I have a confession. As a feminist, I don’t always do my “duty”. In fact, when it comes to speaking out against things like sexism, homophobicism (a term I made up about 1 second ago, to differentiate between people who just use seemingly homophobic language and people who are actually, definitively, homophobic), and racism, a lot of times I downright fail as someone who allegedly stands for equality.
Like…if a cool friend makes rape jokes (please note the oxymoron) and I don’t say anything, or laugh. Or…if a great capoeira teacher says something sexist and I don’t say anything, or smile. And especially…if a relative gives mortifyingly old-fashioned sexist—or racist—“life advice” and I smile and nod along politely.
In feminist terminology, there’s an expression that goes, “Not my Nigel“. This term refers to the attitudes of women who don’t believe that sexism or misogyny is systematic in society, or that while other men might be sexist or misogynistic, the men in their own lives never are, or “don’t mean it that way”. I.e., “Not my Nigel! He’d never think/do/say that!”
What do you do, though, when it is “your Nigel”, and you know it? How do you react when those you’ve come to like, admire, or deeply respect turn around and disappoint you—sometimes continually—in these little yet ultimately fundamental ways? How do you reconcile the jarring disjoint between your valuing these people in your life, and your values?
Of course, the most straightforward way to solve this dilemna is to just cut these people out of your life completely. If you have nothing to do with them, then you don’t have to be bothered by what they say or do, right? But obviously, “easier said than done” is a major understatement here, especially when it comes to capoeira. It’s not as if you can just leave a class or quit a capoeira group every time a sexist capoeira teacher comes along, nor should you. At the same time, how do you maintain the same respect for, and thus truly effectively learn from, someone whose values you question?
As for dropping friends, I think a close one of mine summed it up best when she said, to paraphrase, “If I were to stop being friends with every guy friend who was a jerk to a girl, I wouldn’t have any guy friends at all.” Wait! Before the comments section explodes, this is of course not 100% true, and I apologize for the extreme generalization. I would have a few guy friends left, and at the same time I might lose a few girl friends, too. However, I hope the point got across. Your friends are your friends, and if you really value them as such, it’s neither easy nor desirable to break ties with them over a verbal instance of bad judgement or two (…or five…or ten…).
Then there’s always confrontation, but when was the last time someone you knew thought it was a good idea to pipe up and go, “Excuse me, Mestre (/Professor/Instrutor/Contra-mestre), but with all due respect, don’t you think what you just said was a little bit—or very—sexist?” Actually…has that ever been done before? How might they react? Would they listen to students’ concerns and be more considerate in the future (or maybe even, against all odds, rethink their views); completely ignore the criticism; or brazenly (or humbly) plead a claim to cultural immunity?
As for friends…pretty much the only thing that happens if you say something is you or all your future related comments lose credibility due to “the feminist” in you. (Because clearly, that detracts from you being a person who just believes in that mystical equality stuff.)
Most people probably opt for one last option: ignorance is bliss! “I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that.” Or are we just up that old Egyptian river*, lacking paddles and all?
It’s a conundrum for sure, and unfortunately, one that I run into more often than normal in capoeira, perhaps due to the nature of the art and its roots. Come to think of it…I think for me, this dilemna does only exist to such an extent in capoeira. All non-capoeirista sexism suspects are cut. (Hey, you! Sexist? Hate women? Join capoeira, and get out of the dog house free! Sign up today!)
I particularly remember a batizado in Italy, which was an awesome bonding experience, but also…well, let’s just say that after some particularly charming pre-party dinner conversation, it’s a good thing capoeiristas love caipirinhas, because—wait, no, I could’ve downed a bottle of pure cachaça after that. (As things were, a Long Island Iced Tea had to suffice. It was either that, or not speak to any of my guy friends for the rest of the night.)
Returning to the issue itself, for me it’s actually part of a larger phenomenon in capoeira, that I’ll be writing about in a near-future, if not the next, post. (Teaser: “The Hidden Dark Side of Capoeira” *dun DuN DUN!*) For now, we’ll just have to keep looking for our paddles—because the only other options are to ride with it…or bail.