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Commentary :: Class
26 Jan 2005

"I have a zillion things to say about my mother. She is at once degraded, exploited, abused, destroyed, tired, addicted, and self-defeating, while managing to be optimistic, caring, content, wise, and legendary. She has fought off all of my worst enemies: bosses, landlords, catholic priests, abusive partners, and general patriarchy, capitalism, and racism. She existed for her and I alone - that was it."
Friday, January 21 2005 @ 11:46 AM PST
This is a a very personal and political subject that I've intended to write about for a long time, and feel anxious and nervous, and at the same time excited and restless in doing so.


I have a zillion things to say about my mother. She is at once degraded, exploited, abused, destroyed, tired, addicted, and self-defeating, while managing to be optimistic, caring, content, wise, and legendary. She has fought off all of my worst enemies: bosses, landlords, catholic priests, abusive partners, and general patriarchy, capitalism, and racism. She existed for her and I alone - that was it. But she was also missing in my childhood. She was missing because she was in battle 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with these fiends of oppression. I did not know her, because she spent her waking hours making sure I had at least two meals a day, and shelter over my head. I hated her for most of my childhood, because she wasn't physically present - at all. She was either at work, finding new work, or dealing with the cultural expectations of patriarchal relationships. Men expected very simple things from her, and they gave very simple rewards. They wanted her labor, her rent, her bills, her sex, and her nurturing. She was forced to comply, and she didn't ask for any thanks, she did it to survive. I hated her, because I simply never saw her, and never realized why. She couldn't defend me from abusive babysitters, abusive peers, abusive church leaders/teachers, and in many cases abusive live-in boyfriends/lovers. She spent anywhere between 50 - 80 hours a week waiting tables and pouring shots, listening to sad stories and broken hearts for measly blue-collar tips. She was single and alone, and drunk men liked to take advantage of this. She drank and smoked away most of the money she made after the bills were paid for, so I didn't have much more than second hand clothes, and don't even ask me what toys, cable t.v. and paid week-long vacations were like. So I saw her once in a while. She MIGHT have picked me up from school here and there, but mostly the bus took me to the babysitter. I often lived with babysitters, and would see her a couple nights a week. This lasted most of my childhood with slight variations in time spent together, and how much a live-in boyfriend was willing to share the cost of living, so as to give my mom some breathing room. Besides the small wages and tiny tips, her unpaid work included raising and feeding me, preparing her make-up for a half hour, and washing it off for a little longer, hours of theraputic guidance counselor shrink work in musty smokey bars, the kind of therapy that would cost a yuppie thousands to talk to a Fruedian specialist. But my mom gave excellant, practical advice. The blue collar workers in the late night pubs loved her endless smile, her slim waistline, and her friendly ear. While i'm on the subject of unpaid work, let's breakdown what work is for a second, because I want to make it clear what kind of work women like my mom do every fucking day in order to please men, without the slightest bit of fucking appreciation.


When a man visits a massage parlor or a strip club, he expects to be entertained, and his exchange for the entertainment is monetary. This is acceptable by law, as long as either the workplace that sex work takes place in follows regulations, or if it doesn't, the enforcer of regulations is bought off to shut up about it. A sex worker usually makes a profit for the owner of the property in which (s)he is renting space from in order to provide the service. This production is exploited by the property owner, and is protected by property-loving capitalist system. In other words - sex work is criminal, unless a property owner is sanctioning it, and exploiting its labor. WHY? Because most of the exploiters are men, and the exploited are usually women and sometimes trans. In a profit-driven society where the industrial economy offers limited opportunities for women to enter the workforce, let alone in ones that have benefits, job security, and safe conditions, sex work is historically a common option for women, with the lack of compensation for childcaring and housekeeping, and lack of places for women on the conventional "shopfloor." Imagine if women CONTROLLED their own sex work!?!? There would be a massive disruption in the infrastructure of class society if women were able to control their own bodies - in the form of healthcare, reproductive rights, and the social value of sexuality and childrearing. Patriarchal capitalism has historically depended on a massive disenfranchisement of women from being in control of their own bodies, because their reproductive choice, their preparing of children for the workforce, and their sexuality are all POWERFUL forces in society. Capitalism faces severe repercussion and class distortions whenever it makes concession in its occupation of women's bodies.

This is very clear in the case of my mother. She spent all of her time working in order to reproduce another worker - me. She only gets paid a wage for a fraction of her actual labor and her production though. She is being dispossed and alientated from her production. The result and value of her labor is being privatized, and exploited for exchange purposes - its end result being actual power and profit for whoever owns the property she works on for her wages. Every man she met and flirted with while she had to raise me alone was another exchange of labor. She didn't love any of them at all. She lied to herself in order to ease the suffering of more alienation from her body. She fucked men, so they felt an ownership and management over what she was responsible for - her shelter, her payment, her child, her sex. Every hour she put on makeup for work, every conversation with a customer, every diet plan she took on, every drink to ease the pain, they were all a proces of application for more work - sex work. Unappreciated, devalued, and privatized sex work that is commodified by patriarchal conditions, that she is socialized to accept, expect, and continue working for. Her dependence on this patriarchy forced her into an endless string of labor exchanges that allowed for me to have clothing, shelter, food, and an "education." Live-in boyfriends were "business deals." Each minute of hair teasing and lipstick application was designed to attract more tips. The way she walked around the bar was tailored to the wandering eyes of a lonely construction worker - a man socialized to pursue more property - and when men can't seem to meet the expectations of property ownership in a society that rests every foundation on the celebration of the defense of property - men will find ways to take ownership or co-ownership of women's property.

My mother wasn't interested in the feminism of the 60s and 70s. Not wearing makeup, not shaving her legs and not wearing bras are nothing but bourgeois choices that offered her no liberation. Her feminism was her literal survival and the courage to come home with the ability to see me survive. A female bartender with saggy breasts, blotchy, worn skin, and fuzzy shins was a bartender with a pinkslip, and the mother with the cold starving child.


Much of the reason that I came to look back and understand how capitalism, feminism, blue collar existence, property realtionships, and patriarchal society functioned, was my recollection of my mother's resistance. There were times when her hard work, and relentless networking presented windows of oppurtunities for her to shed burdens and dependencies. When she saw this open window, she NEVER hesitated to jump through it, leaving the mess of glass in a distant memory. These rare instances of breakaway marches developed in scattered places of my memory, but are very revealing about how much she depended on pleasing patriarchy, and when she could kick patriarchy in the butt, she did it fiercely. Delving into these memories helps me to formulate my understanding and appreciation for what my mother went through in order to keep me from starving.

There were times when I saw my mother cry through drunken hazy stares, golden opportunities to peer into her struggle. She poured it out like a bottle of cheap boxed wine. I usually only saw this after something GOOD happened to us - like when she finally got a raise, or when some rich tourist dropped her a $100 tip, or when she won the limited version of the lottery. (You know when you get 4 outta 6 numbers right, and you win like $500 - this happened to my mom approximately 4 times in my childhood) I was always puzzled by her tears in the face of positive developments. Later it dawned on me, that these events allowed my mother breathing room, a bit of cathartic emotional release. There was a little less strain in her stride. Having an extra $100 was a world of options for a single mom in the mid eighties, believe me. We're talking a few extra days off from work, a couple of nice chicken dinners for the weekend, and maybe, just MAYBE, a trip to the shore for a day. These moments of "privilege and resource options" also shined through in its effect on the relationship she had currently depended on with whatever man wanted to fuck her or live with us. Holding a "Benjimin" in her pocket to her boyfriend was like having a shop steward in the face of a bosses' wrath. This precarious bit of economic independence offered mom a bit of bargaining power in her sexual labor exchange, and she utilized this power at every opportunity. Suddenly dude was sleeping on the couch, he would come home with roses, he would take her out on her first date in months, suddenly he turned into a romantic, caring, thoughtful sweetheart, instead of the usual dickhead around the house attitude. There were a few times where my mom was offered a friends couch for an extended stay, and maybe even a small loan from a family friend, in the face of physical assaults by the latest "boyfriend." You should have seen how quick he was out the door, and on his knees, begging forgiveness for every blow she took to the face.

This kind of property-driven relationship reveals the complex ways in which capitalism enforces abusive social interactions between fellow workers. The sexual politics of working class men and women are completely defined and socialized to fit in with the demands of the class system we are forced into. This weakens our common power against bosses and landlords, and creates hostile environments for workers to reside in and coexist. There are gender variations on the theme of course, including queer relationships, unorthodox/poly family structures, but in the end, many of the relationships that workers enter into are intertwined into property relationships, sexual exploitation, and further alienation from our labor beyond what is classically considered the "workplace." Within these experiences, single, blue-collar mothers, especially mothers of color face a virtual labyrinth of labor exchanges and patriarchal subordinations in order to survive. These women work ENDLESSLY beyond the limited opportunities offered to them by the employing class, to please men sexually, to give up their choices concerning their body and their reproduction of new workers, and how social roles are expected of them in the household, including the endless unpaid, unvalued social labor that goes into the upkeep of the dwelling, and the raising of children.

Why are working class men interested in continuing to exploit women this way? This is a complex question with even more confusing ideas for answers, and geez, what it would take to map out a blueprint to organize male workers to discontinue this practice is a frightening task. I don't think my ideas for answers to this question or my ideas on how to fix them are going to be popular amongst the classic or new left, but I will do my best offer my opinion, based on my very real and raw exposure to these kinds of relationships first hand, and the effect it has on my own childhood socialization and preparation for the workforce and class society.


I believe that the class system is based on power structures that are rooted in the continual and state-sanctioned drive for profit and exploitation of working people. From the day we are born to the day we die, workers are taught endlessly in capitalist schools, media, and cultural traditions, what they are expected to live up to as workers. AS far as gender is concerned, even within the liberal interpretations of capitalist versions of feminist tendencies, women are expected to serve certain functions, and men are expected to pursue certain interests. Regardless of whether or not either men or women attain these expectations and goals, our purpose is to continue selling our labor in some form of marketplace in exchange for resources that supposedly enable to further our struggle to reach our goal. I believe this goal is a spectacle of freedom, power and independence for men, and (for conservatives) the women's goal is to support these men in their drive toward their goal, (for liberals) the women's goal is to vie for a piece of this freedom, power, and independence. These goals revolve around the core of what we hold to be the most important pillar of capitalist society - property. If you have it, you are socialized to exploit the power that comes with its ownership, and if you don't you are socialized to get it. When I say property, I don't just mean money, a house, land, or a dvd player, I mean these things, as well as people's labor, their bodies, their individual and collective identities, their communities, their resources, their abilities to bargain for pieces of other's properties, etc.

Within this struggle, working class men face many obstacles to reaching what our bosses have. If we don't attain these properties, we are shamed, considered failures, and are not rewarded with social status. This struggle that men go through is very real, and is at the core of what drives our sexual choices, our disregard for other's safety, our abusive relationships with our partners, and our unbridled attraction to objectifying EVERYTHING as potential property, including women. If we don't attain these properties, everything that we have been preparing for since childhood, since we are able to conceptualize our roles as future working men, was for nothing at all. This results in a massive culture/spectacle of psychological alienation from our emotions, communication with each other, our relationships with our partners, our fear and desires aren't fulfilled. In our minimal states of reaction we blame other workers for our failures, like immigrants stealing our jobs, other racial/ethic/national groups of workers for selling their labor for cheaper wages, when heterosexual men can't meet the sexual expectations that we are fed, we scapegoat queers, the breakdown of traditional family relations, etc. We literally become failures to ourselves, we can't break out of it, and we are willing to rape, kill, and steal in our most desperate of times in order to fulfill what is expectated of us. If we can't have the women we are supposed to have - we force ourselves on them, if we can't seem to deal with other workers in a constructive manner, and come to terms with our differences or conflicts - we destroy them, if someone has what we don't - we take it.


Because from the womb to the coffin we are told that we are supposed to. Meanwhile, we are destroying ourselves, our lovers, our families, our friends, and our class. We are weak and powerless, and when we can't get what we are expected to, even after busting our asses for many years, we become so destroyed inside, that the most vile and dark reactions we hide from ourselves come out in rageful and vengeful manners. In between the well-intentioned hardworking thoughtful existence we lead, and the brutal cathartic, and desperate experiences we fall ill to, we are faced with a myriad of social compromises that we navigate with one another in order to reach our goal - property. We attempt to manage our lover's lives, control their labor, and guarantee a relationship that forces our other halves to rely on our labor as well, so that we can attain a piece of their property in return. Be it their homes, their paychecks, their children, their sex, these are all properties that we didn't have before, material and psychological spaces to bargain with to ensure safety and protection for whatever property and power we currently own. I understand that this paints a bleak picture of the working class concept of people loving and sharing their time with one another, but I must say that even when we feel a share and communicate in mutually reaffirming and supportive ways with our partners, there still exists a social phenomenon that springs from our drive to gain more property. We sell our labor all of the time, bosses profit from it, attain massive swathes of owned goods and resources, they flaunt it, taunt us, and demand that we continue to sell our labor so that one day we can reach the same status they live so comfortably in. Whether or not we come to terms with class consciousness, and deal with the inevitable reality that we cannot have the power that the ruling class holds within the capitalist structure, we are consistently hell-bent on negotiating terms with one another all of the time, in order to grab the tiniest morsels of propertied status. Even if we have nothing left, and we are not willing to terrorize other workers and steal property, we terrorize ourselves with mental illness, loss of self-worth, and in some cases suicide.

This is the force that drives the actions my mother's boyfriends took. They are the nasty competitive realtiies that they faced, and the reasons they worked endlessly to consolidate what little property my mother could lay claim to. Often, she was forced to concede some of this property, and when she had a chance to withold this labor and ownership, she went on a personal general strike.


I know I'm not a working mother, and I don't intend on becoming one anytime soon. I also don't have the answer for how to strategize FOR women to organize to fight these kinds of exploitative relationships, but I can offer myself and other working class men the chance to understand the intricate ways patriarchal capitalism affects our moms. I also feel that there are many meaningful ways that we can offer support and real solidarity for working mothers, ways that aren't patronizing or vanguardist. This kind of organizing comes with its rewards, as it helps to build constructive communication and mutually beneficial relationships between working mothers and their collective children.

Start with your mom. Think long and hard about what she has gone through to raise you. Try and understand what kind of labor she put in, what kind of obstacles she has faced to make sure you are where you are today. If she was negligent or abusive, attempt to look at the sources that led her to react in such ways, beacause I understand what it's like to grow up with an "abusive and negligent" mom, and spending years not understanding why, making me feel like it was her fault - that she was just plain evil. It took me a long time to piece together such a complex puzzle that is mysterious and filled with socialized smoke and mirrors, to conceptualize the kind of institutional framework that she struggled against with the best intentions. Take the time to mend lack of communication with her. Spend time with her, and offer your own labor to ease the time she spends doing YOUR dishes, laundry, and making your bed. She most likely did it for most of your childhood, an unpaid loan that she gave to you, with no expectations as to you returning the favor. Our working class mothers have put their time in, and they are often battered and beaten on the inside, even when they don't show it, or admit it. You can't assume mom is happy with the life she has led, simply because she claims to be or puts on a face of "content."

Finally, when moms work together to build organizations (formally or not) and when they show solidarity with one another, we need to do whatever it takes to offer our labor to support their autonomous defense for one another. They deserve the world for what they have gone through for fucking thousands upon thousands of years of breaking their backs for us, taking abuse for us, breastfeeding us, harvesting, cooking, cleaning, and hunting for us, nurturing us, spreading their legs for us (in many cases unwillingly or through social pressure) and through all of this abuse, they have found the compassion to forgive us for not valuing and supporting their labor and efforts.

We owe it to them. It is our responsibility, it is in our interest as men, as workers, and as humans. If we intend to build a powerful working class movement that is liberating and equal for all of its adherents, we must do our best to make a very safe and supportive space for our mothers. Dear Momma, this is your shopfloor shoutout!
See also:;=viewtopic&t;=136

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