They may not have done too well on Cabinet members, the feminist politicos, but they didn't look like a roomful of losers by any means. And, in fact, if you measure by numbers, they didn't do all that badly in the recent congressional elections.
Of course, that depends on who's counting.
One speaker at the National Women's Political Caucus' sold-out luncheon yesterday honoring women members of Congress cheerfully pointed to the "record number" of congresswomen in the 97th Congress -- two in the Senate and 19 in the House, with the Senate complement being raised "by a whole percentage point."
But New York Democratic second-termer Geraldine Ferraro, just elected secretary of the House Democratic Caucus, suggested the percentage was misleading, at least in the Senate. Ferraro, in fact, seemed quite prepared to read Sen. Paula Hawkins does not feel that there are any women's issues and so I doubt seriously that she would be in the forefront of any of the concerns that we have already focused in on."
The 300 women (and a smattering of men) present at the luncheon in a House Rayburn Building banquet room were mostly board members and state caucus representatives of the nearly 10-year-old political group. They were in town this weekend to take stock -- licking wounds in some places, and permitting themselves some light back-patting in others, Congress, for one.
The NWPC is determinedly multi-partisan, and its success in this sphere is nowhere more dramatically underscored than in the person of freshman representative Lynn Martin, a Republican from downstate Illinois who describes herself politically -- not ethnically -- as "an Irish pol . . . who believes in joy and peace and . . . getting even."
Martin could be called the strict constructionist of feminism. So much so that many members of the audience were visibly shaken by some of her essentially conservative views.
On the one hand, she is opposed to a constitutional amendment banning abortion, and supports federal funding for abortions when they involve "death of mother, rape or incest." She supported ERA "five times" as a member of the Illinois legislature and won the opposition of the Moral Majority in her campaign for Congress.
"(Big deal," the Chicago-born Republican sniffs of the MM. "We fought in the alley when I was 8 years old worse that that.")
But on the other hand, Lynn Martin is a staunch fiscal conservative and her speech to the caucus was a curious admixture of feminism and a call for retreat from the kinds of socioeconomic issues that are often identified with women's political groups, such as day-care, health care, welfare, job training. . . .
Martin, who speaks with humor and passion, left some members of her audience wincing, garnered a smattering of applause and a lot of sympathy when she bemoaned the fact that she "still has to show the contents of my purse" when she goes into the Longworth Building, to her office.
She says she never wears jewelry ("these are borrowed," she said of a double rope of "false pearls around her neck), but she has to wear the lapel pin that designates her as a member of Congress because "without it they won't let me in the building or let me park at the airport. . ."
Somehow, some of the women who balked at her fiscal positions found they were breathing a little easier.
And later on, Ferraro said, with some understatement, that ". . . as she [Martin] noted, one of the positive aspects of the congresswomen's caucus is that we are all diverse and have different approaches to the problems."
But despite the silver lining provided by gains in congressional numbers, only a few of those present saw the Reagan administration with anything more than dread.
Claudine Schneider, freshman Republican from Rhode Island, urged that the president "be given a chance."
But former Republican co-chairman Mary Crisp, an Anderson campaign official, sees "a bleak picture."
And Ferraro, an ex-assistant district attorney in Queens County, N.Y., ended with this:
"We have a long row to hoe and it's all uphill. I wish I could bring you happier news. Some day I'll be able to end with a joke.