By Guest Blogger, Jenny Heitz
Post: Wanted to know going rate for legal nanny who drives and for an illegal nanny who doesn’t drive.
This was a real post from a real person. It was posted, in all seriousness, on a members-only, referral based Yahoo group of L.A. moms (there are some dads on it, but it’s mostly moms). Let’s call it Stuff Moms Like (SML). Frequented by very educated, probably upper-middle class Eastside parents (east of West Hollywood) , SML should be merely an online referral board. But, it’s also the showcase for other posts, the deeply personal, the profoundly subjective, and, like the one above, the severe lapses in judgment. The West LA equivalent is “Apple Bottom”; it boasts more than 13,000 members and is hugely popular.
If the person who wrote the above post on SML had been at a small dinner party with ten or so of her “peers,” it’s highly unlikely she would have broached the going rates for hiring illegal help. However, give her access to an online “community” of her peers and suddenly this question is simply a given. Yet, what this clueless poster doesn’t quite understand is that she has just published this query, online, to a possibly infinite number of readers. Ouch.
Indeed, posts on SML venture into the even more bizarre, like a woman writing about how her Salvadoran nanny needs friends, and do any of “us” have nannies who might want to be friends with her. Absurd? It’s just as absurd as assuming that all women who are mothers and live in a large city automatically share the same “values” and sense of “community,” one which leads to consensus on all these sticky issues.
What consensus, though? There are very vocal cabals on SML and Apple Bottom, that practice a fairly tight grip over content and conversation. And all of this is done in the name of “community,” “privacy,” and “non-judgment”. These “Queen Bees” of the groups respond to every query. No topic is left unanswered, from the best movers to where (or whether to) vaccinate your child. But if you differ, the “discussion” can quickly deteriorate into a shouting match, causing the moderator to ask the dueling mommies to take it offline.
Perhaps the problem here is confusing an online “community” with actual community. Sometimes it seems that online mommy groups have taken the place of real face-to-face interactions among moms. Many of these moms are raising young children, and craving a group of friends or “community” is natural. Whether SML or Apple Bottom serve that need is another story entirely.
Privacy, for instance, on these community forums is an afterthought. In this case, posters assume there’s privacy regarding the post, but that’s not so. Once you post something, it’s pretty much out in the online world forever.
Obvious? Maybe. People should know better than to post private information, or information which might incriminate them in any way. Yet, they don’t really know better. They “trust” that the often many thousands of members of the group, the majority of whom they wouldn’t know from Adam in aisle 14 of Gelson’s, are trustworthy “community” members. Really, they’d be better off posting these things on Facebook, a place where you can pick your friends and privacy settings up front.
This post turned up on SML:
Subject: Seeking Personal Waiter
Hi guys. I’ve grown tired of the iffy and indifferent service offered by L.A. wait staffs, as well as the inconvenience of having to speak into the drive thru speaker myself. I’m currently seeking a Personal Waiter, someone with lots of food service experience who can travel with me, both in and out of town, to serve just my family and myself. I need someone who understands the workings of professional kitchens and can adjust quickly to new environments. A good, clear speaking voice is mandatory (English only, please). The ability to communicate special dietary requests is also paramount; I have a severe pickle allergy and need to be constantly on my guard, so my Personal Waiter would act as a gatekeeper in that regard.
I will supply the uniform and apron. As I have a small vehicle, the Personal Waiter should be of smaller stature. Although I would prefer they be legal, I would consider an illegal for a lower wage.
If you know of anyone who fits this Personal Waiter description, please contact me
I wrote this post (I also posted it on my blog, with an explanatory rant and the actual name of the Yahoo group). It was a joke. It was also a social experiment. Which people would laugh, and which people would take offense? I didn’t have to wait very long for responses.
Sure, there were people who “got it.” They laughed and sent emails saying how hilarious the whole thing was. Here are the emails I didn’t get: from some of the 750 members who were “offended.” No, cowards that the offended parties were, they tattled on me like a group of 3rd graders to the group’s moderator, who then reprimanded me. I was not banned from the group, although I was informed that, as I mentioned SML by name on my blog, I had violated the “safe, members-only community trust.”
On some level, perhaps the offended have been lulled into some sort of false sense of security, simply due to online dynamics. The vocal and particularly active members are pretty consistent, rendering the majority of the members to “lurker” status. Lurkers read but don’t post, are perhaps offended but don’t report; they view SML or Apple Bottom as either a source of amusement or as a cost-free Angie’s List. Still, there may be another possibility, another example of how human dynamics are eternal, whether in a classroom or online.
There is a heartfelt plea buried in all this online mess for a sense of community. But there is no “tribe” here. Better to face the ugly truth: SML and Apple Bottom are really just sororities gone middle-aged. While they preach “non-judgment” (the alleged reason for the outcry over my satiric post), there is intense hostility to different points of view. A few women feel completely entitled to judge the content of their online group, but I’m expected to reserve judgment regarding classism, and overall obnoxiousness. Community, my foot, this is a sorority (albeit with some male members). And if the arbiters of subject and taste at SML had been able to meet me, as opposed to just having an already acceptable member recommend me, somehow I doubt I would’ve been invited to pledge.
Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad. Jenny’s op-eds on education have been published recently in the Los Angeles Daily News. Jenny's also writes for the Los Angeles private elementary schools blog, Beyond The Brochure. She is a graduate of Crossroads School and has a BA in Journalism from UC Santa Cruz and an MS in Mass Communications from San Jose State University. Jenny has a nine-year old daughter and teaches Pilates. She lives in Hancock Park, Los Angeles.
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