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Upon Further Reflection, the Salad Dressing Discourse Is Not as Funny as I Thought

I also thought Jason Sudeikis being upset about salad dressing was hilarious—until I realized this story is actually about labour issues and emotional abuse

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Stacy Lee Kong

Oct 21 2022

12 mins read

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<p>Image: Shutterstock</p>

Content warning: this newsletter contains references to emotional and financial abuse.

I admit it, I laughed at the idea of salad dressing causing drama between Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis. If you somehow managed to avoid this truly over-the-top piece of gossip: according to a tell-all interview between the Daily Mail and the couple’s former nanny, in the midst of their breakup, Sudeikis got extremely upset that Wilde had made Harry Styles a salad with her “special” salad dressing. The internet, predictably, dissolved into hysterics then began speculating on what the dressing contained and what made it so special. And frankly, I get it. I mean… salad dressing? As in, oil and vinegar, maybe a little Dijon mustard? 

‎It seemed like the type of celebrity news we honestly don’t get enough of—random, ridiculous, low-stakes—so I was very happy to enjoy all the ways the internet ran with this small and seemingly silly detail about Wilde and Sudeikis’ disintegrating relationship… at first. But when I actually read the nanny’s allegations, I realized there were a bunch of things that the internet had seemingly missed, like the fact that she was in a super unsafe work environment, and that Wilde had apparently said she was scared of Sudeikis, especially when he was drinking. There were some other weird news cycles this week—adult Twitch streamer Amouranth revealed she had been in an abusive marriage and some of her followers reacted with less support and more anger that she’d ‘lied’ about being single, and a U.S. Congressional candidate saying she thinks men have a “right to sex,” and taken together, they’re making me wonder if our society can actually recognize what abuse looks like. Because honestly… it looks like that’s a no.

The type of behaviour the nanny describes is actually quite scary

Caveat: this is the Daily Mail we’re talking about, so of course there are valid reasons to question the credibility of this story. (Though not the fact that the nanny is speaking anonymously; news outlets will provide sources anonymity if being identified could negatively impact their health, safety or career. It only feels sketchy here because it’s this outlet.) But I think this story is worth discussing for two reasons. First, I’m not interested in the gossip about this breakup as much as I want to talk about the way Sudeikis allegedly behaved toward Wilde and their nanny and how the internet interpreted this behaviour. And second, I suspect what the nanny said was at least partially true. Consider this: Wilde and Sudeikis provided CNN with a joint statement where they characterize the nanny’s allegations as “false and scurrilous”—but then Wilde posted the vinaigrette recipe from Nora Ephron’s novel Heartburn, a roman à clef inspired by the author’s discovery that her husband, Carl Bernstein, was cheating on her, to her Instagram Stories. I can’t quite decide what message Wilde was trying to send there, but it’s unfortunately too meta to ignore.

‎Okay, back to the allegations. According to the Daily Mail, the nanny was privy to every detail of the couple’s relationship woes. After the couple broke up in November 2020, she even began attending family therapy sessions, though the next month, she “became upset when Sudeikis signed her up for sessions with his life coach—who pumped her for information about Wilde.” At the end of December, she says she went to London with Sudeikis and the couple’s two children while he was filming season 2 of Ted Lasso. Wilde was in California filing Don’t Worry Darling, but “Sudeikis would… call and text her constantly from the Ted Lasso set, she claimed, asking if she had heard from Wilde and becoming angry if she texted her.”

It’s also a labour issue!

The Daily Mail goes on: “Feeling 'manipulated' and overwhelmed by the increasingly toxic relationship between her employers, the nanny told Sudeikis she wanted to leave at the end of January but offered to continue working for another six months while they found her replacement. But on February 1, the nanny claims she was abruptly fired late at night by a 'drunk and out of control' Sudeikis who had become enraged after discovering she had texted Wilde.”

Of course, the couple say the nanny wasn’t fired and instead resigned, which makes her ineligible for unemployment insurance. The nanny also says she was denied severance pay.

‎Imagine this is all going down at your job, which you can’t leave, both because you have professional responsibilities and because you actually live there. The term ‘labour abuse’ feels pretty appropriate, right? It definitely should; according to Human Rights Watch, domestic workers are at the highest risk of exploitation. No wonder this nanny’s experience immediately reminded me of a spate of early 2000s news stories about nannies in Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program. The program, which began in the 80s, allows immigrants to come to Canada to work as live-in caregivers for at least two years, at which point they would receive permanent residency. But for many of these caregivers, who are overwhelmingly Filipino women, this isn’t as great a deal as it appears.

According to a 2005 Walrus article, “many of the nannies were suffering physical and mental abuse at the hands of the very people they had liberated from the routine drudgery of family life.” In 2009, two caregivers accused then-Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla and her family of abuse, sparking calls for reform. Unfortunately, not much changed; the program was still being criticized for being exploitative as recently as 2016. This obviously isn’t the same situation. Sudeikis and Wilde’s nanny likely isn’t vulnerable from an immigration perspective, but she is vulnerable in other ways—when your work involves your employer’s private life and you literally live in their home, you’re automatically more vulnerable to controlling and inappropriate behaviour—so I feel a little gross about the fact that salad dressing took off instead of the labour issues. 

As always, there’s a part of the internet that’s thrilled to drag Olivia Wilde

And this is not even taking into account the time the nanny says Wilde directly told Sudeikis that she’s scared of him, or the fact that lying down in front of someone’s car so they can’t leave, as he allegedly did on the night of the salad dressing incident, is both manipulative and controlling. Not that an irritatingly large portion of the internet sees it that way, of course! Instead, in a move right out of the Deppwife playbook, some Twitter users immediately began criticizing Wilde for cheating, for ‘abandoning’ her children, re-homing her dog, trying to ruin Sudeikis’ life… the list was endless.  

‎I’ll admit, Wilde is kind of a complicated figure for me—I will never not think it’s weird that she began dating someone who was essentially her much-younger employee, and I don’t care about the arguments that male directors do this shit all the time, because I don’t see women taking part in the same exploitative behaviour they have been subject to for forever as a win for feminism. But for the most part, the internet’s reaction to her relationship with Harry Styles hasn’t been proportionate to the number of annoying things she does, a fact that can only be explained by misogyny. This is nothing new, of course. Still, the fact that a certain segment of the internet’s insistence that Wilde is in the wrong feels especially notable to me because of the type of behaviour that we’re discussing. According to a paper published in the journal Violence and Victims in 2013, “abusive behavior does not always involve tangible violence. Distinctions must be made between physical violence/abuse—traditionally, the most researched and detectable form—and emotional, or psychological, abuse. Emotional abuse is any nonphysical behavior or attitude that is designed to control, subdue, punish, or isolate another person through the use of humiliation or fear… Emotional abuse can include verbal assault, dominance, control, isolation, ridicule or the use of intimate knowledge for degradation. It targets the emotional and psychological well-being of the victim, and it is often a precursor to physical abuse.” 

To be clear, Wilde hasn’t made any claims of emotional abuse. But, if we take the nanny’s allegations as truth, it’s clear there was a level of manipulation and fear present in that relationship, and I just think it’s kind of scary to see how easily some people are overlooking that. 

We should also be side-eyeing the reactions to Twitch streamer Amouranth’s allegations of abuse and the viral story about men not having sex

A couple of other things happened this week that, to me, feel connected to the Wilde/Sudeikis/nanny situation. The first is that Twitch streamer and adult performer Amouranth, whose real name is Kaitlyn Siragusa, revealed that she was in an abusive marriage (and also that she was married, period) in a video on Sunday. The details are pretty horrifying. According to Buzzfeed, she says her husband, Nick Lee, calls her things like “dumb fuck” and shouts expletives at her, threatened to kill her dogs if she didn’t do a 24-hour stream and refused to let her reveal she was married as it would “ruin the business model.” He also has access to all of her bank accounts and that he had “threatened to leave with most of her earnings, throw her belongings off the balcony and put thousands of dollars of her money into crypto and expiring stock options.” And there’s plenty of proof—Siragusa put Lee on speakerphone while on stream so everyone could hear how he spoke to her and released screenshots of the financial abuse. But despite all these disturbing details, some members of her audience were still angrier that she had ‘lied’ about being married than about her suffering.

‎And, there was that viral Twitter post about how men under 30 are having less sex, which was a societal problem that women must step up to fix. This entire (brain-meltingly stupid) discourse stems from a post by Alexandra M. Hunt, a public health activist and 2022 Philadelphia Congressional candidate who dug up three-year-old data from the Washington Post to make a point about what kind of society we should live in, which she apparently thinks is one where men should have a “right to sex.” She’s basing this opinion on WaPo’s stat that the share of American adults who reported having no sex in the previous year had reached an all-time high in 2018—and that “the share of men younger than 30 reporting no sex has nearly tripled, to 28 percent.” She says that this is directly linked to a rise in violence in our societies and that the solution is “decriminalizing sex work, funding sex education, & creating outreach programs that help young people develop healthy sexual habits.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the most relevant thing for this conversation is that Hunt says we have to solve men’s loneliness and lack of sex in order to prevent violence, and she thinks sex workers are the way to do that. This is a disgusting suggestion, for the record. As writer Zoé Samudzi points out, “no one has the right to sex, and every time the topic of ‘men having decreasingly less sex’ comes up as a moral panic, we ignore sex workers persistently telling us how this line of argumentation effectively outsources sexual violence to them.”

I know those examples feel kind of different from one another and very different from the salad dressing stuff I was talking about at the beginning of this newsletter, but I swear there’s a link. It’s that we don’t know how to talk about abuse. We’re pretty bad at it when it’s the most ‘easy to understand’ type (physical)—that’s why there was so much deeply troubling debate about whether Amber Heard had really been abused, even though she had plenty of evidence. (A dynamic we’re seeing repeated about Angelina Jolie, Evan Rachel Wood and Megan Thee Stallion, btw.)

But it gets so much stickier when abuse doesn’t look like what we think it does, or affects people who we don’t think can be abused. And considering how common emotional abuse is—according to the U.S. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “48.4% of women and 48.8% of men have experienced at least one psychologically aggressive behavior [sic] by an intimate partner [and 40% of women and men] have experienced at least one form of coercive control by an intimate partner in their lifetime—that has frankly awful implications for the people we know in real life.


And Did You Hear About… 

Elamin Abdelmahmoud's thoughtful reflection on Kanye, Kendrick and Dave Chappelle, and why they’re no longer fit to be his heroes. (Related: this argument for why Killer Mike is actually way more politically dangerous than Ye.)

Vulture’s oral history of Lilo & Stitch.

An update on Caitlin Covington, the influencer who became an autumn meme a few years ago.

The Cut’s feature on Maya Kowalski, whose doctors believed was the victim of Munchausen by proxy syndrome—but who was actually really sick.  

MYA Network’s powerful images of what “tissue in the first nine weeks of pregnancy actually looks like.” (Spoiler: nothing like what you see on those graphic and awful anti-abortion posters.)

Bonus: This IG account that only posts art by women.

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Olivia Wilde
Jason Sudeikis
Harry Styles