Faith Whittlesey is right back where she started, as U.S. ambassador to Switzerland. And take it from her, she couldn't be happier -- at least about her geographical status.

About the status of women within the Reagan administration, Whittlesey is less talkative. That status is pointed up dramatically this week as the Reagan-Gorbachev summit talks get under way.

Whittlesey is one of only two senior women within the administration playing any role at all, and hers is a minor one compared with that of Rozanne Ridgway, assistant secretary of state for European affairs.

In fact, Whittlesey's job more or less ended when President Reagan arrived here Saturday night. Until then, it fell to her to provide logistical support and liaison with the Swiss government for the stream of Americans coming from Washington to prepare for the summit.

Whittlesey smiled and all but bit her tongue several times during an interview Saturday when the subject of women in the Reagan administration came up. Not that the Russians are any different. At a recent dinner to which Soviet summit planners were invited, Whittlesey's dinner partner was a Soviet official.

"I commented to him that there was an absence of Soviet women," she said, seated in the drawing room of a small borrowed villa on the outskirts of Geneva. "He said he was sorry but that was the fact."

Whittlesey returned to Switzerland last May after two years at the White House as director of the president's office of public liaison. As controversial inside the White House as she was outside, Whittlesey drew fire soon after she arrived in 1983 by saying she did not believe in the gender gap.

The 1984 election eventually proved her to be right, but without a support system among women's groups or key presidential aides, it was not a victory for her. She jumped at the chance to resume her old job as ambassador to Switzerland.

She said her two years and three months in Washington had been very difficult because sometimes she wouldn't see her then-11-year-old son for three days running. She finally started taking him to work with her in the morning so they could at least have breakfast together in her office.

"I know Linda Chavez Whittlesey's successor has the same problem with her young children. The last time I saw her in Washington, my heart just ached for her," Whittlesey said. "She said, 'I haven't seen my children in three days.' "

Whittlesey said, "At least my son is smiling again" now that they are living in Bern.

One of her first official acts after arriving in the Swiss capital last spring was to meet Soviet Ambassador Ivan Ippolitov outside the Swiss foreign ministry so that together they could request Geneva as the site of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit.

One of the main considerations in arrangements with the Swiss was where the meetings would be held. With terrorism proliferating throughout the world, the Swiss were especially concerned about the protection of the two leaders.

Americans, at least, who arrived at Geneva's airport over this weekend were struck by the presence of military tanks on the runway.

"Most Americans don't realize that Switzerland is one of the best defended nations in Europe. They think of the Swiss as neutral and of neutralism as pacifism," said Whittlesey, who points out that the Swiss can mobilize their army, composed of every male adult below the age of 50, within 48 hours. "There are no conscientious objectors and every man keeps his rifle at home with him," she said.

As the American ambassador, she has watched with particular concern the Soviet public relations offensive that preceded the summit.

"They're trying to convince Western Europe that its future stability lies with the Soviets rather than the continued friendship with the United States," said Whittlesey.

She won't get into what she thinks about the administration's failure to dispatch an advance team of Americans to Geneva to counter the Soviets. But that hasn't stopped her from accepting almost every speaking invitation she has received in the past month. Or insisting that her embassy officers become more active.

"It's a battle of ideas," she said.

The Swiss, she said, find it inconceivable that there could be an arms control agreement without some resolution of the human rights violations.

"Arms control and the Strategic Defense Initiative are on everybody's minds here," she said.

Friday night, to emphasize Reagan's position on human rights, she attended a benefit for the Russian Orthodox Church here with about 400 members of the Russian exiled community.

A fighter from way back during her days in the smoke-filled rooms of Pennsylvania politics, she is no less combative now, only more discreet. She said she has no plans beyond serving out her appointment here, but afterward she wants to stay in the foreign policy field, where she thinks there are too few women.

She thinks there will be more women involved in summits like this one only when they choose foreign policy and defense matters as areas of academic concentration.

"In my speeches, I always say to women, to the extent they concentrate on women's issues to the exclusion of some of these other issues, men will continue to make the decisions in these other fields," Whittlesey said.

She believes women will be "vulcanized" in a sense oif discussing those narrow subjects.

"Not that they're not important, but the life and death issues of our society are foreign policy and defense issues," she said.