Equality is a Deadly Sin? Feminism as Envy

31 01 2008

Last year, I had to do a presentation on a short story called “Envy” for my Russian Lit class.  It was the perfect opportunity to buy a book in the trendy-looking “Seven Deadly Sins” Oxford series I’d been eyeing up at the bookstore.  I was happily strolling my way through its small, friendly 100-somewhat pages when I came across the following passage:

The modern feminist movement can, I believe, be said to have been built on an impersonal, generalized envy. Women wanted what men seemed to have: freedom of choice in career, in mates, in living with the same irresponsibility (in every field of endeavour) as men. Most women would say, I suspect, that not envy but a strong sense of injustice powered the feminist movement. They would not be wrong, but I would only add that envy and a sense of injustice are not always that easily distinguished, let alone extricated, one from the other. (-Joseph Epstein)

Alright.  First thought: What?! This is wrong!  Second thought: Well…it does kind of make sense.  Hindsight: No, he’s wrong.  And this is why:

When was the last time you felt envious of someone?  (Be honest!)  More importantly, why were you envious of them?  Was it because they had more time to train capoeira than you had, and thus improved more quickly?  Was it because they naturally played the game better than you did?  Was it because they were stronger and more flexible, and floreios came a lot more easily to them?  (If you drew a blank after all of those, insert applicable or non-capoeira example here!)

Envy does not a good capoeirista make!Whether it is skill, money, power, relationships, or circumstances, one thing that nearly all envied objects have in common is either their extraneousness to our current lives, or the large amount of chance involved.  Chance includes things like beauty, talent, intelligence, and personality (“Why did they get to be born <insert envied trait>?  Why wasn’t I?”).  Extraneousness includes things like money, power, promotions, and relationships, and can also be traced back to chance (“I deserve <insert source of envy> just as much as s/he does!  What makes them so great/lucky?”).  If there were neither chance nor extraneousness involved, it would not be true envy, as according to Epstein, inherent in the emotion is a feeling of injustice done—and there is nothing lucky or injust about someone getting promoted over you at work if they have been pulling overtime while you’ve been arriving late for the past three months, for example. 

If you look it up, Dictionary.com defines envy as “a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions”.  No one necessarily has a right to natural advantages, extra/better possessions, or chance successes; these are all “privileges” you come across in life, for lack of a better word.  Envy exists precisely because no one necessarily has a right to riches or built muscles or a perfect significant other any more than you do.  That’s why a sense of injustice is inherent in envy.

With that said, why is feminism not envy-based?  At first, it does seem to be: feminists are basically fighting for women to get the same amount of money and power in the world that men get, right?  No, or at least not exactly.  Feminism is about fighting for the opportunity for women who have earned it to achieve the same amount of money and power as men who have earned it, and more than men who haven’t, for equal opportunity.  That, and what Epstein himself says: for freedom of choice. 

Now, the last time I checked, the possession of equal opportunity and freedom of choice were things that were (1) inherent to living as a human being on this earth (it’s called a right) and (2) not controlled by chance (it’s called racism, sexism, homophobia, the glass ceiling, take your pick).   If pure envy originates in the belief that no one necessarily has a right to what is being envied, then how can we envy people for something we all do have a right to?  We can’t; it just doesn’t make sense.   Just because envy involves a sense of injustice doesn’t mean it always works the other way around.  The author may be right in saying the two aren’t always easily distinguished, but not in this case. 

Feminism is not envy, is not based on envy, and for Epstein to relegate the entire feminist movement to such is to drastically demean it, its goals, and its/their importance.  And, to put it bluntly, it’s terrible PR.  I can hear it now… “Ah-hah! <scoff> All that women-are-people equality stuff, and those feminist crankpots have just been bitter greedy little chits all along.”

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Just for Fun: Capoeira Pick-up Lines

29 01 2008

(Warning: Use at your own risk.  Mandingueira does not condone the use of nor will be held responsible for any and all events that occur inside or outside the roda as a direct or indirect result of these lines.)

Are you a capoeirista?  Because you just turned my world upside-down.

You must have lots of mandinga, because I’ve fallen under your spell!

That’s too bad that you lost your pandeiro, but if you want you can bang me instead.

If I play you hard enough in the roda, will you go volta ao mundo with me?

Hi, are you an angoleiro/a?  That’s great, ’cause I’m regional—what say we get together and be contemporary?

I’m surprised you have an apelido, because to me you are indescribable!

You know, your abada would be cleaner if you didn’t wear it at all.

If I gave you rasteira would that sweep you off your feet?

Update: I think there may have been some confusion…I haven’t actually heard or read these anywhere.  I made them up, just for fun…in the spirit of “I’m a fermata—hold me” and “I wish I were your derivative…”, etc. …hence the disclaimer!  Sorry about that!





Canadian Blog for Choice Day

28 01 2008

Again, not putting any thoughts forward, but just wanted to acknowledge:

The Morgenthaler Decision (20th anniversary today):
http://thestar.blogs.com/broadsides/2008/01/oh-henry.html

The Blog for Choice Challenge:
http://thestar.blogs.com/broadsides/2008/01/canadian-blogge.html

Please click on the given links for more information!





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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Don’t Go; We’ll Be Right Back after the Break!

27 01 2008

I’m sorry everyone, for the unexpected hiatus!  I was tied up with something all this weekend and have barely had time to eat and sleep, let alone write something worth reading.  Tomorrow, however, I will be back on track.  Muito obrigada for your patience, and keep checking in!

-Joaninha





Mestre of our fairy band / Helena is here at hand

25 01 2008

I dream of Capoeira

From the Utah Daily Herald: 

“Modern directors today that put on Shakespeare have the freedom to envision new and different ways of setting it, casting it and presenting it to a modern audience,” Jones said. “We’re setting our ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in a mystical South America in the 19th century. And so we have a lot of influences from Brazilian carnival and capoeira dancing [sic on the “dancing”].

It’s Shakespeare in Brazil; iambic pentameter and capoeira, in one.  Didn’t think anything could come closer to combining my two loves (English/literature and capoeira) more than writing this blog, but BYU has done it!  And A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of my favourites.

Any capoeiristas from Utah out there?  I am jealous.

Click here to read the full article





Capoeira Resource: Soul Capoeira Blog

23 01 2008

Berimbau, atabaque, pandeiro, reco-reco, agogoHey everyone, I wanted to tell you about an awesome capoeira blog/website I’ve been following for a bit now, called Soul Capoeira.  It’s an extremely prolific and informative site, run by Chan Griffin, that offers everything from in-depth history, to stories and tales, to intricately retold memories, to basic as well as (very) specific information about all sorts of capoeira topics. 

What really got me, though, was the inclusion of beat-by-beat musical rhythm instruction!!  You have no idea how excited I was to find this.  I don’t know how it was for you when you first started learning the berimbau, but I know for many people they do it intuitively, by listening to and watching someone else play, then copying as best they can.  For me though, I had to know exactly in my mind that it was, for instance, “1 down, 2 up, 2 buzz, repeat” or “4 down, 2 buzz, 3 down 1 up, 2 buzz, 4 up, 2 buzz, up-down-up-down” before I’d be able to play the toque successfully.  (Yes, I do find it easier to remember that than mimicking and yes, my friends thought I was crazy too.) 

Anyway, I still find that to be the most effective way I learn new rhythms (unfortunately, my teachers haven’t always agreed with me on that point XD), and it applies to the other instruments as well.  So if you happen to learn that way too—or even if you don’t, it can still be useful—Soul Capoeira comes through amazingly.  Whether it’s pandeiro technique, berimbau toques, or maculelê on the atabaque (at long last, our intrepid Joaninha has stumbled upon the Holy Grail!), if you can read…you can play!  Thanks, Chan!

Picture source: http://www.capoeirasuldabahia.com.br/images/musica.jpg