BOSTON — Boston. -- The straw feminist has made another cameo appearance. She is everywhere now, stalks of wheat sticking out her militant clothing. She is starring in the aftermath of the trial that found Lorena Bobbitt innocent by virtue of temporary insanity.
"This is a feminist dream come true," grumbled one man-in-the-street as he conjured her up for the television viewers, "It's open season on men."
"What you're doing is licensing the feminists to come and slice our [penises] off," added William Margold, a longtime porno star, in the Washington Post.
Sidney Siller, the founder of something called the National Organization for Men, said on the "Today" show that after the verdict there was "a lot of glee from radical feminists."
He pointed to an Ecuadoran group that threatened to cut off a hundred penises if Lorena was found guilty.
Well, I thought I had gotten used to the straw feminist. Twenty-odd years ago, she emerged like Eve out of the extra rib, or at least the excess stuffing, of the straw man.
The straw man had been a useful creature throughout history. Whenever people argued, he could be pulled together quickly out of the nearest available haystack, and set up as an opponent. The beauty of the straw man was that he was easily defeated. You hardly had to huff and puff before you could blow him down.
The straw man was also useful as a scarecrow. The arguments attributed to him were not only flimsy, they were frightening.
So I wasn't surprised when the straw feminist was sighted burning her bra -- a dangerous thing for any straw person to do -- at a "Miss America" pageant. The fact that there never was a bra-burning was irrelevant. Feminists became bra-burners. Not to mention man-haters.
The straw feminist wanted to drive all women out of their happy homes and into the work force.
The straw feminist had an abortion as casually as she had a tooth pulled.
The straw feminist -- and her first cousin the radical feminist -- was hostile to family life and wanted children warehoused in government-run day and night care.
At times, the straw feminist was painted slightly pinko by the anti-communists or rather lavender by the anti-lesbians. But it was generally agreed upon that she was a castrating -- well, you fill in the blank.
This creature was most helpful for discrediting real feminists but also handy for scaring supporters away. Whenever a woman stuck up for her rights, she could be asked through narrowing eyes, "You're not one of those feminists are you?"
It got so that many young women would begin their most modest statements with a nervous glance at this voodoo figure, saying, "I'm not a feminist but . . . "
The funny thing is that over the years, remarkably few people investigated her stuffing. Which feminists, for example, chirpily extol abortion "on demand"? Names please. How many feminists have actually trashed the importance of child-raising? Numbers please. The lady was simply accepted as real.
I suppose it's possible to find a feminist for any position. There is no admissions exam to the sisterhood. There is as much variety under the umbrella bearing this label as there is outside it.
But despite the reappearance of the straw feminist, it is hard to find many who see Lorena Bobbitt as a standard-bearer of the movement and a role model for little girls everywhere. Anita Hill she isn't. Nor is she Hillary Clinton.
It is harder still to find many who consider male genital mutilation as the way to even up the score between men and women. Even the straw collectors had to go to Ecuador to find the raw material for this fantasy.
In the wake of this unique and legally complicated case, women's groups were careful not to applaud violence. Men as well as women weighed John's violence against Lorena's.
The jury itself, as one juror said, "walked through it and tried to put ourselves in her shoes." They ultimately believed that the woman had been abused until she snapped. So be it.
For 45 days Lorena Bobbitt will be under observation in the hospital. For those days and more, keep an eye on the straw feminist. In the current incendiary state of male-female relations, I fear she's being used as kindling.
Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.