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Class wars and the nanny state

By Evelyn Tsitas - posted Monday, 23 April 2012


In Australia, the nanny is the hallmark of the wealthy. But what most people don't realize is that not all the wealthy are created equal. Just as with poverty, beauty and talent, there are degrees of wealth. And this is what makes the desire for a nanny so frustrating amongst the poorer of the upper classes.

While they currently can't afford a nanny, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott may just be their savior. After all, he has promised a Coalition government would get the productivity commission to examine extending the childcare rebate to nannies.

However, the sad reality is that only a certain sort of woman can afford a nanny. And that woman is a wealthy one. Don't believe it? Well, Childcare Minister Kate Ellis does – and if her estimates are correct – that it costs about $40,000 a year to hire a nanny (after any subsidies) rather than using centre based child care - then the nanny is for the wealthy indeed. (The Weekend Australian April 14-15)

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These women are the ones that Ellis accuses of using nannies as chauffeurs and chefs and being hired to do the ironing.

Of course, it can be argued that nannies provide flexible child care for the women who need child care outside centre hours, and who have no other family support.

Still, at $40,000 a nanny isn't the answer for shiftworkers cleaning shopping malls or those slogging out night shift in factories. Let's be honest – not all mothers are created equal when it comes to quality child care. The often forgotten hard working underclass – those in the creative arts for instance – can't afford a nanny either.

No, the nanny is the domain of the well paid lawyer or doctor or accountant, or it's the must have accessory of the trophy wife. Don't sneer! Trophy wives actually work very hard to maintain their status as ornaments and have a haunted look of fear that comes from knowing they can be dismissed from their position and replaced with a younger model. This is why nanny lore at private schools states that you must never (unless you want to commit trophy wife career suicide) employ a young nanny, and/or a nanny who is goodlooking.

In the course of co-writing Ambition: The Sneaky Secrets of Status Seekers (currently being considered by publishers) what I learnt was that there is indeed a class war but Australians are loathe to admit it. Together with writer and lawyer Lee Stapleton, we went undercover into the heart of the Class War Zone (private schools) - and took notes.

What we discovered as two over educated writers (more than 20 years of tertiary education between us), mothers (six children between us) and ruthless observers of popular culture, was just how wrong the media is about its portrayal of "egalitarian Australia" and the co-called "classless society".

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In short, we found that the ultimate status symbol of private school mothers was the nanny. And that nanny did indeed to all the cooking and cleaning. Entrepreneurial mums – the mumpreneurs – managed to tax deduct the nanny by adding them to the business payroll. This is more common than you think.

Why are nannies so essential? Why, because of the hectic pace of the private school life, the mother is not expected to be at school pick up and drop off all the time, like the state school mum. It is expected that you have an important life outside your children – after all, you are either a corporate wife or a corporate woman, a high flyer in your own right, so the nanny is a vital part of the status wars. A nanny is part of the show of wealth as this domestic servant provides the ability to have it all. Rushing off to a childcare centre before 6 pm is simply not something women with a nanny have to do.

Nannies are easy to spot. At private school playgrounds, the overweight and badly dressed women no one really talks to are the nannies. The consensus is that only a fool hires a hot nanny. A typical message board comment on the web: "I went on an au pair web site to get a ballpark, and I noticed that some of the women who have profiles are gorgeous. Now, I trust my husband 100%, but instinctively I found myself clicking on the profiles of older or not-so-attractive candidates."

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About the Author

Dr Evelyn Tsitas works at RMIT University and has an extensive background in journalism (10 years at the Herald Sun) and communications. As well as crime fiction and horror, she writes about media, popular culture, parenting and Gothic horror and the arts and society in general. She likes to take her academic research to the mass media and to provoke debate.

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