Avenger, punch line or criminal? There was no cutting off the debate
December 27, 1993 – January 3, 1994


Maybe Lorena Bobbitt’s first mistake was marrying a Marine named John Wayne. With a tattoo on his biceps that he liked to flex for the women at the local swimming pool. After signing himself in as Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Was John Wayne Bobbitt just a bit too smitten with his muscular studliness ? Perhaps so. For whether or not, on June 23, the 26-year-old unemployed restaurant host actually committed the sexual assault of which he was accused, he clearly –somehow- went beyond the bounds of what his marriage could bear. As, in retaliation, did Lorena, stalking into the kitchen, returning with an eight-inch knife and slicing off the organ too personal for initial news reports to mention by name. The story of the 24-year-old Manassas, Va., manicurist’s furious act at first seemed likely to come and go quickly, much in the manner of her unhappy mate, but it, like the organ, displayed a surprising resilience. Even as news of the celebrated penis’s removal swept the nation, men shuddered uneasily and women, though often disapproving, seemed to be saying, “I understand.”

On Nov. 10, it took a jury of nine women and three men just four hours to acquit John Bobbitt, surgically reunited with his penis, of marital assault. But by that time the court of public opinion had already turned Lorena into a symbol of female vengeance. Notes writer Naomi Wolf of the amputation (which she condemned): “it is the perfect allegory for the escalating gender war.” The name Bobbitt also became an instant talk show punch line –this year’s “Buttafuoco!”

Above the laughter and the din of debate, a restraining voice, unexpectedly, was provided by Lorena herself, who in January faces trial for “malicious wounding.” She is mortified that anyone could judge her predicament –or her estranged husband’s- anything but tragic. “Nobody deserved this,” she said.