A significant social case or just two bubbleheads?

January 26, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

Since my ill-advised series of limericks on the Bobbitts, I have avoided any mention of that unhappy couple. I learned my lesson.

I was chided for my crudeness by numerous editors whose newspapers declined to print the limericks.

Worse, I was berated for my lack of sensitivity by men's rights groups who mourned Mr. Bobbitt's sexual loss.

Robert Keith Smith, a member of the Coalition of Free Men, wrote: "Men have been so conditioned by our society to view themselves as worthless, they feel no empathy when one of our own sex is mistreated in such a brutal way.

". . . When will men have enough? When will they demand to be treated as human beings instead of garbage?

"Sexual harassment laws make it a crime to even look at a woman, but men can be butchered. . . ."

And what horrified Mr. Smith more than anything was that callous people such as myself could make jokes about Bobbitt's misfortune.

He has a point. What many of us have missed about the Bobbitt case is the social significance.

We simply saw this as a bizarre conflict between two genuine bubbleheads -- a handsome but stupid lout and his hot-tempered and equally stupid wife.

But now that I have looked at the big picture, I realize how wrong we were.

As Mr. Smith of the Coalition of Free Men points out, John Bobbitt is a symbol of the male person as a sad victim of society's indifference to the cruelties endured by so many males.

And because we are expected to be strong and tough, we force ourselves to go "ha-haa-haaah."

While on the inside, beneath our macho facades, we are weeping bitter tears.

At the same time, many feminists have hailed little Lorena Bobbitt as a symbol of man's cruelty to woman.

As one of them wrote to a major newspaper:

"Like most of the American mass media, you have framed the Lorena Bobbitt affair as an issue of penile mutilation. You ignore the social context of Lorena Bobbitt's actions.

"Prof. Catherine MacKinnon of the University of Michigan and the writer Andrea Dworkin long ago pointed to the institution of marriage as a legal cover for the act of rape and the permanent humiliation of women.

"Lorena Bobbitt's life has been a poignant instance of that nightmare, which elicited a bold and courageous act of feminist self-defense.

"As one who recently returned from a conference of feminist activists in Europe, I can assure readers that the Bobbitt case has galvanized the women's movement worldwide in a way that the Anita Hill case never did.

"No feminist is advocating emasculation as the weapon of first choice. And some women question the political prudence of 'sociosexual vigilantism.'

"But whatever the judgment of America's patriarchal legal system, Lorena Bobbitt is for most feminists no criminal.

"She is instead a symbol of innovative resistance against gender oppression everywhere."

Amazing. I'm sure that when Lorena Bobbitt took matters into her own hands that night, she did not realize that she was "galvanizing the women's movement worldwide."

(If that is true, you might contact your broker to see if there are any bargain stocks in international firms that make cutlery.)

It just shows that greatness can be a matter of chance. Some seek it, but others have it thrust upon them.

In Lorena's case, she was leading kind of a mundane life, giving manicures, getting in shrieking spats with her husband, doing a little embezzling, shoplifting and stealing from friends and acquaintances.

And now she represents rebellion, as the feminist said, against "the institution of marriage as a legal cover for the act of rape and the permanent humiliation of women."

Of course, she might have done what most women in her position do: packed up, moved out and got a divorce. That would have saved Virginia's legal system a lot of time and money, spared the local cops the queazy chore of looking for Bobbitt's severed organ, and prevented insensitive types such as Letterman, Leno and me from bumbling into bad jokes about Lorena, John and The Thing.

But she didn't. And now John has become a symbol to many men of the misunderstood male, forced by social pressures and history to play the macho role, hiding his true sensitivity and being blamed for just about everything that is wrong with our society.

And hearing people laugh at the loss of The Thing.

And Lorena, if we can believe some feminists, has now been elevated to a worldwide position as symbol of the wife as rape victim, slave, doormat. But who rises from the degradation of her king-size bed with a "bold and courageous act of feminist self-defense."

So forget the limericks, the snide jokes, the giggles and the hoots and jeers.

What we have here is a case with enough social significance to keep the deep-thinking experts pondering its many ramifications for many years. The night Lorena went zip-zap may have been a defining moment in the relationship between males and females. It may have been a seminal movement in the study of the complex relationship be- tween men and women. It may have been . . .

Nah, forget it. On second thought, they are just a couple of bubbleheads.

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