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.

 

 

 

Reproducing Patriarchal Power Structures in the Name of Feminism

By Katie Trinh

Dr. Imani Perry believes that feminists need to grapple with the complex structure of the patriarchy. Patriarchy includes the exclusion and suffering of women due to the domination of men. She claims that legal and economic relations in society are the foundation of patriarchy. There are three components that define patriarchy in the past and present: property holding men, legal personhood, and the privilege to appeal to the sovereign authority. Legal personhood refers to the fact that an individual is recognized as a right-bearing human being. One of Dr. Imani Perry’s main points is that women only have access to these benefits when they are attached to a patriarch. The system of the patriarchy is written into the law. Every aspect of feminist theory involves dismantling the patriarchy, and the patriarchy demonstrates how legal and economic institutions hold the most power and privilege. 

Perry also discusses how although entrepreneurial women signify female progress, these women are perceived to be successful because of their “masculine” traits. There is a narrative that men fail professionally or economically because of the economic success of women. According to Perry, feminism is a complicated concept that many people do not grasp. Many people believe that feminism means having women replace men as the dominating gender. However, Perry takes the stance that women, especially feminists, should not try to dominate men; instead, feminists should take on ethical positions that are based on their understanding of oppression. 

One of Perry’s main points is that patriarchy manifests as an entitlement that needs to be protected. She says that sexual allegations against men in power demonstrate how patriarchy is an entitlement. Many people argue that sexual allegations against men in power will “ruin their lives,” implying that their patriarchy and the privilege that comes with it needs to be protected. Perry also notes that any type of privilege acts as an entitlement for people. She provides the example of a white woman who accused a young black boy of groping her. Because the woman had the privilege of being white, she felt as though she was entitled to accuse a young black boy of sexual misconduct. Perry argues that we need to “read the layers” and look at how other factors besides gender, such as race, can contribute to relations in power. Perry’s point about adopting a language of intersectionality directly connects to Feminist and Gender Studies because this study revolves around the changing relationships between power and different factors of identity. 

Overall, Perry asks us to recognize our own positions of privilege. She acknowledges that none of us have “clean hands.” Everyone is at a certain position of privilege at the expense of oppressed and marginalized people. Sill, Perry asks everyone to examine how their position of privilege can play a role in affecting change. To Perry, feminism means looking closer at how economic and legal institutions enforce this patriarchal system, and how we must take ethical positions to address these systems of oppression. 

Attention, Straight Allies

Allyby Grace Montesano

No, the “A” in LGBTQIA+ doesn’t stand for “Ally.” It stands for Asexual. No, we shouldn’t have a straight pride month. Every month is straight pride month. No, Macklemore isn’t the only artist in hip-hop who cares about gay people. There are a plethora of hip-hop artists who are actually queer and have lots to say on the matter.

Being a good ally doesn’t mean you will tolerate two men kissing in privacy, it means you actively fight the hetero and cis sexist power structure under which we all live. Don’t expect extra points from queer people just for putting up with us.

The people who are actual allies do amazing work for the queer community every day. That being said, they still belong to a privileged class.  They never have to explain their orientation or gender to anyone. People assume correctly that they are straight. They don’t have to live within a system that discriminates against them based on their sexual identity. It’s not a bad thing that some people are straight. It’s a bad thing that heterosexuality has benefits everyone else doesn’t get. And, just because an individual works to alleviate that problem, doesn’t mean they are no longer privileged.  Hopefully, the future will bring more good allies who can check their privilege and help the world become a better place for everyone.

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Grace Montesano is a student and Public Achievement Coach at Colorado College. She is also a Staff Writer for Fempowerment.

Thoughts on Privilege

Udis Kesslerby Amanda Udis Kessler

As an aspect of systematic social inequality, privilege is a difficult topic to discuss. To admit that one has privilege (white privilege, male privilege, class privilege, straight privilege, etc.) is to acknowledge that one benefits from social inequality.

Privilege is the outcome of being socially valued and consists of access to socially valued goods, experiences and opportunities, especially when those are denied to members of socially devalued groups. At least as important, privilege is freedom from unpleasant, negative, or dangerous experiences or situations, which devalued groups face all the time in the way of prejudice, discrimination, violence, and neglect. To be privileged is to be trusted, considered normal, respected, and wished well.  To be  devalued is to be mistrusted, considered problematic, disrespected, and wished ill. As a white person, I don’t face the stigma and danger of being pulled over for “driving while black or brown,” but as a woman, I face a much higher risk of sexual violence than men do. My economic class allows me to buy things I want without (for the most part) worrying too much about how much they cost; my sexuality means that I can’t legally marry my partner of almost 16 years and obtain the more than 1000 federal benefits federal marriage would bring.

As my example suggests, many of us are privileged in some ways and disadvantaged in others, and the genius of multicultural feminism is to insist that we understand different types of social inequality in relation to each   other without prioritizing one form of inequality over the others.

Privilege may be only one element of social inequality, but it is an extremely important one, not least because being privileged means not having to think about the fact that one is privileged. Privilege is taken for granted most of the time, and being willing and able to acknowledge and address one’s privilege is an important starting place for pushing back against the ease of being on the powerful side of inequality.

Since privilege derives from and brings respect, those of us with privileged social identities can use them to work for social justice more broadly. While my whiteness should not give me any more status, clout, or prestige than a person of color when talking about racial issues (in fact it should give me less), the sad fact is that in a racist society whites will generally listen to me more than to people of color. One responsibility of privilege, then, is to put our privilege to work in education and activism for the well-being of everyone in our society, regardless of our particular combination of privilege and disadvantage. Our individual situations will look different but I remain convinced that all of us have gifts to bring to the many struggles against injustice, and our acknowledgement of the privilege most of us do have is an important starting point.

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Amanda Udis Kessler, Ph.D. is the Chair of the Institutional Review Board at Colorado College.

Check Yourself

Block 7 2013

Created by Colorado College students Rebecca Willey (Editor), Katharine Teter (Editorial Assistant), Anna Naden (Journalist), Tucker Hampson (Journalist), and Phoebe Parker-Shames (Graphic Designer)–Block 7 2013

“We titled this magazine Check Yourself, because we all need to be aware of our own particular privileges.  The purpose of our magazine is to raise awareness of the many kinds of privilege among college students who already identify as feminists. Sometimes we could all use a good privilege check.”
–Rebecca Willey, Editor

Click here to read Check Yourself!