At women's political gatherings, such as the annual dinner of the Congresswomen's Caucus last night, there is apparently irresistible urge to show feminist sympathies with a "women's" story. So last night you had Commerce Secretary Philip Klutznick plugging his recent wedding anniversary: "I've been married to the same woman for the last 50 years." Then Defense Secretary Harold Brown offering, "Indeed the questions of peace are of no less importance to women than men." And a couple of times during the evening Treasury Secretary G. William Miller mentioned the Susan B. Anthony dollar.

Stepping into the spotlight at the predinner reception at the Capital Hilton, Energy Secretary Charles Duncan explained, 'When I was in the Pentagon with Harold Brown, he taught me the importance of good women." At this point 400 listeners began to twitter. But Duncan gamely went on, as the laughter got louder, listing the high-ranking women in his department. "He was really sincere, he has one of the best records in government," said one of his top aides later.

This was the spirit of the annual fund-raiser of the 17-member bipartisan caucus for its research and education institute: part lightheartedness, part back-slapping and part serious pledges to continue the fight. "We are the smallest caucus in members but the largest in constituency," said co-chairwoman Margaret Heckler (R-Mass.), calling the group's growth a "cornerstone" of political action. Added Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), "We have moved beyond the toddler stage and now we hope we are terrors." In the midst of this self-congratulatory spirit, Schroeder said, "Mary Rose Oakar [D-Ohio] says I've got to mention Social Security. She says we've got to get it on the Democratic platform this summer."

Ironically the predinner attention went to the men of the Carter Cabinet. Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, along with Brown, Duncan and Klutznick, formed a receiving line with Heckler and Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.). Muskie said his first weeks as a Cabinet member had been "busy. The attention is always nice. Sometimes it's negative." Of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's criticism of Muskie's speech earlier this week on Israel's continued policy of establishing settlements in the occupied West Bank, the secretary said, "His reaction wasn't surprising."

Just before dinner, the men receded into the background -- actually most of them left -- and the interest centered on actress Jean Stapleton. There in her capacity as the co-chairwoman of the dinner and an outspoken advocate for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, Stapleton was asked continually about the death of her television character, Edith. "Betcha you all thought I was dead," she laughed, but she refused to let the strolling musicians play the theme of "All in the Family," the comedy that made Edith and Archie Bunker into folk heroes. In speaking briefly to the group, Stapleton renewed her fight to bring "Better women's roles" to television. That activist role, she said, was a pleasant by-product of "the fame I look on with great distrust. I like Thomas Carlyle's definition of fame: 'Fame is an accident, sometimes accompanied by talent.'"