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25 years ago, the media covered the Lorena Bobbitt case insensitively, with little empathy for a victim of domestic abuse. How much have things changed today? A new docu-series on Lorena forces us to reflect.
Bobbitt (V) – To castrate in anger.
Bobbitt (N) – The one who has castrated; The one who is castrated; Also the name of a popular game
Before ‘Bobbitt’ wormed its way into the Urban dictionary, Bobbitt was the marital surname of Lorena, an Ecuador born and Venezuela raised American immigrant who married John W. Bobbitt, a former marine.
This couple made worldwide headlines in 1993 when Lorena after suffering years of marital abuse, gaslighting, and sodomy, cut off her husband’s penis with a kitchen knife. She then drove away in her car, threw the severed appendage in a nearby park and called 911. John Bobbitt’s penis was soon found and reattached after extensive surgery.
When arrested, Lorena told the police that John was selfish, abusive, that he never waited for her to have an orgasm. During her trial, Lorena further disclosed that their rocky marriage was also marred by infidelity, impending divorce, and even a forced abortion.
The jury found Lorena not guilty, due to insanity caused by years of suffering. After a prescribed 45-day psychiatric evaluation, Lorena kept a low profile, and rebuilt her life. She found love, has a thirteen-year-old daughter and in 2007, she founded Lorena’s Red Wagon organization, which helps domestic violence victims. John Bobbitt who was acquitted of rape, acted in adult movies to pay for his mounting medical and legal bills and had a regular run-in with the law for battery and theft. John spiralled downwards while Lorena found strength in the scars of her ordeal.
Amazon has recently come out with a four-part docu-series (Produced by Jordan Peele) investigating John and Lorena Bobbitt’s story.
Before Lorena’s story could be understood as a tragedy, Lorena’s story became a national source of merriment reflecting entrenched racism and sexism, her ordeal ignored by the male-dominated press. “A Night to Dismember”, and “A Slice of Wife” were some of the headlines. Amongst the ‘Top-10-Lorena Bobbitt Excuses’ on The Late Show with David Letterman was this ‘gem’ – ‘Why was Lorena been mad at John? He forced her to have sex!’
25 years of reflection and a change in the mindset around marital rape and domestic abuse has offered us tools for more empathetic revisionism.Yet, have times changed sufficiently for women in troubled relationships? Are their tumultuous journeys being examined with more open mindsets? Are we slotting their trauma under ‘domestic squabbles’ because marital violence is culturally sanctioned and so common? Are we shushing their voices with a ‘men will be men, just cope!’?
Jokes about the need for men to be wary of ‘hot-blooded women’ lest they, too, be Bobbitted are still enjoyed. Lorena’s story is an example of how squeamish the mainstream media is, to talk about domestic violence as a widespread phenomenon. Most are still reluctant to acknowledge marital rape as rape.
Does marriage give the man the power, privilege, and entitlement to his wife’s body, to pleasured on demand? Is the wife expected to be indifferent to her bodily needs and just play ‘ball’? Is the sexual equation still skewed?
In spite of #MeToo, ‘Manliness’ is still the numero uno ideal around which the entire universe revolves.
The man’s body is glorified, his dignity lies in his penis whereas the woman’s body is commodified. The rosier lens of hindsight on previously wrongfully judged events still throws up these very same and vexing questions which are sadly, relevant even today.
That is the tragedy – that we are still fighting the same old demons.
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Anupama Jain is the author of 'When Padma Bani Paula', a breezy novel about second
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