Why Interns Being the 'Housewives of the Working World' Isn't a Good Thing
They're overworked and undervalued
With women increasingly becoming the primary breadwinners —53 percent as of July—one could argue that housewives will eventually become extinct. Or at least replaced with someone else. Maybe they will take their role from the home into the office.
In a recent Dissent magazine article, Madeleine Schwartz suggested that unpaid interns are like homemakers —"compliant, silent and mostly female, the happy housewives of the working world."
"At work, they occupy desks recently occupied by laid-offs," she wrote. "They file papers, get coffee, and try to make themselves noticed, but not too much so. One of the intern's great skills is not to cause a fuss, not to raise any trouble."
Many unpaid interns are dissatisfied even if they don't show it. Last year, a former unpaid intern of fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar filed a lawsuit accusing its parent company, Hearst Corporation, of violating federal/state wage and hour laws by not paying her even though she often worked there full time.
But with internships crucial to landing a job, many students believe they have no choice but to work for free. Securing a job was among the top 10 reasons students do an apprenticeship, according to a 2007 Intern Bridge survey of 12,000 interns. Other reasons included building their resume, learning new skills and making connections.
"Internships are a savvy way to get a foot in the door, but because interns tend to be female, there is a double whammy in effect," said Shira Tarrant, associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at California State University Long Beach.
Marianne LaFrance, a professor of psychology and women's and gender studies at Yale, calls it an unfortunate situation.
Research shows that women are less likely to initiate discussions about pay than men, according to LaFrance. She cited several reasons: women often worry that asking for a raise will reflect poorly on them—and they are right. Men are less likely to receive a bad evaluation, she says.
She also says women value relationships with their associates more than men, which makes them hesitant to speak up. Plus, men and women approach negotiations differently, she says.
Tarrant agreed, adding that employers tend to undervalue female labor, plus women often believe their work is worth less.
"They're taught that it’s more important to be liked than to be compensated," Tarrant said. "This is too often the case whether they are interns or upper management. Internalized sexism is sneaky like that."
To be fair, women are not housewives as an "expression of love and duty," said Kelsey Meyer, senior vice president of professional branding firm Digital Talent Agents, "but rather as a valuable and fulfilling role in their family." She takes issue with the stereotype that a housewife is silent and compliant.
Regardless, Schwartz said today's labor force "relies" on the work of an intern, and that it is "contingent" upon it—much like a home is to the work of a housewife.
A housewife cooks, cleans, takes care of the kids and in some households, pays the bills. As Ann Romney tweeted during the presidential campaign, "I made a choice to stay at home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work."