Turns out, he had just a minor detail wrong (she didn’t eat it, thank god), but the story is still one of the most interesting I’ve ever heard. After watching the first episode I asked my family if they remembered it and their responses were instant – of course, it was one of the biggest sensations of the time. Even my sister who was barely ten at the time knew about it. Let’s hope she didn’t watch the trial because it was naturally pretty graphic.
Whether you remember the Bobbitts or not, you should definitely binge Lorena on Amazon Prime.
At first glance, the ballad of the Bobbitts is comically shocking. You hear about a woman cutting off her husband’s penis and jokes abound. And that’s how the media treated it at the time – comics centered routines around it, late night shows made jokes about it, and Howard Stern seems to have revolved his whole show around it that year (at least from what I can tell in the documentary – not a fan myself). It was sensational. Women said she was a hero, men walked around guarding their crotches. It was the first time anything like this got into the mainstream – synonyms for penis were never so well researched.
But…the Bobbitt case isn’t a joke. It’s a sad story of domestic abuse, gender and ethnic stereotyping, and how fame can go to your head. I’ll give just a quick recap if, like me, you were just a wee babe when this all went down. On June 23, 1993, in the apartment where Lorena lived with her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, in Manassas, Virginia, John came home after a night out with the boys and got into bed. After his return, Lorena got out of bed, went to the kitchen for a glass of water, returned to the bedroom with a knife, and sliced off her husband’s penis. She then left the apartment, knife and penis still in hand, and drove away, eventually tossing the severed member out of her car window. She then called 911 and after a bit of back and forth they were able to find the penis outside of a 7/11, and successfully reattach it.
Seems like an open and shut case, right? She did it, her fingerprints are all over the knife…how can such a near-fatal wound be grounds for a full trial with a jury? Well, it’s all about the motive.
Her motive is a pretty good one – Lorena claims she was routinely abused by John, both physically and emotionally. He claims he never laid a finger on her. In the first episode, you want to believe him. He seems like a likable, reasonable guy…but that image quickly gets shattered as you watch. Lorena comes across as meek, soft-spoken, and afraid – not capable of cutting anything off of anyone. And after watching this series, I don’t think it’s an act, but you can watch and decide for yourself.
Taking over Court TV, the Bobbitts had two separate trials – John for marital sexual assault and Lorena for malicious wounding. This series, executive produced by Jordan Peele, covers both of those trials, through footage at the time and present-day interviews with those involved. It’s a remarkably well-told story. There’s not a minute of this case that was undocumented, besides the initial cut, thankfully. But I will warn you that there are some graphic shots that might surprise you. Yes, you do in fact see the severed penis. It’s horrifying.
The majority of the docu-series focuses on Lorena’s trial, which was the biggest trial to happen until OJ put on his Isotoners. Her trial is pretty heart-wrenching. Her stories of abuse, intermixed with John’s interviews on Howard Stern, his trips to Hooters, and his present-day DJTRUMP license plate paint quite a vivid picture of who is to blame in this story.
Maybe it’s because I’m a nasty woman, but it was really easy to pick a side in this case. She cut his dick off, there’s no denying that. But she suffered extensive abuse at the hands of this person, and when does it become enough to retaliate? Maybe never, but as Lorena says in this documentary, they’re both guilty. But he still has a working penis, and she has spent the rest of her life recovering from the trauma that he put her through, so who came out on top there?
Like I insinuated above, Lorena and John handled their fame very differently. John went on talk shows, Howard Stern, and eventually got into porn. Yes, you read that right. The whole world was curious to see if his penis still worked, and he was more than happy to show them. He went on to be accused of domestic abuse, harassment, and assault at least two more times, and was married a few more times. Lorena went back to school, married her college sweetheart, and now advocates against domestic abuse. Those track records aren’t too hard to compare.
Almost more important than the aftermath of this case on the individuals involved, is the effect it had on society. At the time, it enraged everyone – men were enraged that a woman would act against them, taking it out of their most prized possession, and women were enraged at the abuse she faced and claimed they would’ve done the same thing. The Bobbitt trials brought gender inequality and domestic abuse to the forefront…but has anything changed?
There’s a pretty eye-opening quote from Whoopi Goldberg’s stand-up act at the time, “It’s 1994 and shit is hitting the fan. Women are pissed!” It’s now 2019. We’re still pissed, even more shit has hit the fan, and yet we’re not much better off than we were in 1994. Shots from the protests back then could’ve been any the Women’s Marches we’ve gone to for the last three years. Lorena tells a sordid story of a marriage gone wrong, but it also tells the story of how truly slow progress is. It’s two steps forward and one step back. I’m hopeful we can take a few more steps forward in my lifetime.