ON MONDAY, a long and painful article by Deirdre Lyndon detailing her marital difficulties appeared in the Daily Mail. By Tuesday, this sad tale had been reprinted in the Guardian. Plenty of people go through hell with their spouses, without getting any newspaper coverage at all - but the Lyndons are different. Their spat is seen to be a microcosm of the sex war. Deirdre's husband Neil has just written a book called, disingenuously, No More Sex War (Sinclair Stevenson), and subtitled, more appositely, 'The failures of feminism'. And according to Deirdre: 'this is the book that killed my marriage and broke up my family.'

Mr Lyndon says his wife took her private life to the papers 'because she was offered money, I suppose'. He feels hurt, as well he might: she hoped their son would not be 'as jaundiced and bitter about women as his father,' whose infidelity and stinginess she documents in detail. She says she did it 'chiefly because I was asked. But I felt it needed saying.' The spectacle of this pair publicly washing their dirty linen is undignified and unhappy; but what is most peculiar is that they are doing it under the pretence that they are having a political debate.

Not entirely coincidentally, the journalist Yvonne Roberts has rushed out a book called Mad About Women (Virago), which seeks to rinse off much of the mud that Neil Lyndon throws at feminism. The pair are doing a joint publicity tour. And sure enough, publishers admit that books about sexual politics are big business. 'The more accessible books sell terribly well - 20,000 to 30,000-plus,' say Virago. 'It's a never-ending subject.'

So last year we had Robert Bly's Iron John, a prescription for dealing with feminism by pretending you are a character in a fairytale; next February we have David Thomas's offering to the genre, Not Guilty. Meanwhile, feminists are also feverishly producing books, replies to the replies, which are frequently incredibly long, and accuse men of fomenting a backlash, terrified by women's tiny taste of power. They demand the establishment of what they call the Third Wave (the suffragettes being the first, and the Sixties and Seventies feminists the second), to put these uppity men back in their place.

And so it goes on, backwards and forwards, attack and counter-attack. Not that women are all sweetness and light towards each other. Camille Paglia, for example, calls Kate Millett 'an imploding bag of poisonous self-pity' and Susan Faludi 'hopelessly deluded'. The men are more polite, but it is unlikely that the ones who like to go into the woods to find their masculine inner-being can find much to agree with in Neil Lyndon. Actually, few men dare venture any opinion on Lyndon at all. The Sex War can be very confusing.

Simone de Beauvoir

Dead proto-feminist, at least as famous for being Jean-Paul Sartre's longtime lover as for writing a 500-page learned study of women's state, The Second Sex (1949). So much for feminism. Born in Paris, she studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. She and Sartre agreed they could have 'contingent' affairs, while their love for each other remained 'essential'. But acting like a typical male, he twice offered to marry other people. She thought men were only really interested in sex: 'He can be content to spend no more time with his mistress than is required for the sexual act; but . . . she will not yield her body unless her lover will take hours of conversation and 'going out' into the bargain.' Always photographed in old age in a turban.

Germaine Greer

Australian leading light of the too-clever-by- half school of feminism. In The Female Eunuch (1971), she offered her vision of the sexually, socially, and psychically castrated female. Then the wild child of sexual politics, she posed semi- nude for Oz, and has never outgrown the desire to shock: she was photographed astride a motorcyle by Snowdon for her 50th birthday; she often appears to contradict herself. One consistent theme is that men hate women, but men don't hate her; she's sparky and charming. Once briefly married to a male centrefold who recently described her as 'a troublemaker', she used to be all for women discovering their sexuality; now she is more interested in the menopause and gardening. What does she really believe?

Betty Friedan

In 1963, a wife and mother of three, she underwent an epiphany and wrote The Feminine Mystique about what she called 'the cry of the suburban housewife: 'I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.' ' When this appeared, she was told to get psychiatric help and accused of being more of a threat to America than the Russians. Possibly driven by the discontent of her mother, who gave up her newspaper job to have children, or by being sacked when she asked for a second maternity leave five years after the first, she campaigned for legislative change and better childcare. She insists men are allies, has often said her children are among the basic satisfactions of her life, and likes 'making exotic soups.'

Andrea Dworkin

The American high priestess of the 'all men are rapists' school of feminism, and leading anti- pornography campaigner. She herself writes whole books about sex - describing it lyrically, as intense, passionate, consuming . . . and always disappointing. She sees sexual intercourse as an occupation of the female by the male, and says it always involves objectification: 'when men want sex they always want it, not a particular woman.' Also thinks 'the hatred of women is a source of sexual pleasure for men in its own right. Intercourse appears to be the expression of that contempt in pure form.'

She also has a rather annoying habit of spelling America as Amerika. The feminist with whom you would least like to cohabit.

Robert Bly

'Every modern male has, lying at the bottom of his psyche, a large, primitive being covered with hair down to his feet,' says Bly, 65. Irritatingly though, for some reason mysterious powerful forces in Western society have conspired to favour 'the sleek, the cerebral, the noninstinctive and the bald'. His response to this was to write Iron John (1990), a silly book of fairy stories interspersed with his own opaque 'poetry,' to explain how men could find their lost hair. An American who has never-married (probably always too busy wrestling and practising with his sword), Bly is described on the book jacket as a 'poet, storyteller and worldwide lecturer'. He is also now guilty of encouraging men to go into woods and bang drums and cry.

Naomi Wolf

Beautiful American Third Wave feminist who at the age of 27, fresh out of Yale and Oxford, published The Beauty Myth (1990). In this she claimed that the imperative to look pretty and thin in the late 20th century was a direct correlative of women's advances - a way of pushing them back where they came from. Most critics, however, concluded this was a bit far-fetched, and probably had something to do with Wolf's own adolescent anorexia: women have actually been conforming to stereotypes for the past 15 centuries. The book was massively hyped: her publishers described it as 'a cultural hand grenade for the Nineties'; but despite some useful points about eating disorders, it was less than the radical new departure which was promised.

Susan Faludi

American author of Backlash, The Undeclared War against Women (1991), a hefty tome triggered by her fury at a survey claiming educated women had difficulty finding husbands. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, she neatly exposed the flaws in the survey's methodology, then suggested that other things apparently said about women - that executives suffer burnout and infertility, that days at the office lead to sexual inertia - are a similar load of tosh. She claims what women want most is more money, what they want least is to stay at home. But she has been criticised for not addressing the mixed emotions of parenthood, and for assuming men are enemies, rather than mired in the same muddle as women. The next book promises to be about men.

Camille Paglia

A humanities professor, most famous for saying if civilisation had been left to women we would still be living in grass huts. Calls herself a feminist, although no one is sure whose side she's really on: probably only her own. Her huge book Sexual Personae (1990) is a flamboyant survey of the history of Western culture, often conveyed in the worst kind of academic-speak. The self-appointed scourge of political correctness, she is not keen on children, who, she thinks, upset hormones and make women go soppy. She was a lesbian but now calls herself bisexual 'because I couldn't find anyone to sleep with me. Women don't want sex. They want to get together and talk about their mothers and play volleyball and cuddle, cuddle, cuddle.'

Neil Lyndon

People used to talk about whingeing women; Neil Lyndon, author of the splenetic No More Sex War, out tomorrrow, is the original whingeing man. Discussion of the book has focused on his personal life, probably 'because I ask for it; I write about myself a lot. And my personal experiences are really appalling - my marriage, I've lost my home, and I'm bankrupt.' Though wearisomely confessional, he has a point about male family-rights. But having started out anti-militant-feminist, he has allowed his rabid prose to drag him into a wholly anti-women position. He was married first to Monica Foot, who left him to live in a commune. He believes women's advances haven't been caused by feminism; so why write a whole book about how dangerous it is?

Deirdre Lyndon

The estranged wife of Neil, she was not publicly involved in the Sex War until this week, when she weighed-in to explain how her husband's obsession with sexual politics had poisoned their marriage: 'I think he needed to shed all the strands of domesticity to write this book.' She regards her time as a full-time mother as 'the happiest years of my life'. Her message was clear: Lyndon might be possessed by a weird political vision, but 'I miss him still'. She doesn't think they will get back together: 'I think he's moved on.' She too thinks the personal is political here; 'although the book was certainly not about our relationship. I can't speak for the others.' And she doesn't think she made a mistake. 'I'm very glad I did it. Those things needed saying.'

Yvonne Roberts

A 44-year-old journalist, she rushed out her book, Mad About Women, to coincide with Lyndon's, because 'if I was not saying this, he would get a clear run. And I wanted him challenged on the facts; it's intellectually lazy to say he can't get it up.' She claims instead that he hasn't done his homework. And that her own circumstances - she previously lived with radical journalist John Pilger, with whom she has a daughter, Zoe - prove men don't have to suffer when relationships break up.' Zoe spends two nights a week with her father; it is perfectly possible to have a successful reconstituted family.' She is now with television producer Stephen Scott, and thoroughly disapproves of Deirdre Lyndon's intervention - 'like a poisonous upside-down version of Hello]'

David Thomas

The 33-year-old former editor of Punch magazine, 'happily married' with two young daughters, whose book - 'about men, not feminism,' - is published in February. 'There is no question,' says Thomas, 'that domestic violence is a much more equal problem than is allowed.' And does he have figures? Well, no, not figures exactly . . . 'oh, but it's like rape. Men just aren't coming forward. That's where a lot of male issues are at the moment - men just don't like to admit their oppression.' The mob, he says, 'wants Neil for lynching. He's the bad cop. I hope to come in as the good cop.' He also says, apparently seriously, that he has talked to a lot of men and 'their pain is silent. I want to open the window on the pain a lot of men are suffering.'

Additional research: Hester Matthewman

(Photographs omitted)