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Women's Work
February 7, 2013 9:46 AM   Subscribe

The Ballad of the Unpaid Intern. Not That Kind of Secretary. The Home Economics of Domestic Workers. Parts of Grace Bello's series Women's Work on how popular culture depicts working women. Via.
posted by Kitty Stardust (14 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Re the "Not That Kind of Secretary" (from Bitchmedia), the best part of the article was the comment that said "I have it on pretty good authority that Bitch not only hires unpaid interns but it also pays its administrative staff around $9 per hour. Way to buck the trend."
posted by HuronBob at 9:50 AM on February 7, 2013 [15 favorites]


It's interesting that the article about interns didn't correlate the industries with paid internships with how male dominated they are. If you ask your average computer science student about taking an unpaid internship, they'd be insulted. Similarly law internships at the big firms.
posted by zabuni at 9:52 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Her samples of recent TV are pretty small. I'm guessing she never watches Telemundo.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:06 AM on February 7, 2013


Way to buck the trend.

Well "feminism" is based on the idea that it's a man's world and women need to be more like men so what else would you expect? Women in business can screw people over as well as men! Gender neutrality is achieved. This seems like a success of the movement and nothing for a feminist to be ashamed of.
posted by three blind mice at 10:58 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re the "Not That Kind of Secretary" (from Bitchmedia), the best part of the article was the comment that said "I have it on pretty good authority that Bitch not only hires unpaid interns but it also pays its administrative staff around $9 per hour. Way to buck the trend."

I mean, I think the lesson is that the prevalence of unpaid interns in media is a function of economics. A lot of people want to do the work and are willing to cobble together other funding sources (often from their parents) to do it without pay. And the organizations are not productive enough to bid up wages.

I'm sure Bitch Media would love to pay its interns and to pay its admins more, etc., as evidenced by their "progressive" views on the subject. They would say that the money isn't there and that their business model only works if a few people work for free, and the interns are willing.

Similarly, if computer engineering interns get paid for their time, gender bias would not be my explanation of first resort for the disparity.
posted by grobstein at 11:06 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I work for a nonprofit theater company, and it amuses me that they're apparently required to display a sign that says, in more legal-sounding language, "Owning slaves is illegal." It doesn't say that this establishment doesn't own slaves (we don't, for the record), but that it's generally illegal to have a slave. I assume it has someting to do with our having interns, but I like to walk in the door and be confronted with a nice "SLAVERY IS ILLEGAL" sign.
posted by cmoj at 11:10 AM on February 7, 2013


Holy derail, people.
From Bitch Magazine's FAQ:

"The most important distinction between nonprofit organizations like Bitch and most magazines is that we’re mission-driven, not profit-driven. Any profits we make go back into the organization so we can expand our reach and otherwise better fulfill our mission; they don’t go to a couple of fat cats sitting at the top of a media empire. In practical terms, the biggest distinction is that most magazines make their hay by selling their readers to advertisers. So their priority—and their loyalty—is to their advertisers, not to you. Bitch, on the other hand, is loyal—and accountable—to its readers. We’re in this together, which is why we call ourselves a reader-supported magazine. Think of us as the print version of listener-supported radio."

Also, the editor's response in the comments of the unpaid intern article:

"Some of our internships are unpaid, others are paid. And we work with colleges and universities, as well as orgs like Americorps, as much as possible to offers stipends to interns. For those who have graduated, yes, it's a little more difficult. But we do work to accommodate those who can't afford to work for free.
Andi Zeisler, cofounder and editorial/creative director."
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:14 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well "feminism" is based on the idea that it's a man's world and women need to be more like men so what else would you expect?

What? No. That is not what feminism is.
posted by purpleclover at 11:31 AM on February 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


Well "feminism" is based on the idea that it's a man's world and women need to be more like men so what else would you expect? Women in business can screw people over as well as men! Gender neutrality is achieved. This seems like a success of the movement and nothing for a feminist to be ashamed of.

I can't say that I "know" what "feminism" is "based on", but feminism is not based on any such a thing. Not moderate, legalistic feminism and certainly not radical feminism.
posted by atrazine at 11:44 AM on February 7, 2013


For those who have graduated, yes, it's a little more difficult.

In fact, it's probably illegal, but don't let that get to you.

"Their business model only works if people work for free" seems to me to be largely equivalent to "their business model doesn't work". I'm not sure why causes deemed worthy are given a get-out-of-fair-labor-practices free card. Don't let me catch Wal-Mart skimping undercutting the minimum wage, or Whole Foods doing nasty things with health care—but Bitch Magazine? Hey, they've got a mission.
posted by kenko at 11:46 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Secretary article was insulting. I was surprised at the dismissive tone compared to the other articles.

I'm an administrative assistant (seriously, the term "secretary" needs to die a quick and quiet death). Not all of us are poorly under-worked grads and most of us consider our work valuable. While it may be a "stepping stone" for some, these positions are fulfilling careers for many women (and a few men). The assumption that these long-time, skilled employees are simply "helpers" instead of vital contributors to their organization is as cliched as the Mad Men stereotype.
posted by Vysharra at 11:47 AM on February 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


"feminism" is based on the idea that it's a man's world and women need to be more like men
!
!!
!!!!!!!!

...

Admin of 15+ years here, recently promoted but still an admin in everything but title. So goddamned sick of people asking what I do and then saying, "Oh, so you're just a secretary?"
Yes, sometimes I am asked to fetch coffee. Yes, I do everyone's calendar ordering and supply arranging and event organizing and bill-paying and general tidying -- exactly what I do at home, where I am doing it for free and with minimal (if any) gratitude. In contrast, at the office, I am generally referred to as "indispensible." I have a hand in every cookie jar; I am reasonably well-versed in all duties related to my current position, marginally well-versed in basically everything else, and I totally own a few random responsibilities that were assigned to me because all responsibilities that no one else wants fall to admins. I tend to view this as horizon-broadening rather than annoying or limiting -- who knows if/when these random skills will come in handy someday?

As it stands, higher-ups openly admit that they would not know how to do large portions of their jobs if my ilk and I were not here to facilitate. Someone's gotta change the toner cartridges, stock the printer paper, keep the visiting bigwigs happy with delicious catered lunches, organize fun outings, bring in snacks when office morale is low, and take care of that lame drudge work for you so you can go out and do your big presentation (or whatever). I am happy to be able to fulfill this small-but-very-meaningful role, particularly as I have trained for it since I was a small child. I may not be smart or talented enough to pursue my dream career, but luckily, I actually enjoy this type of work; it fully engages my available skill set, and organizing, facilitating, learning new roles, and assisting people who can do bigger stuff than I do brings me great pleasure.

Contrary to what the telly tells you, life as an administrative assistant ain't all indignity and scraping by on pennies while management pinches your ass without repercussion and takes credit for your ideas. The little stuff we do adds up -- way, way up. Bonus: I can forget about my job as soon as I walk out the door and I am breathtakingly well-compensated considering I did not even graduate high school and I love my co-workers and it's awesome.
posted by divined by radio at 12:16 PM on February 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


You're very lucky to be such an appreciated admin, though, divined by radio. Working as an administrative assistant, I've been dismissed and disrespected in more ways than I care to count, from being shooed away with the flick of a finger (no, the shoo-er was not on the phone, nor did he have any other reason not to use words like a real human being), to having dirty dishes dumped practically on me.

There are good admin jobs out there, absolutely, but some of them are indignity and scraping by on pennies, and you can forget about leaving it behind when you walk out the door because yes, you will get calls at home. And no, they will not say thank-you.
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:18 PM on February 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Did anyone else find the piece on unpaid internships really condescending? It basically says that interns aren't paid because they have no skills and sit around doing nothing half the time, and if you would just ask for more work you'd learn something and then you'd get paid. I don't think this reflects the experiences of lots of unpaid interns.

I am an unpaid intern at a reasonably large and well-respected nonprofit. I (along with about half of the other interns there) have a master's degree and several years of paid work experience. I am extremely busy most days and have very little down time. I can't see the organization functioning at anywhere near the same level without the amount and quality of work that its interns put in. I think it's wrong to not pay people who vital to an organization's work, and I think it's wrong make getting getting a job in this (or any) profession contingent on being able to sacrifice income for resume-building internships. But after months of fruitless hunting for an actual job, I gave in, in hopes that they'll hire me for real someday. And I'm absurdly privileged to be able to afford to do so, but the fact that my work is so undervalued really bums me out.
posted by naoko at 5:07 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


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