Mooch Ethic and Resistance

I wanted to tease out some more information from Lierre Keith’s words on Resistance and Mooch Ethic.

I have seen a few too many protests and alternative communities surviving on the Mooch Ethic. I have sat on couches that housed rats, eaten off dishes that gave me gastroenteritis, and learned (second hand, thankfully) that an itchy butt at sundown means pinworms. […] I don’t know which is worse: the general ethos’s entitlement, or the stupidity; the smell of the outhouses, the unwashed bodies, or the marijuana. (DGR Lierre Keith – Part I: Resistance, 154)

She details some possible influences for Mooch Ethic in radical communities as well as the way radical movements and resources are leeched due to a refusal to do basic sustenance work.

I was alway irritated by the disrespect inherent in the messiness of MIT living groups and radical groups: what about the housing staff who have to clean up after these entitled young ‘revolutionaries’? Now I recognize the gendered entitlement. These movements prey on the caregiving women and working poor women.

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I would like to point out that when I refer to the exploitation of working poor women I am referring to a long history of upper class white people being able to hire the labor time poor white women and buy the bodies of black women. I am referring to a class struggle that has been very racialized and gendered for the purpose of exploitation.

Additionally, I find that although these projects [of anti-authoritarian mutual aid groups] take social reproduction as an object of struggle, they are prone to undervalue gendered and racialized work in a way that mirrors the same neoliberal social relations which mutual aid groups seek to escape. The conflicts that ensue from these contradictions can and often lead to women and people of color (and others) withdrawing energy or support in order to create stronger forms of v mutual aid. (Spataro, We work, We eat together)

Now these are high and mighty words but I would like to emphasize that we are literally talking about who cleans shit from a toilet, who moves the dead mouse from the trap, who washes moldy plates and mugs.

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And the expectation for female students that after cleaning and sweating and hauling for other male students, that we are expected to treat these unwashed, dirty, smelly boys as adults. I’ve seen male students vomit in public areas on floors they don’t live on. And I’ve heard these same boys complain that some women don’t take them seriously, berate me personally for refusing to accept them as leaders in dorm matters.

With examples of labor exploitation, we can’t claim that Mooch Ethics undermine entitlements to women’s labor and respect!

[H]ow to balance waged work and the reproduction of our families so that (learning from the experience of black women) we keep something of ourselves to give to our own, how to love and live our sexuality—these are all questions that female students now must answer individually, outside of a political framework and this is a source of weakness in their relations with men. Add that academic life, especially at the graduate level, creates a very competitive environment where those who have less time to devote to intellectual work are immediately marginalized, and eloquence and theoretical sophistication are often mistaken as a measure of political commitment. (reclamation journal, silvia)

When time is limited, students participating in this maschismo mooch culture will eschew domestic responsibilities and even basic cleanliness.

Women are then expected to take up the slack, to dedicate that same limited time resource to keep spaces livable. 

This is theft. Let’s all be very clear: this is a systematic undermining of women in academic circles. I am thinking of a lounge where a nice coffee pot was recently purchased. Everyone, students and staff, may use this coffee pot. One of the female professors is a coffee enthusiast and generously starts a nice pot each morning. But other people – students and professors – have refused to help clean the pot. She put up signage with instructions, assuming people simply didn’t know how. Still, people refused to clean and she had to empty out moldy grinds. She put up aggressive signage asking others to help, to make sure that the coffee machine didn’t break, that no one would get sick from mold.

I’ve watched students silently drink the coffee she made as she struggles to clean out the pot. They sit silently enjoying the warm drink while she washes and dries the filter. The Mooch Ethic is strong.

Expecting women to make the coffee, clean the coffee pot, serve the coffee is expecting women who are prized in their field to take on a role that has been coded as inferior and servile. Literally this published respected female professor is cleaning up after 18 year old students. Most importantly it states that the time of male colleagues is more valued, that men can shirk their work onto less valued people because of those people’s race and gender. 

The broader question is the persistence of sexism in today’s radical politics: that is, the fact that, as in the ‘60s, radical politics continue to reproduce the sexual division of labor, with its gender hierarchies and mechanisms of exclusion, rather than subverting it. […] Crucial issues like the need for childcare, male violence against women, women’s broader responsibility for reproductive work, what constitutes knowledge and the conditions of its production, are still not a significant part of radical discourse. This is the material basis of sexist attitudes. (reclamation journal, silvia)

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