WASHINGTON — Alan Alda, Phil Donahue, Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose) and five others sheepishly lined up on stage in their identical tuxedos with red carnations, having received the first "Good Guy Awards" from the National Women's Political Caucus.
"I'm very flattered," Donahue said. "I'm going to brag to my grandchildren about it."
The bipartisan (but heavily Democratic) caucus, the only national organization dedicated exclusively to putting more women in public office, picked a varied dozen to receive its first "Good Guy Awards," recognizing the contribution of men to the women's movement for equal rights.
In addition to Alda, Donahue and Edwards, recipients were Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, Sen. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.), San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, pollster Pat Caddell, Good Housekeeping editor John Mack Carter, philanthropist Stewart Mott, political consultant Bob Squier, and Ralph Neas, director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Bradley, Trudeau, Cisneros and Mott did not attend the $150-plate awards dinner and $50 reception at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel on Wednesday night.
Having campaigned for many years for the equal rights amendment, Alda said he is often asked why a man would be interested in women's issues.
"It always seemed self-evident to me," he said. "I'm descended from a long line of women. My mother was a woman, her mother was a woman." More seriously, he added, "It's a simple interest in justice."
Alda said he felt invigorated by sharing the company of the 200 people, mostly women, who attended the dinner.
"If feminism is dead," Alda said, "someone did a hell of an embalming job."
Edwards, who described the caucus as "The Father of the ERA," seemed a little more concerned about the headway being made by conservatives attempting to thwart the feminist movement.
Edwards is currently one of the leaders in the House fight to pass the Civil Rights Restoration Act, which would overturn the Supreme Court's Grove City decision. In that case, the high court ruled that acceptance by a private college of students who get federal tuition grants does not subject the entire institution to Title IX, the civil rights act barring sex discrimination by schools. Title IX is largely identified with opening athletic opportunities for women but also applies to other male-dominated departments.
Edwards also expressed concern over future abortion and ERA action.
"By trying to reverse Roe vs. Wade," Edwards said, referring to the Justice Department's active opposition to the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, "the 'Injustice Department' would reinstate in 33 states criminal laws prohibiting abortions--often with jail sentences up to 10 years.
"Apparently (Atty. Gen.) Ed Meese wants your daughter out of the gym and into the jail."
Edwards said that ERA would not pass "until people realize it doesn't have anything to do with abortion. We can beat the draft," he said, referring to claims that the ERA would mandate drafting of women, "but we can't beat massive abortion amendments attached to the bill."
With anti-abortion sentiments seemingly on the rise, Edwards was asked if the climate will ever become right for passage of the ERA.
"Of course it can," he said. "What goes up must come down."
Packwood, who said he doesn't mind that he is often picketed by anti-abortion forces, said those forces "will chip away at abortion laws, knocking out funds for abortions in prisons," and abortion-related agencies.
"We've lost a lot of these battles," Packwood said. "But what that group really wants is that Constitution amendment (banning abortion), and that they cannot get."
Packwood has sponsored the ERA in the Senate, is an advocate of the Economic Equity Act and has led several pro-choice battles from his position as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Donahue said that he, too, is picketed by conservatives who don't like the feminist stands he has taken on his program.
"I hear them. . . . 'Shame on you, Don-a-hue.' It's no fun."
Donahue said he does not perceive a serious threat from the conservatives.
"I can't get panicky about the possibility of rolling back the rights that have been placed into law. I'm just not worried."