The Rebel Girl: Having A Bobbitt Sort of Day?

Against the Current, No. 48, January/February 1994

Catherine Sameh

The headlong stream is termed violent
But the river bed hemming it in is
Termed violent by no one.
The storm that bends the birch trees
Is held to be violent
But how about the storm
That bends the backs of the roadworkers?
—Bertold Brecht, “On Violence”

LORENA BOBBITF DID not know she would become a national heroine figure when she took a knife to her. husband’s penis. That her act would inspire a raging debate about rape, violence, self-defense and the “appropriate” display of anger by women—like Thelma and Louise, except this time all characters and incidents were real.

I’m certain she didn’t think much about the consequences of her action, though I’m also sure she had fantasized about this very act many times before. What Lorena Bobbitt did was the opposite of what she had always done—internalize her rage—and instead turned that rage outward, into what many would simply call revenge.

Women’s anger, particularly of the type that inspires such revenge, more than the possibility of castration, death or any other bizarre forms of torture, is the true fear of all male citizens who live in a society that keeps women down.

Now, one month after a jury rejected Lorena Bobbitt’s charge that her husband was guilty of marital sexual assault, she awaits her trial in January. The charge: malicious wounding.

Like the women who have killed their husbands, boyfriends or unknown assailants in self-defense and now serve life sentences in maximum security prisons, Lorena Bobbitt will not be acquitted. She faces penalties far more severe than John Wayne Bobbitt will ever face.

While there are the stalwart defenders of John Wayne Bobbitt, such as Howard Stern, who have generated enormous sympathy for the victimized husband, there are also those who believe Bobbitt was probably ‘a creep but, hey, no creep deserves what that psycho-bitch did.

They miss the point.

Brecht’s poem helps us see it. There is violence and there is violence. That Lorena, and not John Wayne, Bobbitt has become the villainous one obscures the daily, institutionalized and widely accepted acts of male violence against women which never get noticed.

I don’t want to exalt Lorena Bobbitt. There have been more far-reaching, bet- ter thought-out acts of bravery and struggle by women in the history of patriarchy. But there is ajoke I love going around my workplace these days: If on a given day, one of us is having a hard time feeling that overwhelming sense of love and humanity for our fellow men that we women work hard to maintain, we say we’re having a Bobbitt sort of day.

January-February 1994, ATC 48