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Monday, July 25, 2005

Two abortions and the New York Times

A week ago, the New York Times in the Sunday Style section ran an article,The New Nanny Diaries Are Online. It's written by a woman, Helaine Olen, who fired her nanny for reasons related to the nanny's blog.

Lots of blogospherians jumped on the story.

The nanny responded to her former employer's attack. (Although the nanny was not identified by name in the New York Times, it didn't take anyone very long to identify her and track down her blog.)

One aspect of this situation that hasn't been much discussed pertains to their abortions. As Helaine Olen learned from reading her nanny's blog, the nanny had had an abortion. As Olen writes:

Yet we had enough in common - if I took her statements at face value - to make me uneasy. In my 20's I, too, felt passionately about 19th-century English literature but had long since let it go, barely able to concentrate on The New York Times, let alone Henry James. I, too, had an abortion back then. And trouble with depression? Check. Self-righteousness and inflated self-regard? Affirmative.

I was not bisexual, and I did not come from a strictly religious background, as my nanny did.
The nanny had lots of objections to the New York Times article, but this paragraph hit a particular sore spot. As she says:

The place in the essay where she actually has the audacity to compare us has been a sore spot since I knew this essay was going to be published. In particular, I take issue with how she flippantly mentions my abortion. I did blog about my abortion, please read my entry here. I think if you compare the vulnerable and humble way I talk about that painful experience, you might find that Ms. Olen and I are very different. I for one would never reduce another woman's abortion to a fragment defaming her in a self-serving essay. I did blog about the abortion, thereby in a sense publishing it; she had the legal right to mention it (I certainly checked). However, I pleaded with the NYTIMES in two separate emails that her use of my experience was insensitive and contradictory to the way in which I talked about it. They didn't care.
Helaine Olen's article has plenty of personal criticisms to make of the nanny--she is said among things to be semi-promiscuous, a heavy drinker, and a sleeping pill popper--but as far as I can tell from this, the abortion reference is the only specific fact about the nanny that the nanny went to such great lengths to try to keep out of print. Talking to an attorney and pleading with the editor suggests that this young woman truly did not want this aspect of her personal life in the pages of the Times.

What I wonder about is why The New York Times ignored her pleadings. The article makes just as much sense without the abortion reference. It seems quite mean-spirited to keep that in, given that the young woman in question was begging not to be outed this way...and given that she comes from a traditionally religious background of some kind, where it seems pretty likely that this item of news would cause a lot of suffering.

What's up with that? Is it possible that the editor at The Times just wanted to get two more "I had an abortion" stories into print, with some background idea of continuing to try to normalize the procedure? (A previous attempt was the Amy Richards "I don't want to buy mayonnaise at Costco" fiasco.)

If so, the NYT is not exercising good judgment about how to normalize abortion. Both women in this story--the employer and the nanny--come off as being either deeply unpleasant or deeply troubled or both.

Incidentally, although the young nanny objects to the use of her abortion to make a point, she concludes her own entry about her abortion this way:

Didnt actually do much personal writing, but feel the blog post was a good start. Might post actual essay here, though planning on shopping it at the NY mags...

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