PLAYING CAROLINE: My experience of portraying the victim of dating violence in an educational skit
I took a job, one that I had unknowingly been searching for, as a dating violence awareness educator. My job is to help young adults understand what dating violence looks like, where it comes from, and what we, as a society can do to prevent the continuation of violence against girls and women both locally and globally. Dating and Domestic Violence, it turns out, is a much more widespread epidemic than most understand or admit. Take, for example, this mind blowing statistic: one out of three teen relationships have some element of abuse. Abuse is not defined as just physical, but is any instance of using power and control over one’s partner, which can include things like name-calling, threats, manipulation in any form, using jealousy to make decisions for your partner, and/or controlling who she/he talks to. Not surprisingly, 85% of the time this manifests as men’s violence against women. In our discussions with youth we focus on the key to prevention as being firstly, recognizing that we all participate in a society that normalizes and condones objectification, sexualization and dominance of women and girls, and then the choice we all have to not participate in behaviors that perpetuate this degrading treatment and view of women.
We help high school and college students understand what dating abuse looks like by presenting “Jake and Caroline”, a 30 minute skit in which we portray a relationship which includes several elements of abuse. In the skit, Jake is a seemingly charming, love-sick boyfriend who, after several months, slowly begins to control and abuse his girlfriend, Caroline. The abuse intensifies as the relationship and the skit progress. The play is intense; students watching it are inevitably engaged and often triggered by the accurate representation of what many of their relationships look like, the hauntingly familiar behavior of Jake, and the emotional trauma that Caroline experiences. It is effective, and stimulating and honest. As a presenter, it is incredibly meaningful to be part of this education. And as a woman, playing the victim of abuse, it is also incredibly challenging and triggering.
Playing Caroline has brought me face to face with my own experiences of sexism, objectification, and being controlled and manipulated by men in my life. It has shaken me to the core and made me understand that I am not just an educator to those experiencing abuse, I am also the one experiencing all of the sexism, objectification and dominance that have made Jake think it is okay to abuse Caroline. After playing Caroline, I realize I had been only partially aware of the objectification and sexism that women are subjected to, are victims of, in their daily lives. That’s not to say I wasn’t living it. Because I was, and I still am. As a woman, I have been objectified, taken advantage of, controlled, limited, verbally and emotionally abused, threatened, belittled, overlooked and outcast. And these are not isolated instances that I can count on one hand. No, these are everyday occurrences that have happened throughout my entire life, to the point that I haven’t even recognized them as anything other than normal.
When I started to understand Caroline’s experiences, my perception of the experiences of women, including my own, shifted drastically. In other words, I started to open my eyes. I began to realize that, although sexualization and objectification of women is widely accepted, that does not mean that it is normal, or okay, and that the everyday instances that I had too often brushed off as small and unimportant were actually profound examples of how this belief system has survived. I understood that the anger I felt was justified years ago when my landlord asked my boyfriend why he let me take Russian lessons when it was so useless. And the outrage I felt was justified when my former boss said he didn’t understand why his sister was becoming a firefighter because no man would ever feel safe with a small woman running into a burning building to save him. And that the fear I felt was inevitable and justified earlier today when a man rolled down his window to whistle at me as I walked on a quiet trail near the woods. These are just a few of the most minor examples of blatant sexism and objectification I have experienced, but it is important to understand how much these “smaller” moments actually contribute to the acceptance of such behavior, because these are the ones we most often discount as unimportant. And these are the ones that perpetuate a society where violence against women is accepted and condoned.
Playing Caroline has opened my eyes, and I plan to devote the time I have here to helping create change, to opening other’s eyes to the profound problems within our social framework, and changing things from the inside out. I strongly believe that creating awareness of the problems within our culture, along with spreading messages of possibility, hope, change and survival can drastically reconfigure the way we all look at and treat women and girls around the globe.