The "gender gap" is a myth, most American women oppose the Equal Rights Amendment, Ronald Reagan has appointed more women to the government than any other president and is bringing "solutions not slogans" to women by lowering inflation and putting more food on their tables.
That was the message that Dee Jepsen, the president's liaison to women's groups, brought here over the weekend to the Colorado Federation of Republican Women's Awards Banquet.
It is a message she is telling conservative women's groups such as the Mormon Women's Relief Fund in Salt Lake City, the Freedom Council in Washington, and the Women's Auxiliary of the American Legion.
A born-again Christian who, like Reagan, opposes ERA and abortion, Jepsen, wife of Sen. Roger W. Jepsen (R-Iowa), was brought into the administration last September to improve White House relations with women and to bridge a growing "gender gap" in which polls showed women opposing Reagan's positions on defense, economy and social spending issues.
However, Jepsen has not been carrying her message to moderate groups, such as the League of Women Voters. That has exacerbated tensions between the White House and women's groups at a time when the administration is trying to woo women voters with programs to eliminate sex discrimination in pensions and insurance.
"I think she's a sham," Mary Crisp said. Crisp quit as GOP national co-chairman when Reagan supporters removed the ERA from the platform at the 1980 Republican National Convention.
"Jepsen is not the woman to represent all the women of this country to the president," Crisp said. " . . . If they were sincere they would have chosen a woman that relates to mainstream women and mainstream men and mainstream Republicans."
"We have serious reservations about Dee Jepsen," Quincalee Brown, executive director of the American Association of University Women, said. "Her attitude about women is very unusual . . . . She does not come out of the women's movement. She hasn't dealt with women's equity issues."
"Dee Jepsen is something of a mystery to women leaders," Cathy Wilson, national chairman of the National Women's Political Caucus, said. "She's only interested in dealing with women and organizations in line with the president's philosophy."
Jepsen had declined to address the caucus' Iowa group until she received assurances that there would be no critical speeches against the president. The February snowstorm canceled the trip, however.
Last month a group of Republican women in Congress wrote to Reagan that "a disproportionate share of budget reductions are directed toward programs of greatest benefit to women and children." Jepsen was not sent a copy of the letter. The congresswomen are scheduled to meet with the president this week to discuss their objections to his policies.
Jepsen, who said many leaders of women's groups are "filled with bitterness" and are out of touch with American women, acknowledged her limited contact with non-conservative groups in her speech here.
Members of the National Organization for Women, she said Friday night, "are publicly on record as being opposed the this president, opposed to Republican candidates. They have a different philosophical and political agenda. . . . So if you hear criticism from that source you know why. One of their major legislative goals is securing legalization of lesbian rights, among other things the rights of prostitutes, too."
Saying that the administration has a good record on women, she told her audience: "Be armed with the facts and tell the story . . . . "
Jepsen has drawn praise from some conservatives. "She's handling that job just right," Phyllis Schlafly said. "There's no way to appease the radical feminist groups."
Dismissing the gender gap as "a code word for the gay gap," Schlafly said, "The gays are very politically active and they have decided to go with Democratic candidates regardless. . . . The general public sees ERA as a loser."
In a recent interview in her office in the Executive Office Building, Jepsen called the gender gap "overrated." She said that while many single adults oppose Reagan, married couples--men and women--support him.
"You see a lot of figures," Jepsen said. "The gap is a myth."
In her speech here, Jepsen depicted Reagan as under siege from "militant" feminists headquartered in Washington as he tries to do what is best for the majority of American women.
She cited 650 women appointed to high-level positions, including Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman Supreme Court justice, and three Cabinet-level appointments: Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Margaret M. Heckler and U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick.
Jepsen then cited Reagan tax initiatives that eliminated inheritance tax between spouses, allowed wives to make deposits in Individual Retirement Accounts and raised child care deductions.
"I believe that women need the legal and economic, political and social climate that provides them with the opportunity to make choices . . . ," she said.
"But the social climate that provides many choices to women is something that cannot be legislated . . . . "
Jepsen said that women's groups that focus primarily on ERA and abortion are "narrow." Women are far more concerned, she said in the interview, with "whatever affects society, particularly the economy, than they are with ERA or abortion." She pointed to Reagan's success in bringing down inflation as giving women more money to feed their families and said the White House is considering changing laws that discriminate against women on pension plans and insurance policies.
White House attention to inequities in pension and insurance for women is a recent concern, prompted by the gender gap and by action taken by Dole while she headed the president's office of public liaison. Dole, whose performance was more popular with women's groups, declined to be interviewed.
"It's been very difficult since Liddy Dole left," said Dorothy Riding, president of the League of Women Voters. "Pensions and insurance are issues very dear to the hearts of this organization but they are not the central issues for women in this country. The core issues are still jobs, equal rights, educational equity, and the White House goes right on opposing us on those things. Dee Jepsen doesn't even listen to us."