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Search for unpaid “sex intern” unfortunately not a parody of unpaid internships

By Steph Guthrie

A 42-year-old Los Angeles author is using Craigslist to find a 20-year-old female English major to have sex with him. The unpaid intern (of which he, of course, has pretty high expectations) is to write about her sexual liaisons with him for a book he plans to publish without compensating her.

This seems almost like a perfectly crafted parody of the deeply insulting unpaid internship economy. Unfortunately, the Craigslist ad is not high-concept performance art, but an actual search for uncompensated sexual labour in exchange for… what, exactly? The author, Chad Leslie Peters, does not even provide any indication that the “intern” will be credited for her work.

If you need to include an indignant assertion such as “I am a serious writer; this project is meant to be taken seriously” in your job ad, perhaps you should listen to that sinking feeling in your stomach that what you are asking for will be widely (and rightfully) perceived as unreasonable and ridiculous.

I have no qualms with sex work – it is a completely valid occupational choice. However, asking a woman (half one’s age, no less) to do the work for free, and then additional work writing about it is the definition of entitlement. Expecting women to clamour at the “opportunity” simply because their work will be published (though perhaps not even credited) in a real, gen-u-wine book on Amazon dot com is, frankly, pathetic.

The sad thing is that in some ways this posting is not far off what is typically requested of unpaid interns. They often work extremely long and thankless hours, suffering physical and mental exhaustion as they perform crucial tasks in their workplaces. If they labour in service of creative production, they are often uncredited in the output, adding insult to the injury of no financial compensation.

The search for a sex intern goes a step further and makes the intern’s body the centre of their labour, but physicality does come into play in some capacity across many unpaid internships. The cultural understanding of an intern is often an attractive young woman whose talents are irrelevant, and who largely exists to tantalize the office’s male leaders. This trope has reached a point where The Onion parodied it. Many headlines about the Craigslist story used cute phrasing such as “screwing the intern”, illustrating just how much the idea of a fuckable intern has infiltrated our social consciousness.

Have you ever been sexualized as an unpaid intern, or witnessed (perhaps even participated in) the sexualization of unpaid interns in your workplace? Is this trope familiar to you? Tell us in the comments.

Steph Guthrie is the moderator of the MediaTech Commons. She’s an internet animator and a full-time feminist. You can join her at the MediaTech Commons by signing up here. Already a member? Log in here.

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