TO LAUGH AT ONESELF is, no doubt, a sign of emotional maturity; but it is also a measure of social status and societal acceptance. I hope my sisters in feminism have reached the stage where they can laugh, not at themselves, but at the broad caricatures of feminist types who stagger through the pages of When Sisterhood Was in Flower. It is one of the funniest books I have read all year.

Sisterhood is not so much a satire as a Marx Brothers burlesque of certain radical fringe elements of the Women's Movement, as seen through the eyes of Isabel Fairfax, a southern belle from the Tidewater. Fleeing the Colonial Dames, the rector of St. Jude the Impossible, and her Granny--who warns her that "mental exertion ravages the female organs"--Isabel is "shanghaied into the women's movement" by Polly Bradshaw, scion of a liberal New England family. Polly inherits $200,000 from her Uncle Ezra when the old gentleman is accidentally harpooned during a Save the Whales mission, and the girls take off for California to found a feminist commune. Among the peculiar associates they collect are a sullen cat named Quadrupet and a spaced-out medievalist who's obsessed with the nether parts of King Edward II.

In an amiably impartial fashion Fox also takes a few whacks at other venerable institutions, including organized crime, hard-porn publishing, and the radical right ("Register Communists, not firearms"). Her tongue is not in her cheek; it is sticking out as far as that organ can protrude. I only hope the title doesn't relegate the book to the "women's" section of the bookstores; it deserves better.