The question disappeared in most of Europe and North America, of course, because of the great movement toward women's employment and career advancement even after marrying and bearing children. Feminist historians have long documented how the "story" of the female heroine used to end with marriage; indeed, this story was so set in stone as late as the 1950's and early 60's in this country that Sylvia Plath's heroine in The Bell Jar had to flirt with suicide in order to try to find a way out of it. Betty Friedan noted in The Feminine Mystique that women (meaning middle class white women; the narrative was always different for women of color and working class women) couldn't "think their way past" marriage and family in terms of imagining a future that had greater dimension. But the narrative shifted and it's safe to say that the female sense of identity in the West, for the first time ever, no longer hinges on the identity of her mate — which is a truly new story in terms of our larger history.
NAOMI WOLF, author, feminist, and social critic, is s an outspoken and influential voice for women's rights and empowerment. she is the author of The Beauty Myth, Fire with Fire, and Promiscuities.