Hidden Domestic Violence and Familial Abuse in Spring Awakening

By Pardes Lyons-Warren

 

Editor’s Note: This issue features essays written by students in FG110 Introduction to Feminist and Gender Studies taught by Dr. Heidi R. Lewis in Block 3. FG110 teaches students how to examine, power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. These essays respond to Spring Awakening, a Tony-award winning show set in the 19th century about a group of adolescents navigating the complexities of sexuality in an era where they have limited access to information,  hosted by Performing Arts at CC and Music, Theatre, & Dance.

 

 

Spring Awakening is a musical that attempts to address many issues including domestic violence. Ilse and Martha are two of Wendla’s close friends, however, their storylines are important and unique. Both of these young women experience abuse from their fathers. We learn this when Martha’s braid is coming undone and her friends tease her about cutting it off. Martha’s reaction is sharp and scared, she tells her friends that disobedience is rewarded with a beating in her home. She even reveals a fresh welt from being beaten with a belt buckle the night before. This scene is followed by Ilse and Martha singing a duet, consoling each other by sharing their experiences with violence and rape, each assuring the other she is not alone. Directed at their abusers, they sing, “You say all you want is a just a kiss goodnight / then you hold me and you whisper ‘Child the Lord won’t mind.’” As Sylvanna Falcón points out, “the use of rape as a tactic against women is well documented” (Falcón, 227). Though she is discussing war tactics, it can applied to the discipline of young women here as well.

In “Awful Acts and the Trouble with Normal,” Erica Meiners discusses the prevalence of rape in the home. She says, “the Bureau of Justice clearly identifies that ‘acquaintances’ and then family members are the highest risk category for sexually assaulting children” (Meiners 282). In the musical, Martha and Ilse’s friends had no idea about the abuse and the girls discourage them from telling anyone. Meiners examines the culture that allows for a blind eye to be turned on such heinous behavior. She says, “we are so willing to notice certain kinds of violence… but the other, equally devasting and even more intimate harm, is so carefully protected.” Systems of threats and a lack of precedence for justice keeps domestic violence hidden away.

This narrative is presented in the context of Wendla being upset that her mother shields her from learning about her sexuality. Her mother, and the culture Spring Awakening is set in, deem this knowledge inappropriate and a pathway to deviant behavior. It can also be inferred that her mother believes she is protecting Wendla from vicious men in the outside world. However, as Martha, Ilse and Weiners make clear, the outside world is not necessarily what young women should fear.

Though Martha’s and Ilse’s narratives are presented as side stories and may feel rushed, it is important that they are there. Weiners discusses how harmful the narrative of the “boogie man,” a stranger who will jump out of a bush and attack a woman walking home, is. Martha’s story emphasizes that point because her friends are shocked to hear her father abuses her, they can’t conceive of such an act. Furthermore, the secrecy of it in the community at large discourages Martha or Ilse from reporting their fathers.

 

FG 206/AN 208/RE200: The Anthropology of Islam in the Modern Middle East and its Diasporas

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Photo: “Listening to the World Bloom Again” Algerian Artist Djahida Houadef

 

Take FG 206/AN 208/RE 200: The Anthropology of Islam in the Modern Middle East and its Diasporas this summer with Nadia Guessous

How have anthropologists complicated our understanding of Islam? How have they challenged Orientalist representations of Islam as static, homogeneous, and inherently oppressive? Through richly contextualized ethnographies of Islam in the modern Middle East and its Diasporas, this course seeks: 1) to challenge dominant representations of Islam; 2) to derive critical epistemological and analytical insights from the work of anthropologists who have taken the Islamic tradition seriously on its own diverse and shifting terms; and 3) to parochialize some of our normative assumptions about the self, agency, reason, memory, the body, politics, ethics, tradition, the modern state, and secularism.

Sexual Repression and Heterosexual Normalization in Spring Awakening

By Logan Smith

 

Editor’s Note: This issue features essays written by students in FG110 Introduction to Feminist and Gender Studies taught by Dr. Heidi R. Lewis in Block 3. FG110 teaches students how to examine, power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. These essays respond to Spring Awakening, a Tony-award winning show set in the 19th century about a group of adolescents navigating the complexities of sexuality in an era where they have limited access to information,  hosted by Performing Arts at CC and Music, Theatre, & Dance.

 

 

 

Spring Awakening emphasizes the repercussions that come as a result of the clinging to the “innocence” of teenagers so much so that their ignorance and sexual repression creates extremely toxic and unsafe situations. The show emphasizes the dangers that come as a result of sheltering teenagers from issues of sex and sexuality through shame—giving us situations of suicide, rape, teenage pregnancy (followed by a dangerous abortion) and homelessness.

In the textbook, Everyday Women’s and Gender Studies Introductory Concepts edited by Ann Braithwaite and Catherine M. Orr, sociologist Jyoti Puri writes about a nation’s monitoring of citizens’ sexualities in her piece “Sexuality, State and Nation.” She writes, “Nationalism’s greatest impact on matters of sexuality is by defining what is normal and abnormal, what is respectable and what is deviant” (Puri 286). We are shown instances of this in the show in the scenes that take place at school. Throughout the show, the adult figures are shown trying to control everything that the teenagers read, learn and think about.  They are shown what is “respectable” and “normal” through the actions of the adults in their lives. Their parents and instructors teach them that in order to be considered good citizens, they must live their lives in the ways they are expected to, prioritizing faith and schoolwork over everything else.

Because issues of sex and sexuality are never addressed by the adult figures in the show, the teenagers create their own assumptions and ideas on these topics based on what they witness and begin to consider “normal.” There is a moment towards the beginning of the show where a group of teenage girls are talking about who their husbands might be when they grow older. They address their crushes and talk about how it might be to marry them—which is the only form of sexual expression that is made visible through their parents. Braithwaite and Orr’s textbook also includes “Privilege” by Devon W. Carbado where they quote Keith Boykin explaining that, “heterosexual sexual orientation has become so ingrained in our social custom, so destigmatized of our fears about sex, that we often fail to make any connection between heterosexuality and sex” (Carbado 142). While sex as an act is stigmatized and rarely acknowledged, hetero-normative performance

is often openly displayed. Carbado says that, “This socially constructed normalcy of heterosexuality is not due solely to the desexualization of heterosexuality in mainstream political and popular culture. It is due also to the sexualization of heterosexuality as normative and to the gender-norm presumptions about heterosexuality—that it is the normal way sexually to express one’s gender” (Carbado 143).

With the limited information they have about sexuality and sex, the teenagers in the show begin to make assumptions based solely on what their society indicates as being normal and what is not. These assumptions lead to ill-informed decisions, like having unprotected sex without knowing that pregnancy might be a consequence, and unhealthy and toxic repressions of sexuality that lead to depression and eventually suicide for one character.

Spring Awakening is a cautionary tale about how the consequences of sexual repression manifest themselves. Every drastic consequence in the show—Wendla’s death, Moritz’s suicide, Ilse’s homelessness—can be tied back to the sexual repression that the adults in the show inflict. It is painful to realize that all of these consequences could have been prevented, had the parents and teachers in the show taken a second to sexually educate their children.

 

 

 

FemSTEM Symposim featuring Cynthia Chapple

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This year, the FemSTEM Symposium, co-organized and hosted by Professors Heidi R. Lewis, Director and Associate Professor of Feminist & Gender Studies, and Andrea Bruder, Chair and Associate Professor of Mathematics & Computer Science, will feature Cynthia Chapple, Research Chemist and Founder of Black Girls Do STEM (BGDS). BGDS is an organization that provides middle school aged Black girls opportunities to learn, create, and build confidence in their abilities to become STEM professionals while they are still curious and excited to learn new things. Cynthia’s keynote address is at 4 pm on Wednesday, December 11 in the Tutt Science Lecture Hall.