Oct 10 2013

Spinster aunt weighs in on the unpaid intern/ harassment thing

By now you will have heard about the New York City intern whose sexual harassment suit was chucked out because her position was an unpaid one. If not, check it out here. The gist: boss gropes intern in hotel room. Intern, grossed-out, rebuffs incursion, is subsequently passed over for job. Coincidence? She thinks not. The court wouldn’t hear the case, though, ostensibly because “significant remuneration” was not a condition of the victim’s internship.

Thus harassment may be legally recognized by the city of New York only when its victims are paid in coin of the realm. Absent the exchange of cash, unpaid interns are apparently considered to be exempt from civil rights. They’re fair game. They should just shut up and be grateful for the opportunity to get their butt squeezed by their boss. Any negative consequences arising from their uppity assertion of fully human status are their own fault.

This may seem arbitrary and absurd to you, a reasonable person who possesses a normal sensitivity to social injustice, but you know what’s going on here: the intern was merely adjudged to have been fairly used per the Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women.

You know what’s funny? The Global Accords also contain a provision wherein the opposite condition obtains. This provision states that women who are monetarily compensated for sex, i.e. prostituted women, are also fair game. These women cannot be sexually abused any more than an unpaid intern can, since they are paid be be abused*, and abuse is known to be consistent with the essence of prostituted women. Prostituted women may not assert personal bodily sovereignty, because they are considered to have sold those rights to the dude who pays for access to their bodies. The intern can’t claim sovereignty rights, either, as she is considered to have signed them over to her non-paying exploiter of a fuckface boss in return for, I guess, the singular privilege of basking in his reflected magnificence.

Not surprisingly, a Neanderthal victim-blaming commenter on the aforelinked Think Progress article objected to the characterization of the intern as a harassment victim. He suggested that because the woman voluntarily agreed to meet with her employer in the hotel room, she was askin’ for it. Which presents an interesting conflation of the two Global Accords provisions under discussion. The introduction of the hotel room — internationally acknowledged as the traditional venue of illicit sex on the DL — instantly recasts the intern as a sexbag with no rights. Just like that! (Female + hotel room) ÷ (douchebag) = whore.

Thus we observe that the Global Accords cram women in between a rock and an even bigger rock. Unpaid interns cannot be sexually harassed, paid prostituted women cannot be raped. From these conflicting contingencies we may deduce that the issue of payment is in fact a red herring. Pay’em, don’t pay’em: whether it is a condition of a business transaction or not, money is just an excuse to rationalize discrimination and abuse based on the power differential between DudeNation and the sex class. It’s a tool of the institutionalized misogyny that permits and sanctions women’s exploitation. The system is entrenched, immutable, codified, sanctified, and virtually ungameable. Everyone is subject to its impossible conditions. That’s because all women worldwide, including those of us in this supposedly enlightened, patriarchy-free American society, are indistinguishable from sex itself.

* By the way, sexual harassment is abuse, and should be a considered a crime, not merely some minor workplace impropriety.

via @ZerlinaMaxwell


Skip to comment form

  1. ChariD

    Your last statement is what I keep screaming at the computer screen; if it’s not considered sexual harassment with regard to her unpaid position, then why isn’t it at the very LEAST considered a fucking crime? Why wasn’t this jackhole arrested for sexual assault?

  2. wondering

    By the way, sexual harassment is abuse, and should be a considered a crime, not merely some minor workplace impropriety.

    Fucking YES. I’ve been yelling that at my computer screen all morning.

    (Ok, in my head. I’m at work.)

  3. Miss Andrist (@MissAndrist)

    [q]* By the way, sexual harassment is abuse, and should be a considered a crime, not merely some minor workplace impropriety.[/q]

    Except on The Internet In General, where it is numbered among the “privileges” of being female.

    So that d00ds can bond with one another and shed mutual mantears at being oppressud by us mean / frigid / lying / selfish / crazy / etc. bishes.

  4. TwissB

    Correct use of term “prostituted” duly noted.

  5. Twisty

    I didn’t just roll off the paddy wagon yesterday, TwissB!

  6. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    This whole ridiculous, asinine government shutdown would irk me a whole lot less if I had a dime for every time sexual harassment reared its ugly head during the past 30 years I’ve been toiling for Uncle Sam. Paid interns, secretaries, purchase agents, and contractors have all been considered fair game. Many a charge has been documented and pressed with the only results being that the perpetrator is required to attend training (which would include a mandatory shock collar for their weenies, if I ran the class). The younger males coming on board the last few years seem to have better manners, but still bear a swinish stink. The younger females, alas, seem to my jaded eyes to be becoming less angry than I remember being when I was 24 years old.

  7. iorarua

    I’d comment on the sexual harassment theme here, except whenever I see, hear or even think about the words ‘unpaid internship’, I lose all perspective. Unpaid internships are slavery, and slavery is evil. Unpaid internships are not about ‘gaining experience’; they are about forcing more and more people work for no pay (which, of course, makes them especially suited to women). All other evils pertaining to the lot of the unpaid intern stem from this central evil.

  8. Twisty

    I get what you’re trying to say, but let’s be honest. Unpaid internships are not slavery. Think about it. Yes, unpaid internships invite exploitation in the hands of unscrupulous employers, but the intern is free to walk away. Slavery is — well, I hope you know what slavery actually is.

    The “free to walk away” part, however, does not mitigate the sexual harassment part. Sexual harassment is a crime.

  9. Ellesar

    The free to walk away argument is actually used A LOT in sexual harrassment isn’t it? Because of course we can all afford to just leave a situation like that, whether it is paid or not. Women HAVE lost great careers because they ‘just walked away’ when the harassment got so bad and no one was listening.
    I have not been sexually harassed at work, but I have had incidents of an unpleasant and slightly disturbing nature, and really all I felt I could do was that avoid that situation again. I spoke to my boss once, and she dealt with it appropriately, but she did feel the need to ask ‘was it HARDcore porn he had put on?’ I didn’t bother to ask if it had been less explicit would I have been expected to just put up and shut up!
    Internships sound pretty shit, esp for young women. Now that they have become the norm for graduates to get something good on their CV’s I expect there are thousands of young women suffering in silence.

  10. Twisty

    “I have not been sexually harassed at work, but I have had incidents of an unpleasant and slightly disturbing nature”

    The incidents to which you allude exist on the harassment continuum. Dudes displaying porn at the office, wolf whistles on the street, groping, and rape are all of a piece.

  11. Jen

    Being “free to walk away” is only one of many obvious differences between unpaid internships and slavery.

    People work in unpaid internships because they want to gain experience, network with people in their field, have something to put on a resume, etc. People become slaves because they are purchased by slave owners or born to enslaved parents.

  12. mMargaret

    Given the futility of getting a paid job from an unpaid internship whille demanding soul sucking and dangerous conditions AND forcing us to collude in our own oppression, the unpaid internship is a masterful stroke at enslaving our minds in order to enslave our bodies. ‘Walking away’ is not a solution unless we all walk away.

  13. Pandechion

    The federal agency I work for has mandatory sexual harassment training. When I attended, I got hit on by the dude sitting next to me.

  14. Keri

    Places where I am free to walk away but am regularly sexually harassed and basically have no recourse but to tell a dude to fuck off (which sometimes only reinforces and increases the behavior): the grocery store, the sidewalk (built for walking away!), restaurants, bars (another internationally known location where I am a rightless sex bag), the doctor’s office, airplanes, and pretty much any other place where I exist with my vagina attached.

    The long hand of the Global Accords extends pretty much anywhere and everywhere.

    Also, Pendechion: classic!

  15. io lighting

    In case someone reading along at home thinks Ellesar is being overly dramatic or straw-woman-ish about women giving up careers because of sexual harassment: I left a six-figure, career-launching job in my late 20s because of sexual harassment. Although I am now in a very good job again (in a different industry), leaving that previous job stunted my career by about 5 years — and didn’t do great things for my extremely high student loan debt. I wasn’t even subjected to “really bad” harassment, although it left me depressed and questioning my worth and intelligence.

    I realize the massive amount of privilege I have to be making these statements, and that many women don’t have the option to leave, be supported by their parents while they’re sorting themselves out, and have a strong CV and network to get another job in this economy. I am not trying to minimize much greater hardships than my own; I am sharing a personal anecdote because I want to reinforce that Ellesar is not making some sweeping generalization. It truly happens that women give up or stunt their careers due to sexual harassment, to the detriment of both the woman who gave up her job to get away from a soul-crushing environment, and society as a whole losing her talents.

  16. ivyleaves

    Jen – I think you didn’t back up far enough. People become slaves because people forcibly kidnap other people under all sorts of circumstances, permanent and temporary.

  17. Jen

    Ivy, yes, true. People are born, kidnapped or sold into slavery. The point being: they do not apply.

    I don’t see how unpaid internships enslave the mind either, unless that was meant as hyperbole. To me, unpaid internships are more akin to volunteering than slavery. It’s just that when you “volunteer,” you usually do something that benefits people (or animals or environments) in need and makes you feel good about yourself. When you work in an unpaid internship, you usually do something that benefits corporate jerks and makes you feel like an under-appreciated turd.

    I think it’s terrible that there are not enough jobs for people, especially for women, in which they can earn a living wage. I think it’s also terrible that “the intern wasn’t being paid” is a loophole sexual harassers can use to avoid consequences for their actions. Both of these problems need solving, but I think conflating unpaid internships with slavery actually distracts from that.

  18. MMargaret

    The slavery analogy isn’t working out too well. Let’s try a concept from anthropology: reciprocity. It refers to trading: you give something of value to get something of value – and if the value of what you get in return for your goods is lower than what you gave, you have just experienced negative reciprocity. Interns are giving their resources to a company giving them nothing in return but empty promises. Most interns will walk away with nothing, including a chance at any kind of work anywhere in their field. Someone might win the job lottery, but this is a massive case of exploitation. Experience with being exploited does nobody good, no matter how much good they are doing.

  19. I HATE the Patriarchy

    “By the way, sexual harassment is abuse, and should be a considered a crime, not merely some minor workplace impropriety.”

    Correct. And, internships, for women, like graduate school or short-term postdocs are…really just any profession’s chance to see if you’ll put out before having to put you on the real payroll (and be subject to those silly EEOC and FMLA rules).

    Because as a female, there is only one professional position you can possibly be placed in, according to DudeNation.

  20. Nonny

    I am an unpaid intern. This is a bullshit situation and contributes to the devaluation of my field, and possibly of women’s work in general. Working for a reference alone puts you in a vulnerable position.
    It is not at all /slavery/ though. I refuse to endorse that.

  21. Keri

    Speaking of harassment, there’s this:


    At first I thought this may be satisfying, and then my lobe was blown by the words of the artist. “I do think that women are the most beautiful thing on the planet. Women are beautiful. I get it. Men are men. It’s an attraction…. It can be dangerous, but I don’t think it can be something fully avoided and controlled. Just as long as people understand the dynamics of a public expression in that way.

    Oh Stockholm syndrome.

Comments have been disabled.