Every time I read antifeminist firebrand Caitlin Flanagan, I fight with her in my head for days. And so the appearance of her radioactive New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly essays on nannies, housework, sex in To Hell With All That has had me fibrillating for a week.
Part paean to 1950s housewifery, part polemic, this fiercely intelligent, maddeningly smug collection is built around Flanagan's most cherished belief: ''What's missing from so many affluent American households is the one thing you can't buy: the presence of someone who cares deeply and principally about that home and the people who live in it.'' In other words, Mom. Flanagan can be persuasive celebrating the dignity of homemaking and lost domestic arts. Alas, she argues, today's shrill working mothers are too busy exploiting brown-skinned babysitters and denying their ''poor'' husbands nooky to acquire these vital skills. Her unforgiving portraits of women, and the free pass issued to their mates, make my blood boil.
Still, the peeks into Flanagan's home are worse. ''Paloma, Patrick is throwing up!'' Flanagan used to tell her son's nanny. ''She would literally run to his room, clean the sheets, change his pajamas, spread a clean towel on his pillow,'' Flanagan recalls. ''I would stand in the doorway, concerned, making funny faces at Patrick to cheer him up.'' I put my kids in day care and I can't iron. But I've never stood in a doorway when my child was puking, and I resent being lectured to by someone who has.