The use of the phrase "Nanny State"

Karol Collymore

Nanny - "children's nurse," 1795, from widespread child's word for "female adult other than mother" (cf. Gk. nanna "aunt"). The word also is a nickname form of the fem.

There has been much talk lately around governments creating "nanny states." This has come up in the discussion of a plastic bag tax, menu labeling and mandatory bike helmets. I don't want to argue those specific topics, rather why we use the word "nanny." I think the use could be considered sexist.

We also know the stereotypes of women, specifically wives and caretakers. These women whine and nag and hover to control their husbands and children. Nannies do all of this when mom isn't around, don't they? Some of you are going to say this is a stretch, but it's not. It seems no matter how far we get in civilized society, sometimes we need reminders that we are using phrases that define and insult a part of society. Turning a government feminine - "nanny state" - and then using that as an insult -"his legislative nannycrat buddies" - is well, insulting.

What about you? Are you insulted?

  • Mike Schryver (unverified)

    I've also heard the phrase "daddy state" used to describe the Republican approach to government. I don't think that in either case, the terms are intended as sexist, but as verbal shorthand. A nanny does protect you in the ways that the people who use "nanny state" are thinking of, and a daddy usually protects you in a different style.

    I don't agree with people who use the term "nanny state", but I've never perceived any sexism in the use of the term.

  • Fitz Pat (unverified)

    I had a male "nanny" growing up.

  • meg (unverified)

    I would rather It be called " Master State" Yes sir Master.

  • Tim (unverified)

    The term "nanny state" came from the Tories in Britain back in the 1970's in reference to the way they viewed the government as trying to run the peoples' lives, much like a nanny makes the decisions for small children. They described their conservative movement as trying to treat the people of Britain as adults and to stop "nannying" them. The origin of the phrase is not sexist; though people can always use it in a sexist way if they so choose.

  • LiberalIncarnate (unverified)

    I agree that the use of "nanny" is feminine stereotype. This is even more obvious when we understand that men are expected to take care of themselves and not be taken care of. For conservatives, liberals are seen as weak... "feminine" for being too caring and accepting of others. This is supported by Lakoff's writings on political linguistics, et al. Conservatives have mastered this form of black and white, largely generalized communication where liberals have not.

    Ironically, our Democratic Party is about as liberal as most of Europe's conservative parties! How's that for a shift to the far right?

  • backbeat, woman (unverified)

    Of course it is sexist. Damn I get sick of this crap. Now watch Obama selecte Mr. Anti-Choice-Kaine for VP. I'll take a hostage.

  • UJ (unverified)

    Yea I'm with you. And just because a few choice people had male nannies doesn't change the general and popular understanding of the word nanny. And I've never heard the term daddy state but is it supposed to be a more positive spin on gov't intervention? Do daddies protect us better than nannies?
    We all think of women when we think of nannies, it is a distinctly feminine word to the point where when you have men filling that role, you basically have to call them male nannies (can you even think of a nanny in pop culture that wasn't a women and if it was man, wasn't centered around "look at how a man is filling this traditionally female role!"). And the "nanny state" is almost always meant to be an insult to a program or policy. I love when men have never perceived the sexism in a term so obviously it doesn't exist. Men should definitely be the final arbiters of what is and isn't sexism since they experience it so personally. /sarcasm

  • pril (unverified)

    No. I'm insulted by people who want to save us from ourselves, though. I'm insulted by government representatives and officials (and regular people, as well) who think we're too stupid to figure out that matches can burn you. That cars can kill you. Etc.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    I am insulted in the fact that some people are getting uptight over this. Considering the word Nanny as sexist is a result of boredom and should be treated as such.

  • Dev (unverified)

    There is a really interesting history of political movements gendering the state. A lot of enlightenment thinkers talked about participating in open democratic governance as a manly activity. Conversely, fascist tended to portrayed their movements as masculine and democratic governments as feminine. I could see how one could argue that the term nanny state is a part of that history.

    However, regardless of its gendered connotations it is certainly a loaded term. Someone who needs a nanny is weak and or otherwise can't fend for themselves. Therefore, anyone advocating nanny-statist policies must similarly be weak and unable to fend for themselves.

    I also don't think that the term accurately reflects the specific concerns Jeff expressed in his posts about plastic bag tax, menu labeling and mandatory bike helmets. Jeff and others, and correct me if I'm wrong, we're concerned that these proposed laws might be too authoritarian or contain elements of totalitarianism.

    It’s pretty clear to me that the type of coercion that these laws would employ is totally consistent with democratic principles, but that’s a different discussion.

  • Adam L (unverified)

    I'll see your 'Nanny State' and raise you a 'Big Brother'.

  • UJ (unverified)

    Eric Parker for the win! Oh noes! teh women! theyre borrrd!

    "Of all the condescending, dismissive, and factually incorrect accusations used by concern trolls (or hostile trolls) to attempt to silence, shame, or in some other way discourage feminists from addressing sexism in all its manifestations, perhaps none is quite so stupid as the charge that feminists are "looking" for things about which to be offended—as if feminism is a product that will go out of production if there aren't enough buyers and sales are waning because sexism is, like, so over, dude." (emphasis added by moi)

  • divebarwife (unverified)

    Not even remotely. It's like spelling women with a 'y' - it's overkill and hypersensitivity. Just because there are roots in something gender based doesn't mean it's sexist. "Nanny-state" isn't used because nanny's are a traditionally female job - it's because they're a traditionally overprotective. Period.

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    When I used the word in the post Karol cited, it was with a heaping scoop of context, much like the nearly universally-panned New Yorker cover. It's a stupid, derogatory term that seeks to elide meaning rather than illuminate--SOP for the modern GOP.

    Incidentally, it's a specifically feminine term:

    [Origin: 1785–95; nursery word; cf. Welsh nain grandmother, Gk nánna aunt, Russian nyánya nursemaid]

    So put that in the soup for flavor.

  • Jeff Bissonnette (unverified)

    Well, as a male who was called a "nanny statist" by no less an authority than the Multnomah County Republican Party, I took it as a badge of honor. And to be fair, the MultCo Republicans were balanced in invoking both Ayn Rand and Franz Kafka to buttress their case. :)

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    I want to be clear that I don't think the posters or the subject are at issue, just the phrase. I also want to be clear that my posed question no way implies that people that use the phrase are sexist. I'm just considering that the words we use are so heavy in meaning and we are so socially conditioned that we don't know what we might actually be saying.

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    Interesting. I confess to using the word recently. Perhaps innocently, perhaps not. Give me another term and I will use it. I do not mean to offend women unnecessarily but would like to confront those who believe in an overly protective and intrusive state.

    But here’s the rub. Nannies are women, mostly (see wikipedia here, note term mannies). Nannies take care of children. Nothing wrong with that. But there also is a whiff of something foreign, as in the British class system, that makes the term somewhat suspect to our nativist ears. So “nanny state” also has the connotation of something foreign, and therefore bad (this knee jerk reaction that anything foreign is bad worries me as much as "sexist" sensitivities).

    Is it an inappropriate stereotype to assume that nannies are very protective of their children. This is good, and as it should be. But what is an admirable quality toward children is not an admirable quality toward adults. And what is good on an individual level is not always good when done by the state to us all. This is the primary thrust of use of the term, with the further whiff of something foreign, and, therefore, inappropriate.

  • Joel H (unverified)

    Dave: I agree with Karol and you; this term is both sexist and nativist. But it seems to me that one of "paternalistic", "moralistic", "invasive", "authoritarian" or "unconstitutional" would equally well substitute for most intended uses of "nanny state" and IMO would be significantly more effective.

  • Joel H (unverified)

    Actually "classist" might be more accurate than "nativist".

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    Adam L: I'll see your 'Nanny State' and raise you a 'Big Brother'.

    Game, set and match to Adam.

  • Joseph (unverified)

    Offended? Seriously?

    Nothing else going on in your life, so you allow yourself to be offended by something like this?

    It's just a freakin' figure of speech! It's not like somebody isn't being allowed to buy contraceptives because the pharmacist is Catholic. Now THAT is something to get offended about.

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    As stated by another poster above, I think the idea behind the use of the word "nanny" is that the government is treating us like we are children, in telling us what we can and cannot do. As the government is not, strictly speaking, our father or our mother, the person treating us like a child has to be someone else who (a) minds children and (b) who has some authority to act as if they were a parent raising the child. I think that's what is being implied here by use of the word nanny in the phrase "nanny state." Of course, nannies were traditionally female and I would say the overwhelming majority of them are today, but people employ mannies today as well.

    I think where your analysis runs off the rails is when you say that "These women whine and nag and hover to control their husbands and children. Nannies do all of this when mom isn't around, don't they?" I think the things you are describing -- whining, nagging, and controlling the husband -- goes beyond the traditional duties of a nanny. I think you might have to go to some movies produced by Phil Gramm to find a nanny treating the father in the family like that. Nannies traditionally are supposed to act as a stand-in parent for the child, to be there to play with the child, to instruct the child, and to correct the child when necessary, but not, strictly speaking, to whine, nag and control the child OR his father (generally, I think nannies have what could probably best be described as a management-employee relationship with the parents).

    I'm no more insulted by the phrase "nanny state" than I am by a phrase like "wingnut welfare".

  • AdmiralNaismith (unverified)

    Nothing the matter with it.

    I'd rather have a nurturing, caring government that wants the best from its citizens and gives all of them the means to get there, than the "Abusive, Drunken Husband State" or the "Absentee Deadbeat Dad State" promoted by the Republicans.

  • mamabigdog (unverified)

    I don't know that I'm offended by "Nanny State", as I have a negative connotation to the word "nanny" in the first place.

    What wording would you suggest instead? Hall Monitor State? Yard Duty State?

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    Posted by: Not Really Jacoby Ellsbury | Aug 5, 2008 12:51:23 PM


    The focus of the imagery is on the ostensibly naive child who needs adult guidance, who needs to be guided and molded by a wise adult. The gender of the adult is utterly irrelevant to the political usage of the term "nanny state" because the gender of the adult isn't the point!

  • tl (unverified)

    Karol: I want to be clear that I don't think the posters or the subject are at issue, just the phrase. I also want to be clear that my posed question no way implies that people that use the phrase are sexist.

    Karol is correctly making the distinction between "what they did [said]" and the "what they are" so well described in the popular video "How to tell people they sound racist" that has been making the rounds. She is not accusing you of being sexist. She is suggesting that using the term "nanny state" sounds sexist. There is a difference. -tl

  • Joel H (unverified)

    mamabigdog: Just be more precise... the offensiveness comes from the implication that the government is being overprotective and disapproval of this as a specifically feminine (and perhaps additionally European/upper-class) quality. So (just as an example) instead of "Menu labeling laws are a product of the nanny-state", you could say something like "Menu labeling laws are motivated by the invasive, moralistic desire of some elites to control regular peoples' eating habits." No femininity implied.

  • jaybeat (unverified)

    Admiral, I'm with you, there.

    But, in general, I AM offended by both the phrase, and its implied sexism, cutting both ways (a nanny wants to treat us like children and kiss our boo-boos, and act like we can't handle anything or do anything for ourselves, while a male caregiver, if there were such a thing, would tell us to "grow up" and "be a man" and encourage us to find our own way via the school of hard knocks) AND by the whole notion that the government is some external entity trying to tell me (the rugged "I'm a grown up and can take care of myself" type of "me") how to live and what to do.

    The government is US, protecting OURSELVES, usually from the predatory and often downright lethal practices of for-profit corporations. Their charter has one and only one value--profit, growth and ROI for shareholders. The only entity concerned with the safety, health, welfare and well-being of me and my fellow human beings is US, banding together to act together through government in ways that we feel are in OUR best interests.

    It is all a huge exercise in doublespeak, really. When private companies want government to protect them from risk but keep their profits private (pick your favorite bailout or cost-plus defense contract), nobody screams "nanny state!" But if our elected representatives want to protect us from the very real costs of bad food, bad water, dangerous products or people's own stupid decisions (the financial risks of which ARE shared with all of us--every see an emergency room bill?), then Lord Help Us if those damned socialist liberals aren't trying to tell me where I can and can't take a dump. Give me a break!

    Good thing they are, too. Do we really want raw sewage everywhere in the name of personal freedom!

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    I guess in the Brave New World, there will be no metaphors or analogies.

    Drill deep enough and you can find something to be offended by, while driving all discourse toward the literal. Maybe that's not a bad thing, but at this point what's not "off limits" in some very concrete way?

    The only safe allusions are to:

    Attorneys White Men Old White Men Old White Attorneys Rednecks Crackers Angry White Males Wealthy White Males The Old Boy Network Corporatists Racists (everybody that I disagree with on poicy issues relating to any other subset of humans) White Racists (There are NO racists of any other ethnicity) The Religious Right Neo-Cons (The latest in a long list of objectionable Cons)

    Does anyone else see a pattern here, regarding what makes US mad and what's just fine with US?

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    nobody screams "nanny state!" But if our elected representatives want to protect us from the very real costs of bad food, bad water, dangerous products or people's own stupid decisions (the financial risks of which ARE shared with all of us--every see an emergency room bill?), then Lord Help Us if those damned socialist liberals aren't trying to tell me where I can and can't take a dump. Give me a break!


    I'm arguing opposite you on this particular issue but I posted a Blog here on 8/24 that attacked the very people and groups that you say I ignore.

    Nuance please, or absent that, please at least pretend to pay attention to the actual statements and history of your opponents of the moment.


    While it may be true that "In the country of the blind the one eyed man is king, Blue Oregon is not that country.

    (and I apologize in advance for the fact that the above quote is clearly some measuring tapes.)

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    Alright Pat, you got me out of my hole to comment. Like I said before, I do not think because one may use a term that is perceived as sexist, that that person suddenly IS sexist. I did quote you in my post as an example of the words being used.

    I do not believe that the metaphor is dead. There has to be room for dissent with some of them. We no longer say "sitting Indian style" because it can be perceived as offensive. Do preschool teachers mean to offend Native Americans when they say it? No, but we all know that isn't right.

    And I don't need the sarcasm, I was just discussing. After two years of this my skin is still a little thin.

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    Pat, you are mistaken. Newspeak is doubleplusgood. Please report to MiniTruth shortly after today's five minute hate for re-education.

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    And I don't need the sarcasm, I was just discussing

    Karol, we've never met but I suspect that you're a kind and polite person.

    I've never been noted for either virtue.

    If sarcasm is off the table, I'm left without tools.

    And seriously, I mean no personal attack here, and hope that my style is not a deal breaker. I do value the exhortation to attack the beahvior rather than the person, although in some cases, (not addressing you), where Godwinesque comments come my way, I'm most likely to offer as disproportionally over the top response as I can muster.

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    Ok Pat, you won me over. Now I want to smother you in kind and polite kisses! :)

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Yeah, I think it's sexist. More obnoxious to me is that the polarization promoted by this term makes juvenile what is mature.

    The "nanny State" implies that the people it serves are children. That the people are too immature to make correct choices, so the State does it for them. The reality is that mature people who are beyond the frontier thinking of "every man/woman for themselves" will join together to do those things that are best done collectively.

    Think of the Fire Department. According to those that accuse us of having a "nanny State" when government does things for us, everyone should have their own fire fighting system, and if your house burns down, its your own damn fault. Mature people realize that it takes special equipment and trained people to effectively fight a house fire, and what if you aren't home when there is a fire?

    This is an example of how the Republicants are using negative stereotypes against all of us. This isn't just a sexist issue, it is an issue of using images to demean and deplore what is the best of our society, to advance an overall agenda of "everyman/woman for themselves", and in the process that becomes more corporate profit. Just imagine how much money would be made if in fact all fire departments were disbanded. Sensible people would find and install automatic fire fighting systems such as interior sprinklers - at a cost of thousands per house - and the poor would do without.

    Anytime you hear "nanny State", it is code for privatization. And that is a destroyer of civilization.

  • Pat Malach (unverified)

    "I don't want to argue those specific topics, rather why we use the word "nanny." I think the use could be considered sexist."

    A nanny is a person, male or female, who takes care of people who can't take care of themselves. That's why it's applicable.

    There's nothing sexist about using the term Nanny-state.

    It's more sexist to assume all nannies are female.

    This post is silly. Things mi=ust be pretty darn good in America if we've got time to get our boxers in a bunch about this.

  • jaybeat (unverified)

    Steve sez:

    Anytime you hear "nanny State", it is code for privatization. And that is a destroyer of civilization.

    Whew! For a second I thought I had fallen through the Radical Right's Rabid Rabbit's Hole (RRRRH!), but now I realize I'm still here at Blue Oregon.

    Meanwhile, Pat sez:


    I'm arguing opposite you on this particular issue but I posted a Blog here on 8/24 that attacked the very people and groups that you say I ignore.

    Nuance please, or absent that, please at least pretend to pay attention to the actual statements and history of your opponents of the moment.

    Pat, as much as I love your posts generally, and the one you cited in particular, I, um, don't know how to break it to you, but, I wasn't talking to you! I was responding, in general, to the concept of the nanny state, as it is used generally by right-wing assholes who are happy to let granny freeze to death while Enron makes a killing but insist that all their rich friends deserve to be protected from risk at taxpayer expense. The recent posts about that dreadful anti-union, anti-consumer lobbyist scum with his Jeff Merkley in his cross-hairs was really who I had in mind, as he was the first person I've heard use the "n-state" term in, well, forever.

    I'm all for nuance, but in my case I was using a broad brush that was not meant at all to include you, since you clearly don't subscribe to the ideology behind the pejorative use of the term in question, even if you do think it is otherwise not "sexist" or whatever. On that, we can agree to disagree and join forces to fight the really serious fights that we all know need fighting.

    Peace, bro! (And sis!)

  • Rick Hickey (unverified)

    Nanny State referring to Women and Babysitters?

    You Far Lefties may have a hard time understanding BUT Women have Breasts (for feeding) Ovaries (where the Human Egg is)and a Womb (for the Baby to develop in) and a Vagina (for the Baby to come out and to make a Baby in the 1st place). So we naturally relate to Females and taking care of a Child all together for some reason, sorry. Men provide the Fetilization of the Egg via Sperm! Surprised?

    Just some crazy Nature stuff I learned about in Grade School. Sorry if it doesn't fit that Gay Agenda you push.

    And I do like "Big Brother" more as it relates to the Book "1984" by George Orwell, a good example of what you Democrats are doing to us, twisting every word there is to mean the opposite of what it really is. Example - "Pro-Choice", without science/abortion delivering a Baby is NOT a choice, it happens naturally after about 9 months of being Pregnant. "Un-documented Immigrant" - They Have documents, many times Your S.S.# OR they couldn't take a Job or a place to live. Ask the Agency that hired all those Illegals for Del Monte.

  • tr (unverified)

    Grow some balls and deal with the fact that you progressives are the biggest advocates of the nanny state -- which is the red-headed step-child of your other favorite "big brother"

    (Is big brother sexist / or masculinist" ? )

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    Wow -- I nominate Rick for the biggest a-hole on the planet, but then again, he's most likely happy with that.

    It's extraordinarily sexist, thank you for the insight, once again, Karol.

    I do admit, though, that I have a bit of a fantasy of Mary Poppins being the President.

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    I vote no, not sexist. Return to the phrase mentioned above--when someone describes a proposal as "big brother" (e.g. the Patriot Act)--is this also an example of sexism simply because we are drawing a negative analogy using a gendered metaphor?

    Are all gendered metaphors automatically sexist? Or are they just gendered?

    The best analysis in this thread is here: Posted by: Not Really Jacoby Ellsbury | Aug 5, 2008 12:51:23 PM.

    Just to repeat in brief: Nannies are protective--sometimes overly protective because, after all, they are paid substitutes for parents. Nannies also tend to be female.

    The analogy gains it power from the (over)protectiveness of nannies, and only secondarily from the gender associations. Gender is surely there, but is secondary.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)


    Ironically, our Democratic Party is about as liberal as most of Europe's conservative parties!

    Bob T: No surprise there -- the "liberalism" of the Democratic Party has never been about what real liberalism is.

    Bob Tiernan

  • Tamerlane (unverified)

    Obviously the term isn't sexist. If it were, somebody would have noticed by now. This is just sort of tacky. At best, this is a red herring argument in favor of bike helmet laws, etc. It certainly doesn't address the issue on its merits. As a liberal, I hate it when people make supposedly liberal arguments in a way that makes liberals look petty, banal, frivolous, and sort of pathetic.

  • edison (unverified)

    Steve said: "The "nanny State" implies that the people it serves are children. That the people are too immature to make correct choices, so the State does it for them. "

    Yeah. That's what I think when I hear that phrase. And I’m reminded of it by far too many of the current crop of elected representatives who in their words and attitudes appear to think they’re somehow in possession of superior intellect and so, naturally, only they know what's good for us. The most disgusting example I can think of right now is Lindsey Graham. Oh, and John Boehner. Yeah, and then, of course, there’s George Bush. I hate it when he speaks to the people of this country as if we’re toddlers. Oh, and Dick Cheney. And also John McCain. Gee, there's a lot more when I think about it. Oh, nearly forgot, Gordon Harold Smith is like that too. Disgusting.

    P.S. Damn your eyes, Jeff! "Elide", indeed! LOL

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    OK, here's a little thought experiment for all of those who say there's "sexist" component to the "Nanny state" meme:

    Let's concede that the basic idea behind "nanny state" is that government is infantilizing people by being overly protective. How is that image/language different from the "Big Brother" image?

    To me, at least, "Big Brother" also suggests an over-protective, overbearing state - constantly on watch against potential subversives. But it's used in very different contexts, and with different nuances that "nanny state," right?

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    That should have read " sexist component"

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    Yowza, people are uptight in the summertime. Glad I gave ya'll something to do, especially you Tamerlane. Give you a chance to flex those insult muscles!

  • genop (unverified)

    Subtlety. "Nanny State/paternalism" evokes govt. regulation saving us from ourselves. "Big brother" on the other hand, evokes govt. intrusion into privacy to make sure we are saving us from ourselves. PS would "maternalism" be less sexist?

  • The Guilty Carnivore (unverified)

    "What about you? Are you insulted?"

    No. For the same reason I don't get apoplectic when I eat Manwhiches or Hungry Man frozen dinners.

    Life really is too short.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    I really don't care about the term "nanny." I will ask if there is a general difference between a female and male world viewpoint. If we postulate there is not, then making references to an imaginary difference is sexism. If we postulate there is a difference, then those references are no more than a recognition of the differences. Either postulatioin will exclude some individuals and is thus stereotypical.

    My wife, mother, and sister (the women I'm most familiar with) see the world in different terms than I do, though we come to the same place sometimes from different directions. Most women I know have a differing and apparently gender based world view. I have some reason to believe that genetics do hardwire certain aspects of our reasoning process.

    These are very general statements and obviously suffer from that. Recognizing a difference is not the same thing as discrimination.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Karol, at first I was going to write this one off as typical rejoinder of attacking the ones who disagree by labeling them sexist for using the term to describe a government mind set. I don't believe that was your intention. Like Chuck, I could use either "Nany State, or Paternalistic" in these discussions interchangeably. There is no sexxist or genetic overtone.

    Both refer to the particular shared mindset that people are inherently incapable and/or unwilling to do what is best for them (and perhaps society) with out being punished into it or given a huge avoidance reward for doing the desired good. That is in effect what a daddy, mommy or nany does. They think for the child and either do what is decided to be in the child's best interest or set up parameters that punish the child for not complying. Again it is all under the mindset of "this will be good for you".

    If you disagree with the use Nanny State to describe the phenonema, please suggest a suitable alternative.

    To your list of mandatory bag fees, bike helmets, menu labelling I would add - motorcycle helmets, bottle bill, prhibiting self serve fueling, boating instruction certification, child safety seats and child life preservers. I'm sure that there are many more.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    "Both refer to the particular shared mindset that people are inherently incapable and/or unwilling to do what is best for them (and perhaps society) with out being punished into it or given a huge avoidance reward for doing the desired good"

    We have become this way because common sense has become non-existant in the wake of personal and entitled rights. We have to legislate common sense into our society now in order to save these people from thier own inherent stupidity.

    It's not sexist, it is now a way of life. The only reason it is thought of as sexist is because someone got bored and made very poor connections to any specific gender.

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    The idea - Eric Parker - that because I have some thoughts on this subject of metaphors because I am "bored" is a boring excuse on your part. Think harder, please. Because we do not agree, doesn't automatically make the person you don't agree with lazy or bored.

    Women and people of color endure "classic" metaphors that at times can be perceived as racist or sexist. I imagine that they go back so far that it's OK to still use them? Do you use "niggardly" in sentences often, Eric?

    We may not agree, but thought, at times, is required as we continue to discuss ideas of gender, race and class in civilized society. Why don't you try it sometime - or is it too boring?

  • meg (unverified)

    Karol, niggardly is my fav, you should see the look on there faces.

  • Mike Schryver (unverified)

    Karol, if you meant to imply that the word "niggardly" has its roots in a racist reference, that's simply not correct. The word's etymology doesn't stem from any racial references.

    (If I misunderstood your meaning, I'm sorry. I'm not disagreeing with your castigation of Eric Parker, just one of the points within.)

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    You are right, Mike. I should have clarified. I meant that folks usually don't use that word because of it's implications.

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    And there is a valid point in there somewhere.

    The one that caught me out a week or so ago was using the word boy.

    For decades, boy has been a word that I use to denote (admittedly disrespectful) affection as in:

    "My boy Howie was a moderate back when he was governor of Vermont" or "When is my boy Brett gonna make up his mind about retiring".

    However, "My boy Barack" is fraught with peril, and rightly so. Here the object of the remark (Obama) is in a category of people who have had the word used against them as a weapon for the past few centuries.

    So I get that, It ain't rocket surgery.

    However, using the term nanny state denigrates the state for, (as other commenters have mentioned on this thread), treating adult citizens as children.

    Ultimately, I don't give a Rat's Ass whether the state or its overbearing acolytes are offended or not, especially when the very thing I'm calling them out on, is their disrespect for me as a self determining human being.

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    Ultimately, I don't give a Rat's Ass whether the state or its overbearing acolytes are offended or not

    I don't think that's the issue, Pat. The whole framework of "the nanny state" plays into the rhetoric that's part and parcel of the right wing's attempt to dismantle the regulatory powers of government. In that respect, associating government with a hectoring nanny reinforces the pejorative framing. So even if you think requiring bike helmets sucks, I think it’s a mistake to argue that point using language that helps the right make a much more damaging assault on the whole idea of safety regulations.

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    In that respect, associating government with a hectoring nanny reinforces the pejorative framing.

    Point taken, but when the state behaves like a hectoring nanny, it is the state that damages itself, not my pointing the fact out.

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    The Right's use of "nanny state" rhetoric gains traction because there's a kernal of truth in it.

    Sure, they absolutely are all about throwing the baby out with the bathwater when they use that framing. But doesn't the same apply to the Left with similarly sweeping generalizations pushing back?

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    Kevin - I’m not so sure – and that’s one of the things I’m wondering about in relation to Karol’s original question. Here’s where I’m going with this:

    I’ve never liked Lakoff’s suggestion that the left should align itself with a “nurturing mother” view of government in contrast to the right’s “strict father” approach. I say that precisely because I think Lakoff ignores the gender dynamics of the competing frames – and the whole “nanny state” meme is an example: while Lakoff might think people view the “nurturing mother” positively, the “nanny state” shows how that can easily be turned into a negative.

    By contrast, as even the libertarians (Bob Barr is now a great example) recognize, the Republican/right wholeheartedly embraces the most tyrannical state preemptions of personal liberty as long as they can justify them on the basis of “protecting” us - which is, of course, the whole point of the Big Brother analogy.

    I haven’t quite sorted this out in my own mind yet, and I’m sure someone (Chris, you out there?) can do a better job of it than I am now – but: while there’s a debatable point about how far the state can/should go in developing safety guidelines versus laws, I also think something’s going on when the image conjured up to disparage government’s efforts to enforce public health and safety in one realm (health, consumer right, etc.) is visualized in female terms, while the corresponding images of protecting us from terrorists, foreign threats, criminals, etc. is a male one.

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    Even if it is sexist, I think that misses the point of the term, which is to devalue government regulatory activities for the public good. Apparently it is a very good term, given how much people here seem to have bought into it.

    I align myself with Steve Bucknum's commants, and jaybeat's.

    Nanny definitely has class implications. When our daughter was young, we did a "nanny-share" with another couple, hiring an able and experienced young woman to look after two toddlers & whatever you call the next stage. By pooling our resources, we paid the same or little less than we would have to have put the kids in day-care, but we paid the care-giver a living wage, and were able to provide her health insurance through a program offered by Northwest Nannies (a referral organization).

    Despite the fact that the cost was the same or less with more benefit going to the caregiver, if I use the term "nanny-share" in conversation I often get funny looks like, "I didn't know you had that much money" (I don't) and feel constrained to explain.

    Anyway, it has that class component even in Britain I think, and in the U.S. you get an extra does of class from Britishness.

    So the first piece of work this does is accuse people who advocate the putative "nanny-state" policies of being elitist.

    The next thing about "nannies" in the old-style British and esp. U.S. popular images of that is that they are associated with the "nursery," a segregated space for small children, children too small to have anything interesting to contribute to adult life and/or likely to disrupt it. Probably the two most iconic U.S. images are Mary Poppins and Peter Pan (remember Wendy is threatened by overbearing father with exclusion from the nursery as "too old" for filling the boys' heads with pirates and "red Indians" -- won't go into that now); though there are others, there's a Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant movie Holiday? in which the nursery signifies as a nostalgic realm of freedom and imagination in contrast to stultifying high society conventions.

    But the point here is that the nursery is an unserious place, and its problems are unserious problems, as rule, from an adult perspective. In Peter Pan this is taken to the point that Nanna isn't even human, but a dog; in Peter Pan, Mr. Banks is looking for a woman he can order around, but also not have to think about very much. (In this sense one might argue that the whole concept of a "nanny" may have been sexist, in the sense of being tied to a a devaluation of child-rearing, and any sexism of "the nanny-state" derives from the social relationships themselves.)

    So another part of the cultural work this phrase does is to identify the matters with which such a state concerns itself as being unserious and unimportant. A piece of the imputation of "excessive regulation" or interference is of government going too far into small things that people should handle on their own (shopping bags, drink bottles). Of course, in mass society what are small matters for individuals have large collective consequences, or even individual ones over time. A recent trip to OMSI's Omnimax had me looking at a chart that had been attached to a poster for a movie on the Colorado River, showing how many thousands of gallons of water per year an individual or family might save by doing various small things. They were fairly impressive.

    Is OMSI a nanny-museum?

    Then the third piece of cultural work the phrase does is refer paternalism, as people have pointed out. I use the term advisedly, because in the gender ideologies out of which this stuff derives, maternal or nanny authority ultimately resides "ideally" with the father (cf. George Banks again). While wry observations on the non-correspondence to reality of that image has been fodder for humor for millenia in the "Western Tradition," today there are entirely competing ideals. But the older one retains its proponents -- the "promise" the Promise-Keepers are making above all is to assume a directive male-head-of-family role and to insist on subordination at points of disagreement, though striving to reach agreement cooperatively.

    Anyway, paternalism means knowing or purporting to know what is good for someone else better than that person knows for him or her self. It is a legitimate relationship in parenting -- shifting with age -- and in some other circumstances with individuals with diminished capacities. But in class and gender terms, adult deference to the paternalistic dictates of a "master" as a "servant" or to a father by an adult daughter or a wife to a husband was a sign of subordination and understood as such by all concerned.

    So while "nanny-state" clearly carries an implication of infantilizing people -- Eric Parker's remarkable comments, which do make me quite uptight, thanks, about alleged stupidity of his fellow citizens illustrate the point -- it also carries the implication back around to elitism. It's not just interfering in people's lives, it's elitist paternalism.

    And this concern is one of the key means by which the Republicans have managed to convince an awful lot of people that it is "liberals" who are elitist, despite the fact that G.W. Bush openly acknowledges the "elite" as "my base" and Republicans consistently pursue policies that benefit the better off and hurt the worse off.


    Kurt Chapman's list gets interesting. Helmet laws involve personal safety and a claim that only the person choosing not to wear one is at risk. But Kurt goes after seat-belt laws, maybe you could argue that for adults along the same lines, but then, remarkably, child safety seats and child life preservers.

    Here we are dealing with children, who properly are the focus of paternalistic protection and care. And we get into an interesting area. Many people don't like the idea of the government getting involved in how they raise their children, and yet, at the same time, do believe that the state should protect kids from abuse, including abusive parents and other relatives and including negligence. The guy whose daughter died when he was stupidly pulling her on an inner tube in the snow, doing donuts in a field & she hit a wall, was not defended on grounds that he had "the right" as a father to be so stupid. There was a degree of horror and a sort of sympathy of the "there but for the grace of God go I," sort of thing -- a recognition of just how bad a bad judgment can go wrong, an imagining of what he will have to live with the rest of his life. But no sense that there was injustice in prosecuting him that I could discern. So, we don't like government to interfere in parenting, except when we do. To quote Professor Kelly again "cognitivie dissonance isn't all it's cracked up to be."

    There a quite a number of matters that tend to be made the objects of such accusations that have to do with public health. Let's say we rule out child safety seats -- how about mandatory vaccinations for childhood infectious diseases?

    Or how about vehicle safety standards? Shouldn't we just say caveat emptor and leave it up to adults to figure out if vehicles are safe? Or building codes -- so what if people without much money are willing to pay to live in dangerous structures, why should that be anybody's business but tenants and the slumlord's?

    (Whatcha wanna bet that if we poked around in Rick Hickey's various fulminations we'd find complaints about immigrants crowding too many people into buildings in violation of zoning and housing laws -- nanny-state?)

    Anyway, I have to say that for me it is the substantive aims of the term, to undermine our willingness and ability to act collectively in social self-interest to regulate ourselves for the common and individual good.

    "Nanny-state" is associated with Margaret Thatcher, who also famously said there is no such thing as society, just individuals and families. That is a stupidly fatuous idea, since human nature is simultaneously individual and social, but unfortunately it has far too great purchase in the U.S. at present.

  • Runtmg (unverified)

    One of the dangers in talking about this issue is that we confine this issue to a micro-aspect of human existence. Many older cultures valued the female or the goddess as deity worthy of worship. The ancient hebrews and after them the proto conservative Christians have moved towards a masculine aspect of deity worship. The process of this change were vicious attacks against the goddess that degraded her from goddess to nagging wife.

    So how does this tie in with the subject matter at hand? Our country is built and bred on these old hellfire Puritans view the continued subjugation of women as an instinctual and necessary response to a world out of their control.

    There is a belief that government cannot succeed in helping people's lives. There is a belief that nothing can be done about this broken model so why try. Every tax dollar that will be spent is one more tax dollar that is wasted.

    This is why the rank and file "Regan Democrats" of the Republican party are really just the lost and hopeless, if they stick to the views that the Republicans have inspired. You can't fight hopelessness with criticism only by naming the fear and inspiring on a one on one level can you truly change a person's mind and outlook. If they refuse to change than that is their right, but it is up to us to put forward the argument.

    If they wish to use the term Nanny State so be it. The feminizing of the government isn't the worst thing in the world to happen.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    The tone and quantity of this post after some of the other more reaching discussion points about the state thinking for us reminds me of a great Foxworthy routine. In that discussion he has the crowd in stiches with stories of his childhood growing up with Lawn Darts, Wood Burning sets and Chemistry sets. All items that some segments in the legislature would surely wish were outlawed today - for our own good.

    As to Chris pointing out my inclusion of child safety seats and seatbelts in a previous post. Yes, I think there are some good reasons to have some mandate, but at what point does it/they become over reaching? Anyone who has ever tried convincing a 4-5 year old to not unlock their safety harness knows this. The tate becomes over reaching when they believe that a child under 4'0" or 7-8 years of age is going to calmly sit in a child seat contraption.

    rather than teaching safe living habits, they end up teaching disdain for the law. Much like the stupid new cell phne rule in cars. First it only applies to those under age 18. Second, they can't be pulled over for the infraction. It only becomes an offense if they are pulled for some other infraction.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    The point of Karol's complaint seems to be that "nanny state" is a sexist statement. This would require discrimination derived from gender or the advancing of stereotypes of gender.

    A skirt and blouse described as "feminine" attire certainly ignore a Scott's kilt in the skirt part but is quite generally accurate in US society. It is accurate because because it reflects reality, it is ordinarily clothing worn by females, not males. There are within this society attributes that are primarily gender related.

    My point about world view, regards attributes that seem to be very strongly gender oriented, if nuturing is commonly associated with the female of our species it is not a stereotype beyond being a generalization that doesn't recognize exceptions. If I were to take Karol's complaint to heart I would insist on the genetic profile of a transgender in female dress as "he." I would not, I would recognize the gender shift and use "she." The apparent is sufficient. I will admit that someone sporting my beard and all the other female attributes would leave me a bit confused as to a pronoun.

    There is nothing in "nanny state" that forces a definition of a woman's place in society, I don't use the phrase because of its links to the Rightwing. If the phrase were "mother state" would that also be offensive as sexist? I have no experience with having been mothered by males, despite my rather grizzled appearance I do get mothered by females.

  • randy (unverified)

    Karol has her panties in a twist again? Wow, it has been what, 24 hours since the last whiny, complaining post from Karol about some imagined slight? I guess that is what being a professional victim is all about.

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    Well, Randy, your comment implies you've seen said panties. And trust me, no one who speaks of me in that way gets any where near these things. Too bad for you; they are awesome.

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    Translation: I'm an asshole.

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    Guess kids are just different. Ours always has had a car seat and never fought it the way you describe, it made and makes her feel safe. Her personality is more risk-averse than some other kids.

    Some parents may face problems at the other end of the age spectrum, I suspect -- the state has been raising age and height requirements (some may be suggestions) & I think some older kids might chafe at them.

    I'm just glad my dad didn't hit an ice patch in 1964 when me and my middle brother huddled on the floor behind the seats and my infant youngest brother sat on my mother's lap in his red two-seater Simca convertible sports car that he brought back after serving in the army in Europe in the mid-50s.

    Part of the problem is "nanny state" attributes motives. I run into a lot of stuff like this in public health contexts, and I promise you the folks I talk to don't want to run other people's lives. They just deal with epidemiological statistics all the time, and want to think about how to improve the health and safety of the population. Public health is defined as population health, and I suppose almost intrinsically that creates a shift from individualist concerns.

    That isn't to deny the effects people experience and perceive. But it is to deny the motives imputation.

  • Pat Malach (unverified)

    Uh, Oh, Karol, don't look now.

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    Hey Pat, read the comments Egan's getting.

  • Pat Malach (unverified)


    Didn't see anything about the term nanny-state being sexist

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    Pat, no one agrees yet you keep coming back. Interesting, kind of.

  • Pat Malach (unverified)

    "Pat, no one agrees yet you keep coming back."

    Was that supposed to make some kind of sense?

    No one agrees that the NY Times ran a commentary Thursday about the nanny state?

    No one agrees that there were 56 comments on that article?

    No one agrees that the term nanny-state isn't sexist?

    Maybe the next time you might want to leave a road map with your cryptic little comment so everyone else could play along, too.

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    Pat Malach, I realize you are just trying to antagonize and I shouldn't engage you, but I can't help myself. Just because 56 people comment on the NY Times and don't say sexist doesn't automatically make those who think it is, wrong.

    Over 70 comments are on this site and not all of them agree with me either. And if my point is ridiculous, then why do you keep coming back and commenting on it? I don't agree with everyone and everything, but there is room to discuss all perspectives, not just mine or yours. I'm not sure why you are coming after me so vehemently, but if you had to look me in the eye, I hope you'll behave with more class.

  • MCT (unverified)

    Well thank God we're not speaking one of the languages that defines ALL nouns by masculine or feminine.

    First, I say that women who "whine and nag and hover to control their husbands and children" are ultimately trying to control and streamline thier own lives/jobs, since historically the physical and fiscal running of a home and family has fallen on the shoulders of the female head of household. This still runs true in most families. We didn't really liberate ourselves, girls....we just signed on for a second and sometimes third shift. If you want to be offended by something be offended by the truth behind the semanitics.

    Nanny State? Who cares what you call it. Because yeah I think we are way over-governed from the ground level on up. A million little laws and codes and permits and licenses, so many of which cost citizens chunks of their dwindling cash to comply with.

    There's and old email still circulating around the Internet. The one about how folks in earlier generations were raised up running free & only loosely supervised from dawn to dusk through the neighborhoods with our dogs unleashed, without bike helmets, drinking from hoses, riding in the beds of pickup trucks...all that kind of now considered reckless stuff. And we survived....long enough for the boys to be drafted and sent off to war. Talk about harms way. So the whole idea of nanny state and all that it brings is silly, irritating, insulting, and oppressive.

  • But being 99 percent honest is no longer enough (unverified)

    But being 99 percent honest is no longer enough.

  • Pat Malach (unverified)


    I chimed in once to voice my opinion, an opinion shared by others.

    Then I was pretty much through with it, until I saw the NY Times commentary about the nanny state. I thought you might think the timing was quite coincidental, so I posted a link.

    Then Chris Lowe, who I have great respect for, directed me to the comments. I thought perhaps, in context of this particular thread, a discussion about the sexism of the term "nanny state" had started there. What I found was quite the opposite. No one commented on any possible sexism angle. Really pretty simple.

    Sorry if that "antagonized" you.

    "I realize you are just trying to antagonize and I shouldn't engage you"

    You don't know jack shit about me, karol. But it seems to me you make judgments about people and assign sinister motives to them to back up your case even when they simply do not exist. Classy!

    I'm not sure why you are coming after me so vehemently

    It's laughable that you believe this thread reflects coming after you vehemently. You have an incredibly thin skin, which I guess actually gos to the heart of this post, doesn't it?

    See, if you want to come after me directly, I can certainly raise the vehemence level.

    I thought this post was silly enough, that's true, but your response to the rather simple evolution of my comments on this thread is definitely a topper.

    I guess since it made very little sense in context of this thread, I guess I'll consider it a lifetime achievement award.

    I'd like to thank the academy.

  • karol (unverified)

    You are right Pat, I don't know you. You don't know me. We disagree on this topic and I'm exhausted talking about it. I muse on paper to create discussion. At times, the snarks go a little far. But bring your words all day, friend. That's what its about.

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    Pat, what struck me about the comments was how much people were disagreeing w/ Egan's "nanny state" hypothesis altogether.

    <h2>MCT, don't know how far back your "earlier generations" are going, but any time before WWII a whole lot of kids weren't surviving, compared to now. "We survived" of course only applies to those of us who did.</h2>

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