Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This date in history: Lorena Bobbitt sliced off her husband's penis and exposed the politics of hate


Introduction

The mutilation of John Wayne Bobbitt by his wife, Lorena, on June 23, 1993, marks one of the most appalling and reprehensible chapters in modern Western 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 away.  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 merely because of the gruesome act of mayhem that defined it. It was all the more despicable because of the unspeakable glee, the unbridled delight, and the inexplicable exultation expressed by feminists and large segments of the female population, who luxuriated in the vile mutilation of some lower class nobody, a man who had difficulty holding onto a job as a manual laborer.  Feminists regarded the event as both a watershed moment in the battle of the sexes and a justifiable assault on maleness itself.  Just as ancient warriors sometimes took the penises of their vanquished enemies as war trophies, what better way of trumpeting victory in the battle of the sexes than to take patriarchy's quintessential symbol from one of its foot soldiers?

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, with de rigueur, mindless, knee jerk fidelity, women's organizations branded the perpetrator "the victim" and the victim "the perpetrator" strictly along gender lines, even though the alleged rape was "he said/she said," and even though there was no question that she mutilated him while he slept. This 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, for feminists and many women, the trial was over even before it had begun. They arrogated to any woman the right to exact the most gruesome vigilante justice on any "member" of any member of the opposite sex. The Bobbitt affair was feminist stardust wishfulness come true.

John Bobbitt: 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 to believe anything stopped either one from leaving the other, and at the time of the maiming, they had been discussing divorce.  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 feminists alike insist on printing the legend. In the Bobbitt case, the legend quickly took hold that of course John Bobbitt raped his wife.  The problem is, the facts don't support the legend.  It seems more likely that John Bobbitt was the victim of not only a horrible bodily mutilation but also of a false rape claim. 

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 that's in the psyche of many women." 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. "This is the result of feminists teaching women 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 did nothing to end the misandry.

Lorena Bobbitt: Feminist Hero

From the outset, Lorena Bobbitt was widely regarded as a feminist 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 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 seemed to sum up the feelings of many women without the pretentious feminist patina: "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's severed penis was a sacrificial offering for the collective guilt of all men on the altar of political correctness.

The mainstream media was only too happy to mirror the feminist glee with barely any more restraint.  Progressive writers (we called them "liberal" back then) 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.  Female features writers couldn't bring themselves to outright applaud the mutilation but they went to great lengths to make clear that they were sympathetic to it.  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."  A not-so-veiled justification for mutilation, so long as the mutilation involves a penis, and premised on a thousand modern-day Chicken Little fables and made-up stats that encourage young women to see sexual predation oozing from every male zipper.

Then there was celebrated columnist Ellen Goodman, Radcliffe grad and Pulitzer Prize winner, one of the darlings of progressive feminism 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 mantle to make this working class putz her personal piƱata.  Ms. Goodman, of course, refused to come out and condone the mutilation, but she certainly could "explain," in a decidedly feminist way, both the mutilation and women's 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 without bothering to support her pronouncement with silly things like evidence, "the police blotter was full of abused and battered wives -- an almost unilateral massacre."  (Because, you see, in 1993, women did not commit domestic violence. Even today, few progressive female writers accept the indisputable fact, proven beyond question, that women commit domestic violence in significant numbers -- against men, and other women.)  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."  Ms. Goodman's take on the matter, of course, proves one thing: even misandrists can win a Pulitzer Prize.
 
To use the stilted, stick-up-their-ass syntax of Women's Studies majors, trying ever so hard to convince everyone they are actually getting an education in those wretched classes, Ms. Bobbitt was the leveler of gendered power differentials.  She was a feminist Batman, without the codpiece. Never mind that none of the women applauding penile mutilation would applaud any other type of brutal vigilante justice for any other type of crime. Nothing a woman could do would ever justify mutilation of her breasts or vagina. Yet vigilante justice directed at the penis of some below average guy was heralded with a giddy "you go, girlfriend!" heard around the world.

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.

John Bobbitt Fit the Feminist Metanarrative as Oppressor of Women

What was behind all this contempt, all this hatred for a run-of-the-mill 26-year-old man who, by any logical measure, was the real victim here?  Think Duke lacrosse.  He fit the feminist stereotype as an oppressor. He was young, white and an ex-Marine. The fact that he was anything but "privileged" was easy to overlook and, in fact, beneficial because he lacked the capacity to defend himself against the Ellen Goodmans of the world.
 
As Thomas Sowell recently wrote in Intellectuals and Society: "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.  He might also have cited the Bobbitt affair.

The Politics of Hate

But some columnists couldn't accept that women in general embraced the feminist glee over the mutilation. Syndicated columnist Mona Charen explained why Mrs. Bobbitt was chosen as a feminist pinup girl: the mutilation, they believed, was "every woman's fantasy." The case gripped the media because, Ms. Charen lamented, "they [the media] really believe that most women feel that way deep down." But Ms. Charen recognized how utterly twisted all of it was: "If feminists 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." The brilliant Charles Krauthammer, one of America's most respected political commentators, chimed in and noted that the hypothetical where the genders were reversed "would not have the weight of feminist rage behind it."  Newsweek nailed it: "Just imagine what [feminists'] reaction would be if someone had tried to cut off a woman's breast. 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 feminists' view 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 doesn't seem to have occurred to Ms. Gandy that John Bobbitt might not have raped his wife. Ms. Gandy, obviously, knew better than the jury.  Or if it did occur to her that perhaps Mr. Bobbitt was factually innocent, she didn't let that inconvenient fact get in the way of her women-are-always-the-victim metanarrative.

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. 

The Lorena Bobbitt trial was a feminist Woodstock.  A carnival atmosphere swept over Manassas, where it was held.  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.

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; and 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."  Mr. 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 Mrs. 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 jeolous, unpredictable physical attacks.

In the end, the jury found Lorena Bobbitt not guilty of malicious wounding by reason of insanity and 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."

Did you get that?  45 days in a mental health wing of a hospital.  Until relatively recently, many states punished rape with the death penalty.  It is clear beyond question that very few rapes are as vicious, as brutal, as inhumane as the attack on Mr. Bobbitt.  But 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 could literally, and officially, 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 female 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 said violence is not OK. Mrs. Bobbitt "pulled the wool over the jury's eyes," 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.

Legacy

The Bobbitt affair ripped off an ugly scab and exposed the even more loathsome oozing pus that mainstream feminism had become. It revealed a worse-than-nasty vindictive streak, so wide and drawn with such bright-lines, that proved feminism is less interested in achieving gender equity than in blindly punishing an entire gender for the unnamed sins of a tiny percentage of its members.

The principal legacy of the Bobbitt affair was to "empower" women by insisting they are powerless; because of that purported powerlessness, they are excused from assuming personal responsibility for their actions.  The problem is, the more we institutionalize the notion that women are powerless, the more we underscore that women really aren't men's equals. The Bobbitt affair was a setback for women's quest for true equality.

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 last year, 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.)

In writing this piece, I entertained the thought that perhaps the Bobbitt affair might present a lesson or two for men -- about domestic violence, and about how women view the world differently and that their viewpoint needs to be respected.  After all, John Bobbitt was no saint. There was plenty of evidence that he abused his wife during the course of their marriage (of course, there was ample evidence that she abused him, too).

I explored, and then rejected those notions as lacking any validity. The brutal act of mutilation, and the depraved reaction of feminists, the mainstream media, and, frankly, too many women, 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 feminist 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.  Any assertion that "feminism helps men, too" evaporated with the Bobbitt affair. The detestable reaction to the crime was too hateful to entertain such pretenses any longer. The only lesson for men from this ordeal was to avoid women like Lorena Bobbitt, and to realize that maleness is unfairly held in widespread contempt.

Following the mutilation, men, as a class, were exposed to a disdain many had not known existed, and they didn't know how to react to it.  But men's bewilderment was understandable.  In the days just before the Internet explosion, men didn't know that they were "all" rapists. Nor did anyone bother to explain to them that they were the supposed beneficiaries of a "patriarchy" that made them undeservedly privileged. You see, most men were too busy working to make ends meet, ironically, 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.

It is fittingly symbolic that John Bobbitt slept while his wife was busy slicing off his penis, because it mirrored the slumber of Western men while feminism hacked away at the very concept of masculinity.

But since that awful night in 1993, the men's movement has grown by the proverbial leaps and bounds. The Internet has exposed countless men to an ongoing battle of the sexes that they didn't even know was being waged at the time Mrs. Bobbitt committed her vile act.  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.  Without question, 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 women to win by default.

Like Mr. Bobbitt, who was very rudely awakened by the cold, sharp steel cutting through his manhood, men, in general, are also awakening.  They are still groggy, and they are wiping the sleep from their eyes.  But soon, they will be wide awake, and with a little bit of luck, they will be able to grab the knife before they are completely emasculated.

Pictured above: "The Revenge of Lorena Bobbitt" by Sandow Birk