The Feminine in Capoeira, Part 2 (Context)

14 12 2007

Within or without capoeira, it's all about context. 

What’s wrong with being “feminine”?  That was the question nagging me as I finished Part 1 (Malicia) of this topic.  As pre-empted by some of the comments that followed, I also started having doubts in terms of the need to place capoeira and capoeira discourse in the context of its cultural origins.  Additionally, one of the things I’m starting to fear doing on this blog is going too deeply into text and discourse while I write, too far into another plane, and forgetting that it’s all supposed to come back down to be grounded in good ol’ everyday capoeira.  (On the other hand, sometimes that’s the fun part…)


Sorry for the extra bit of waiting this time this round!  I did a lot of thinking for this, so I hope it’ll have been worth it…  Today, I’ll start by excerpting from an article on www.capoeira.com, in which Jessica Fredican responds to sexism in her capoeira class and Nestor Capoeira’s take on malicia:

He talks a lot about malicia and, at the time, I was really turned off by it. … But the nicest games still involve being able to outwit and trick your opponent….

These goals lend themselves perfectly to traditional views of feminism. Ancient cultures worldwide have invented stories and myths that portray women as internal, sinuous, ambiguous, dangerous creatures. They aren’t external like men, carrying their genitals outside their bodies, displaying great feats of strength. Yet, women have this dangerously inexplicable power to knock men on their asses. This primordial and universal femininity involves hiding your intentions and using unexpected and unseen manoeuvres to defeat the opposite sex.

So maybe we should just be feminine. It would almost seem that capoeira was designed especially for women – a circle (a traditionally feminine symbol) in which to carry out their dangerous rituals of masking and trickery.

This was the article that started my doubts.  I loved the ideas in it, and the way she framed universal stereotypes of “the feminine” made me think, “Well, what’s wrong with that?”  Personally, I think it’d be pretty cool to have a “dangerously inexplicable power to knock men on their asses”, so if that’s what it means to be “feminine”, then why not “just be feminine”?  Same with the other things she said–if being “feminine” means being able to “hide your intentions” and “use the unexpected”–in other words, if being “feminine” means being an expert in malicia–well, wouldn’t it then be a compliment to be given that label, rather than anything derogatory? 

And especially that last part–if capoeira itself not only consists of the feminine but is the feminine–then, how in the world could it be a bad thing?

I believe all of this relates to context.  In the philosophical, metaphysical, symbolic context of capoeira, “the feminine” is esteemed because it is the source of malicia, and malicia is esteemed by capoeiristas.  I think where we run into trouble is when such symbolism is taken out of context–out of the centuries of culture and history and mythology that Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré were drawing on when they characterized malicia–and then applied to everyday life, whether unthinkingly or not. 

[Side note: While I’m exonerating Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré from the accusation of sexist views, on grounds of cultural context, I also want to add that in hindsight, their use of the word “power” could have meant brute force rather than power in the more general sense of the word, especially since I’m sure many consider malicia to be a power in itself.]  

For instance (returning to what I was talking about before the side note), in the symbolic context of capoeira, “the feminine” is partially defined as “not rational”–by which it is meant that you can’t explain malicia, you can’t use reasoning and logic to teach it to a student, the same way you can teach them how to land a kick properly or where to place your hands while doing rolé.  Switch into the everyday context of running a business though, or governing the country, and this “symbolism” is exactly why we have things like the glass ceiling, and why while 52% of the Canadian population is female, they are represented by a government that is nearly 80% male.

Now, I am not saying I think that people begin learning capoeira, get introduced to malicia, and start subconsciously discriminating against women (give me more credit than that!).  However, it is something similar that occurs, in a larger pattern over time and throughout society; only, instead of capoeira and malicia, people learn it through myths, through religion, through normative fairy tales and children’s games.  The specific mediums and symbols differ, but they all send the same messages about women and what “feminine” and “female” mean, without any barrier of “culture and history” to contain them in their respective contexts, as we do with capoeira. 

So I suppose that’s really what I wanted to get across in Part 1.  My conclusion is that though I still don’t like what Muniz Sodré said, I can understand that it does add depth and interest to thinking about capoeira and the game, and that it’s okay as long as we keep it within the metaphysical/philosophical/symbolic context of capoeira, that it’s actually more than okay because this way we preserve part of the roots of capoeira, and the culture and traditions it was steeped in.  It only becomes not okay when we take that message out of context and apply it to the “real world”, which is what you see happening in the media, workplace, government, etc., today, and even to the everyday world of capoeira, which is why I had to write this post.  Thanks again to everyone who commented last time, and as always, muito axé. =)

Picture source:
http://capoeira.uchicago.edu/Gallery/Kristie/studio/back_handspring.jpg

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5 responses

14 12 2007
xixarro

I have nothing more to add now. 🙂

13 03 2008
Daria

Interesting post. I also feel that being traits associated with femininity can be an advantage in capoeira. I don’t always associate femininity with being powerless. I’m also trying to explore what traits make a person good at capoeira. What traits do women have who are good? Sometimes, I think that as a woman, you need to be a bit more in touch with your masculine side in order to excel.

13 03 2008
Joaninha

Hey, Daria!

Glad to hear that…I would hope no one always—or ever—associates femininity with powerlessness! Hmm, maybe the question shouldn’t be “what traits do women have who are good?” though, but just “what traits do capoeiristas have who are good”? Does there necessarily have to be a “women’s good” and “men’s good”? The point of my post was actually to kind of get us thinking away from everything being feminine/masculine…for example, if by masculine side you mean strength, not being scared of aggression, etc… why couldn’t we just say those things, instead of saying masculine (which also ignores women who are naturally like that)? I hope all of that made sense! If you’d like to go into it more, I had a discussion running with a couple others in the Comments section of my Mestre Cristina post, so you might want to check it out!

15 12 2009
Jenny

All female capoeira meetings. Hey after peoples opinions on all female capoeira events, they seem to be a big thing at the moment for my profesora and a group of girls from my group are going to one in spain in a couple of months for one… My gut reaction to the whole thing is its rather sexist. (I appriciate there is sexism in capoeira. I’m lucky not to have encountered it yet at events, this may partially be because I’m new ( trained for a grand total of 7 months)and partically because my attitude is always `I’m here to play’ an I try to chat to everyone the same way whether they’re a guy or a girl.) However to voluntarily segregrate yourself seems a bit crazy, to take it to the extreme it could be compared to the black guys post apartied going `actually you white folks are kinda mean, we’d like our own waiting rooms etc back’ ok so thats tongue in cheek. But surely the aim should be to integrate not hide away……

15 12 2009
Jenny

sorry should read `…..7 months) partially because I’m new’

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