the "duck and cover" gambit, circa 1969

For fun and scholarly research today, I'm reading the March/April 1969 issue of motive magazine -- a special issue dedicated to what was then called the women's liberation movement. As you might expect, it's all a bit dated in the best possible way -- and they've got some great pieces in there: on sexism in psychology, an analysis of women's magazines and consumer culture, and an article by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon on lesbians and anti-gay discrimination. Also lovely woodcut illustrations and some passionate poetry to boot.

The final piece in the issue is an editorial by motive editor B.J. Stiles. It's a fairly defensive piece for what to my twenty-first century eye is a fairly middle-of-the-road collection of feminist texts, including one on deconstructing masculinity written from the perspective of a man. B.J. opens the piece joking at length about how this particular issue came about because motive hired a young woman onto the staff, "fresh from college--attractive, articulate, hip, our femme fatale in residence. She stimulated male fantasies, fulfilled ordered (magazine subscription ones, that is), participated in editorial conferences...and worked cheap. (In earlier times, we might have even said that she became 'one of the boys'.)"

Given that Stiles himself later came out as gay, I imagine some of this locker room humor is defensive -- not only against what he argues is the "anti-male" thrust of the issue, but also protective covering in relation to the discussion around homosexuality that appears in its pages. So I'm not (yet) ready to argue this hostility towards feminism turned out to be a pattern for Stiles.

However, what struck me was the opening lines of the piece, which read as follows:
In full knowledge that the admission of the following qualifies me for the VWLM's "Male Chauvinist-of-the-month Award" and will undoubtedly result in one more elaborate hex from guest editor Joanne Cooke [the femme fatale of above], a few musings on women's (and men's) liberation.
 Here we have, circa 1969, a beautiful specimen of what John Scalzi recently called the "I fully expect abuse" gambit, which I think of as the "duck and cover" gambit. This is when a person from a socially privileged group (in this instance, a man) offers up thoughts on a subject which they feel defensive about, generally because people from a socially disadvantaged group (in this instance, women) have raised questions about the status which make the writer/speaker uncomfortable.  Because the writer/speaker is about to say something from their position of privilege which they suspect will confirm the suspicions of their detractors or otherwise be unpopular, they preface their statement with something to the effect of, "I know you're going to [insert violent action] to me for saying this, but..." as if to imply their bravery at refusing to be silenced and voice some Important Truth anyway.

Oh the courage it takes to be .... in the majority.

With the weight of ... major social and legal institutions behind you.

As my friend Fannie wrote last year, this is an all too familiar reflex in the twenty-first century feminist blogosphere ... and apparently has a long and ignoble history going back at least half a century.

Well done, guys. Well done.


  1. Wow, gross.

    So men back then still expected to have their fee-fees coddled and centered in conversations about gender, too, then?

    1. What's striking to me is how little the dynamic has changed. That, like, they'd won the battle to get this issue on women's liberation published -- and yeah, sure, there was a lot of movement jargon going on there, but there was hardly a full-out "don't sleep with the enemy" vibe. On the contrary, we had a male contributor with a thoughtful piece on the toxic expectations of hetero masculinity which ended with a recommendation that we encourage men to experience a full range of human emotions, and maybe take on their share of domestic responsibilities (with a restructuring of the workplace to acknowledge that necessity).

      And yet what we get is "damn it, I probably shouldn't joke about how the typist isn't putting out because she got all radicalized...".

      What's also interesting is that Stiles was asked to resign shortly after the advent of this issue (over the publication of this issue and other differences between the editorial staff and the Methodist church). Knowing that, and knowing Stiles was to some extent a closeted gay man when he penned this editorial, I have to wonder how much it was being written as a piece he thought might cover their asses.

      Not that it excuses what he wrote -- but it does outline some of the political reasons behind the "duck and cover" gambit as it plays out over time ... a way for the user to align himself (or herself) with the Powers That Be.

    2. Wow, interesting history behind Stiles' resignation. I like your idea that the "duck and cover" gambit might be a way to align the user with the Powers that Be.

      Along those lines, I also notice that anti-feminists and non-feminists (are those two the same? maybe) often complete let gender traditionalists off the hook for, say, promoting harmful gender essentialism, especially regarding how all men are supposedly rapists and/or violent wildebeests.

      Instead, they misattribute a quote that "all men are rapists" to feminists like Catherine MacKinnon and act like it's feminists, and all feminists, who are responsible for that stereotype.

      I attribute the disproportionate focus on and blaming of feminism to a similar desire to remain aligned with the Powers That Be. Because, well, it's not feminists who are in charge and vastly powerful (and certainly not the few radical feminists who actually do think most men are sexual predators)- it's, for the most part, people who think about gender in only a very superficial "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" sort of way who hold power in various social arenas - most notably religious institutions and the political system.