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.


The Reinforcement of Masculinity through Violence

nemethBy Jade Frost (‘17)

Last September Fidel Lopez disemboweled his girlfriend, Maria Nemeth, after she screamed out her ex-husband’s name during sex. According to Lopez, he and Nemeth were having “rough sex” in their Florida apartment when he became angered by this Freudian slip and proceeded to shatter glass, punch walls, and take doors off their hinges. When he returned to Nemeth, she was passed out unconscious on the bed. He proceeded to shove various objects into her vagina and anus and then put his forearm inside her, at which point he started to rip out her intestines. Lopez then carried Nemeth to the bathroom to try and revive her with water. When that obviously didn’t work, Lopez washed his hands, smoked a cigarette, and then called the police. Lopez at first told police that she died from the rough sex that they had and it wasn’t until later that he told the authorities what really happened. Fidel Lopez is currently being charged with 1st degree murder.

The disturbing thing about this story is not just the blatant horror of this murder, but that this is not the first time we have seen physical and emotional domestic abuse reinforced through various mediums of media. In Victoria E. Collins and Dianne C. Carmody’s “Deadly Love: Images of Dating Violence in the ‘Twilight Saga’,” they site James W. Messerschmidt and write, “Under hegemonic masculinity, which is both youthful and heterosexual, force may be acceptable in romantic relationships. Such gender stereotypes, reinforced by mediated messages may certainly encourage dating violence and perceptions of romance that reflect traditional gender roles” (357). With this, I think that Lopez felt that his masculinity was threatened when Nemeth didn’t scream his name and thus reverted to violence to assert power and reinforce his masculinity.

We also see this violence in pornography that focuses on objectifying the woman rather than pursuing pleasure. Jane Caputi uses E. Ann Kaplan’s definition of pornography in “The Pornography of Everyday Life,” writing, “Pornography in this view is not about the ‘joy of sex’ but about the domination and ‘denigration of women and a fear and hatred of the female body” (374). The way that Lopez mutilated Nemeth’s body appears to be out of pure hatred and even possible fear that he might be emasculated. Lopez wanted to dominate his girlfriend and wanted to be in complete control. Caputi goes on to write in her article, “The rightness of male sexual domination of women is assumed, even when there seems to be a challenge” (375). The way that Lopez sodomized and violated her body seems very deliberate and premeditated. I think he saw the disembowelment as a challenge in itself, and then once that was conquered the new challenge was how he was going to tell the police. Later, Caputi writes, “When the penis is represented as a weapon, rape becomes its purpose, intercourse becomes a kind of murder, and the will to hurt becomes definitive of being a man” (377). Violence in relationships is nothing new in our society. Lopez is one of the many products of what happens when masculinity becomes so fragile that murder is the only way to strengthen it again.


The Block 1 2016 Monthly Rag


Leave the “Blank Space” Blank: Taylor Swift, Dating Violence, & Gender Role Performance

"Our goal in creating our own version of Taylor Swift’s Polaroids and music video is to demonstrate a healthy process of breaking up with your significant other."

“Our goal in creating our own version of Taylor Swift’s Polaroids and music video is to demonstrate a healthy process of breaking up with your significant other.”

“When her princess love stories go astray, Swift’s lyrics and videos not only reinforce the stereotype of women as dependent and over-emotional but also enter the dark realms of domestic violence. With such a young fan following, Taylor Swift and her ‘Blank Space’ phenomenon are teaching the dangerous tale of revenge, domestic violence, and weakness to teenage girls one YouTube view at a time.”
—Trina Reynolds-Tyler, Spencer Spotts, Amairani Alamillo, Susie Simmons, and Hannah Seabright

The Original Taylor Swift Polaroid Pictures

Taylor Swift“In the second picture, Swift is lying on a couch with her arms covering her face. Sut Jhally contends that women photographed lying down give off the impression that they are weak, defenseless, and utterly vulnerable. In this pose, she represents the antithesis of power. Her arms are rested on her face in a delicate manner, suggesting femininity is defined by being “soft, delicate, innocent, demure, shy, and simple.”

The Original Taylor Swift “Blank Space” Video

“Although her intentions may have been light-hearted and aimed for comedic laughs, the actual implications of this video on young viewers contribute to unhealthy perceptions of relationships and breakups.”

The Revised Taylor Swift “Blank Space” Video

“Our portrayal of Taylor allows her to move on in a healthy manner because she is respecting Ben, there is no destruction of property, and she is taking care of her mental/physical/emotional health. We acknowledge that breakups will be painful and difficult to deal with; however, we reinforce a healthy breakup by allowing Taylor to express her feelings in a journal, engage in hobbies, and spend time with her friends.”