PEOPLE
SEVERANCE PAY – WAR OF THE BOBBITTS
Amid a media circus, the Bobbitts of Manassas prepare for her day in court
December 13, 1993


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(cover)

WHOO! WHOO! WHOO!"
It is 6:15 a.m., and a very tense John Wayne Bobbitt is sitting in the green room at New York City's WXRK‑FM, home of Howard Stern's syndicated radio show. "Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!" Bobbitt, 26, exhales loudly and rhythmically, trying to steady his jangling nerves. His media ad­viser and his lawyer sit nearby, musing over the various television and movie offers they are fielding for their client. Bobbitt, in a gray T‑shirt and extremely snug black jeans, is oblivious to their conversation, preoccupied with doing his warm‑up stretches. As the ex‑Marine raises his arms, the fish tattoo reading "Barbell" on his left biceps ripples. Abruptly, Bobbitt jumps up and runs down the hall to the men's room, where he executes several push‑ups. "I'm a little nervous," he confesses when he returns, and indeed he is looking rather pale.

But Bobbitt is among friends here: Howard Stern is holding a telethon ‑the shock jock, typically, uses a cruder expression‑ to raise money to help pay Bobbitt's estimated $250,000 in legal and medical expenses.

Despite the performance anxiety, Bobbitt does just fine once he goes on the air. The man whose wife sliced off his penis with a paring knife handles Stern's interrogation coolly and without embarrassment.

Q : Is there sexual function?
A: Not yet.
Q: Is there a scar?
A: Slight. It's healing.
Q: Does it hurt?
A: Yeah, like when you take a shower. The nerves are real sensitive.

Meanwhile, in the station's tiny studio, eight male crew members listen intently, mesmerized by the saga of a man and his most private part.

Is there anyone in America who has not been transfixed, even momentarily, by this story? Ever since June when Lorena Bobbitt took her revenge for what she said was marital rape and tossed her husband's severed penis from a moving car, only to have it found and reattached in a triumph of modern medicine ‑Bobbitt‑mania has been loose in the land. David Letterman has begun dropping the laugh-line "My girlfriend Lorena" into his nightly patter, T‑shirt designers are happy, and radio stations everywhere play ballads inspired by Lorena and Johnny‑ including "Re‑Attach My Member," sung to the tune of the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together." "It's been kept alive because of requests," says Detroit deejay George Baier of WCSX‑FM, one of the ditty's auteurs. "It's one of our bigger novelty songs."

And a good five months after the Bobbitts first made the news, and one month after a jury rejected Lorena's charge that her husband was guilty of marital sexual assault, Bobbitt‑mania shows no signs of abating. According to Jay Leno, who estimates he has contributed some 15 to 20 Bobbitt jokes to the stew, the mere mention of the couple is still a guaranteed laugh. "Every man can imagine the Bobbitt thing happening to them," Leno explains. "Every guy in America is sleeping on his stomach now." If anything, the phenomenon may intensify in the coming months. Both John and Lorena have media consultants, and both are seeking book and TV movie deals. In fact, like Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco ‑the ill‑fated couple the Bobbitts seem to have supplanted in the public imagination- their saga may well inspire dueling entertainment projects.

Also like the Amy and Joey affair, their conflict seems to have become a symbolic skirmish in the war between the sexes. Even the endless torrent of jokes affects men and women differently. Says syndicated columnist and psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers: Men tend to laugh nervously at the Bobbitt situation "because it terrifies them." Women, on the other hand, laugh because "they feel empowered… they are no longer feeling helpless about rape." Notes Brothers: "This was a watershed act dividing men and women."

If so, the man in the midst of the watershed often seems in over his head. Advised by his lawyers to keep silent in the weeks leading up to his trial ‑even as Lorena described him on 20/20 and in Vanity Fair as a sexually selfish monster‑ Bobbitt is now going public with his side of the story. Backstage at the Stern show, flanked by his handlers, he presents himself as a simple, sensitive soul who knows only that his marriage went seriously and irrevocably wrong ‑and that he was badly wounded as a result. "I'm a really nice guy," he says. "I've been as nice as I can be all my life."

Yet even here he can't stop himself from being naughty. For instance, Stern plans to hold another Bobbitt fund‑raiser, a pay‑per‑view Miss Howard Stern New Year's Eve Pageant, for which Bobbitt (along with Heidi Fleiss and Jessica Hahn) will be a judge. Envisioning the comely young contestants, Bobbitt speculates that "maybe I'll do a little butt bongo"‑a lewd Stern routine. Paul Erickson, Bobbitt's media consultant, can't help but wince.

Despite the occasional missteps, John, like Lorena before him, presents a naively one‑sided version of events. At 21, he was relatively inexperienced with women, he says, until he met Lorena ‑an Ecuadorian‑born Venezuelan immigrant, then 19 ‑at a club for enlisted men near the Quantico Marine base in Virginia. He was immediately attracted to the slender young woman with the long, dark brown hair. "She was pretty," he says. "She had a cute accent. We thought we were in love."

Marriage, he claims, was Lorena's idea. After they had been dating for six months, she told John her visa was expiring. "I didn't want her to leave," he says, "so we went to a justice of the peace." They married on June 18, 1989, and celebrated with breakfast at a Virginia Big Boy.

For a time, according to John, married life was smooth and uncomplicated. "She was nice," he says. "But she became stubborn and gradually violent if things didn't go her way." Although he says he "tried to teach her that the only way to resolve things was to cooperate," the problem was "she never talked things out." Still, Bobbitt claims he "tried to change to suit her needs." Even so, they separated in October 1991, only to get back together a year later. For much of that time, he returned to live with his family in Niagara Falls, N.Y. (And recently, a Niagara Falls woman accused John of fathering her son, born December 1992, an accusation John denies.)

When they reconciled, according to Bobbitt, the only thing right with the relationship was the sex. He denies Lorena's famous claim to the police ‑"He always have orgasm and he doesn't wait for me to have orgasm"‑ and says he studied books on lovemaking techniques. In fact, he displays a copy of the best‑selling How to Satisfy a Woman Every Time as he speaks. "I'm not a greedy lover," says Bobbitt. "I learned to slow down, to do it right." But Bobbitt says his request for a divorce last spring set Lorena off. "I was the first person she had slept with," he explains. "I don't think she could face her family and say, 'My husband left me.' If I saw her now, I would ask her, 'Why did you do it ‑the real reason?'"

The reason Lorena presented, to the press and at his trial, is that in the early morning of June 23, her husband came home after a night out drinking and forced himself on her. Hardly knowing what she was doing, she said, she got a knife from the kitchen, used it, fled the house and tossed the organ out her car window. "He told me forced sex excited him," she said. Now awaiting her January trial for malicious wounding, Lorena is not talking about the case. John claimed that he came home late that night and fell asleep after undressing his wife and initiating sex. He awoke, he said, when he felt a "jerk" on his penis.

Lorena's story brought her considerable sympathy as a presumed abused wife. She has received letters of support, and immediately after the incident the Virginia chapter of NOW set up a support hot line. As recently as last week, women in San Francisco held a demonstration on her behalf, shouting, with unintended irony, "Stop the violence!"


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Lorena (earlier this year) has said she stole money from her boss to support her unemployed husband.

But this hardly means that most women believe Lorena's deed was justified. Naomi Wolf, author of Fire with Fire, which promotes the idea of "power feminism" over "victim feminism," cautions against casting Lorena Bobbitt as a heroine. "Women are just as capable of mayhem and sadism and cruelty as men," she says. "But it's just not acceptable to support violence."

Nor do experts expect to see a rash of copycat incidents. Indeed, what Lorena did is extremely rare. Roy Hazelwood, a sexual‑violence expert with the Behavioral Sciences Unit of the FBI, has never encountered a case quite like this. "Genital mutilation is fairly common," he says, "But it's either a homosexual crime, male against male, or male against female." There have been a few incidents of penile amputation in other parts of the world, such as Singapore and Hong Kong. And in Thailand in the mid‑'70s, according to an article in the American Journal of Surgery, at least 100 women foreshortened their unfaithful husbands and tossed the offending organs out the window ‑an act known locally as "feeding the ducks." Anthropologist Helen Fisher, author of Anatomy of Love, knows of no other cultures where women put errant mates under the knife. "My first reaction when I heard the Bobbitt story was amazement that it has not happened more often," she says. "We're playing with very strong emotions."

There is no doubt about that. And both Bobbitts still seem overwhelmed by their feelings. After a reporter receives a manicure from Lorena at the Nail Sculptor salon in Manassas, Va., where she continues to work, Lorena bursts into tears before declining to speak on the record. And as recently as three weeks ago, John, who has been in hiding, admitted that he might "forgive" Lorena. Though he now says he wants Lorena to go to jail ‑"to set an example"‑ he still carries a snapshot of his wife in his wallet. "It's sort of a symbol of what I went through," he ventures. "Maybe I'll meet Ms. Right someday and tear it up."

ELIZABETH GLEICK
ROCHELLE JONES, MARY HUZINEC and JANE SUGDEN in New York City, and bureau reports

TAKE THESE JOKES‑PLEASE

The battling Bobbitts have proved a bonanza for comics and entrepreneurs of all sorts. Herewith, some printable moments in the history of Bobbitt‑mania:

. Burbank radio station Power 106 sponsored the Lorena Bobbitt Wienie Toss. Hit the bull's‑eye with a hot dog, win a free ladies' night out on the town.

. David Letterman's best three Lorena Bobbitt Excuses: (7) That's what he gets for hoggin' the remote control. (5) I was trying to cut the price tag off his new pajamas and he sneezed. (1) Ginsumania!

. Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko ran two days worth of Bobbitt limericks from readers. For example: "This case,' said the cops, 'sure does pickle us./ Searching for a man's thing doesn't tickle us./ It was somewhere 'round here/ That she threw this man's gear/ But to us the whole thing is ri‑dick‑ulus.'

. Jay Leno quipped, "I understand John and Lorena want to get a divorce. That could shape up to be one of the ugliest custody battles in history."

END