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.


Keep Your Douche to Yourself: An Analysis of Rape in Sausage Party

doucheBy Nan L. Elpers

In Sausage Party, when Douche realizes he’s been wounded and is leaking, he rapes and murders Juice Box, using his juice as fuel. Later in the movie, he tries to rape Brenda the hot-dog bun in an attempt to take revenge on her sausage boyfriend Frank, who accidentally pushed Douche out of the shopping cart, causing him to twist his handle. Analyzed through the perspective of feminist studies of men, the Douche’s assaults and motivation for rape reveal the dangers of hegemonic masculinity and the use of rape as a means to punish and assert authority. When Douche rapes Juice Box, he feminizes his victim in a way that reduces Juice Box to a state of female vulnerability. In “‘Guys are just homophobic’: Rethinking Adolescent Homophobia and Heterosexuality,” C.J. Pascoe explains that “the constraint and touching of female bodies gets translated as masculinity, embedding sexualized meanings in which heterosexual flirting is coded as female helplessness and male bodily dominance” (114). Though Juice Box is male, the scene likens him to a female rape victim in the way that Douche appears to be delivering cunnilingus while sucking out his insides. The graphic, sexually violent imagery emasculates Juice Box, allowing the rape scene to mirror a man-on-woman assault. Douche asserts his masculinity through this power structure, as dominance directly correlates to masculinity. And because Juice Box effectively stands in for a female victim, that masculinity is not compromised by any homosexual connotations of weakness or vulnerability.

It is important that Douche feminize Juice Box so that he prove himself more masculine.  In “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept,” Raewyn Connell explains that “hegemonic masculinity was distinguished from other masculinities, especially subordinated masculinities” (256). Hegemonic masculinity describes those men at the top of the social food chain. This hierarchy necessitates the subordination of not only women, but other men as well.  The way that Douche emasculated Juice Box through rape made him, crudely, more like a woman.  In doing so, Douche both took power from Juice Box and amped his social status on the masculine ladder by forcibly putting yet another person beneath him. In the scene, Douche literally grows in size and strength as he sucks the life force from Juice Box, illustrating his rise to power.

Douche employs the age-old military technique of sexually violating a woman to punish her tribe.  In “’National Security’ and the Violation of Women,” Sylvanna Falcón asserts that “rapes occur because sexual assault is in the arsenal of military strategies; it is a weapon of war, used to dominate women and psychologically debilitate people viewed as the ‘enemy’” (228).  Although raping Brenda will do no physical harm to her boyfriend Frank, Douche understands that in debasing her he will cause Frank psychological harm.  In fact, Douche appears not to care about Brenda at all, against whom he holds no grudge other than for her tie to Frank, taking advantage of her status as Frank’s belonging.  Because we charge women with guarding their purity and in doing so maintaining a people or a couple’s morality, Douche’s rape of Brenda directly attacks Frank’s image and morale.

NOTE: This essay was written by a First-Year Experience (FYE) student in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies taught by Professor Heidi R. Lewis. 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. Near the end of the block, the students visited a local theater to screen Sausage Party, and this essay was written in response.