Caitlin Flanagan's path to writing for The Atlantic was a fortuitous one. Just as her twin boys were starting nursery school, she received a call from her friend Benjamin Schwarz, who had recently been hired as The Atlantic's book-review editor, inviting her to try writing for the magazine. Flanagan didn't have much nonfiction writing experience—she'd been toiling away unsuccessfully at a novel for years—but Schwarz had heard enough of her spirited opinions on motherhood and domestic life at various dinner parties to know that he wanted her voice in the magazine. In the four years since, Flanagan has carved out a niche for herself in the books pages of The Atlantic, writing essays about, as she describes it, "the huge push-and-pull that women feel regarding domestic life. We don't want to be stuck with the cleaning and cooking, but we're really attracted to Martha Stewart and Williams-Sonoma. We want to be totally liberated to take jobs, but we really want children to have the same intense bond with us that they used to have with middle-class moms who stayed home." Atlantic readers have experienced Flanagan's sharp wit and bracingly frank opinions on such topics as the de-cluttering versus keeping house; old-fashioned housewives versus modern "at-home mothers"; and the cultural phenomenon of married couples giving up on sex.
In this month's cover story, Flanagan turns her gaze on "a relationship that is in many ways more intense—more vexing, more rewarding, more vital, more fraught—than a marriage": that between a mother and the nanny she has hired to care for her child. "How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement" is an essay both personal and analytical in which Flanagan argues passionately that the liberation of professional-class mothers from the "drudgery" of housework and child-care has come at the expense of the women—often poor, often immigrants—whom they've brought in to take on what was traditionally seen as a mother's work. A particular target of Flanagan's ire is the feminist movement, "which has always proceeded from the assumption that all women—rich and poor—constitute a single class, and that all members of the class are, by virtue simply of being female, oppressed." The professional-class women who hire nannies are in no way oppressed, Flanagan writes; rather, they need to recognize that they're part of a system that oppresses others—one in which people often hire illegal immigrants or neglect to pay the Social Security taxes that would help their employees qualify for government support in their old age.