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What ‘Lorena’ is Really About

“They can cut a million clits off in Africa and nobody hears word. Cut one dick off and the whole fuckin’ country stops. You know? It’s a man’s world.” Nobody said it better than sex worker Airforce Amy, one of the subjects interviewed for the docuseries “Lorena” that came out on Amazon Prime this past February.

The whole world apparently went mad when they heard the Bobbitt’s story. I was not born when this story occurred so I had never heard of it, because of this, I came into this documentary with fresh eyes. It seems so clear to me that Lorena is a victim of domestic violence and sexual assault, and alone in a new country with no one to turn to and in fear of being killed, was driven to do what she had to in order to survive. But the toxic culture that framed the story during that time was so strong that the truth seemed to get lost in all the misogynistic noise.

I guess if you’re like me and don’t know the story of Lorena and John Bobbit, here it is: on June 23, 1993, in the apartment that the Bobbitts shared in Manassas, Virginia, Lorena went into the kitchen for a glass of water, came back into the bedroom with a knife, and cut her husband’s penis off. Then she left the house with the penis in hand and ended up throwing it out her car window.

Like I expect a lot of people do when they watch the first episode of “Lorena,” I laughed while a bunch of old men, policemen, doctors, lawyers, etc., sat there discussing what had been done to John Bobbitt. These men were either smiling or squirming and it was very enjoyable to watch. I do not think I would have laughed so hard if I had known the full story. Not that I’m shedding a tear for the pile of human garbage that is John Bobbit, but I did not yet know the details of the abuse that would lead Lorena to do what she did. 

I would soon learn that John Bobbit had a history of abusing Lorena that had led to the police being called several times. I would also learn that on top of the physical assault, he was raping her as well. Since her trial was filmed for national television, we continuously see Lorena herself giving testimony describing the abuse she experienced. It is very difficult to watch. Your heart breaks for this young woman who was being tortured by the man that was supposed to love her.

It astounds me how many people were on John’s side, despite the fact that he was on trial for sexual marital assault and there was ample proof that he was abusing her. A culture of believing women is certainly not something we have mastered, but I would like to believe we have at least made some improvement since 1993. Although I have no doubt that many people to this day would support John and either refuse to believe Lorena or think that no matter what, her actions were inexcusable. 

The fourth episode was the strongest for me. It really got to the core of what this whole story is about, abuse and the damage it can cause. I felt that the series should have had this at the forefront more than it did, but it was still a very central aspect. 

“Lorena” touches a lot on how Lorena was portrayed in the media and how her gender and her race played into the story that was told. Lorena was portrayed as a jealous, vengeful woman who lashed out at John after he told her he would leave her. Lorena was an Ecuadorean immigrant and because of this was also portrayed as a “hot-blooded Latina” in the press and the courtroom.   

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I think the choice the filmmakers made to give “Lorena” a bittersweet ending was the right one. The series does not pretend that how Lorena was portrayed in the media was solely a consequence of her time, but a consequence of the patriarchal society we still live in today. 

Kim Gandy, President and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said it perfectly, “If Lorena’s story hit today, Fox News would take the place of Howard Stern and the 24-hour news cycle would focus on what she did instead of what he did.”

We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to breaking down the patriarchal values that protect abusers instead of victims and “Lorena” certainly does not sugarcoat that. What it does do is tell the story of the wife who cut off her husband’s penis, just this time it’s from the wife’s perspective.

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