SHE SAT IN THE CORNER of the elevator, not saying a word. She was young, probably about 20, and pretty and black, although the last two characteristics and maybe the other as well are not germane. It's hard to tell anymore. She was dressed in a sweater and slacks, and sometimes her elevator in the Capitol of the United States was so jammed with women intent on lobbying either for or against the ERA that she had to lean into the wall. She said she had no position on ERA. All she would say was "Down, please."

She laughed when asked where she stood on the issue. A colleague asked her, and she giggled and said she had no position. She smiled a pretty smile, then closed the door and took her elevator down. When the door opened, the din of the crowd greeted you. It was late in the day, but still the Capitol was full of wandering groups of women there to lobby on ERA.

The pro-ERA women were dressed in white, some of them and the antis were dressed as they saw fit. They wandered the place in small groups, marauding bands looking for a stray senator to pounce upon and lobby. The biggies were there - Liz Carpenter and Betty Friedan for ERA and Phyllis Schlafly in opposition - and mostly they mingled with each other pleasantly while the Senate of the United States, 98 men and two widows, decided the matter.

The room was crowded with waiting women and reminded you, somehow, of some religious ceremony where the women await the men. Even after it was over, they didn't seem to matter - any of them. No one came out and told them what the vote was, and no senator came out and made his report. After a while, a woman who is an aide to Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) came out and announced the vote and the ones who were for ERA cheered and the ones who were against it looked sad.

You go from one to the other from the pros to the antis, filling a notebook with their reasons. From the antis, you never get anything that makes sense. It is always some leglistic explanation of their position, something involving the Constitution or precedence. But it is always women who cite the Constitution and precedence as if defense of the Constitution suddenly has become a sexlinked trait. Something is not being said here.