The Castration Heard Around the World

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In 1993, Lorena Bobbitt cut off her husband John Wayne Bobbit’s penis and threw it out her car window. After police retrieved the penis, surgeons stitched it back on, though some argue that the cops should have left it on the ground by the 7-11. Lorena claimed John raped and repeatedly abused her. John claimed Lorena was lying and married him for a green card. The jury found neither of them guilty of sexual assault or malicious wounding. By then, the couple had already entered the court of public opinion, which is where their story continues to live twenty-five years later.

At Vanity Fair, Lili Anolik revisits this enduring story, retelling it for a new generation, and examining its relevance in 2018, a time of #MeToo, a sexist president and ongoing assaults to women’s rights.

Legally, the case was a draw. By acquitting both John and Lorena, the judicial system was basically throwing up its hands, admitting it didn’t know who to blame. The public, however, was neither so confused nor so equivocal. Complexity and ambiguity be damned. They wanted a villain—John, an under-employed former Marine barfly with barbells for brains. And a heroine—Lorena, a young woman tipping the scales at 92 pounds who could hardly speak except to weep. This wasn’t life, it was TV. In fact, it was reality TV, or would have been were such a term yet coined.

The case was emblematic of the times: In the early 90s, the gender wars were especially bloody, casualties running high on both sides. Thelma & Louise, the inciting incident of which was a thwarted rape, was the big movie of 1991. That same year, Anita Hill testified about Coke cans and pubic hairs at the confirmation hearing of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Camille Paglia declared Lorena’s deed a “revolutionary act.” Feminists supporting Lorena flashed the V-for-victory sign, then turned it on its side so it became a pair of scissors: snip snip.

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