IF ANYBODY OUT THERE IS worried that Lorena Bobbitt is a shiny new role model, the latest feminist icon who will galvanize the country just like Anita Hill did only more so, just cut it out. I mean stop it.
No, Lorena Bobbitt is no role model. nor has she captured women's imagination. Lorena Bobbitt has much more in common with Amy Fisher and jean Harris than she does with Anita Hill. These are women who so strongly identify with their abusive, oppressive men that they find it untenable to simply walk away, but instead explode into violence. This is cringe-inducing, not empowering.
Although the media are fervently trying to make us believe otherwise. Desperate to will this pathetic circus into an Important Sociological Phenomenon so they can keep saying "penis" over and over again on television, reporters are trotting out every marginal women's spokesperson, down to T-shirt sellers outside the courthouse, who will be happy to say that Lorena Bobbitt's act speaks for all of us.
Well, it doesn't. Women are befuddled by it. Oh, sure, women are filled with rage all right. Rage against guys like the fabulously named John Wayne Bobbitt for attacking, abusing and raping members of our sex. Rage that mutilation of women's bodies and souls are daily fodder for primetime TV, whereas this one instance of table-turning has caused such a huge hissyfit. Rage that ritualistic sexual mutilation of girls in Africa is a ho-hum matter of course whereas this is Big News.
"I can't believe people are getting so bent out of shape about this," said a friend. "Rapists are chopping off women's arms and getting out on parole two years later, and maybe it's covered once in the news. But let one woman touch one single penis and the whole country goes ballistic."
Some women have rage that could move mountains, others are only mildly piqued with men, but we do have one thing in common: to anyone who has been intimate with a man, the penis is no big deal. Some women find a penis distasteful. others can take penises or leave them, but many of us find penises rather vulnerable and endearing. It's the rest of men that scares us, with their arms that can pin us down and crush us, their fists that can bash our faces in and, most of all, their brains that are too often full of fear and loathing of womanhood.
When I heard about the Bobbitt maiming I felt a dreadful twinge in my own genital area. And when Joy Behar, the comedian, said on the radio, "Hey, she just threw it out, it's not like she put it in a Cuisinart," the twinge twanged. Stringent feminists would call that identification with the Oppressor, warm and fuzzy humanists would call it women's indigenous empathy. Who cares? I know that when I'm feeling rage against a man it's not the penis I fantasize about. My rage fantasies involve guns and blood and death. My penis fantasies are a lot more jolly.
I was watching CNN on Friday. Between Lorena Bobbitt's sobbing testimony and her co-workers' descriptions of her bruises, and right after Nancy Kerrigan held a press conference about her beating, a woman was on "Sonya Live" describing how her father sexually abused her from the age of 2. Another incest survivor also appeared and said in front of God and everybody that the punishment for incest perpetrators should be "a bullet through the head." Penises were not mentioned.
The whole brouhaha is so far removed from our experience that it's hard to take in, and really hard for women to take seriously. Has anyone seen anything funnier than John Wayne Bobbitt thanking the fireman who found his penis for him? What woman didn't laugh when the doctor told Bobbitt that he would now have to go to the bathroom like the other 50 percent of the population?
But Lorena Bobbitt's act has certainly captured the imagination of a certain segment of the population. Men are absolutely transfixed. I watched as much as I could take of Howard Stern's New Year's Eve show, and behind the virtually naked woman eating maggots and other women performing other assorted self-loathing atrocities upon themselves, there was a gigundo, maybe 10-foot-tall rendition of the human phallus. And right next to that humanoid member was a grinning John Wayne Bobbitt, a big red lipstick kiss on his cheek. The crowd roared for him. That crowd worries me. If anything, Lorena Bobbitt could become an anti-role model. With men's reaction so intense, and the media's insistence that she embodies feminism, Lorena could start her very own backlash. Men could trot her out whenever we demand child care or something.
And of course every male comedian has a few hundred very nervous Bobbitt jokes, the best of which was Jay Leno's, who posited that it would really be hard for either of them to get a date. It's interesting to watch this story turn late-night hosts into sniggering 12-year-olds. And even more interesting to note that men, who allegedly revere and worship their penises and to whom the penis is supposedly a symbol of strength, potency and cuteness, are not uniformly revolted by Lorena Bobbitt's act. It seems to give them some kind of thrill. If I didn't know better, I'd think that right there in the middle of their horror is a certain vengeful glee. Could it be that men are also plagued with self-loathing? Nah.