Are Unpaid Fashion Interns The Oppressed Housewives Of Today?
5:30 pm, February 19th | by Meredith Lepore
If you think The Feminine Mystique isn’t still relevant today, then you have got another think coming. Atlantic writer Phoebe Maltz Bovy recently pointed out that unpaid internships, especially those in fashion, are often written off as a rich kid problem — specifically, a rich girl problem, as women take the majority of unpaid internships and usually have another source of income (most likely their parents.) “To many people, the face of the unpaid intern is already that of a young woman whose survival (and possibly It-bag) needs are already being met, and there’s a reason for that,” she wrote. But she points out that the assumption that these young, (possibly) privileged women don’t need to be compensated because they are taken care of financially is the real problem, one which housewives used to face when they first tried to work outside the home.
Though they may have cool clothes and be in the same room as awesome designers, it ain’t so easy being a fashion intern. Last year more than 100 prominent fashion houses were being investigated by HMRC concerning the payment of their interns. Tanya de Grunwald, founder of the career website Graduate Fog and campaigner for paid internships, says this is not exactly breaking news, as fashion houses have been exploiting young workers for years.
“For too long, fashion houses have recruited brazenly for what are clearly illegal roles that take advantage of those who do them and exclude those who can’t afford to do them. These interns are not just work shadowing, making the tea and sorting the post. They are effectively doing full-time jobs, just without any pay. Most of the time they do not lead to paid, permanent jobs – only to another unpaid internship. Many fashion companies are known to have a revolving door system, where one unpaid intern is simply replaced with another at the end of their placement.”
The web site Fashionista did a piece on the horrors of being a fashion intern. Young women’s experiences included washing a urine-soaked dress for a fashion shoot for Vogue, scooping up dog poop, retyping to-do lists and returning yogurt to a store.
From Phoebe Maltz Bovy:
“There have always been other good reasons, too, to fight for women who worked outside the home to be paid for their time—even fabulously wealthy, “well-taken-care-of” women. For married women, spousal support can be precarious: Husbands can leave, die, or lose their jobs. Same goes for parental support. And many women, married and otherwise, find liberation and purpose in being able to support themselves—just like many men do.”
Of course, it can often be hard to fight on behalf of these women when we are bombarded with images of obnoxious, rich women working these unpaid internships on shows like Gallery Girls (I miss you Chantal Chadwick). But just because they may have landed these internships, whether through merit or connections, does not guarantee these women career success. “We will only be able to successfully challenge the norm of unpaid internships if we move away from blaming the interns themselves. Female interns in particular are often taken to task for lacking marketable skills, perhaps for having studied feminist theory in college when the more feminist approach would have been engineering. But even if humanities-major jobs have always paid less, it is entirely different for them to pay nothing at all,” wrote Maltz Bovy.
Wow, when you think about it this way Lauren Conrad is like the Gloria Steinem of unpaid internships.