Lorena Bobbitt

What Men Can Learn From Lorena Bobbitt

The recent Amazon series 'Lorena' allows for new reflection on the tabloid-fodder case

Courtesy: Amazon

I was about 12 years old when John Wayne Bobbitt and Lorena Bobbitt became household names, just old enough to comprehend the broad strokes of what had happened between them without understanding any of the complexity. Like many young men who came of age in the 1990s, Lorena Bobbitt became something of a female boogeyman, a cautionary tale of how "crazy" some women can be.

I remembered that she had alleged her husband had raped her repeatedly, and yet, somehow, I was just as guilty as so many other people of believing her crime—severing her husband’s penis and then hurling it out of a car window—was somehow worse. (John was acquitted of rape, while Lorena was found not guilty due to insanity.) Twenty-five years later, myself and many men like me should be forced to reevaluate some of our preconceived notions about not just went down that night, but our collective sympathy for Mr. Bobbitt, who, if a new Amazon docuseries produced by Jordan Peele is to be believed, is a violent sexual predator with no redeeming qualities or remorse for his crimes.
Lorena, which tells the former couple’s story in four riveting hour-long episodes, treats this case with the same sophistication and sensitivity of director Ezra Edelman’s 2016 Oscar-winning epic OJ: Made in America. In much the same way that film illuminated the fact that other factors—O.J. Simpson’s crossover celebrity status, the fraught racial history of Los Angeles, the cultural climate post-Rodney King—played as much of a role in the fallout of that case, Lorena is essential viewing in the #MeToo era, since it so starkly conveys how horribly skewed the coverage and reaction to the Bobbitts was at the time.

Lorena, a soft-spoken, petite Latina woman raised in such a strict fashion that all her initial dates with John had to be chaperoned, was caricatured as an erratic woman scorned, while he was simply an affable victim who got involved with the wrong woman. His laughably absurd explanation for why she castrated him—that she was bitter because he had declined to have sex with her—was somehow treated as totally valid by the likes of shock jock Howard Stern, who mercilessly mocked Lorena’s looks (he callously joked that she wasn’t raped because she had “too many pimples”), while turning John into something of a regular and fan favorite on his radio program.
Many Americans either never saw or simply discounted not just Lorena’s testimony but the corroborating information provided by confidants, coworkers and experts that made a compelling case that it was Lorena who was the victim, someone who was subjected to unspeakable sexual violence on a regular basis, so much so that she was suffering from a form of PTSD. With 20/20 hindsight, and incisive interviews with both parties today, Lorena is fully redeemed, while John (who still insists he has never abused or assaulted a woman, despite considerable, credible evidence to the contrary) comes across as venal and opportunistic to a disturbing degree.

Like many people of my generation, I recalled the shocking news way back when that John—whose penis was not only miraculously found but successfully reattached—starred in a porn. But I was unprepared for the reality of its aftermath, covered in great detail by Lorena, which involves an unsuccessful stint at the infamous Bunny Ranch brothel in Nev., further allegations of rape and a grotesque, allegedly botched attempt at penis enlargement (itself captured on film).
It’s about power, and some toxic men’s willingness to abuse it in unspeakable ways—and our collective societal willingness to prize a physical manifestation of manhood over a woman’s humanity and autonomy.
Meanwhile, Lorena, who was vilified by proto-men’s rights activists and much of the mainstream media, emerges as a inspirational figure. I found myself admiring her for her resilience in the face of a barrage of bad press, and her dedication to reaching out to other survivors of domestic violence.

It’s easy for men to wince and cross their legs when they hear what Lorena did on that fateful night back in 1993, but when you watch her heartbreaking description of the near-constant anal rape she was being subjected to, as well as threats of violence should she ever leave her husband, it becomes harder not to see what she did as perhaps inevitable if not totally justified. If you think you know her story and John’s story, think again—this is about so much more than an appendage. It’s about power, and some toxic men’s willingness to abuse it in unspeakable ways—and our collective societal willingness to prize a physical manifestation of manhood over a woman’s humanity and autonomy.

These heady concerns never permeated my thinking 25 years ago—like so many people, I was incapable of putting myself in this mercurial woman’s shoes. What Lorena does, to some extent, is finally steer the conversation in a more egalitarian direction. I’ll never fully be able to understand how Lorena felt or feels about her life with John, but I, and every man who watches this vital and expansive new series, will be better off for trying to.

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