Why Write about Female Mestres? The Feminist Catch-22

5 12 2007

Catch-22 (noun): a no-win situation

If you read the “Update” section on Mestra Edna‘s profile (previously the first half of this post, but I moved those paragraphs for clarity’s sake), they lead up to the main dilemma I encountered while writing about her: Why?  That is, why should Edna Lima be singled out and featured, among all the other mestres comparable to her and who might have accomplished just as much or more?  According to my own blog, it’s because she’s not just a mestre, but a female mestre.  But isn’t writing about her just because she’s a woman just as tunnel-visioned as ignoring her just because she’s a woman?  Aside from the slightly more justified qualification that Edna Lima is not only a mestra, but the world’s first (a reason that won’t apply to the other mestras and mestrandas I intend to write about), I think my response to that would be yes, to a certain extent, but it’s tricky because right now, the world seems to be stuck precariously in a stage between stasis and regression, feminism-wise. 

We are not so advanced that women are free from discrimination and harassment in business and the workplace, in politics and the government, in entertainment, in the media, in advertising, and in many cases everyday life; yet, we have progressed just enough since the days of the suffragettes for many people to believe that more talk of women’s equality is completely superfluous.  That’s the catch-22: if women really were equal, we wouldn’t have to keep stressing “a woman did this!  a woman did that!”  The actual stressing itself emphasizes the divide.  Yet if we don’t say anything, the divide still remains, and becomes ever more entrenched.  People know, for instance, that women can be CEO’s, doctors, and engineers—but they don’t know that on average, they’d have much lower salaries than male counterparts doing the exact same job, with the same qualifications and experience.  (Apparently, the same goes for short people and tall people, which absolutely sucks because I’m female and short.)  Then there was an article I read about how even though women can run for government, it’s much harder to and they are asked less to than men are, so the overall atmosphere itself still provides an obstacle to a level playing field.  Finally, look up anti-Hillary Clinton groups on facebook, then read this from Antigone Magazine.

Returning to Mestra Edna and the all the rest, I’m not saying that there’s some sort of hidden sexism in capoeira, and I’m happy to say I’ve never encountered anything even near it myself during the whole time I’ve been doing capoeira (although I’ve heard it said, for example, that a teacher would have long been graduated up a level by now if she were a guy).  On the other hand, one can’t really deny the nature of Brazilian culture that of course pervades capoeira, and when Mestra Edna mentioned in an interview that “music is one area in which women…still take part significantly less than men”, it did occur to me that I’ve only ever seen one woman play in or even practice for my group’s performance band, and I haven’t seen that many women play the berimbau during “official” (as opposed to just in-class, for-practice) rodas, either.  Granted, it’s fair enough to say that’s only due to lack of personal initiative on their parts and nothing else, but looking at the big picture, it might still be something worth noting. 

So I guess the conclusion I’ve drawn, then, is that while at times it might seem like making mountains of molehills, or purposely trying to draw things out of thin air, the overall state of things still seems to require that attention be brought to certain issues, lest people settle into casual apathy and slip obliviously into the state of regression mentioned above.  It shouldn’t be that capoeira mestres are spotlighted specifically for their gender, but until society collectively achieves a mentality where gender truly doesn’t matter (aside from the obvious, e.g. repopulating the human species–which itself might be a dubious goal to a lot of people), this seems like the best we can do.

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4 responses

5 12 2007
vanessa

just letting you know i’m here and reading 🙂

31 12 2007
Shayna

Two notes:

1) Although yes, today it takes 20+ years to be titled “mestre,” just a generation or two ago that wasn’t the case. Quite a few of the old-guard mestres were called “mestre” after less than a decade of capoeira. That’s because, in those days, there wasn’t this elaborate ranking system. There were just two categories of capoeiristas – those who were just starting out (students) and those who were more experienced and who taught (mestres).

2) I’m surprised that M. Edna would say that women participate less in music. In my experience, it’s been the opposite. Women tend to have better natural musical abilities than the guys, have a better sense of rhythm and melody. Their difficulties often include a) projecting, singing out loudly; and b) sometimes they are shy to even take the lead at all.

31 12 2007
Joaninha

Hi! Ahh okay, that make sense. Thanks for clarifying! For the music though, I think I had to agree with her, granted just from the little I’ve seen. I don’t know if I’d say women are naturally better with music…maybe in terms of that and participation, it’s different in Brazil than in North America?

4 12 2008
CP

Just writing to say that as a capoeirista, it was great to find a resource to get information on the women who have pioneered and excelled in the capoeira world. Thank you for this.

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