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.


XY Magazine


Created by Casey Schuller (Editor), Christie Ma (Journalist), Sydney Rogalla (Journalist), and Erica Willard (Graphic Designer) during Block 6 2016

“Here at XY, we feel that sex education for men has been unacceptably overlooked. Abstinence-only education is just not adequate, especially since ‘increasing emphasis on abstinence education is positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates.” Good sex education should encourage all people to feel comfortable with their bodies and give them proper information to have safe, healthy, and pleasurable sexual encounters when they are ready […] We promise to fight heteronormative stereotypes and provide trustworthy information for men of all sexualities. We acknowledge many different gender and sexual identities and though we wish we could cater to a wider audience, we are a small organization.”
—Casey Schuller, Editor

Click here to read XY Magazine!

Guns & Rosie

Guns and Rosie

Created by Grace Montesano (Editor), Caleigh Cassidy (Editorial Assistant), Jazlyn Andrews (Journalist), Alex Welch (Journalist), Julia Wood (Journalist), and Julia Cotter (Graphic Designer) during Block 6 2015

Guns and Rosie is a magazine for women in the military to read and relate to, because no matter what our theories about the military, the women on the ground need a place of sisterhood to deal with this taxing occupation. This magazine has a focus on theory surrounding the struggle real women are going through. This emphasis is important if we hope to change the ways women are treated in the military. In this inaugural issue, we hope to contextualize some aspects of military life in theories that try to understand reality. Whether that is examining sexual assault, racist regulations, or transgender rights, the theories that help explain these phenomena are the first step toward changing them.”
—Grace Montesano, Editor

Click here to read Guns and Rosie!

A Rape on Campus

By Angela Kong (’17)

UVAIn “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” Sabrina Rubin Erdely explores sexual assault on the University of Virginia (UVA) campus from Jackie’s perspective and experience and examines how it illustrates the ways in which sexual assault is handled across universities and college campuses in America.

Jackie was gang raped at a fraternity party and when she sought help from her friends, they were not supportive, and were more concerned with her and their social reputation rather than taking Jackie to a hospital. When Erdely interviewed UVA president Teresa Sullivan “about sexual assault handling,” she usually responded, “I don’t know.” As Erdely writes, “UVA’s emphasis on honor is so pronounced that since 1998, 183 people have been expelled for honor-code violations such as cheating on exams. And yet paradoxically, not a single student at UVA has ever been expelled for sexual assault.” Having administration unfamiliar with sexual assault but fully aware of academic misconducts such as plagiarism, cheating, etc., shows a lack of moral engagement, and there needs to be a redefinition of what an “honor code” should incorporate in order to change the discussion and policies.

In order to change the discourse surrounding sexual assaults on college campuses, colleges need to reassess what issues and concerns need to be prioritized and brought to light. As Attorney Wendy Murphy claims, “In these situations, the one who gets the most protection is either a wealthy kid, a legacy kid or an athlete. The more privileged he is, the more likely the woman has to die before he’s held accountable.” The responsibility of the actions performed should not be attributed the victims; it should be expected that those accountable for such inappropriate actions, regardless of their background, are facing the consequences for their actions. Women in society are not being treated properly, and perpetuating gender expectations in relationships often results in dismissing these harmful actions, as they would be seen as men being unable to “control themselves” in the heat of the moment, and women feeling as though it’s their responsibility to fulfill a man’s needs.

As Janice Radway writes in “Women Read the Romance,” “When asked why they [Smithton women] read romances, the Smithton women overwhelmingly cite escape or relaxation as their goal” (59). These women are resorting to reading romances in order to escape from their unfulfilling lives. Expecting women to serve men reinforces the issue of gender inequality and prioritizing men’s opinions and privileged positions over women’s causes rape and sexual assault cases to become less important and significant since it results in creating a “bad reputation” for men being accused. Media perpetuation of these paradoxical expectations make it even more difficult for women to be heard and recognized for being victims of an unjust and unequal society that privileges men and those in positions of power. Erdely writes, “Victims should be encouraged to come forward as an act of civic good that could potentially spare future victims.” In order for this to happen, the discourse around victim blaming needs to change to allow rape victims to have the courage to come forward and know that they will be taken seriously and their rapists will be held accountable for their actions.