The jokes were seemingly endless. “No hard evidence.” “Won’t stand up in court.” This was part of the chaos surrounding the infamous John and Lorena Bobbitt fiasco from two decades ago. In June of 1993, Lorena Bobbitt was an Ecuadorian immigrant living in Arlington, Virginia and married to a former U.S. Marine, John Bobbitt. Lorena claimed John returned home in a drunken rage one night and raped her. In retaliation, she grabbed a kitchen knife and severed his penis. Then, she fled their apartment with the organ in her hand, dropping it into a field.
The story quickly made international headlines, and Lorena Bobbitt became an instant feminist heroine. And then, the jokes started – about John Bobbitt. Everyone, it seemed, especially television and radio talk show hosts, had a good time with it. Women in my own workplace laughed out loud about it, carrying on as if they were discussing the antics at a family dinner. But, I noticed no one made fun of Lorena Bobbitt.
Exactly one year after the Bobbitt incident domestic violence took a deadlier turn when O.J. Simpson was charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a friend of hers, Ron Goldman. Shortly after Simpson’s arrest, a group of women’s rights activists, led by Los Angeles-based feminist attorney Gloria Allred, demanded that Simpson be put to death, if he was found guilty. Legal semantics did not concern them in that Simpson qualified for the death penalty under California law because supposedly he’d murdered two people at the same time. Too many men, they declared, had murdered their female partners and gotten away with it. They wanted an example made of Simpson. Keep in mind that they called for Simpson’s life even before he was arraigned in court and long before the actual trial began. But, amidst all the talk about the volatile relationship between Simpson and his ex-wife, one person was consistently left out of the picture: Ron Goldman. He was hardly mentioned. In fact, he was almost always referred to as “her friend,” meaning Nicole Simpson’s. It took a lawsuit by Goldman’s father to bring Ron’s name to the forefront. But, even now, Ron is still often referred to as “Nicole’s friend.”
Four months after the Simpson case erupted family violence took yet another tragic turn. In York, South Carolina, Susan Smith placed her two young sons in her car and rolled the vehicle into a local lake whereupon the boys drowned. Smith claimed that a man had carjacked her. As with the Simpson case, race played a significant role because Smith had specifically stated a Black man had committed the crime. As officials scoured the local area for the missing car, they also descended on every Black man in the county. Not just those with a criminal record, of which there were few. Virtually every Black make who passed through York, South Carolina found himself with a target on his back. Finally, after intense scrutiny, Smith confessed to the unthinkable: she had fabricated the entire story, from the kidnapping to the pleas for her boys’ return, and led police to her car. She had driven it into a local lake – her toddlers strapped into their car seats. The boys’ bodies were still entombed in the submerged vehicle.
The media did a good job of showing many women lovingly holding onto their children, as if to emphasize that most women wouldn’t dream of behaving like Susan Smith. In the Simpson case, however, the media didn’t make any effort to note that most men don’t abuse, much less murder, their wives or ex-wives.
Then, during her trial, Smith made a stunning accusation. She claimed her stepfather, Beverly Russell, had molested her as a teenager. And, after Smith was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, the focus suddenly shifted away from her and her dead young sons and onto Russell. And the same band of feminists who had been so quiet throughout the trial suddenly rose up in anger, demanding that Russell be investigated. And, just like Ron Goldman, Smith’s two sons were lost in the heated discussion about domestic violence.
I thought of these cases Both the Bobbitt and Simpson cases brought the ugly specter of domestic violence into a new light. Virtually every analysis of this subject, however, has focused on males as the aggressors. If anyone mentions the term battered husbands, they are met with incredulity. But, in a 1974 study of couples in which violence had occurred, researcher Richard Gelles found that while 47% of the men initiated the violence on a wife or girlfriend, 33% of the women did the same to a husband or boyfriend. In 1980, Gelles joined with fellow researchers Murray Straus, a pioneer in family violence research, and Suzanne Steinmetz, another prominent sociologist, to analyze an even greater number of similar situations and found that the percentages had increased exponentially – for women. In 1999, University of Wisconsin psychology professor Terrie Moffitt confirmed those findings and added that, contrary to feminist proclamations, women don’t often initiate violence as a measure of self-defense. They are often the aggressors.
Admittedly, roughly 75% of arrestees in domestic violence cases are male. But, does that mean men simply are more violent? Or, that police are more likely to arrest men? Still, the idea of women being violent is somewhat foreign. It contradicts the stereotype of the helpless, passive female.
So, just how many battered men are there in this country? No one knows. Despite years of analysis – even of that particular subject – researchers still can’t present an accurate count. To feminists, this proves that domestic violence is strictly male-on-female and nothing else. But, to those studying this issue from an analytical perspective, it points to a cultural definition of manhood. Men who are abused emotionally or physically by women are considered weak; the objects of ridicule; less than human.
To me, it points to a long-held assumption that violence against men is perfectly acceptable; that the male life is expendable. It starts in infancy, when many newborn males in the United States are routinely circumcised without any type of anesthetic relief and for no established medical purpose. The procedure became common in the early 1950s in the U.S. and soon reached a peak of roughly 90% within a few years. That figure remained relatively steady for the next 30 years, when it began to decline. By 2010, the rate of newborn male circumcisions had dropped to an astonishingly low 40%. But that’s been a difficult battle to fight. It’s still perfectly legal to sever part of an infant male’s penis for the ridiculously mere purposes of religious means or aesthetic sensibilities. Any efforts to ban the procedure – even at a local level – have always been met with hostility and ultimately abandoned.
Yet, in the 1990’s, the issue of so-called female circumcision became prominent, and women’s rights activists pushed for laws to ban the procedure in this country. They achieved that in 1996 with the passage of the Female Genital Mutilation Act, which received 100% support from all members of the U.S. Congress and took effect immediately. Opponents of FGM declared that female circumcision is worst because it removes all of the genitalia, while male circumcision only removes part of the penis. That’s like saying, if you’re going to hurt somebody, stab them. But, for God’s sake, don’t shoot them. Still, FGM never has been practiced in the U.S. or most other developed nations. Personally, I’d never heard of it until the early 1990s.
On the issue of child abuse, male children are six times as likely to endure physical abuse and ten times as likely to suffer injury than their female counterparts. Some school districts, even at the elementary level, maintain policies that forbid corporal punishment from being administered to girls, but not boys.
And then, there’s Selective Service. Mandatory military service for men in the U.S. ended nearly half a century ago, but Selective Service was reinstated in 1980. All males in this country are required to register for Selective Service within thirty days of turning 18. While there’s no penalty for late registration, there are some severe penalties for failing to register; such as an inability to obtain financial assistance for college, find employment, or get a driver’s license. Non-registrants can be fined several thousands of dollars and be imprisoned. Even men who are only children or only sons and those who are physically disabled (but can leave their residence under their own power) are required to register. Selective Service means young men can be drafted into the military in times of national crisis; meaning they can be forced into a war; meaning they could get killed. It turns young men into cannon fodder. Yet, all of that is perfectly acceptable.
Not until 2013 did the United States finally allow women already enlisted in the military to serve in combat roles. But they still can’t be conscripted. And Americans remain squeamish about the thought of women coming home in body bags, or with missing limbs. Apparently, though, we’ve made peace with seeing men return like that.
In the realm of capital punishment, men comprise 98.5% of death row inmates. Death penalty opponents often point out the racial disparities in meting out capital punishment, which are valid. But, in reality, the death penalty is more sexist than racist. And, when women are sentenced to die, the objections are especially boisterous. In 1984, Velma Barfield of North Carolina became the first woman executed in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment eight years earlier. At the time, she was only the tenth woman executed in the U.S. since 1900. Barfield poisoned a number of people to death, including her own mother. But, when she was sentenced to death, a tidal wave of protests, including some by religious leaders, ensued. And, the same cacophony of protests surrounded the execution of Karla Faye Tucker here in Texas in 1998. No one actually has declared that it’s immoral to execute a woman, even if she is a proven killer. But, it seems to be implied.
I’m not trying to defend the likes of John Bobbitt or O.J. Simpson. Neither has been an upstanding citizen. And, no one really knows what happened those two different nights so many years ago, except the parties involved. The police had been called to the Bobbitt home several times in the months preceding the knife incident. As one observer put it, to say that John and Lorena Bobbitt had marital problems is like saying Jeffery Dahmer had an eating disorder. It somewhat trivializes the entire matter.
Violence is violence, regardless of gender, race, age, or any other attribute. It’s morally wrong and it serves no purpose. We need to stop putting prices on people’s lives and categorizing violence according to how much injury the victim incurs. Despite decades of progress regarding basic human rights, most societies – even those with high standards of living and educational rates like the U.S. – seem to believe it’s okay to kill men. Except in rare cases of self-defense, it is not okay to kill anybody.
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
Image: J.L.A. De La Garza