It seems near-undeniable that we, as a society, are better off for the recent wave of ’90s true crime documentaries and retellings. We’ve gotten O.J. Simpson’s story retold in detail, over multiple platforms. We’ve been made to feel ashamed of the way we all, collectively, reduced Marcia Clark to her haircut. We’ve re-examined JonBenét on Netlix and Tonya Harding on ESPN, with a Margot Robbie big screen version of Harding still to come. Even the Menendez brothers got a documentary. (So what if it was so boring I fell asleep after 20 minutes? It still got made.)
There’s a very important, culturally momentous name missing from that list: Lorena Bobbitt.
When it come to ’90s crime fame, she’s clearly in the top tier of the list. Our fascination with rehashing these stories is a fad ready to be cashed in on, and the Bobbitts’ story is rife with salacious material, ready for a Ryan Murphy anthology entry or a Netflix documentary.
To start, John Bobbitt is still, by all accounts, just the biggest, laziest, unflushable floater shit imaginable. Twenty years after the incident, he took to telling outlets just how good his D still works. The NY Daily News felt it acceptable on the 20th anniversary of the event itself to give him a platform for this gem of a statement:
“Being the most famous man to have his penis chopped off does have its advantages. It definitely has not hurt my love life - in fact it improved it.”
He did porn, and he says he slept with 70+ women since having that D c’d off. Doctors told him he’d never bone again, but he did, like 70 times. What a hero! Somebody throw this guy a fuck parade, pronto, this paragon of paramours.
No. We’ve heard more than enough about John’s junk. The ostensibly all-American John Wayne (his actual name) has a very different place in American history than his Ecuadorian-born ex-wife.
No, the story that’s been left untold for nearly 25 years is that of Lorena Bobbitt, then only 22 years old, who was raped-not for the first time, not even close-by her husband, cut off his penis and threw it out her car window, and was thus turned into a pop-culture punchline.
But in this age of revisiting our past simplifications, maybe it’s finally time to be done with this total misogynistic, inhuman reduction of a woman brave enough to offer herself as a symbol of domestic abuse survival, to mere she-devil penis jokes. Do you have to celebrate a violent outcome? No, of course not. But you do have to realize we’ve spent nearly two and a half decades laughing at a victim of abuse.
In the years since the incident, as John dedicated himself to proving his manhood (70 women, you guys! Wowsers!), Lorena Gallo now runs an organization, Lorena’s Red Wagon, designed to aid victims of domestic abuse and their children, a widespread need that still gets little attention. I can’t help but imagine a world in which Bobbitt’s story was a conversation point rather than a punchline.
But as she told HuffPo recently, that wasn’t the case. “They wanted to talk about his penis, not my story,” she said. “Maybe it looked like a reality show from the outside, but we were not in a cast. It was real life.”
You know how Ryan Murphy shamed an entire country for the way we fixated on Marcia Clark’s hair instead of the case she was fighting?
Imagine if he could do that, but for Gallo’s statement there.
In that profile on Gallo, HuffPo reported that in 1993-the year the Bobbitt’s case exploded in public interest, and a year before both the passage of the Violence Against Women Act and seeing the O.J. Simpson case conflate reality with reality TV-approximately 2,160 women were killed by their romantic partners. They posit that “in an alternate version of history, the sad and horrible story of Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt would have served as the perfect opportunity to start the dialogue.”
And while print and online profiles like that one are a great start, there’s nothing like the wide reach and intimate, personal audience-to-character connection found in a television or film medium. So if Serial, Making a Murderer, The People v. O.J. Simpson, and all the rest are any indication, we now have the potential to be that alternate history. Please, some beautiful Hollywood soul, take on this story and remind us what shits we were in 1993.