Student interns gather to protest unpaid labour

With increasing rent and tuition, students cannot afford to work for free.

On March 29, students from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Concordia and other universities gathered to protest against unpaid internships at Parc Émilie-Gamelin. The Coalition de résistance pour l’unité étudiante syndicale (CRUES) planned a three-day strike along with the protests.

Attendees weren’t only students. Alice Lefevre, who graduated from UQAM, came to show solidarity as a former student intern.

“At UQAM, there were people from social sciences, education and political sciences that were striking,” Lefevre said. 

The jobs these students are being assigned is stressful, especially in emotionally difficult fields such as social work. Lefevre did 800 hours of internship in this field.. 

She chose not to pursue the field. Lefevre now works with the student union at UQAM. 

“Maybe if I’d had a pay and a salary… I felt during my studies that if I was being treated fairly as any other male workers, maybe I would be a social worker today,” Lefevre said.

There were feminist and pro-transgender chants as well. One of the chants referenced the comité des sages, a committee started by the CAQ to discuss gender issues which has been protested by advocates, showing the interconnected nature of these issues.

Gender plays a role in inequalities of internships. According to data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, women are more likely to be unpaid interns than men. 

“The audacity of these major corporations or government institutions to tell them: ‘Give us your labour, give us your time, your passion, for free.’ I find it very disrespectful,” said Angelica Antonakopoulos, academic coordinator for the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA).

Antonakopoulos was lucky enough to get a paid internship, but wanted to show solidarity with her fellow students. With rent and tuition rising, and the ending of lease transfers, students can’t afford to do unpaid labour.

“You can’t tell people to work for free anymore,” Antonakopoulos said.

She was one of two speakers who got the crowd energized. They spoke to the frustration of the students, saying that they’re sick of being exploited and used by the government. 

As such, students are asked to pay even more to work for free, according to Lefevre.

The demonstrators marched to the ministry of education building on Fullum Street, where they stood outside chanting and singing.

Alicia Aubin is in her third year of a degree to teach English as a second language at UQAM. She pointed out that teachers and nurses are commonly unpaid interns. This ties into the gendered aspect, as women are more likely to be in these fields

“Sometimes it lasts up to eight to ten weeks of us doing 100 per cent of the teacher’s workload,” Aubin said. “That’s really draining.”


The impossible position: Why mothers can never seem to fit a single mould

Scenario: Meredith Grey is on the streets picking up trash as part of her social work. A “PTA mom” AKA “super mom” passes by, but not without commenting on how happy it makes her feel to see Meredith – a working mom with three kids (or so I have been told. I stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy after five seasons) – volunteering for something. To this our protagonist replies, “You know, Suzie, when working moms don’t volunteer at school, it’s usually because we’re working in the daytime and parenting at night, so we generally don’t have time to participate.”

Let’s just unpack that a little, shall we? Firstly, I’m sorry I didn’t get the memo, but since when did it become the job description of anyone to make anyone else feel happy?

Secondly, oblige me, if you may, by imagining a spectrum. On the one end, let’s place these super PTA moms. On the other, those super successful career women, who are breaking the glass ceiling every day, as they make great strides on every level professionally. Somewhere in the middle, let’s put all the Merediths of the world, attracting the judgmental wrath of both these extremes.

These women are never considered good enough mothers for choosing to have a career and dreams. They are never considered professional enough, for how can they be if they have to leave at 5:30 p.m. to pick up their child? This doesn’t mean they are not fulfilling their responsibilities equally well in both these spheres. These women are doing the best they can, day in and day out, running from their meeting, to the school bus, to getting groceries and starting dinner, to getting their kid in bed on time, only so that they can do the dishes. They have careers, kids, family and social responsibilities. But here is the thing: how is their position any different from the “working fathers” out there? A terminology that ought to be brought into currency!

Men have careers, kids who presumably have bedtimes, and responsibilities, and yet they never have to hear statements like, “You never volunteer at school,” “It must be time to pick the baby,” “It must be hard for you to work more hours because you have kids,” or “I could never imagine leaving my kids to go back to work.”

It almost appears as though once you have kids, your identity is to mould itself around the institution of motherhood, and this should be enough. A good mother stays at home with kids; a bad mother tries to pursue her own goals. And God forbid, if you actually derive contentment from your work – that will be the cardinal sin!

My partner has never been told how brave he is, to have packed up his life and moved to a new country with a five month old baby in tow to pursue his dreams. Those comments have been given especially to me by other working women, as a sign of encouragement and support. However, within these statements too lies the underlying theme of such acts being extraordinary feats for a woman. They have not been normalized as a concept, despite the fact that I personally know many women who have chosen a similar path.

Not for one moment does this mean that I think that women who make up the ends of this spectrum are not judged. Working women are judged by men with half their qualifications; the PTA moms by other mothers who think they are simply better. By the virtue of this conclusion, one can argue that if everyone is being judged, why am I making a big deal about working mothers?

The deal is that such judgments are directly linked to the stereotypes that exist around motherhood and working mothers. It perpetuates this image of women finding unbound happiness within the confines of their home, and their offspring. That looking for anything beyond this is selfish. This perception is then disseminated by both working women and PTA mothers, leaving the working mothers forever standing on shaky grounds. This simply needs to change.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Venus in Fur has gender roles all tied up

The Centaur Theatre’s newest play is a spectacle of sadomasochism

Sex and power: the two are inextricably linked. Sex and relationships may always boil down to power games, though never quite so obviously as when there are gags, whips, and consensual sexual humiliation involved.

Venus in Fur, the Tony-nominated play by David Ives, currently at the Centaur Theatre until Nov. 9, uses the subtext of sadomasochism to reveal the politics of gender roles and fluidity of power in sex play.

The story, which is a self-aware and very meta adaptation of the 1870 novella Venus in Furs, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. And yes, as the character of Thomas in the play reveals, Sacher-Masoch gave his name to what we now know as masochism, a theme that prevails throughout his novel.

Thigh high boots, crops, binds, and gender politics are all part of Venus in Fur. Photo by David Hou.

In Sacher-Masoch’s original version, he tells the story of the relationship and power play between characters Severin and Wanda. He is infatuated with her, though more so with the idea of a dominant and unforgiving embodiment of Venus, and he offers himself as her slave. Thus ensue scenes of female-dominant sexual humiliation, which encounters a blip when Wanda meets a handsome and ruthless Greek man to whom she wants to submit. At this juncture, Severin loses his submissive kink and we see the power return to his hands.

The play opens with director Thomas auditioning an actress for a role in his upcoming adaptation of Venus in Furs. Vanda (not-so-coincidentally sharing almost the same name as the play’s titular character) is a rough-around-the-edges modern-day Venus who comes to audition for the role of Wanda. Thomas, the on-stage writer-director, reads the part of Severin for the audition.

As they go through the scenes as Wanda and Severin, their own power struggle develops, and the audience becomes increasingly aware of just how much each of them mirrors the characters they are portraying—much to Thomas’ objections.

Wanda/Vanda, played flawlessly by Carly Street, dashes seamlessly between the two Venus types: the regal and majestic Wanda, and the flighty, down-to-earth, rough-speaking Vanda.

Rick Miller injects stoicism into his portrayal of the submissive Severin, and of Thomas, who is reluctant to admit he shares the same desires.

Spoiler Alert: In the final, pivotal scene where Wanda and Severin fall out over her desire to submit to the Greek man, as their established power dynamic comes crashing down and becomes reversed, Ives interestingly has Thomas and Vanda switch roles, at her request. This makes it so that when Severin finally becomes the dominant party, his character is being played by a woman, while the submissive Wanda, played by Thomas, gets tied to a heating pole and begs for forgiveness.

It is here that not only the gender roles, but the character roles of Wanda/Vanda and Severin/Thomas become exceedingly blurred. As the director of the play Vanda is auditioning for, Thomas holds the power, though she surprises him at every turn in her portrayal. In suggesting edits and improvising his scripted dialogue, it is perhaps she who is really in control.

On the other hand, Wanda is dominant throughout her relationship on-stage with Severin, though by the fact that he is the one who requested the contractual arrangement of being her slave and effectively convincing her to agree, the audience wonders, as Vanda does, if perhaps he was always the one in control.

The emotional finale does not, as one might expect, culminate in Thomas and Vanda finally succumbing to their desires and having sex. Instead, she takes full Venus-form and makes him join her in a chorus of “Hail Aphrodite,” accompanied by sounds of thunder booming.

Venus in Fur is an intelligent and provocative investigation into sex and gender politics, infused with feminist wit and a lot of kink.

Tickets are available online through or in person at the Centaur.

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