David S. Broder asked the question, "Can a Feminist Be a Republican?" {op-ed, Aug. 26}. The answer is: "Yes, he/she can." A feminist believes in and works for political, economic and social equality of the sexes. I have found during my years as an elected official, both at the state and federal levels, that a Republican can be committed to both the concept and its practical application, for this is not at odds with the traditional role of the party. True, with party leaders now embracing a more conservative credo, it has been more difficult to advance the feminist cause, but I believe that this is a temporary condition. There are reasons for feminist Republicans to remain vocal and active in the party.

The past: As early as 1896 it was the Republican Party that called for "equal pay for equal work." In 1919, it was a Republican Congress that proposed the 19th Amendment giving women the vote. The Republican platform in 1920 stated: "We earnestly hope that the Republican legislatures in states which have not yet acted on the Suffrage Amendment will ratify the amendment . . . which is so important to the welfare of our country." And, in fact, the Republican-controlled state legislatures did that: of the 35 states that ratified, 29 were GOP-controlled. It was the Republican Party that, in 1940, placed the ERA in its platform -- four years before the Democrats. Thus the Republican Party has a history of active support for women's rights.

The present: The party is now experiencing the negative effects of its movement away from its progressive roots. In last year's elections, in only one of 23 Senate races analyzed by pundits did a Republican appeal more to women than to men. That was Sen. Bob Packwood in Oregon, who has a strong record of supporting women's rights issues. In North Carolina, Republican James Broyhill carried the men's vote but lost the women's and the race. In a tight race in North Dakota, women provided the edge for the Democrat. According to some evaluations, the "gender gap" cost the GOP up to seven Senate races. Losing women lost Republicans the Senate. Let me suggest that the reason is that a vocal segment of the Republican Party is ignoring not only the party's traditional views but also the public's contemporary views.

For example, a majority of American adults, including 65 percent of women, support the Equal Rights Amendment. Yet in 1980, after 40 years of support, conservatives in control of the platform had it dropped.

A majority of American adults, including 72 percent of women, support some degree of freedom of choice on abortion. The Supreme Court has ruled that choice is a woman's right. Yet the party's official position, as put forth by the administration and leading Republican candidates for president, is opposition to a woman's right to choose.

Many Republican lawmakers also appear unwilling to recognize the growth and permanence of the two-wage-earner family. Congress is considering legislation to permit workers to take unpaid leave for childbirth or to care for a sick child. This is hardly a radical idea; most European countries already have such provisions and in many cases provide paid leave under such circumstances. Women have always worked, and there is no indication that they will stop working. This legislation provides an opportunity for the party to be responsive to a situation that, while affecting both genders, realistically has more of an impact on women. Unfortunately, many Republicans have expressed opposition to this legislation.

The future: No, it's not easy right now to be both a feminist and a Republican, but that does not mean that we have to choose between our party and our feminist beliefs. It does mean that a lot of hard work needs to be done to bring the moderate element back to the forefront of the Republican Party. As one who tried unsuccessfully to round up enough state delegations to challenge the party's lack of an ERA plank at the '80 convention, and who has been lobbying to have the party at least neutral on "choice," I know how difficult the battle can be.

I do not suggest that all Republicans must have the same views on all the issues. Certainly any major party needs to be open to different views. But to be a true majority party, the Republican Party must be in step with the majority of Americans, and that includes American women. If our congressional and presidential candidates want a fair share of the "women's vote" in 1988, they had best deal fairly on women's rights now.

We must not let the naysayers, who do not represent the party's traditional view but who of late dominate the microphones, headlines and podiums, make us feel that we must leave the party in order to maintain our commitment to equality of the sexes. I urge my fellow feminist Republicans to hold to the truly traditional party positions not just in their private thoughts but in their public statements and actions. We personally may not have great leverage, but the voters do. There is no reason to be a silent majority.

The writer is a Republican representative from New York.