''The woman's movement . . . has come to a dead end. . . . Our failure was our blind spot about the family.'' Yes, believe it or not, those really are the words of Betty Friedan, author of ''The Feminine Mystique,'' founder and first president of the National Organization for Women. They sound less dramatic when read in context, though: ''Yet, in the abstract, in nonpolitical terms, the women's movement as we know it has come to a dead end''; and ''The women's movement did not fail in the battle for equality. Our failure was the blind spot about the family.''
But make no mistake: Ms. Friedan does, unequivocally, call the family ''the nutrient of our humanness,'' does say ''virtually all women today share a basic core of commitment to the family,'' and does call ''the new human wholeness . . . the promise of feminism.''
It's time, she says, for the movement to enter the second stage, when among their other goals women - helped by men - work to ''restructure institutions'' and ''to transform the nature of power itself.''
After all, some men who have been at it far longer than we have are deciding that climbing another rung up the ladder is not worth constant work, intense pressure, and no play. So why, to mix the metaphor, should women fight so hard to join the rat race? It may prove a hollow victory at best. At worst, it can turn one into a rat. (One woman executive considered herself too busy to drop off a bottle of milk for a sick friend.)
So why not battle to abolish the rat race and strive to make work a thing to be enjoyed - in and out of the home, by men and by women?
J. B. Priestley said it back in 1976, when he told a Monitor interviewer that to make life more civilized the imbalance between ''the masculine'' and ''the feminine'' principles must be corrected. He was not speaking of men and women, of course, but of qualities that can be expressed by either sex.
''The purely rational, the force of logic, the despotic intellect,'' belong to the masculine and ''whatever is instinctive or intuitive'' to the feminine principle, he maintained, lamenting that if you ''make a woman a managing director, she will try to be a man in the job. She won't do it her own way.''
That is the quarrel some of us had with the women's movement when it took off nearly 20 years ago, working not in woman's ''own way,'' but in a spirit suggesting the worst kind of male macho and in a direction Ms. Friedan hadn't bargained for.
''For us . . . ,'' she writes, speaking for the ''founding mothers of NOW'' (National Organization for Women), ''equality and the personhood of women never meant destruction of the family, repudiation of marriage and motherhood, or implacable sexual war with men.''
Certainly we outsiders were conscious of injustice but were unwilling to sacrifice, or see our sisters sacrifice, any of our cherished ''feminine'' principles. We agonized over unhappy women striving to be Super-rat, Super-Mom, and Super-wife all at once, over the shrill demonstrations, ''abortion for convenience,'' bewildered families.
All the same, we had no answer - along the lines of ''feminine principle'' - for the widow with two children who was earning less than her unmarried male counterpart. We have to thank the women's movement for turning the spotlight on that kind of injustice, and try to forgive those who, along with their bras, burned up some of the goodwill we had been patiently earning from our male colleagues over the years. We might even forget those who, at an early meeting I attended, devoted all their time to whining because women didn't have the window seats in their offices.
In fact, I was so prejudiced against the excesses of the women's movement, so convinced that too many were paying too high a price for a mock equality, that I found when I began reading I was bending over backward in Ms. Friedan's favor, only making notes on her book when she and I were in sympathy. After rereading it, however, I find I am still saying ''yes'' to much of what she has to say about the second stage, though still finding plenty of occasions for a vigorous ''no.''
I wish I could say the book is well written. It isn't - it needed a tough editor to give it shape and style. But it does give a thorough account of the effect the women's movement has had on society and doesn't try to gloss over the mistakes. It is amply illustrated with ''case histories.'' By far the most interesting, in my opinion, is based on Ms. Friedan's visit to West Point. A whole chapter is filled with the reactions of both women and men. At the end of her visit an Army officer there lent her a book written by a male West Point graduate and former Ranger-paratrooper.
The ''dog-eared tome,'' as she describes it, contains a passage which suggests one contribution ''the feminine principle'' can make to the Army: ''. . . I have begun to discover that the toughness that I developed as a protective shell in order to survive in society's hostile environment is not really my strength as I thought it to be. Rather, it is my tenderness that leads me to strength - toughness is not strength; tenderness is not weakness.''