The mutilation of John Wayne Bobbitt by his wife, Lorena, twenty years ago today — June 23, 1993, to be exact — marks one of the most shocking chapters in the modern annals of gender relations. The story is well known: Lorena Bobbitt said her husband abused her over a prolonged period of time and that, on the night in question, he raped her. In a moment of what she claimed was temporary insanity, while her husband slept, she went to the kitchen of their apartment, grabbed a knife, returned to the bedroom, and proceeded to cut off most of his penis. She then hopped in her car, penis in hand, and drove off. As she sped by a field, she tossed the severed appendage out the window. The organ was later recovered and, miraculously, reattached to its owner.
The Bobbitt affair was appalling and reprehensible, and not just because of the gruesome act of mayhem at the heart of it. It was all the more despicable because of the inexplicable glee expressed by large segments of the American population, mostly women, who luxuriated in the vile mutilation of a lower class nobody — a man who had difficulty even holding onto a job as a manual laborer. Media pundits, looking to advance a narrative, ignored the grays in the story and treated it as a bright line morality play, a watershed moment in the battle of the sexes — even a justifiable assault on maleness.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the perpetrator was branded “the victim,” and the victim “the perpetrator,” strictly along gender lines, despite the fact that she mutilated him while he slept. Mrs. Bobbitt’s defenders insisted her act was justifiable because allegedly he had raped her, but the “rape” was a classic “he said, she said” claim. The public reaction wasn’t just a rush to judgment; it was a 60-meter sprint completed in record time. Before a single scrap of evidence was considered by a jury, the trial was over even before it had begun. Lorena’s devotees arrogated to any woman the right to exact the most gruesome vigilante justice on any “member” of any member of the opposite sex – and due process be damned.
John Bobbitt: Oppressor or False Rape Claim Victim?
The mutilation couldn’t then, and can’t now, be rationally justified on any level. It was not self-defense. Ample evidence showed that both Mr. and Mrs. Bobbitt abused each other during their marriage. There is no evidence that anything stopped either of them from leaving the other. By any measure, Mrs. Bobbitt’s vigilante “justice” didn’t fit the crime, even if Mr. Bobbitt had raped her earlier in the evening, as she claims.
But did Mr. Bobbitt rape his wife? When the legend becomes fact, old cowboys and gender warriors alike insist on printing the legend. In the Bobbitt case, the legend quickly took hold that of course John Bobbitt raped his wife!
The only problem is, the facts don’t support the legend. Mrs. Bobbitt’s version of the facts was the evolving narrative of a woman groping for victimhood. At the time of her arrest, according to the New York Times, she told police: “He always have orgasm and he doesn’t wait for me to have orgasm. He’s selfish. I don’t think it’s fair, so I pulled back the sheets then and I did it.” That was the reason she gave for severing his penis.
Later, however, she claimed she cut her husband in anger after he raped her, and she told a psychiatrist that she cut him “really fast.”
Later, at her own trial, she claimed she couldn’t even remember doing it.
“This was all contrived to strike back at him after he said he was going to leave her,” said Mr. Bobbitt’s counsel, Gregory L. Murphy. “She was acting out a fantasy . . . .” Mel Feit, executive director of the National Center for Men in Brooklyn, might have hit the nail on the head with his explanation for the mutilation. It was the result of teaching “that men are natural oppressors.”
As befits a case where the accuser’s story is a moving target, at his trial for marital sexual abuse, John Bobbitt was acquitted. But that didn’t end the hysteria.
Lorena Bobbitt: ‘National Folk Heroine,’ and ‘Symbol of Innovative Resistance Against Gender Oppression’
From the outset, Lorena Bobbitt was widely regarded in some quarters as a hero. Time Magazine said there was a “ripple of glee that passed through the female population when Lorena Bobbitt struck back.”
Vanity Fair ran a sultry photo spread of Lorena Bobbitt and branded her a “national folk heroine.”
A woman wrote the following to the New York Times:
Prof. Catharine MacKinnon of the University of Michigan and the writer Andrea Dworkin long ago pointed to the institution of marriage as a legal cover for the act of rape and the permanent humiliation of women. Lorena Bobbitt’s life has been a poignant instance of that nightmare, which elicited a bold and courageous act of feminist self-defense. As one who recently returned from a conference of feminist activists in Europe, I can assure readers that the Lorena Bobbitt case has galvanized the women’s movement worldwide in a way the Anita Hill case never did. No feminist is advocating emasculation as the weapon of first choice. And some women question the political prudence of ‘sociosexual vigilantism.’ But whatever the judgment of America’s patriarchal legal system, Lorena Bobbitt is for most feminists no criminal. She is instead a symbol of innovative resistance against gender oppression everywhere.
Another woman said simply: “Every woman I’ve talked to about this says, ‘Way to go!’”
A sexual assault counselor said she didn’t condone the maiming but could “understand it,” and “could sympathize.”
The severance of this 26-year-old loser’s penis somehow became, in the words of that sexual assault counselor, “a critical event in the history of women.” Why? Because “violence is done to women continuously and pervasively. And this is a retaliatory act of great dramatic value . . . .” John Bobbitt was Everyman, and John Bobbitt’s severed penis was, in some weird sense, a sacrificial offering for the collective guilt of all men on the altar of political correctness.
The mainstream media mirrored the glee with scarcely any more restraint. Some writers dubbed the affair a “cautionary tale” for men. The lesson wasn’t that mutilating another human being is never justified; the lesson was that men had better wise up when it comes to how they treat women or they’ll rightly lose their dicks.
One columnist wrote: “Personally, I’m for both feminism and nonviolence. I admire the male body and prefer to find the penis attached to it rather than having to root around in vacant lots with Ziploc bag in hand. But I’m not willing to wait another decade or two for gender peace to prevail. And if a fellow insists on using his penis as a weapon, I say that, one way or another, he ought to be swiftly disarmed.” (That comment is all the more chilling since we are at the two decade mark referenced by the writer.)
Then there was celebrated columnist Ellen Goodman, Radcliffe grad and Pulitzer Prize winner, one of the darlings of the media whose column appeared in hundreds newspapers across the nation and who, on the the entitlement and privilege scale, was a “ten” to John Bobbitt’s “one.” Ellen Goodman took time out from polishing the awards on her mantel to make this working class putz her personal piñata.
Ms. Goodman, of course, refused to come out and condone the mutilation, but she certainly could “explain” both the mutilation and the celebratory reaction to it. Ms. Goodman concluded that this story became a national sensation only because a woman finally fought back. “Last year,” she declared, “the police blotter was full of abused and battered wives — an almost unilateral massacre.” Now, Ms. Goodman gushed, men “see a dangerous enemy where there was once a victim.” And the men squirming at the thought of being Bobbittized? “If women smile at men who squirm, maybe it’s at that recognition of power.”
Goodman apparently belonged to the Church of Gender Get-Even-ism: in April 1997, the late Michael Kennedy’s 16-year marriage publicly collapsed amid accusations that he had had an affair with the family baby sitter, allegedly beginning when she was just 14. It was never proven he had sex with her before she was 16, the age of consent in his jurisdiction, and criminal charges were not pressed for statutory rape. Here was Ellen Goodman’s take: “So far the most widespread fallout of the so-called Baby Sitter Affair has been a nervousness on the part of perfectly respectable men. With lechery all across the media, they don’t even want to get in the car with the sitter. Assorted fathers in my sample have concluded (1) that every 15-year-old regards him as a potential predator or (2) that if his hand lingers too long while passing out the money, he’ll be accused of making a pass.” Goodman concluded, in words a little too reminiscent of Catherine Comins’ “men unjustly accused can sometimes gain from the experience”: “I don’t mind men getting a little nervous,” Goodman bubbled. “It kind of balances things out.” That’s Ellen Goodman.
It is well to note that none of the writers applauding penile mutilation would applaud any other type of brutal vigilante justice, for any other type of crime. Yet vigilante justice directed at the penis of some below average guy was heralded with a giddy exultation. The fact that purportedly enlightened publications were quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, rooting for Mrs. Bobbitt even before a single fact was adjudicated or a scrap of evidence admitted at trial is nothing short of astounding, puzzling, and frightening, all at once.
Why did Mr. Bobbitt deserve this rush to judgment? Thomas Sowell didn’t have Mr. Bobbitt in mind when he wrote the following, but he should have: “Information or allegations reflecting negatively on individuals or groups seen less sympathetically by the intelligentsia pass rapidly into the public domain with little scrutiny and much publicity.” Sowell cited two of the more prominent hoaxes in recent history as evidence for this point: the alleged gang rapes of black women by white men in the Tawana Brawley and Duke lacrosse cases.
The Politics of Hate
But some columnists couldn’t accept that women in general embraced the glee over the mutilation. Syndicated columnist Mona Charen explained that the case gripped the media because “they [media pundits] really believe that most women feel that way deep down.” But Ms. Charen recognized how utterly twisted all of it was. If they “are seething with such hatred for men, that is evidence of a politics bordering on pathology.” She continued: “To see the mutilation of a man’s body as a political act and to signal secret approval and a vicarious thrill . . . truly deserves the label ‘the politics of hate.’”
Charen found the nation’s obsession with the mutilation “bizarre, abnormal and sexist to boot.” It would be impossible to disagree with Ms. Charen’s observation about reversing the genders: “If a woman were similarly wounded by a man, no one would treat it with ghoulish humor. Men are evidently fair game.”
Dr. Charles Krauthammer, the intellectual firepower of American conservatism (even Bill Clinton once called him a “brilliant man”), chimed in and noted that the hypothetical where the genders were reversed “would not have the weight of feminist rage behind it.”
Newsweek said, tongue in cheek: “Feminists have a cutting-edge sense of humor…but only if it’s directed at men.”
Even when Mr. Bobbitt was found not guilty of marital rape, that didn’t change the view of Lorena’s devotees that, of course, he was really guilty. Kim Gandy of NOW said the verdict “discourages women and gives men a free ride in marital rape cases.” It never occurred to Gandy that John Bobbitt might not have raped his wife.
The Lorena Bobbitt Trial: Things Get Really Nutty
Finally, it was time for Mrs. Bobbitt’s trial for maliciously wounding her husband. Much of the nation, and beyond, watched intently with sympathies split largely along gender lines. In Ecuador, Lorena Bobbitt’s home country, the National Feminist Association called several news organizations to announce that if Mrs. Bobbitt went to prison for mutilating her husband, 100 innocent American men would be castrated (it is not clear if they really meant “castration,” which generally means removal of the testicles, or if they meant they would slice off 100 innocent penises). The organization also staged a large protest outside the U.S. consulate. This was kooky, outlier stuff, for sure, but what was going on in the mainstream was nutty enough even without it.
The Lorena Bobbitt trial was a mini-feminist Woodstock. A carnival atmosphere swept over Manassas, where it was conducted. A woman sold homemade, penis-shaped white chocolates outside the courthouse. T-shirts were hawked that said “Revenge — how sweet it is,” and “Manassas: A Cut Above.” Some feminists sold buttons that read: “LORENA BOBBITT FOR SURGEON GENERAL.” Disc jockeys handed out “Slice” soda pop and cocktail wieners “with lots of ketchup.”
Hundreds of Lorena Bobbitt supporters cheered their champion outside the courthouse. When the man she mutilated — the real victim — walked outside, he was greeted with boos and whistles, but he stoically showed no reaction. He took it like a man.
Mrs. Bobbitt’s self-defense claim — that she was justified in maiming a sleeping man — would be laughable in any context outside feminist jurisprudence. Here’s what Newsweek said about it:
“. . . the traditional definition of self-defense wasn’t enough for radical feminists. And so in the 1970s, feminist psychologist Lenore Walker conceived the ‘battered-woman syndrome.’ Women beaten by their mates, she claimed, are so demoralized that they become too helpless to leave or to take steps to help themselves. They become convinced their only option to stop the abuse is to kill the abuser. So even if the woman is in no physical danger at the time of the killing, she’s defending herself against future beatings. Get it? Because men supposedly have so much power over women in our society, women should be given the powers of judge, jury and executioner.
“Ideas–especially seminal ideas such as these–have consequences. In 1991, the governors of Ohio and Maryland commuted the sentences of a number of jailed women who had killed or assaulted their mates because they claimed to have been victims of battered-woman syndrome. But reporters turned up embarrassing evidence indicating that 15 of the 25 women freed in Ohio had not been physically abused. Six, they said, had talked about killing their boyfriends or husbands, in some cases months before doing so; two had tracked down and killed husbands from whom they were separated. If they were capable of that much premeditation, they were certainly capable of picking up and leaving.”
The female prosecutor kicked off the trial by telling the jurors, apparently with a straight face, that it was “his penis versus her life.” Charles Krauthammer called that characterization a “stark summation of feminist victimization theory.” Dr. Krauthammer added that the Bobbitt case wasn’t one of self-defense but of revenge. He noted that evidence of self-defense, improper though it was, came in quite handy for Lorena Bobbitt because it allowed her to introduce “the most lurid allegations of sexual abuse.” The trial made the Bobbitt marriage “one of the most highly publicized and minutely scrutinized ever,” said the New York Times.
One of Lorena’s former co-workers testified that Lorena once said she would chop off her husband’s dick if he cheated on her. Witnesses testified that Lorena was mean, violent, and subject to jealous, unpredictable physical attacks.
In the end, the jury found Lorena Bobbitt not guilty of malicious wounding — not because she didn’t do, and not because she had a right to do — but by reason of insanity. They committed her to a mental health facility for 45 days for observation. The New York Times reported that “a gasp went up among her supporters in the courtroom.”
It is well to note that until relatively recently, many states punished rape with the death penalty. While many men and boys have been put to death for rape, a woman who sliced off her sleeping husband’s penis got 45 days of observation in a nice, clean hospital.
Whatever this was, it was not justice.
The verdict elicited the predictable response. Self-described feminists cheered and gave each other high fives that a woman was permitted to get away with what now literally, and officially, could be called an insane act. Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, summed up the position for the lunatic fringe, which in this case seemed to comprise a regrettably large segment of the nation’s population: “We’re glad the jury rejected the twisted argument that a battered woman should be locked up in a prison cell.” Ms. Gandy used the verdict as the occasion to push one of her pet projects: “. . . this whole saga drives home the need for swift passage of a comprehensive version of the Violence Against Women Act . . . .”
In Lorena Bobbitt’s hometown of Bucay, Ecuador, hundreds took to the streets, cheering and firing shots into the air the way joyous fans do when their team wins the World Cup or the Super Bowl.
The New York Times chimed in, ever so delicately: “[I]n this case,” the Times pontificated, “the jury can be forgiven for finding a reason to excuse Mrs. Bobbitt’s brutality . . . .” It also noted: “. . . perhaps the verdict will indeed make some abusive men think twice before they strike again.” But, the Times refused to go so far as to invite every self-anointed victim to resort to retaliation: “. . . violence cannot be the standard answer to violence.” If violence can’t be the “standard” answer, this suggests that, sometimes, violence is OK, and presumably that “sometimes” includes any time it is done to a penis by a self-anointed wronged woman.
But Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, the voice of reason, said violence is not OK. Mrs. Bobbitt “pulled the wool over the jury’s eyes,” Prof. Dershowitz said, by claiming that abuse left her unable to take responsibility for her actions. He called her a “feminist Dirty Harry.” The “abuse excuse,” Dershowitz explained, “is dangerous to the very tenets of democracy, which presuppose personal accountability for choices and actions.”
Mona Charen, likewise, was in no mood to celebrate. She knew that the reaction of feminists, and of too many women, was as wrong as can be: “Rarely have I been as ashamed of my sex as I have been in the aftermath of the Lorena Bobbitt verdict.”
The brilliant Charles Krauthammer, a Harvard educated psychiatrist before becoming a political pundit, said it best: this verdict took “political correctness to its ultimate extreme, to the point where for those who claim politically correct victimization, the laws no longer apply.”
“Politically correct victimization” sums up the entire affair.
The Bobbitt affair ripped off an ugly scab and exposed an oozing pus on gender relations in America. The principal legacy of the Bobbitt affair might have been to “empower” women by insisting that they are so powerless that they are entitled to ignore the law. But the more the gender warriors insisted that women are powerless, the more they underscored that women aren’t men’s equals.
A more immediate impact was that copycat crimes cropped up and continue to crop up to this day, including the crime that led to the Brigitte Harris trial, where a young woman admitted to researching the Bobbitt case before severing her allegedly abusive father’s penis. Ms. Harris made sure to burn the purportedly offending appendage to avoid Mrs. Bobbitt’s mistake that allowed John Bobbitt to be reunited with his organ. Ms. Harris’ father died in the ordeal, so his side of the story will never be known. (At the young woman’s trial, the jurors convicted her of second degree manslaughter and not murder, which prompted the judge to chide the jurors for elevating their sympathies over the law.)
John Bobbitt was no saint, and there was plenty of evidence that he abused his wife during the course of their marriage – just as there was ample evidence that she abused him. That changes nothing. The brutal act of mutilation, and the depraved reaction of gender warriors, the mainstream media, and, frankly, too many others, cannot be justified, or respected, on any reasonable, logical, moral, or other level. The celebratory reaction and tolerance for this most vicious act of vengeance was morally grotesque and seemed largely the product of fear-mongering about men as natural oppressors. It was an all too predictable response to the systematic maligning of a gender over the course of several decades.
Following the mutilation, men, as a class, were exposed to a disdain many had not even known existed, and they didn’t know how to react to it. But men’s bewilderment was understandable. They didn’t realize that they were “all” rapists. Nor did anyone bother to explain to them that they were the beneficiaries of a “patriarchy” that made them undeservedly privileged. That included men who, by any rational standard, were not privileged, like Mr. Bobbitt. You see, most men were too busy working to make ends meet, often to support the very people who actually believed those loony things. So when women shamefully applauded the vile mutilation of another human being — a man who was not privileged, or smart, or wealthy, or lucky — all that men could muster in the face of this fusillade of misandry was a muffled and chivalrous grumble.
In the years since the Bobbitt affair, it has become even more common for gender warriors to reduce masculinity to vile caricature and to pass off outlier attributes as “cultural norms” of maleness. By the same token, since that awful June night in 1993, the Internet has exposed countless men and women to an ongoing battle of the sexes that they didn’t even know was being waged. If something like the Bobbitt case happened today, would it be met with a different reaction? Would it bring to the front burner the issues of female-on-male domestic violence and false rape claims? No one can say for certain, but my guess is it would. If it happened today, the debate would be far more heated, and men would actually answer the bell instead of sitting on a stool in a corner of the ring, allowing the maleness-is-broken crowd to win by default.
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