QUIET Prince William County, Va., home of Civil War battlefields and sleepy suburbs, has lately been the scene of a carnival. The courthouse at Manassas was swamped with media types from 20 countries to cover the rape trial of John Bobbitt, the unfortunate man whose wife cut off his penis last summer.
There were hawkers selling T-shirts ("Manassas: A Cut Above"), interest-group representatives spinning the story for local media, and the usual publishing and Hollywood agents poking around for book and movie rights.
This story and its treatment in the press are, in my judgment, far different from the usual low-brow titillation. If people are bewitched by the story of Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco, or with the Beverly Hills madam, well, that's at least in the realm of the understandable. Tawdry, but normal.
But this obsession with a vile act of mutilation strikes me as bizarre, abnormal and sexist to boot. If a woman were similarly wounded by a man, no one would treat it with ghoulish humor. Men are evidently fair game.
Lorena Bobbitt's story is that her husband arrived home late from a night of drinking and attacked her, as he had done many times before. Ignoring her twice-stated unwillingness to have sex, he raped her and fell asleep. She then got hold of a knife and cut off his penis in self-defense. (She later threw it into a field from which it was recovered and reattached to the man's body.)
Nice story. All the "defenseless woman" touches that are so politically correct these days were in place. She was the victim. The jury, however, found certain inconsistencies. Jurists noted, for example, that she told the police on the night of the attack that she had mutilated her husband in a fit of passion because "he always has an orgasm, and he doesn't wait for me . . . I don't think it's fair, so I pulled back the sheets, and I did it."
Ah! No wonder she has become an instant feminist pin-up girl.
The jury acquitted Mr. Bobbitt of rape. Mrs. Bobbitt's trial on charges of malicious wounding is coming up in a couple of weeks. In an interesting twist, the same prosecutors will be handling both cases. So while they were at pains to paint Mrs. Bobbitt as a helpless victim of a rapist husband last week, they will be portraying her next time as the vindictive wife who would stoop to anything to exact revenge.
But how, oh how, did this gruesome story from the police blotter become front-page stuff? Because the feminist leaders, who the media think speak for women, seized upon this case as a cause celebre. Lorena Bobbitt was instantly declared a symbol. Of what, pray tell? Of "marital sexual violence," they say. Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, told the Washington Post that the not-guilty verdict "discourages women and gives men a free ride in marital rape cases."
Look, even if you believe (as the jury did not) that Mrs. Bobbitt was the repeated victim of rape by her husband, how can you possibly make a heroine of someone who is so evidently cruel and violent herself? She didn't stab her husband as he was coming toward her menacingly. She waited until he was asleep, walked into the kitchen, got a knife and then performed her ghastly deed.
No, the feminists didn't choose Lorena Bobbitt because she was a good victim. She doesn't symbolize battered women at all. They chose her for another reason, perfectly articulated by one of the spectators at the trial: "It's every woman's fantasy," she said.
That's it. This case is gripping the media because they really believe that most women feel that way deep down. And that is not just crazy, it's very sad. If feminists are seething with such hatred for men, that is evidence of a politics bordering on pathology.
To see the mutilation of a man's body as a political act and to signal secret approval and a vicarious thrill is not feminism -- it truly deserves the label "the politics of hate."
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.