WASHINGTON — Vicki Enscoe of Ontario, Calif., remembers clearly-- quite clearly-- when she abandoned her feminist principles.
"It was 1971, in November. I was on Azusa Avenue, going north under the overpass of Highway 10 at a red light," Enscoe said. "My bags were packed, I was pregnant, I had my boy in the car and I was on my way to group therapy to tell them I was getting a divorce and an abortion."
Waiting for the light to change, Enscoe remembered pounding on the steering wheel, feeling "at the end of my rope," when she decided, "I will give my life to God."
World of Grief
Enscoe had her baby and salvaged her marriage, discarding what she construed as feminist principles.
"I started out with women's lib in the first seven years of my marriage. It was a world of grief," she said. "It caused me to be self-centered and constantly dissatisfied unless I was one-up and on top."
For Enscoe, a disenfranchised feminist, and other traditional women who have always disagreed with the feminist movement, frustration has been building over the feeling that their voice is missing from the national debate on "women's issues."
Slowly, these traditional women have begun to organize. Last weekend, Enscoe and 2,000 others attended the second annual convention of the Concerned Women for America (CWA), a politically conservative, Christian organization that estimates its current donor base at 150,000.
In a press conference, CWA President Beverly LaHaye quoted a Time magazine article putting their membership at 500,000, "larger," LaHaye glowed, "than the National Organization for Women, the League of Women Voters and the National Women's Political Caucus combined."
But Barrie Lyons, a CWA vice president and LaHaye's sister, later explained to a reporter that the larger figure includes "those who have been donors or asked to be on our mailing lists or signed a petition" supporting a CWA stand. Lyons said the group estimates that 30% of that figure, or about 150,000, are "current donors" who are paying $15 or more a year to receive the group's newsletter. They do not have a dues-paying membership.
'An Outrage,' Says Smeal
Nonetheless, LaHaye told a press conference, "We have our fingers on something the majority of women in America support."
But NOW President Eleanor Smeal, citing the feminist stands of NOW and organizations such as the National Education Assn., the American Assn. of University Women, the League of Women Voters, the National Women's Political Caucus, the American Nurses Assn., the United Methodist Women and others, called LaHaye's claim to represent the majority of women "an outrage."
"How can this puny little group of bloated figures be compared to all the major women's organizations in this country? We all have rules for membership, we stand for elections, we pay dues, have public meetings and file reports. Our numbers are not make-believe." Smeal said that although NOW's membership figures are under review, she estimated the current membership at 150,000.
LaHaye said CWA's 1985 budget is $2 million. No information was available on CWA's finances in the New York office of charities registration, and the Sacramento Registry of Charitable Trusts of the state attorney general's office said the group is delinquent in filing its 1984 financial report. But in its 1983 report to the California attorney general, the group said it received $200,000 in total direct public support. CWA's 1983 tax return claimed a net loss of $127,000.
Apples and Oranges
By comparison, a financial statement filed with the New York office of charities registration showed that in 1984, NOW took in $3.3 million in membership dues and another $1.9 million in donations.
"Comparing the two of us," Smeal said, "is like comparing apples and oranges. They're a publication, is what they are."
Whatever CWA is, it has an ambitious political agenda:
--The group's legal staff, composed of five full-time attorneys, is litigating 13 cases, including three in the Supreme Court. The cases cover a range of issues, from a child-custody suit on the part of a California woman who was married to a homosexual, to the right to picket abortion clinics, to the right to use a state's handicapped education program to become a minister.
--CWA moved its headquarters this year from San Diego to Washington to step up its national visibility and access to lawmakers. According to LaHaye, the Washington office has a full-time staff of 25 employees.
Future moves CWA is contemplating:
--Forming its own political action committee, or PAC, to donate money to candidates who support its positions against legalized abortion, for school prayer, against comparable worth, against the Civil Rights Act and for the Strategic Defense Initiative.