The XX Factor

More Nanny Troubles for Whitman

Men have mistresses. Women have disgruntled domestic employees who reappear at just the wrong moment. Last week Meg Whitman’s Mexican housekeeper Nicky Diaz Santillan emerged to complain that Whitman treated her cruelly. Her claims have had surprising resonance. In their latest debate, Whitman’s opponent Jerry Brown focused on them as proof of Whitman’s hypocrisy, and many immigrant groups have warmed to Santillan’s claim that “there are a lot of Megs out there who are mistreating the Nickys who work so hard for them.”

Yesterday Whitman’s former nanny Jill Armstrong said she believed Diaz Santillan’s claims. “I know the family,” Armstrong told the SF Chronicle . “I know what it was like.” Armstrong is not an illegal immigrant and did not seem especially desperate for work. She’d worked for a lot of wealthy families as a nanny before and was likely to again. But Whitman, she said, was one of those people who viewed domestic help as “disposable.”

With Diaz Santillan this was a question of Whitman’s immigration policy, but now it’s just a question of her personality. As with affairs, some people are turned off by rich people who treat the help badly (I am one of them), and other people don’t care all that much.

The only plus side I can see is that at least Meg Whitman hired a nanny. My fear with the Mama Grizzlies is that they create this unrealistic back to-the-’80s notion that a woman can just drag her six children from campaign event to event while she’s running for senator and cook dinner in between rallies. Also, Whitman is doing her part to end once and for all this Carol Gilligan idea that when women enter business and politics, they will imbue these centers of power with their humane, feminine sensibility.