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Guys Who Get It: The Men of the Women's Movement

03/11/2013 09:13 am 09:13:57 | Updated May 11, 2013

Here's a riddle:

A trucker is sitting in a bar next to a feminist. They've both had a lot to drink and they're arguing. The feminist says women have been oppressed for centuries -- the trucker says they haven't. The feminist says women deserve equal pay -- the trucker says they don't. The feminist says a woman should be president -- the trucker just laughs. They simply don't see eye to eye.

What's the one thing the trucker and the feminist have in common?

They're both men.

For all that's been written about the passionate and courageous women who have led the march to gender equality throughout history, often overlooked are the men who have marched (and continue to march) at our sides. That's understandable. Their commitment notwithstanding, the number of men willing to step forward and take a public stand on behalf of women's rights -- to speak out, to raise awareness -- is simply smaller than the coalition of women that has been forming and reforming for centuries.

But men's presence in the movement is vital. As my late friend, Bella Abzug, once noted, "We have done almost everything in pairs since Noah, except govern -- and the world has suffered for it." And, as we all know, in all movements, the only way to effect change is for everyone to be moving it forward.

It would seem to be a no-brainer for a man to be a feminist. At its core, it's about fairness, and a good man is usually that. But it's complicated by the fact that men have historically been the beneficiaries of the better deal in the gender divide. So it takes a thinking guy to get it -- to understand that, whatever perks there may be in having your very own "assistant to life" -- a "little lady," a second-in-command -- that life actually works better when it's shared.

It also takes a practical man to understand that the world cannot move forward using only half of its resources. Or as Gloria Steinem once remarked, "Cooperation beats submission."

And it takes self-confidence -- especially for young men today whose fathers were from that past era. If dear old dad had a woman-behind-the-man kind of marriage -- and a dutiful "office wife," too -- it's not so easy to find your own self-image, to fit in with the new definition of what a "real man" is.

It helps if you're a father of daughters. My dad was amazingly forward thinking when it came to "his girls." He told my sister and me, all our lives, that we could be anything we wanted to be. And we believed him. He didn't quite give our mom the same cheerleading. I didn't see that clearly until I grew up. Neither did he. Once we were grown and had left our childhood home, Dad told me, "I just didn't get what you were talking about until you kids moved out. I realized that my life hadn't changed at all. But your mother was out of a job -- raising you was her life's work." I still feel guilty thinking about that.

Some of my closest male friends -- like actor Alan Alda, TV writer Bill Perksy, columnist Bruce Kluger -- are all great guys who I love for their sense of humor and their loyalty. All three are also dads of daughters. I can't help but credit some of their sense of fair play to living with, cherishing and respecting the individuality of "their girls." What they learn about females every day at home has made them guys who talk the talk and walk the walk with passion and a sense of partnership.

And, of course, I married a man who is a strong feminist. I get a lot of credit for his creds, but he was onto it way before I met him. Phil's sense of fairness -- and his ability to identify with my dreams and know that they were as important as his own -- is what drew me to him.

And so I thought it would be fitting this Women's History Month to give a shout-out to the men of the women's movement -- and I'd love to hear if you think we missed anyone, as well. These are the guys, past and present, who not only lent their hearts and voices to the often overwhelming struggle for gender equality, but put their, er, cojones into it, as well.

Let's hear it for the boys.

Male Champions Of Women's Rights