Madrid is a prime location for aspiring au pairs looking for a summer job and a chance to travel. I was wondering what it would be like to be a male working and living in such a female dominated atmosphere. So I got in touch with someone who knows. Zach was an au pair with me in Madrid in the summer of 2013 – and he is still one of the only male au pairs I have ever met. He decided to write a great article on his experience in Madrid and just how unique his summer was:
Gender Roles in Retrospect
‘A year ago today my itinerary looked entirely different than what I have now readjusted to. Today I don’t have to worry about getting any kids to school, but I do have to worry about getting myself to class. English lessons for the kids have been replaced with writing sessions for myself, and I have had to accept Arkansas’ Crystal Bridges as a rather quaint substitute for the beautiful Museo del Prado. While some of the changes have hurt more than others, I have found myself reflecting more and more on the undeniable role my gender had to play in my experience.
In May of last year, I embarked upon what would become a memorable journey as a male au pair to Madrid, Spain. Before I left, I got some raised eyebrows from folks who knew what an au pair was. I was asked tentatively a couple times whether or not I knew that being an au pair was a “girl job.” Having done my research, I knew that au pair jobs are normally dominated by girls, and that I would likely be a minority, but I wasn’t threatened by statistics. I remained excited despite naysayers.
The arrangement that I had with my host family was that I was to take the kids to and from the bus stop and teach them English for a set time each day- no housework involved besides keeping my room neat and tidy which was more than reasonable. For weeks, this arrangement worked wonderfully, but it wasn’t too long before I began to really crave some company my age. So I did what any good millennial would do- I took to the Internet! And sure enough, I was able to find a website (meetaupairs.com) and strike up chats with au pairs all over the city! Unsurprisingly, the folks that I connected with were almost always women given the makeup of the site. It wasn’t long before I had scheduled my first hangout with an English girl who would become my closest friend in the city.Paige was very new to the city when we met on a warm morning in front of the Santiago Bernabeu. At almost a month living in Madrid, I had become quite familiar with the main streets. So we set off on a stroll that would stretch from the stadium to Atocha Station and back- a solid 10 km walk. We hit all the high spots on Castellana. I showed all the museums and shops that I knew. We popped into a cafe for something to get a little snack. It wasn’t long before Paige had to be back to pick up her kids. So we parted ways, aiming to connect again soon.
We spent the next few weeks exploring different parts of the city, connecting with other au pairs, and familiarizing ourselves with the best pubs in town (God bless the Irish). This culminated in a scheduled au pair hangout in the lively Sol neighborhood. one weekend. There had to have been close to thirty people in our group at the beginning of the evening. I was the only male there save for a quiet Estonian fellow. I think he was probably quiet because he didn’t speak much English. That didn’t keep us from some occasional solidarity, however. The leaders of our group were two older au pair veterans who didn’t take no for an answer. We bounced from club to pub to bar all over town, and it was at this point that I discovered a distinct disadvantage in being male in Madrid. Our largely female group was welcome anywhere to offset the heavily male composition of each place, offering waived covers and complimentary drinks. My Estonian friend and I, however, were quickly being sucked dry by cover charges.When I confided my problem to Paige, a new and fiery friend named Leah immediately voiced frustration at the fast pace of the evening. Our complaints falling on deaf ears, we split from the group and struck out for ourselves. Paige, Leah, and another new friend by the name of Kathi finished out the night with me. That group would form the core of my social group for a large part of my stay.
I should say that nightlife was quite new to me at first.My friends helped me out a lot. However, it was in this setting that I would face some of the more difficult ethical questions of my life in Madrid. I consider myself a feminist. So I had to weigh the desire to keep my friends safe and possibly come across as a white knight/chauvinist who doesn’t respect a woman’s agency versus the idea of letting what happens happen and live with the possibility of someone getting hurt. That was a day by day issue.The truth of it is I had few problems being a male au pair in my host home. My grappling with issues of gender came on the weekends. I know I butted heads with some folks, but I own my decisions even in hindsight. I learned a lot- particularly about having meaningful platonic relationships with women. That was something that I had lacked and maybe even feared before last summer. Now I know I am better for it. I would recommend anyone try the au pair experience- male or female. It was a life-changer for me.’
-View Zach’s blog This Grand, Beautiful World