No Tears For Lorena

LET'S FACE IT--JOHN AND LORENA BOBBITT are both losers. Heads up on this one, folks. The hype that has followed the cut felt round the world does not speak well of the current status of American culture. When Lorena went on trial last week for taking a kitchen knife and slicing off John's penis, vendors outside the courtroom hawked white chocolates in the shape of his severed organ. Some feminists are actually selling buttons that read LORENA BOBBITT FOR SURGEON GENERAL.

Just imagine what their reaction would be if someone had tried to cut off a woman's breast. Feminists have a cutting-edge sense of humor...but only if it's directed at men.

Other feminists--those who view all men as "potential rapists"--have made Lorena into a symbol for the plight of battered women. They claim she mutilated her husband in self-defense. Or, in the penetrating phrase of her attorney, "A life is more valuable than a penis." I would add that a life such as John Bobbitt's is more valuable with a penis.

Self-defense? We're talking about a man sleeping in his own bed. Until recently, the law on self-defense has been clear: if someone attacks you, you have the right to use force to protect yourself. You do not have the right to kill or maim someone you claim assaulted you an hour ago. That's not self-defense. That's revenge.

But the traditional definition of self-defense wasn't enough for radical feminists. And so in the 1970s, feminist psychologist Lenore Walker conceived the "battered-woman syndrome." Women beaten by their mates, she claimed, are so demoralized that they become too helpless to leave or to take steps to help themselves. They become convinced their only option to stop the abuse is to kill the abuser. So even if the woman is in no physical danger at the time of the killing, she's defending herself against future beatings. Get it? Because men supposedly have so much power over women in our society, women should be given the powers of judge, jury and executioner.

Ideas--especially seminal ideas such as these--have consequences. In 1991, the governors of Ohio and Maryland commuted the sentences of a number of jailed women who had killed or assaulted their mates because they claimed to have been victims of battered-woman syndrome. But reporters turned up embarrassing evidence indicating that 15 of the 25 women freed in Ohio had not been physically abused. Six, they said, had talked about killing their boyfriends or husbands. in some cases months before doing so; and two had tracked down and killed husbands from whom they were separated. If they were capable of that much premeditation, they were certainly capable of picking up and leaving.

Predictably, the "He made me do it" defense is now expanding. We have the Menendez boys, Erik and Lyle, from Beverly Hills arguing that they had no choice but to gun down their wealthy parents, fake a burglary and go on a spending spree with their victims' money. Why? Because Erik and Lyle had been sexually abused as kids and feared that their parents were going to kill them. Mom and Dad apparently put the Menendez brothers in such fear of their lives that their only defense was to blow them away as they sat on the living-room couch watching a television program.

And now we have the ultimate absurdity, the Lorena Bobbitt case. The fact is, if Lorena was abused, she had plenty of options other than taking the law into her own hands, as it were. How about leaving the jerk? How about pressing charges? "It's not that simple," say the feminists. How about using existing legal and social protections-police, hot lines, women's shelters, etc.? Lorena told her upstairs neighbor that John had raped her. Did she then accept the neighbor's offer to stay at her place for the night? No. Right after she mutilated her husband, Lorena told police she was upset at him for being a "selfish" lover: having an orgasm but never waiting for her to have one. Was she a cowering woman in terror of her husband, or was she filled with anger and rage? To call her behavior legally justifiable is to legalize revenge.

Now, Lorena Bobbitt's infamous slice may not mark the start of a new trend (though I have read news reports of four or five subsequent assaults on male private parts). But I am a little disturbed that the Bobbitt case has so obsessed the American public. Some of that is to be expected, of course. It isn't every day--fortunately--that we hear about a woman throwing a penis out a car window.

Still, I keep asking myself: what will it take to top this? Americans seem to require more and more titillation, more and more violence, more and more degradation and rot to capture their attention. just look at the so-called "talk shows" of daytime television--the museum of modern American societal decay, We have mothers who sleep with their daughters' boyfriends, cross-dressing fathers, rape victims who later date their rapists. These are the people held up as your neighbors, your fellow citizens--revealing, it is claimed, "the dark side of life" lurking everywhere.

We are bored with the normal. And, it seems, we are bored with the good and the decent. So my question is this: if people are fascinated by sexual mutilation today, what will it take to fascinate us tomorrow?