This past Sunday morning, I breezed through Amazon Prime’s new series focused on the Lorena Bobbitt case. I was actually irritated when I realized it was 10:30 am and I hadn’t fed my family yet… so I had to pause watching. With the pause, I still finished the series that day.
The Bobbitt case happened right when I was entering the television news profession. I really didn’t like the story that much and tried not to pay much attention. As someone who was just starting her journey to heal from sexual assault, rape, and abuse, tuning in to another story about it was not something I wanted to do.
I am now a bit embarrassed by how blasé I decided to be about this case. I think if I had focused more on the abuse Lorena endured, I might have found a bit of my story in hers and not felt so alone.
However, the coverage surrounding the case was… well… crass and gross. I didn’t want to hear about a woman who cut off a man’s… part. Comedians were telling tasteless jokes, and I remember thinking I was really prude to be turned off by what they thought was funny.
I am ashamed to say, though, I was not angry about the jokes, nor did I ever say people should stop making a joke out of it all. I wish I had. I could blame frontal lobe development and all that, but as a survivor… I should have known better.
Watching this special series, I was struck by just how much we, as a society, thought it was ok to joke about the pain that led this woman to do what she did. I watched a man I thought (and still think) was funny… David Letterman… do a horrible Top Ten list on why she cut it off. I watched Steve Harvey make a mockery out of why she just tossed it into the grass.
It all stopped my breathing at one point.
How is it we thought something that was so painful for her … it drove her to do something none of us think we would do… was a joke? Where was our sensitivity? Why did all the comedians and talk show hosts take the story into the gutter and drag it and kick it around like some playground ball?
Why, in the early 90s, wasn’t I wondering all of this?
The person who made me the saddest in the documentary was Howard Stern. I know, I know… he is a sexist pig who could care less about anyone but himself. He thinks way too highly of himself and way too little about women. This is his M-O.
However, as he made a celebrity out of John Wayne Bobbitt and said a number of times he thinks Lorena was lying… I thought… here is someone who truly is at ground zero of the platforms that demean women. He didn’t just “shock jock” his way through life… he lived the things he said. He sat across from a man who beat and raped his wife, and ridiculed the wife.
As my mind reeled with all the images and soundbites of kicking a woman who was already kicked, beaten and raped, I realized the real issue then was not everyone believed her story. In fact, many were really mad that she cut his thing, and didn’t even bat an eye to witness testimony, and to her testimony, describing the repeated abuse and rapes. In fact, many didn’t believe a married woman could be raped by her husband.
I suspect many don’t believe it now.
We have taken so many steps forward. I would like to believe the coverage and jokes we had then would not fly today. I would like to believe the only place you would find that type of talk would be the places where you hear people say it doesn’t matter that our current President talked about grabbing women’s p***ies. I would like to believe more people would believe Lorena now.
The fact that many did not believe her then led to John Wayne being able to abuse many more women. One woman described being tied up and repeatedly raped by him over several days.
I am sure our eyes would have focused in more on the accounts of abuse and rape, and we would be much more aware.
Then again, we watched a man going before Congress for a job interview for the Supreme Court and so many shunned the woman who said he raped her.
We have so much more work to do in our society. We may have evolved from an environment where people do not talk about their abuse, to one where some victims scream their stories loudly, but we do still have those who try so very hard to demoralize any who speak out.
In the early 90s, as Lorena was fighting for her life… I was still trying to figure out how much of my own life I would be able to survive. I didn’t talk about my abuses or rape back then. I wasn’t sure why others did… it only led to ridicule and more pain.
Now, though, I have shared my stories openly and honestly, in the hopes that other victims/survivors will find them, read them, and feel a little less alone.
Maybe, just maybe, if more can talk about their experiences, we won’t find victims/survivors at the end of punch lines.
Instead, we will find their attackers inside prison cells.