FICA Women’s Conference 2008 (Washington, DC)

14 03 2008

Welcome to everyone from FICA or from the FICA Women’s Conference! 

I think it’s so cool that you got to be involved in something like that (I’m sorry I couldn’t make it), and thank you for coming by!  If you just found the link to my blog through the conference website, or found me through a recommendation (thank you, Shayna!), please check out my “Best Of” page, browse through the archives, or if you wish to zero in on the “women in capoeira” parts, then this post (a round-up all of such articles on my blog) will be the perfect starting point for you.  I hope you enjoy your stay, and come back soon! 

For everyone else, last weekend, FICA held a women’s conference in Washington, DC, and by all accounts I’ve heard so far it was amazing.  What I liked about this event (even though I unfortunately couldn’t make it) was that it wasn’t just a “women’s-only for the sake of it” event, but it was for men and women, but about women, and women in capoeira. 

Special guests at the FICA Capoeira Women's Conference! 

One of the most interesting and possibly valuable parts of this conference, I thought, was the discussion panels that it involved, since how often does that kind of thing happen in the midst of all our regular training and playing?  The breadth of topics covered was engaging and enlightening (as far as I could tell, from afar!), and led to ideas for some real-world, material results.  Check out a full write-up on the conference at their official website/blog, with pictures (including the one above), a slideshow, and what came out of all the discussions!  (It goes over several posts, so make sure you keep scrolling down to read.)

Click here to read the FICA Women’s Conference
Wrap-Up and Discussion Ideas

p.s. As you may have noticed, I’ve started to make some headway on the comments!  I have yet to respond to the ones under “What is the Role of a Capoeira Mestre?” because altogether they’d take a little more time than the others and I wanted to do them justice.  In the meantime, you guys have been awesome, and add so much to this blog, so thank you and keep ‘em coming!





What’s Wrong with Women-Only Capoeira Events?

16 02 2008

You may have noticed that a while ago I put up an events listing on my blog sidebar, featuring capoeira women’s events.  The truth is, I was a bit iffy about the whole idea, but in the end decided to go ahead with it anyway.  In this post I explain why, and thanks to Cenoura for the prompt!

When it comes to all-women (meaning women-only) capoeira events, I’m not completely against them (obviously, seeing as they’re being publicized on my blog), but I don’t think they’re the greatest idea in the world, either.  For one thing, their existence, more specifically the focus on women-only rodas, is yet another phenomenon rooted in the idea that women and men don’t or can’t play on the same level.  It’s just like when you were in gym class at school, and the teacher separated the boys from the girls to play football, or soccer, because they thought the girls wouldn’t be able to handle playing with the boys, or wouldn’t be given a chance to play by the boys.  On the other hand, there is probably something to be said for the atmosphere of support and comaradery found at these events (well, I’m assuming that’s what the atmosphere would be like; I’ve never actually been to one), where women can share stories about training, past experiences, what it’s like for them in their respective grupos, etc. 

Should there be women-only rodas or events in capoeira?

Before continuing though, we need to make an important distinction here.  I’m all for capoeira events that are about women, such as FICA’s 2008 Women’s Conference.  Events like this bring up and address important issues, and they are for men as well as women, and they work towards resolving matters such as, I’d imagine, sexism and discrimination in capoeira.  Women-only events or rodas that are held purely for the sake of having something women-only, however, in my opinion, only serve to highlight “the divide” (a phrase I’m starting to despise, so please take no notice of it beyond what’s necessary for this sentence to make sense) without providing a channel for discussing, deconstructing, or resolving it.  And if they do provide a channel, then that’s even more reason for the event to be for men as well as women.

Now that I think about it, even the pros mentioned above aren’t very good arguments for women-only events, once you consider that support and comeradery are found at most capoeira events in general, and that women can always share stories there, as well.  I read somewhere that another reason for all-women events was so female capoeira students could meet and be inspired by women who had reached high levels in capoeira.  My response to that, though, would be to invite more of these women to normal capoeira events (thereby, moreover, balancing out the gender ratio of high-level belts at these events and killing two birds with one stone)!

At the same time, I still don’t feel I can just outright condemn or want to call for a stop to all women-only events.  I figure while they’re still going on, you may as well go and get what you can out of them, which I’m sure can be a lot.  I know, also, that they are supposed to be empowering rather than alienating or belittling in terms of women in capoeira.  (Although, just to be Devil’s advocate, let’s not forget what the road to Hell is paved with…!  Good intentions are what fuel my self-christened “Chauvinist Theory“, as well.)

In the end, I think a lot of it depends on each individual event, what it includes, and how it’s pulled off.  Most of what I’ve said just applies to all-women events, however; all-women rodas alone, I would say, are unnecessary.  And they certainly should not be held, as I read happened somewhere, at co-ed/”normal” capoeira events!  (I don’t know about you, but my grupo finds it more useful to split up participants by corda level, not gender…)

Picture source: http://www.capoeirabrasileira.com/pics/mulheres.jpg





Videos: Roda Feminina

15 02 2008

This was a post I saw on Chan’s Soul Capoeira Blog/Site a while ago, and I’ve been meaning to appropriate it every since!  I think I agree with his views when it comes to all-women rodas, etc., for fairly obvious reasons, but I also feel I need to do more thinking through of the matter, too.  However, I’ll save that for some time later down the road.  For now, witness some real mandingueiras in action!

Part 1

Part 2





Myth Busters: Women and Upper-Body Strength

28 01 2008

This entry is a follow-up/sister post to the one I guest-wrote on The Capoeira Blog, “6 Keys to Building Upper-Body Strength“.

So, I have a confession to make.  Originally, the guest post I wrote for Faisca wasn’t supposed to be a general guide to building upper-body strength.  Originally, it was going to be something with a title like “Upper-Body Strength-Building for Women”.  It was my idea, but it wasn’t until I actually started working on the post that I realized something like that would actually go against everything I’ve/this blog has been standing for!  Mandingueira is not for women; it is about women, and for everyone. 

The reason I changed my mind is because to write an article about “strength-building for women” would imply that it is separate from the same for men; yet a strong woman would need the same level of advice as a strong man, regardless of her gender.  By the end of my first draft, however, I realized that my post read more like a beginner’s guide to strength-building—but all my information had come from purported “women’s guides” to strength-building!  Is anyone else seeing a pattern here

Abada capoeirista shows how it's done!There was one thing in particular that nearly every article I came across had in common:

“Women generally have far less upper-body strength than men.”
“Typically women do not have strong upper bodies.”
“These statistics merely illustrate what everyone knows, that women naturally develop less strength than men.”
“In terms of inherent upper body strength, we really are the weaker sex.”
“Most women have trouble performing a standard push-up.”  (And adding insult to injury: “To perform a modified push up, simply push up from your knees.  Most women can perform a push-up in this position.”  Really, now??  Some of us actually CAN do knee push-ups?!?  That’s AMAZING!!)

Wow, I feel weaker already.  Kind of ironic, considering all these articles purported to help you build your strength, not doubt it!

The age-old myth of women having less muscular strength than men do is just that—a myth.  This excerpt from Shameless Magazine puts it best:

Many people believe that all men, as some sort of single unit, are stronger than women. And reason says that simply isn’t true. Men’s strength is just as variable as women’s. Men, on average, are bigger than women, with a higher lean body mass-to-fat ratio. But women generate the same force per unit of muscle as men. That is, muscle pound to muscle pound, women and men are similar in strength. A strong woman is strong, full stop. (emphasis mine)

This observation was confirmed by a study from the US National Strength and Conditioning Foundation, which adds that although women and men have the same muscle strength, the reason many men appear stronger on the surface is because they have more muscle mass from being bigger (as opposed to muscle strength), have a higher lean body mass-to-fat ratio, and have different fat distribution in the body than women do.

Wait a minute (I can hear someone say), aren’t we just picking nits now?  What does it matter if technically women’s muscles produce the same amount of power, if due to the other factors mentioned above, a woman’s body altogether still produces less power, on average, than a man’s body altogether?  And if this is true, what’s wrong with saying so?

First, this distinction is important to make because it’s actually a pretty big one, with implications and consequences depending on whether one makes it or not.  Stating without qualification that women have less strength than men, period, is inaccurate and suggests that this is an inherent trait in women, something that can’t be changed.  As mentioned though, women’s muscles have the exact same strength as men do, and it is in fat distribution and lean body mass where they differ—factors which are variable and can be changed through training or exercise. 

Moreover, even though muscle mass is cited as a contributing factor of men’s strength, the same studies have shown that women build strength the same way men do yet without building as much muscle mass—which is interesting, because if both men and women build strength equally, but only men’s muscles build much mass to go with it, to me that suggests that in the end, women’s muscles would actually have more power per inch/pound than men’s, to do the calculations!  And as Shameless said, if a strong woman were matched with a man with less muscle (or lesser built muscles), more fat, and less lean body mass, she would in that case definitely not be “the weaker sex”.

Second, making this distinction is important because it affects how people approach this and related topics, and this ties in to the last question above.  There is nothing wrong with explaining why many women have less net strength output than many men.  After all, a fact is a fact, right?  The problem arises when people start making unqualified statements like the ones at the beginning of this post, and making them frequently and thoughtlessly.  Although clearly I was kidding when I said “I feel weaker already”, can you imagine what the effects of reading or hearing statements like that over and over again would be on someone’s mindset, whether consciously or subconsciously? 

If you imagined the logical, you’re right: other studies have shown that women significantly underestimate their own strength, compared to men.  Because we’re told we’re weaker, we think we have even less strength than we have to begin with.  This affects everything from whether or not a woman will reach her full potential while weight training, to whether or not she’ll choose to fight off a man who attacks her in the street, or just “let it happen” because to fight back would make it worse (according to another disastrous, popular myth). 

It’s all woven into one more narrative about what women are or aren’t or should be or shouldn’t be, whether it’s a young Mestra Edna’s relatives telling her “martial arts aren’t for girls”, or today’s average female capoeira student only able to find articles reiterating how weak she is compared to all the male capoeira students in her class—which may be true, but also just as well may not, and who’s the article’s author to say?  So mulhers é meninas, remember this the next time you aim for that macaco/s-dobrado/bananeira/cool upper-body strength-requiring move!

Picture source: http://www.worldartswest.org/Assets/Performers/AbadaAndyMogg.jpg

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Can Capoeira Change the World? Part 2

6 01 2008

Grupo Nzinga Capoeira AngolaIt has been all along, right under our noses—just not our regional ones!

From FICA Archives: Celebrating 25 Years of M. Paulinha:

M Paulinha writes about the growth of Capoeira Angola as an ever-widening vehicle for marginalized social expressions following efforts by the Brazilian state to turn capoeira into a “national sport”. She traces Capoeira Angola’s growth as part of the black movement, as a growing space for women (in large part due to the work of Paulinha and Janja themselves), and most recently, as a zone of international and cultural understanding. Here is a bit:

In the beginning of the 1980s, the creation of the Grupo de Capoeira Angola Pelourinho (GCAP) in Rio de Janeiro and later in Bahia marked a significant change in the situation. Founded by Mestre Pedro Moraes Trinidade (Mestre Moraes), GCAP implemented a series of actions promoting the re-valorization of Capoeira Angola and the recognition of the importance of old and famous mestres, such as Mestre Pastinha himself. With an ideology that affirmed capoeira’s African roots and denounced the injustices suffered by so many capoeiristas and Afro-descendents, this group was the precursor of a movement that became wide and diverse.

Through the realization of events in homage to Mestre Pastinha, GCAP managed to reunite old practitioners of Capoeira Angola and attract new admirers and people interested in learning the traditional game. The format of these events was innovative because it created bridges between the practitioners of Capoeira Angola and other segments of society such as: religious leaders, especially those linked to the Candomblés of Angola; anti-racist organizations of the “black movement”; organizations involved with other forms of black culture; intellectuals and scholars; and governmental organizations, especially in the cultural area. In some years, these events gained larger proportions, assuming a national and international character, and began to be held by other nascent groups of Capoeira Angola, mainly during the 1990s. Such events were established as an important part of a regular calendar activities that helped to construct the new community of “angoleiros”.

One important aspect of the ideology and actions implemented by the Capoeira Angola groups created in this period involves the denunciation of racism in Brazil. The events promoted in memory of Mestre Pastinha, carried out on the date of his death (November 13th), soon became part of the agenda of commemorations and reflections of the National Day of Black Consciousness (November 20th). More than a coincidence of dates, this approximation reveals a process of growing politicization in the universe of Capoeira Angola, synchronized with the general trend in the black cultural scene in Bahia…

… This community became very heterogeneous – including people of various ethnic and racial origins, social classes, nationalities, genders, ages, and sexual orientations- and this has been the backdrop for the construction of the angoleiro’s identity. Therefore, affirming oneself as an “angoleiro(a)” today implies dealing with diversity, rejecting any ideal of purity and homogeneity.

I think I joined the wrong style…!  (Kidding, but it’s food for thought.)

Follow-up to come—eventually.  I was doing research for a write-up on Mestra Paulinha and couldn’t just sit on this!

Click here to read “Can Capoeira Change the World?” (Part 1)





True Mandingueiras: Warrior Women in Capoeira and Brazil

19 12 2007

Chronicles of Capoeira 

I was lucky enough to find an online capoeira newsletter last week, with a headlining feature on famous and formidable women in the history of capoeira and Brazil!  Instead of reinventing the wheel, I will direct you to the article here, and wish you a good read (which it is)!





Playing Women in the Roda

9 12 2007

Never underestimate your opponent in the roda, no matter who she is. 

I came across something written by a capoeirista the other day that pretty much infuriated me.  However, I did promise in my very first post that there would be no ranting, so I will restrain myself! 

(Actually, what I would most like to do is copy and paste what I read here and then carefully, logically, thoroughly deconstruct it line by line for all of you.  However, doing things like that sometimes has repercussions, here in cyberspace.  As a result, we’ll all have to settle for a general post on the same topic, but with a slightly different [read: enlightened =P] point of view.)


When playing women in the roda, do not hold back.
  It irritates me even to be writing this post, as you’d think playing women in the roda (technique-wise, not dynamics-wise) is no different from playing men in the roda; basically, this should be a completely pointless post, with a pointless title, except for the fact that there are people out there who sadly believe otherwise!

Their argument goes like this: Women are naturally physically weaker than men (how true this statement is and its implications, etc., we’ll leave for now).  Thus, men–and let’s say stronger women–should play “down to their level” to level the field, or to protect the woman from accidentally getting hurt in the roda.  Let’s call this the Chauvinist Theory.

Now, there is nothing wrong with the basic intentions behind this way of thinking.  The exact same idea is legitimately applied to beginners: play more slowly and carefully against them because they don’t know quite what they’re doing yet or aren’t strong/quick/good enough yet and might get hurt.  That’s for beginners, people who presumably have little to no capoeira skills yet, and so that makes sense.  It’s relatively safe to assume that you need to go easy on beginners in the roda, because as beginners, they are less skilled by definition.  However, the Chauvinist Theory incorrectly links just strength directly to one’s joga ablity, then assumes that as women, we are less skilled by definition.  Which is interesting, because since there are countless female capoeiristas at levels higher than beginner, do these people think that their mestres have one corda graduation standard for women and another, harder graduation standard for men? 

I’m reminded of a line in the Antigone Magazine blog post to which I directed all of you in my “Why Write About Female Mestres?  The Feminist Catch-22” post.  According to the Antigone post, which was on misogyny in anti-Hillary Clinton facebook groups, “If you dislike a male politician, then there is something wrong with that particular politician. If you dislike a female politician then you often find something lacking in the entire female sex.”  People who buy into the Chauvinist Theory seem to suffer from the same mental lapse: if you accidentally hit a man in the roda, it’s because he wasn’t paying attention or wasn’t quick enough or just basically needs to improve his capoeira skills; if you accidentally hit a woman in the roda, however, it’s because she’s a woman and therefore you should go easy on every woman you play from now on. 

I can hear the bulls bellowing…I think they want their crap back.

What people should do–and this is supposed to be common sense–is assess each opponent individually.  (I’m honestly cringing at this paragraph already; it seems like such a given!)  Maybe she’s a woman who definitely is not athletically gifted, so in this case yes, give her a chance to do something while playing.  And maybe she’s a natural at capoeira, better than you are, and she’s really adjusting her game down to your level.  The point is, you don’t judge someone’s capoeira ability based purely on their gender.  There is absolutely no logic in that–none, whatsoever!  By playing down to all women, you are not only holding yourself back from a chance to improve and from what might’ve become a really good game, you are deliberately stunting the progress of the person you are playing.  This is even worse if you are supposed to be the person’s teacher; your role is to challenge and improve your student’s game, not pander to what you think is their beginner’s comfort zone (if they haven’t progressed beyond it already)!

I know/hope that this post was entirely unecessary for most of you, but I felt it still needed to be put out there.  (Plus, it was either that or physically hunt down the guy and drag him into a few games with some of the girls from my academy, and I don’t have the time for that right now.)

p.s. This entry’s picture was done by a friend of mine!  Isn’t it awesome? :D

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