You Know The Lorena Bobbitt Story. But Not All Of It.
The filmmakers who approached her over the years never wanted to focus on the abuse, the story she really wanted to talk about. Even though the “War of the Bobbitts,” as People magazine called it, happened two years after Anita Hill inserted sexual harassment into the conversation and “Thelma & Louise” turned a housewife and a waitress into renegade icons of female revenge, most people never really thought of Lorena in those terms. Men, speaking from Charlie Rose’s table and Geraldo Rivera’s armchairs, made Lorena seem like an unsatisfied, unhinged wife who had dealt a ghastly blow in the gender wars. And while many women defended Lorena and wondered what John must have done to drive her to it, some feminists argued that she had hurt the cause, making the sisterhood look deranged. “It was like, ‘Oh yeah, so now a lot of women are going to do this,’” remembered Katha Pollitt, who wrote about the trial for The Nation. “I do not remember Lorena Bobbitt, feminist hero.”
Domestic violence activists tried to refocus the conversation. “Nobody cared about anything except John and his surgery and his ‘loss,’” said Kim A. Gandy, a former president of the National Organization for Women. “We did a lot of interviews and the approach was often something like ‘Well, that’s what you feminists wanted all along.’”
Then, in 1994, O.J. Simpson was arrested and later acquitted in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman. That same year Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act. “The national dialogue that started with Anita Hill, Lorena Bobbitt, O.J. Simpson, finally created a national discourse that gave us some traction on legislation,” said Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
So, even though most portrayals of Lorena made her seem like, in her words, “this crazy, jealous lady,” the Bobbitt trial did play a part in the laws changing.
That was the version of the story that Joshua Rofé, a documentarian who had made “Lost for Life,” about juveniles serving life sentences in prison, wanted to tell. He explained that to Lorena when he reached out to her in December 2016, after reading about her work with domestic violence victims in HuffPost. They talked for nearly a year before Lorena, motivated by her outrage about the election of Donald J. Trump and, months later, the #MeToo movement, decided the climate was finally right to tell her side. It just so happened that at the same time, a wave of movies, documentaries and podcasts (“I, Tonya,” “The Clinton Affair,” “Slow Burn”) had shined new light on other women engulfed in scandals in the 1990s. Lorena identified with Tonya Harding and Monica Lewinsky. “We were vilified by the media, vilified and that is so sad. It happens to women,” she said. Maybe, she figured, her story could finally get equal billing to John’s penis.