'Lorena's Subject Matter Is More Than The Sum Of Its Parts

Amazon's new docu-series on the Lorena Bobbitt case forces audiences to re-examine the racial and gendered implications of a "woman scorned."

Amazon Studios

Whether you lived through the event in 1993 or heard about it secondhand, everyone knows the story of Lorena Bobbitt and how she severed her husband's penis with a knife. The reason? Bobbitt, a battered wife who'd suffered in a marriage rife with physical and sexual abuse, had snapped. Or at least that's what was disclosed at trial. Amazon's four-part documentary series, simply title Lorena, gets at the heart of the story, showing a fractured woman who was persecuted by the public. Lorena's story shows the severity of the scandalous stories of our historical past, and the women we've blamed along the way. 

In the wake of Lorena's heinous actions, the tide wasn't with her. In news footage, stand-up comedy routines, and SNL skits of the time, Lorena Bobbitt was presented as a crazy woman, a fiery Latina exemplifying every stereotype regarding hot Latin blood. No one seemed to care about the numerous photos of her broken and battered body, her sobbing testimony about a marriage involving regular rapes. Apparently it was better to deify her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, who ventured into pornography to show off his "masculinity" and capitalize on this ordeal.

Between the recent release of Netflix's Ted Bundy documentary and now Lorena, we're finally at a point in our collective viewership where we can reevaluate these cases with clear eyes. Much of Lorena's runtime is made up of telling her story which was all but ignored by the mass media in 1993. For them, the Bobbitt story was nothing more than sex, salaciousness, and playing on fears of male emasculation. It was easier to present John Bobbitt as a man who, regardless of being a good or bad person, had lost his "dignity" as one cop says during the initial 911 call. It was easier to brand Bobbitt as a good guy by proxy for all he'd endured than to look at the convoluted history and, up to that point, erasure of marital rape and spousal abuse. 

Men felt strongly because Bobbitt embodied their loss of manhood in a growing era where women weren't going to take it anymore. Second-wave feminism, and its eventual backlash, had come and gone. The Bobbitt case itself was a cultural culmination of several other stories involving harassed women, from Anita Hill to the 1991 acquittal of William Kennedy Smith for rape. As it's depicted in the documentary, Lorena's story was seen as a rallying cry for women who were sick of men getting off scot-free. With society's awareness now of male privilege we're able to finally look at Lorena's story, free of the blinders, and ultimately walk away with the knowledge that this was a sad woman who should've received the help she so desperately needed.

'Lorena's Subject Matter Is More Than The Sum Of Its Parts
Amazon Studios

It's difficult to watch the docu-series and how people weren't sympathetic to Lorena Bobbitt from the beginning. There are excuses made ⏤ she didn't speak perfect English, she didn't dress the right way for a victim. These are statements we still see trotted out in rape cases today. Even in the wake of the #MeToo era, there is still discussion on social media regarding who is more credible. Most times the inclination is to side with the powerful man. John Bobbitt wasn't a man of power. In fact, the police reiterate the man's lack of intelligence, leaving the audience to understand that his credibility came with being a male. The evidence didn't matter; the man's side was just the de facto side to be on. What's sadder? The numerous male interview subjects who witnessed Lorena's abuse and did nothing to help her.

The story delineates society's slow embrace of putting victims first, and it also illustrates how much racism and anti-immigrant sentiment played into Lorena's presumed lack of likability. She became representative of the Latin spit-fire, a woman lusting for a green card. Ironically, her family is interviewed and they explicitly mention hesitancy over Lorena marrying the all-American John. But as Lorena herself says, marriage and a husband were part of her American dream. Conversely, she became the perfect victim for John, who is demonstrated to be a man who expected his wife to be docile and subservient. In this case, more than any other, the stereotypes of the American dream and gender roles are illustrated for the stark and frightening realities they are. The American Dream creates a world where men expect feminine compliance and women expect a man who will provide with neither being respectful of individual autonomy. 

It took 26 years for audiences to hear Lorena Bobbitt's heart-wrenching story. Perhaps, it's the right time, considering the discussions we're now having about race and gender. Maybe in 1993, we just weren't ready to process who was the true victim. Thankfully, we're able to hear it now and realize the "woman scorned" is a sexist myth, yet this misconception has kept Lorena Bobbitt in a cage for the last two decades.

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