Women in Capoeira Songs and the Roar on the Other Side of Silence

26 03 2008

When you clap and sing along in the roda, do you always know what you’re saying, what the words resounding in your ears really mean?  Are you unknowingly patronizing “women [as] the ones who clap their hands” (as opposed to “men are the ones who play pandeiro”), or accusing fellow (female) capoeiristas of being “like a snake / with venemous blood”?  Do you really believe that “woman killed man … / When she doesn’t kill him, she consumes him”?  Are you enthusiastically belting out, “Every jealous woman…I would kill them” and “When a woman is useless / Man sends her away”?

What happened to women in capoeira music?

It’s no secret that capoeira song lyrics contain some questionable and old-fashioned themes about women.  I’ve been thinking about the topic of women and capoeira songs / women in capoeira songs since I came across a thread on the capoeira.com forum, and fully realized that there are actually a lot of sexist, chauvinistic, and misogynistic lyrics in “traditional” capoeira songs.  However, I wasn’t sure exactly how a post on this would work, since such treatment or views of women seemed so prevalent in capoeira songs that either I’d have to make a 20-page study out of it, or simply reduce it all to one obvious sentence (like the first one of this paragraph).

Well, lo and behold, some diligent soul went the route of the 20-page study!  And thanks to the greater diligence of Shayna M., we now have an English translation of it, as well. :D

Before you read it (link below), just a few comments.  I thought the author, Maria José Somerlate Barbosa, did a good job overall, and she definitely made clear the extent to which capoeira song lyrics degrade and denigrate women.  All of the themes she points out are the typical misogynistic narratives of weakness, deceit, castrating, etc.

However, I agree with Shayna’s note that the author could’ve picked a better choice for the example of a “pro-women” song.  Besides its obscurity, for me, I’m not too crazy about the fact that the song actually reinforces stereotypes of “the feminine”, even if it is to deem them positive instead of negative.  We’ve gone over this issue a couple times on this blog already, so if you would like some elaboration, please read my posts on “The Feminine in Capoeira” (Part 1: Malicia and Part 2: Context), or check out the discussion that developed in the Contra-mestra Cristina post’s comments thread.

Finally, I found it interesting that one of the capoeira songs Barbosa picked to criticize, I actually thought was okay at first.  The song goes:

In order to be beautiful
A woman doesn’t have to wear make-up
Make-up is of the Devil
It is God who gives beauty

Like I said, at first I didn’t see much wrong with that.  In fact, I thought it was a good thing, seeing it as something that spoke out against today’s consumerism and fashion industry, which eats both women and little girls alive.  As you will see though, Barbosa goes on to explain how this song both plays on misogynist themes and demonstrates how men try to control women’s actions.

The fact that I didn’t see this before brought up another important issue for me, something that goes back to that first-year post-modern, feminist, overkill-agenda-pushing English professor I mentioned in my very first post.  The problem my friends and I had with her was that she would bring her feminism into everything, even if the novel we were studying or discussion we were having hardly seemed to have anything to do with gender issues at all.  Eventually, it got to the point where we realized that by continually bringing them up, our professor was doing more to ingrain such narratives into our heads rather than encouraging us to fight them.  That is, by continuing to push how women were seen or portrayed as “lesser”, for example, my friends and I just learned to automatically associate “women” with “lesser”.  See how that works?

So in the case with this capoeira song, is it a good or a bad thing that Barbosa changed my view 180° on it?  This also relates to the larger issue of speaking out against misogyny/sexism in the first place.  As some people think, do feminists “just look for stuff to get mad about”?  And won’t continually pointing out this stuff have the same effect as my first-year English prof on my friends and I, only reinforcing the stereotypes in people’s heads rather than breaking them down?

First, I’ll answer the latter question, quoting the answer I gave to someone in my facebook group.  Their question was, “Why do you think it’s necessary to point out women in capoeira if by doing so, you make a border between men and women?”

I kind of looked at it almost as the lesser of two evils. It’s true that if I do talk about it, it makes people more aware of the “divide”. On the other hand, some divide is there whether I talk about it or not, and if people aren’t aware of it, it will just stay that way. So I guess I’m trying to point it out in order to make people more aware of it so they don’t go along with it unthinkingly, and might even maybe start actively trying to break it down.

So perhaps that was what our English professor was trying to do, as well: make us aware of it so we didn’t unthinkingly go along with everything we read.  However, I still think a lot of what she tried to inject into our curriculum was unecessary, so I’ll just say for my part, as I also told the guy in my facebook group, that I think I do a fair job here on Mandingueira of only touching on feminist issues when they come up naturally, without trying to force the issue in every post.

As for the other question (“Do feminists just look for stuff to get mad about?”), a blog formerly known by the brilliant title of “Shakespeare’s Sister” deals with that issue exactly.  Among her well-written, well-reasoned points, this paragraph touched me especially:

The truth is, if I actually spent my days actively paying attention to every example of misogyny around me, I would be a profoundly unhappy woman. Not bitchy or grumpy or short-tempered, but paralyzingly depressed. Women have to train themselves to avoid consciously reacting to every bit of misogynistic detritus permeating the culture through which we all move, lest they go quite insane. I write about the things I can’t not write about. If I wrote about all the examples of sexism I see every day, I’d never sleep.

This is true, and it resonated especially well with me because it echoes a novel I studied last year, George Eliot’s Middlemarch (which is really good, and which you should all read):

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.

The point in both passages is that for the most part, we humans have desensitized ourselves to others’ suffering, and to a certain extent, this is actually necessary because if we were to or were able to be truly aware of all the pain and injustices and suffering in the world, every instant of hurt and every moment of wrongness, we wouldn’t be able to handle it; we would break down, go insane, and simply implode from the roar which lies on the other side of silence.

And I feel it, sometimes; all the blogs I read are categorized into folders, and sometimes I skip the one labelled “Feminism” altogether just because I don’t feel like reading yet another post or article about how women make 67 cents to every man’s dollar, or how another university paper wrote a “joke” article on rape, or how another film or TV show portrays a world with powerful women as a miserable world for men, or how women’s equality is the cause of everything from depression to the bad economy, or how another objectifying, degrading, insulting ad has been printed/broadcast, or how another sexist zinger has been used to bring down Hillary Clinton (and I’ve pretty much decided I want Obama to win) or in fact any powerful or political woman.

Because honestly, it is depressing.  It would be as if you went online everyday and read a series of blog posts or articles about how capoeiristas are universally belittled and undermined, how capoeira isn’t considered a “real” sport just because it’s done by capoeiristas, how you have to do ten public street rodas for every one soccer game to be taken seriously, how over half of assaulted capoeiristas were victims at the hands of their partners or mestres, how the rise of capoeira is the reason for all of society’s problems, how an ad sexualized violating a capoeirista to sell some product, how whenever you tried to do anything big or great with your life people argued you moved too fluidly or sang funny-sounding songs as reasons to take you down, how your school paper wrote a fun article about raping capoeiristas just for kicks, how another “study” has shown that capoeiristas are inherently dumber than other martial artists, how every day capoeiristas are brutally assaulted or killed, and just because you’re a capoeirista.  And yes, I realize some of those actually did happen in Brazil during capoeira’s early days, but now imagine it happens today, happens in every country on Earth, and that you didn’t just pick up capoeira somewhere along the way but were born with it in your blood.

So, having said that, please click here and read why feminists don’t “look for stuff to get mad about”.

And once you’ve finished that, here’s the study I promised you!

Representation of Women in Capoeira Songs [pdf]

Picture source:
http://content.answers.com/main/content/wp/en-commons/thumb/5/57/300px-Capoeira-three-berimbau-one-pandeiro.jpg





Goodbye to All That

4 02 2008

This was an essay I read today, and it was so powerful and illuminating (the way a large searchlight illuminates a murder scene) that I’m going to re-post it here as today’s entry.  Please note that although it concludes as an endorsement for Hillary Clinton as the next President of the United States, I don’t necessarily prefer Clinton myself and I’m not posting it for that reason.  I’m posting it for everything the author writes up until the endorsement, and if you are anti-Clinton, please do not let the conclusion wipe out everything you have read before that point. I know it’s a long read, but it’s the best, most comprehensive piece of writing I’ve ever seen that gets across so clearly why I care, and why we should all care.  Please take the time to read it, and if after doing so, you still don’t understand, still don’t see the need for feminism, still don’t care or feel at all disturbed, bothered, angered or indignant…then read it again.

— 

“The entire future of women’s rights rests upon her election. Love her or hate her, she had to win — or all women lose because the resulting nyah-nyah-nyah from the misogynists of America would become a deafening and dangerous roar.

We solemnly agreed, even though some of us were really Barack Obama fans or John Edwards supporters.

We recognized that the stakes are high, very high, for women.”

-Antonia Zerbisias, Broadsides

GOODBYE TO ALL THAT #2
by Robin Morgan

“Goodbye To All That” was my (in)famous 1970 essay breaking free from a politics of accommodation especially affecting women.

During my decades in civil-rights, anti-war, and contemporary women’s movements, I’ve avoided writing another specific “Goodbye . . .”. But not since the suffrage struggle have two communities–the joint conscience-keepers of this country–been so set in competition, as the contest between Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) and Barack Obama (BO) unfurls. So.

Goodbye to the double standard . . .

–Hillary is too ballsy but too womanly, a Snow Maiden who’s emotional, and so much a politician as to be unfit for politics.

–She’s “ambitious” but he shows “fire in the belly.” (Ever had labor pains? )

–When a sexist idiot screamed “Iron my shirt!” at HRC, it was considered amusing; if a racist idiot shouted “Shine my shoes!” at BO, it would’ve inspired hours of airtime and pages of newsprint analyzing our national dishonor.

–Young political Kennedys–Kathleen, Kerry, and Bobby Jr.–all endorsed Hillary. Sen. Ted, age 76, endorsed Obama. If the situation were reversed, pundits would snort “See? Ted and establishment types back her, but the forward-looking generation backs him.” (Personally, I’m unimpressed with Caroline’s longing for the Return of the Fathers. Unlike the rest of the world, Americans have short memories. Me, I still recall Marilyn Monroe’s suicide, and a dead girl named Mary Jo Kopechne in Chappaquiddick.)

Goodbye to the toxic viciousness  . . .

Carl Bernstein’s disgust at Hillary’s “thick ankles.” Nixon-trickster Roger Stone’s new Hillary-hating 527 group, “Citizens United Not Timid” (check the capital letters). John McCain answering “How do we beat the bitch?” with “Excellent question!” Would he have dared reply similarly to “How do we beat the black bastard?” For shame.

Goodbye to the HRC nutcracker with metal spikes between splayed thighs. If it was a tap-dancing blackface doll, we would be righteously outraged—and they would not be selling it in airports. Shame.

Goodbye to the most intimately violent T-shirts in election history, including one with the murderous slogan “If Only Hillary had married O.J. Instead!” Shame.

Goodbye to Comedy Central’s South Park featuring a storyline in which terrorists secrete a bomb in HRC’s vagina. I refuse to wrench my brain down into the gutter far enough to find a race-based comparison. For shame.

Goodbye to the sick, malicious idea that this is funny. This is not “Clinton hating,” not “Hillary hating.” This is sociopathic woman-hating. If it were about Jews, we would recognize it instantly as anti-Semitic propaganda; if about race, as KKK poison.  Hell, PETA would go ballistic if such vomitous spew were directed at animals. Where is our sense of outrage—as citizens, voters, Americans?

Goodbye to the news-coverage target-practice . . .

The women’s movement and Media Matters wrung an apology from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews for relentless misogynistic comments. But what about NBC’s Tim Russert’s continual sexist asides and his all-white-male panels pontificating on race and gender? Or CNN’s Tony Harris chuckling at “the chromosome thing” while interviewing a woman from The White House Project? And that’s not even mentioning Fox News.

Goodbye to pretending the black community is entirely male and all women are white . . .

Surprise! Women exist in all opinions, pigmentations, ethnicities, abilities, sexual preferences, and ages–not only African American and European American but Latina and Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Arab American and—hey, every group, because a group wouldn’t be alive if we hadn’t given birth to it. A few non-racist countries may exist–but sexism is everywhere. No matter how many ways a woman breaks free from other oppressions, she remains a female human being in a world still so patriarchal that it’s the “norm.”

So why should all women not be as justly proud of our womanhood and the centuries, even millennia, of struggle that got us this far, as black Americans, women and men, are justly proud of their struggles?

Goodbye to a campaign where he has to pass as white (which whites—especially wealthy ones–adore), while she has to pass as male (which both men and women demanded of her, and then found unforgivable). If she were black or he were female we wouldn’t be having such problems, and I for one would be in heaven. But at present such a candidate wouldn’t stand a chance—even if she shared Condi Rice’s Bush-defending politics.

I was celebrating the pivotal power at last focused on African American women deciding on which of two candidates to bestow their vote–until a number of Hillary-supporting black feminists told me they’re being called “race traitors.”

So goodbye to conversations about this nation’s deepest scar—slavery—which fail to acknowledge that labor- and sexual-slavery exist today in the US and elsewhere on this planet, and the majority of those enslaved are women.

Women have endured sex/race/ethnic/religious hatred, rape and battery, invasion of spirit and flesh,  forced pregnancy;  being the majority of the poor, the illiterate, the disabled, of refugees, caregivers, the HIV/AIDS afflicted, the powerless. We have survived invisibility, ridicule, religious fundamentalisms, polygamy, teargas, forced feedings, jails, asylums, sati, purdah, female genital mutilation, witch burnings, stonings, and attempted gynocides. We have tried reason, persuasion, reassurances, and being extra-qualified, only to learn it never was about qualifications after all. We know that at this historical moment women experience the world differently from men–though not all the same as one another–and can govern differently, from Elizabeth Tudor to Michele Bachelet and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

We remember when Shirley Chisholm and Patricia Schroeder ran for this high office and barely got past the gate—they showed too much passion, raised too little cash, were joke fodder. Goodbye to all that. (And goodbye to some feminists so famished for a female president they were even willing to abandon women’s rights  in backing Elizabeth Dole.)

Goodbye, goodbye to . . .

–blaming anything Bill Clinton does on Hillary (even including his womanizing like the Kennedy guys–though unlike them, he got reported on). Let’s get real. If he hadn’t campaigned strongly for her everyone would cluck over what that meant. Enough of Bill and Teddy Kennedy locking their alpha male horns while Hillary pays for it.

–an era when parts of the populace feel so disaffected by politics that a comparative lack of knowledge, experience, and skill is actually seen as attractive, when celebrity-culture mania now infects our elections so that it’s “cooler” to glow with marquee charisma than to understand the vast global complexities of power on a nuclear, wounded planet.

–the notion that it’s fun to elect a handsome, cocky president who feels he can learn on the job, goodbye to George W. Bush and the destruction brought by his inexperience, ignorance, and arrogance.

Goodbye to the accusation that HRC acts “entitled” when she’s worked intensely at everything she’s done—including being a nose-to-the-grindstone, first-rate senator from my state.

Goodbye to her being exploited as a Rorschach test by women who reduce her to a blank screen on which they project their own fears, failures, fantasies.

Goodbye to the phrase “polarizing figure”  to describe someone who embodies the transitions women have made in the last century and are poised to make in this one. It was the women’s movement that quipped, “We are becoming  the men we wanted to marry.” She heard us, and she has.

Goodbye to some women letting history pass by while wringing their hands, because Hillary isn’t as “likeable” as they’ve been warned they must be, or because she didn’t leave him, couldn’t “control” him, kept her family together and raised a smart, sane daughter. (Think of the blame if Chelsea had ever acted in the alcoholic, neurotic manner of the Bush twins!) Goodbye to some women pouting because she didn’t bake cookies or she did, sniping because she learned the rules and then bent or broke them. Grow the hell  up. She is not running for Ms.-perfect-pure-queen-icon of the feminist movement.  She is running to be President of the United States.

Goodbye to the shocking American ignorance of our own and other countries’ history. Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir rose through party ranks and war, positioning themselves as proto-male leaders. Almost all other female heads of government so far have been related to men of power—granddaughters, daughters, sisters, wives, widows: Gandhi, Bandaranike, Bhutto, Aquino, Chamorro, Wazed, Macapagal-Arroyo, Johnson Sirleaf, Bachelet, Kirchner, and more. Even in our “land of opportunity,” it’s mostly the first pathway “in” permitted to women: Reps. Doris Matsui and Mary Bono and Sala Burton; Sen. Jean Carnahan . . . far too many to list here.

Goodbye to a misrepresented generational divide . . .

Goodbye to the so-called spontaneous “Obama Girl” flaunting her bikini-clad ass online—then confessing Oh yeah it wasn’t her idea after all, some guys got her to do it and dictated the clothes, which she said “made me feel like a dork.”

Goodbye to some young women eager to win male approval by showing they’re not feminists (at least not the kind who actually threaten the status quo), who can’t identify with a woman candidate because she is unafraid of eeueweeeu yucky power, who fear their boyfriends might look at them funny if they say something good about her. Goodbye to women of any age again feeling unworthy, sulking “what if she’s not electable?” or “maybe it’s post-feminism and whoooosh we’re already free.” Let a statement by the magnificent Harriet Tubman stand as reply. When asked how she managed to save hundreds of enslaved African Americans via the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, she replied bitterly, “I could have saved thousands—if only I’d been able to convince them they were slaves.”

I’d rather say a joyful Hello to all the glorious young women who do identify with Hillary, and all the brave, smart men—of all ethnicities and any age–who get that it’s in their self-interest, too. She’s better qualified. (D’uh.) She’s a high-profile candidate with an enormous grasp of foreign- and domestic-policy nuance, dedication to detail, ability to absorb staggering insult and personal pain while retaining dignity, resolve, even humor, and keep on keeping on. (Also, yes, dammit, let’s hear it for her connections and funding and party-building background, too. Obama was awfully glad about those when she raised dough and campaigned for him to get to the Senate in the first place.)

I’d rather look forward to what a good president he might make in eight years, when his vision and spirit are seasoned by practical know-how–and he’ll be all of 54. Meanwhile, goodbye to turning him into a shining knight when actually he’s an astute, smooth pol with speechwriters who’ve worked with the Kennedys’ own speechwriter-courtier Ted Sorenson. If it’s only about ringing rhetoric, let speechwriters run. But isn’t it about getting the policies we want enacted?

And goodbye to the ageism . . .

How dare anyone unilaterally decide when to turn the page on history, papering over real inequities and suffering constituencies in the promise of a feel-good campaign? How dare anyone claim to unify while dividing, or think that to rouse US youth from torpor it’s useful to triage the single largest demographic in this country’s history: the boomer generation–the majority of which is female?

Older woman are the one group that doesn’t grow more conservative with age—and we are the generation of radicals who said “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Goodbye to going gently into any goodnight any man prescribes for us. We are the women who changed the reality of the United States. And though we never went away, brace yourselves: we’re back!

We are the women who brought this country equal credit, better pay, affirmative action, the concept of a family-focused workplace; the women who established rape-crisis centers and battery shelters, marital-rape and date-rape laws; the women who defended lesbian custody rights, who fought for prison reform, founded the peace and environmental movements; who insisted that medical research include female anatomy, who inspired men to become more nurturing parents, who created women’s studies and Title IX so we all could cheer the WNBA stars and Mia Hamm. We are the women who reclaimed sexuality from violent pornography, who put child care on the national agenda, who transformed demographics, artistic expression, language itself. We are the women who forged a worldwide movement. We are the proud successors of women who, though it took more than 50 years, won us the vote.

We are the women who now comprise the majority of US voters.

Hillary said she found her own voice in New Hampshire. There’s not a woman alive who, if she’s honest, doesn’t recognize what she means. Then HRC got drowned out by campaign experts, Bill, and media’s obsession with All Things Bill.

So listen to her voice:

“For too long, the history of women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words.

“It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls. It is a violation of human rights when woman and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution. It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small. It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war. It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide along women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes. It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.

“Women’s rights are human rights. Among those rights are the right to speak freely–and the right to be heard.”

That was Hillary Rodham Clinton defying the US State Department and the Chinese Government at the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing (the full, stunning speech:
http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/hillaryclintonbeijingspeech.htm).

And this voice, age 22, in “Commencement Remarks of Hillary D. Rodham, President of Wellesley College Government Association, Class of 1969” (full speech:
http://www.wellesley.edu/PublicAffairs/Commencement/1969/053169hillary.html)

“We are, all of us, exploring a world none of us understands. . . . searching for a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living. . . . [for the] integrity, the courage to be whole, living in relation to one another in the full poetry of existence. The struggle for an integrated life existing in an atmosphere of communal trust and respect is one with desperately important political and social consequences. . . . Fear is always with us, but we just don’t have time for it.”

She ended with the commitment “to practice, with all the skill of our being: the art of making possible.”

And for decades, she’s been learning how.

So goodbye to Hillary’s second-guessing herself. The real question is deeper than her re-finding her voice. Can we women find ours? Can we do this for ourselves?  “Our President, Ourselves!”

Time is short and the contest tightening. We need to rise in furious energy–as we did when courageous Anita Hill was so vilely treated in the US Senate, as we did when desperate Rosie Jiminez was butchered by an illegal abortion, as we did and do for women globally who are condemned for trying to break through. We need to win, this time. Goodbye to supporting HRC tepidly, with ambivalent caveats and apologetic smiles. Time to  volunteer, make phone calls, send emails, donate money, argue, rally, march, shout, vote.

Me? I support Hillary Rodham because she’s the best qualified of all candidates running in both parties. I support her because her progressive politics are as strong as her proven ability to withstand what will be a massive right-wing assault in the general election. I support her because she’s refreshingly thoughtful, and I’m bloodied from eight years of a jolly “uniter” with ejaculatory politics. I needn’t agree with her on every point. I agree with the 97 percent of her positions that are identical with Obama’s—and the few where hers are both more practical and to the left of his (like health care). I support her because she’s already smashed the first-lady stereotype and made history as a fine senator, and because I believe she will continue to make history not only as the first US woman president, but as a great US president.

As for the “woman thing”?

Me, I’m voting for Hillary not because she’s a woman—but because I am.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 43 other followers