Monday, August 10, 2015

When Nannies Threaten Marriages

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.


Leo G said...

Stuart, in view of the nanny that Arnie had a child with, as she is "not an oil painting" (H/T Tom Hardy in Locke), I think you nailed it. Looks takes a marriage so far, but what gets it through the problem times is gratitude.

priss rules said...

One word: Hollywood.

Too often, famous stars marry famous stars.

Male actors live for attention, female actors, aka actresses(now a bad word) also live for attention.

Both are married to the public and, indeed, they married each other because both were famous.
And the problem goes both ways. Famous men leave famous women(as wives) for other women, but famous women also leave famous men for other men.
Angelina Jolie was married to a famous man but hopped off to an even more famous man.

Anonymous said...

"Most men will feel some considerable amount of affection toward the woman who is doing most of the work in bringing up his children."

This is the key point. When a woman serves a man it creates strong, primal bonds between them. This is the same reason some men have affairs with their campaign staff or secretaries.


Anonymous said...

One day when I was about 25, a woman at work brought her 2-year-old son in to the office. She was very good with him, obviously proud of him, and enjoyed interacting with him...unlike quite a few other women I'd observed who seemed to view their kids, if not exactly as a burden, as a sign that the fun part of their lives was over. Not this girl.

I felt a very strong wave of desire for her...I'd been somewhat attracted to her in the past, but this was 10X. While I'd always vaguely intended to have kids "someday," never before had I felt an immediate and urgent desire to sleep with someone with the specific desire to get her pregnant.

Probably something similar going on with the attraction to the nannies, even stronger because it's the man's own kids.

A-Bax said...

Your point about the nanny being a replacement mother (and often, a replacement wife) is well-taken. Apparently Jennifer Garner is apoplectic about Ben's diddling of the nanny - like, off the charts rage.

One would expect some, or even a great deal, of anger to come from the cheated-upon spouse. But, before the revelations of the nanny came out the reason for their split was attributed to Jennifer being upset with Ben's constant gambling, along with rumors of his infidelity. They had been to marriage counseling together (which Ben didn't like).

Basically the usual story - power couple grows apart, wife can't stand husband's hobbies (perhaps "hobby" is to light a term for big-time gambling, but Ben can afford it), and maybe there was some extra-curricular activity. Couple was "working through it", but to no avail. when split was announced, there was talk of both Ben and Jen living on the same property (in different buildings - apparently they have a veritable compound complete with a sizable mancave/manhouse for Ben).

All that blew up when the revelations of the Nanny-banging came out. Nanny-banging was very recent - she'd only been hired this year. Couple's marriage problems preceded Nanny's arrival (not to excuse it, but she was an accelerant, not a cause per se).

Anyway, Garner is apparently purple with rage at the thought of Ben boinking this trollop, and I think it HAS to be related to the fact that she was the Nanny - in the home, trusted, around the kids, etc. (Since, whatever level of upsetment she had before was not so high so as to preclude a prima facia "amicable divorce".)

Beyond the naivete of hiring an attractive, single, childless woman in her twenties to live alongside your alpha-male husband and children, I think Garner must understand somewhere in her hindbrain that she failed as a wife. Or, at least, left open a HUGE gaping flank as a wife: to wit, she wasn't really one in the sense of being the "mistress of the home" as you put it.

I think this had added an exponential dimension of hurt/anger for Garner - being cheated on with younger, more nubile woman is one thing (bag enough), but for it to be the stand-in for your role of mother/wife (her most important role) is crushing.

As these guys puts it (slightly crass website):

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree with you... the nanny was an accelerant, not a cause. And Ben did apparently have a fairly serious gambling problem... though I do not know how serious it was.

priss rules said...

I think the nanny threat was there even before the 'liberation' of women.

Consider Abraham and the woman who birthed Ishmael. Sara didn't like her much.

In FORSYTE SAGA, a rich guy gives up everything because he falls in love with the governess. Governess is more than a nanny, but still...

One thing for sure, when rich people marry rich people or famous marry famous, they are on equal level. A man wants a woman who looks up to him. So, he may be drawn to a nanny figure who just worships him.

KCFleming said...

There are at least three actors in this morality play.

But only the guy will be blamed.

Anonymous said...

Leave it to a former acolyte of Lacan's to make things more complicated than they really are. The nanny was convenient, enthusiastic, and grateful - but most of all convenient. There were other women too that he had, but that didn't make the nanny off-limits...she was included on his mental 'available' list as well. Some people have trouble resisting that last piece of chocolate cake, and others have trouble resisting the oh-so-convenient, eager, and nubile household help.

She was convenient, and he is human. No need to over-theorize.

the gold digger said...

Garner must understand somewhere in her hindbrain that she failed as a wife.

She is not the one who screwed around. Ben failed as a husband. There will always be someone newer, younger, prettier. The deal is that you have made a promise not to succumb to that. said...

How Freudian! While I agree that there is something to the hypothesis, the other variables identified in the comments may make it a "perfect storm." Confident in my knowledge of the various psychoanalytic theories, I have turned some of my attention to theology and philosophy, any thoughts about the place of mothers, the "Jewish Mother" or the Blessed Mother, not so much in the Protestant faith.