Betty Friedan launched The Feminine Mystique on an unsuspecting world over a quarter of a century ago, and life, as it turns out, has never been the same since. To explain the soul-depleting misery and sense of purposelessness she claimed for modern, middle-class American house wives, Friedan concocted a theory of male conspiracy, a conspiracy that was keeping women in domestic bondage, slaves to reproduction and the material needs of men.
The book, of course, was only the opening salvo in what has become a decades-long war by feminist theorists against the order of things. What be gan as a rant against housework and car-pooling has by now become a social and political obsession with "women's issues," which seem to en compass, as the terms of this acrimonious debate have been articulated, everything from babysitting to the his tory of Western civilization. And how ever one might wish it otherwise, all women have been profoundly affected by these controversies.
Among other things, The Feminine Mystique and the flood of like-minded theorizing that came after it held out career success as the sine qua non of a meaningful life. It was from husbands and children that women most urgently needed to be liberated, or at least from the endless demands these creatures made on a woman's days.
To be sure, movement "moderates" claimed to be calling only for a more equitable...