So it's significant that Rosie Boycott is now rethinking the feminism she did so much to promote. In an article for the Daily Mail Boycott renounces key aspects of feminist patriarchy theory.
Patriarchy theory assumes that autonomy is the key good in life, the good which confers our status as humans, and that men have organised society so that they get autonomy (the power of doing as we will) at the expense of women. If you believe this then logically the traditional male career role will appear to be the truly human one which everyone should aspire to. Furthermore, if society is organised to maximise autonomy for men, then it's logical to believe that men get to do what they want and have easy, privileged lives compared to beleaguered, oppressed women.
Rosie Boycott had such beliefs as a young woman:
When I first became a feminist, back in the 1960s, I thought the male ways of life were the gold standard, the way life was meant to be ...
Unlike women, who were tied to the kitchen sink by their apron strings, enmeshed in childcare from sun-up to sun-down without the time or scope to advance their own careers and intellectual pursuits, men were free of all these onerous responsibilities.
They were free to pursue intellectual goals, to work, to succeed, above all to be leaders of the world.
I believed, along with so many others, that women, deep down (or not so deep down), wanted to do all that as well.
We believed we were prevented from doing so only because men, and the sexist world they created, prevented us.
They kept us out of the club because otherwise their power base would be threatened, and if women didn't stay at home with the kids, ready with the supper, slippers and sherry, then their world would be a much poorer place.
In this view men haven't worked hard for the benefit of women; instead, they have organised in a deliberate way to exclude women from the good life. Little wonder then that second wave feminism damaged relations between the sexes.
Rosie Boycott then explains that she believed that sex differences were the result of conditioning and that being a woman (the non-human role) wasn't something that girls were born into, as a biological destiny, but something they were merely brought up to be:
Girls have started to outperform boys at GCSE and A-levels: they get more places in university and better degrees.
In the U.S. between 1969 and 2000, male undergraduates increased by 39 per cent, whereas female ones increased by 157 per cent.
The trend continues beyond education and into the workplace.
In their early 20s, recent reports show, women are actually out-earning men in many instances.
All this proved to me, and to other feminists, that biology in no way dictates your destiny.
In her book The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir says: "One is not born, but rather one becomes, a woman."
We were all born equal: it was only what happened in the nurturing process that decided the differences between men and women.
And we women were all destined to become desperate housewives - desperate to break out of the rigid roles society had accorded us.
But her expectations were confounded. Women who were "high flyers" in their 20s, elected to scale back their work commitments in their 30s. Was this simply due to discrimination at work? Rosie Boycott once thought so, but now thinks that discrimination cannot adequately explain what is happening - not when women are being actively encouraged in the workplace.
She has read a book by Canadian academic Susan Pinker, called The Sexual Paradox, which discusses some of the hardwired, biological differences between men and women. After briefly listing some of these differences Rosie Boycott writes:
What Pinker has done, in fact, is to have proved how and why girls are different from boys right from the womb, when they are pumped full of different hormones.
You can see these differences from very early on - and they cannot be "overridden".
Nature wins over nurture every time.
I've had many feminist friends who have relentlessly presented their tiny daughters with bright-red fire engines to play with, only to be aghast when they throw them aside in favour of a Barbie doll.
The converse is true for boys.
Above all, the hormones women receive in the womb mean that, by nature, they do not want to be manic, one-dimensional workhorses who invest all their energies in one thing: their job (or hobby).
Overall, they are less extreme than men.
The social critic Camille Paglia once wrote: "There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper."
Men are simply more variable - there are more really stupid ones and more very smart ones than women; more extremely lazy ones and more who are willing to halfkill themselves with overwork.
Women, by contrast, are steadier, less risk-taking.
As a consequence, they live longer.
In other words, because of their biological make-up, most women want to limit the amount of time they spend at work and to find "inherent meaning" there ...
Boycott then describes her former understanding of equality:
When I set out into the world as a working woman, I believed the quest for equality with men was a quest for the right to have the same life as a man: a full-time job (an obsessive one at that), a fulltime hobby, a partner who really did split the child-care neatly down the middle, plenty of time for "me" to do whatever I wanted.
Again, note here the contradiction generated by patriarchy theory: the belief that the male career role, as demanding as it is, is the desirable autonomous human one, combined with the belief that men, with their privilege of autonomy, get easy lives in which they are free to do what they want.
Rosie Boycott has redefined her understanding of what true sex equality means. She wants a concept of equality which allows womanhood to be valued, so she suggests that men and women be thought of as equal but different:
Our values, Pinker asserts, are based on the simple fact that the world of men (i.e. success and drive) is the correct model.
While society continues primarily to value skills that emphasise money as the only currency of success, the skills that women have will always be seen as second-rate - and women will be seen to be failing.
The tragedy is that it is women who end up paying the price for this misunderstanding.
Too many of us struggle on in jobs we do not like, simply because the fiscal rewards are seen as the marker of achievement.
I realise, of course, that there is a danger here of over-simplifying the debate: affording a home often requires two full-time incomes.
Yet, it is equally undeniable that all of the women whom Pinker spoke to who had decided to step off the career ladder - whether to devote more time to their children or to develop their own businesses - report far greater degrees of satisfaction.
What we need to do, she asserts, is to stop rating women according to men and accept that the sexes truly are different ...
To make men and women genuinely equal, we have to accept and honour difference, not mark everyone's scorecard according to the same set of standards.
So has Rosie Boycott become a traditionalist? Not really. She is still enmeshed in the modernist principle that what matters is getting what you want, creating your own self and being unimpeded in your choices. She does recognise, though, that today it is the impediment of ideology which is most likely to restrain a woman's free choice in life. So her conclusions, even if they are framed in modernist terms, still seem radically at odds with feminist orthodoxy:
I also believe that Pinker's book should mark a watershed.
Sexual equality is all very well.
But real equality comes from making your own choices, not just following the well-trodden path towards careerism, simply because it has been signposted by society as the only path to success.
Liberation must always be about being yourself, not simply a clone.
The battle of the sexes is over.
Let the fight for women to be women commence.