny while building an independent life.
I need not mention that bringing up children and having a job are not mutually exclusive. The older a child gets, the less immediate attention and time he requires. Women are not mothers all of the time. Given a child’s commitment to school and other activities, a woman is not obliged to be on duty as a mother all the time. If she chooses a better balance between work and her home life, she will be able to do both, but she will likely not have the same career trajectory as would a man who is not a mother.
When Shire suggests that liberated women have lives outside of the home she is also saying that these women are not the mistresses of their homes, do not want to be homemakers and do not identify with the space of the home. Thus, their separate lives put them in disharmony with home life.
What do nannies have that these modern women do not have? Forget, for the moment, the question of youth and hormones. These nannies are nurturing; they care for a man’s children; often the children bond with their nannies more than they bond with their own mothers. One suspects that a nanny will look up to the man of the family and even cater to him.
Nannies are hired to be replacement mothers, but one suspects that they are also seen as replacement wives. At a time when many women do not want to be housewives, nannies can serve as a substitute. That is why it often happens that men marry their nannies. It’s the natural next step.
There is much more to the transaction than seduction. A young woman who is changing diapers, feeding and clothing children is not striking the most seductive of poses. And yet, she is caring for the children and perhaps even helping to make a house feel like a home. Most men will feel some considerable amount of affection toward the woman who is doing most of the work in bringing up his children. It is strange to think about it, but an affection mixed with gratitude seems, in these cases, to predate a sexual attraction.