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

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24 responses

17 02 2008
Mike

Personally, I am not in favor of women only rodas or events for the same reason I am not in favor of men only. For me the essence of Capoeira is that it is a family, a culture. Both of which are only complete when they contain both sexes.

I cannot say I condemn anyone for organizing or attending such events or rodas, but I agree with you that this mentality promotes the ability level stereotype. As for camaraderie and support, tell me what is more empowering, for both genders, then a female and male Capoeirista taking measure of each other in the roda, and then respecting each other for the level of the others game. Camara!

The movements are the vocabulary of Capoeira and how we speak to each other is extremely important.

It was explained to me early in my journey into Capoeira that the roda symbolizes the earth and the game symbolizes life. If this is so what message do we take from this, that to be equal we must be apart?

Some might have the opinion that as a man my blessing is unnecessary, and they are correct.

Gingarte Capoeira Chicago is having their 5th Annual Women’s Event. Women host it and women lead all classes, but it is open to everyone. What a great way to celebrate women in Capoeira without excluding your brothers in Capoeira.

18 02 2008
cenoura

Yeah, your comment on “the devide” and theory of chauvinist theory are exactly the issues I have with the idea of women only rodas. And I agree that inviting higher level women is the better way to get inclusiveness, for some groups I don’t see it happening, so I guess I wonder if half measureses(which admittedly these feel like to me) is better than nothing. and I don’t know. Thanks for explaining.

20 02 2008
Joaninha

Well said, Mike! I agree with all your points, and yeah, I should’ve mentioned too that women would be really indignant if men decided to have male-only rodas/events (probably even outraged), so for true equality shouldn’t it also work the other way around? (But then possibly you could get into arguments like “reverse sexism” versus trying to make up for the past 2000 years of patriarchy, etc. etc.). I think the best combination for such things, if people insist on having them, would be women events that have a purpose beyond “women-only”, like I mentioned, and with the option for men to attend if they’re interested.

No problem, Cenoura! What exactly feels like half-measures to you, the all-women events/rodas? Yeah, as far as I know my group, or at least the academy I train with, has never invited any high-ranking women to any of our events, or even told us about them. Now that I think about it, that sucks! I wonder what I can do (if anything XD) to rectify this situation…

21 02 2008
Shayna

I agree with your proposed solution to invite high-level women to “normal” events more often. Though one thing that makes this a bit difficult is that, from my experience and observation, high-level female capoeiristas tend to be very committed to their work and communities, and tend NOT to be “traveling capoeira superstars” (you know, the mestres who somehow appear at 85 batizados a year, and their own group barely ever sees them), so women are probably going to be choosy about which events they are going to attend.

Another strategy, which is more ground-up rather than top-down, is simply to encourage up-and-coming female capoeiristas more often in daily training – highlighting their contributions and making it clear that capoeira is about more than brute strength and powerhouse moves.

I can’t tell you how many women I’ve talked to who are developing great, smart, beautiful games (not to mention musical abilities) but don’t even know it because that’s not what’s affirmed. They feel like second-class citizens in their own group and focus their energies on thoughts like “If only I could do XYZ move, then I’d be good…”

BTW, I also disagree with segregating rodas by cord level, but that’s another discussion 😉

22 02 2008
Joaninha

Hahaha…gotta be honest Shayna, you pretty much described my own grupo’s mestre to a T. That’s a really good point you made about female mestres though…which is unfortunate, because I would think that precisely this commitment to all those things is further reason for why we should invite them, for their insight and experiences.

I like your second strategy, too, since it would encourage more females to keep training and keep going, eventually (hopefully) increasing the number of higher belt females.

Wow, really? That’s really sad, that their own strengths aren’t lauded for what they are, while they can only focus on what’s easiest for others…I haven’t actually come across that, but my capoeira experience has been super-limited so that probably explains it.

For segregating by cord level…is it because then beginners won’t get to see how more advanced games are played, and won’t be able to be challenged (and thus improve) themselves, by higher belts? I agree, but I think it also makes sense to have at least a fraction of the event split by level, especially because I know from experience that in academy-wide, all-level rodas, your chance of actually getting to play in the roda is, it seems, directly proportional to the level you’ve reached! (But again, that’s from *my* experience—is it different in other groups?)

22 02 2008
Shayna

Yes, a really important part of capoeira is learning how to play with people of ALL levels, styles, quirks… it’s not just for the beginners’ benefit, either!

As a “just-beginning-to-grow-out-of-childhood” capoeirista of 6 years, I find that some of the hardest people to play are those who have been training for 6 months to 2 years. It takes a lot of skill to be able to
1) work around movements that may be thrown from odd places and with less-than-ideal technique;
2) play with someone whose mental understanding of the game is somewhat developed but not as sophisticated as yours; and
3) handle the fact that they’re often out to “get” you just to see if they can (I used to love to challenge higher-level capoeiristas, and it was interesting to see who accepted it with humility and humor vs. who just got pissed off).

They say the only person to ever hit Mestre Bimba was a newbie on his second day of class, who did meia lua de compasso with the wrong foot and knocked the mestre in the head. So, I’m a firm believer in the fact that more experienced students can learn a lot and develop their own games from playing beginners.

If the problem is too many bodies in the roda (and I agree, that sucks), then split the roda but along arbitrary lines – just divide the students into two groups that each have a good mix of levels. At one batizado I went to – which remains in my mind as the best one I’ve attended, even though I normally hate batizados – there was one bateria and FOUR simultaneous rodas of about 12 people each, and you had the freedom to leave one roda and join another to play new people. Yes, it was a bit chaotic, but I played a lot and played everyone from beginners to instructors to the mestre!

22 02 2008
cenoura

the half-measures I’m talking about are women only rodas as opposed to inviting women mestras to all rodas. It’s like you said, trying to make up for patriarchy as opposed to truly having inclusiveness and make the making up unnecessary. But it’s also, as you said, not a reason to have the girls play each other while the guys stand around and watch-which seems way too close to mud wrestling to me. and Shayna, does having some only low level rodas and some high level rodas preclude mixing it up later? I mean, I personally find value in both trying to play with people of drastically different experience with me-either trying to play at the level of new players-which makes me really focus on what I’m doing or having experienced players show me holes in my game, and with trying to match where we are in training. The experiences compliment each other.

25 02 2008
hera

I found your blog a few weeks ago and have been enjoying the points of discussion and comments. I am fairly new to the Capoeira world ((i only have been training for about 3.5 yrs)), but in the traveling that i have done to several batizados in the past ((when i trained with a Contemporanea group)), the lack of women in highly respected positions is very apparent in the Contemporanea world. I’m not quite sure about the Angola world yet.

As Mike said above, the roda is said to be representative of life…and because of that, perhaps the way women develop self worth and go through life in our American or Western society is reflected in the Capoeira world. It doesn’t seem to be a positive thing overall.

I’m not sure if it was this post or another—where Shayna commented that alliance to a group is important in terms of loyalty…because the group should be based on and supported by the contribution of its members—not just “i’m just in this for myself”.

What i have noticed about groups that are rich in community, with nurturing the history and sharing knowledge, is that training with these groups helps each member to discover their own personal flavor and develop their unique personal gifts and strengths. Through doing this, the person is able to ((and wants to!!)) contribute deeply to the nourishment and growth of their group.

I believe that this is essential for nurturing female capoeiristas with strong, flavorfull games. It is this wonderful thing called self discovery that Capoeira carries within herself. Some people see it and feel it and unfortunately, others don’t. But i do believe that there are plenty of groups out there with remarkable women playing and living. And hopefully more groups will notice and add to their overall purpose and objective, those essential ingredients to keep it going.

26 02 2008
Pedrita

Hey, i just read your article, after having attended an all-women event, the 1st Women Capoeira encounter in Santa Barbara, California, hosted by Capoeira Sul da Bahia (Borbaleta).
1st. Overall.. i have to say it was a great opportunity to meet some amazing women capoeiristas, although i do agree with you that we should be focusing on inviting these women to more batizados/events in general. this was the first time i had met many of these women in person.
2nd.. the all-women rodas, were like ones i never experienced before. Normally, all-women rodas turn into cat fights.. im still not sure why, maybe because when women fight men, we play tough, but when we play women- maybe we feel like we are trying to prove something? But this event, did not have any “cat-fight’ “nasty” fights. This doesn’t mean the women didn’t play hard.. they still played hard, but w/o causing the unprompted injuries. (well.. maybe a couple by accident, but nothing serious, just by beginners that don’t have full control of their kicks and sight.. like me..).
3rd.. I guess overall I agree with you… I feel like it does put up a divider a bit, and that we should have men and women events, but just invite more women leaders!

Mulheres unidade! Abraçøs- Pedrita

26 02 2008
Shayna

cenoura wrote, I personally find value in both…

I totally agree. Which is why it’s nice to have everyone together. In one game you might play a complete newbie, and in the next a contra-mestre 🙂

With that said, I do think that sometimes rodas divided by level are appropriate – two instances I can think of are 1) an all low-level roda can help lower the intimidation factor for beginners to play; and 2) an all high-level roda allows more experienced players to challenge each other rather than always or most of the time playing with beginners. But I think level-divided rodas should be used sparingly.

hi hera 🙂

27 02 2008
Joaninha

Whew! I leave for a few days and this is what happens? …I should leave more often. 😉

Shayna, what you said about playing semi-beginners is so true—I should know, seeing as I am one! There really is nothing like the rush from unexpectedly catching out a capoeirista more advanced than you are 😛 Lately I’ve also realized that it’s harder to play beginner players in terms of trying to find the line between playing in a way they can follow and still keeping your own game interesting. But I still think the best is a combination of everything–mixed-level, same-level, small, and event-wide rodas!

Cenoura, ah okay, yeah we’re definitely on the same page about “half-measures”. And I’m sure I’ve heard the mud-wresting comparison somewhere before…and you’re right, it is a little disturbing!

27 02 2008
Joaninha

Hera, hi, and thanks for commenting! I think what Mike meant is that the roda representing life, the roda should have equal representation of males and females, since they’re equal in the philosophical/overall idea of life, not in socially constructed patriarchal life. As for why that’s not the case, I would say it’s not necessarily *because* there’s gender inequality in life and that’s why the roda has gender inequality, but simply because that’s the way it is everywhere in the world, and rodas are just part of this world! I hope that made sense o.O”

I really agree with what you said about groups/group loyalty and the individual…it’s kind of ironic actually, but rightly so! If the group/group leaders take care to nurture their capoeiristas’ individuality, the capoeiristas will feel their care and investment and want to return it all…but if all the group/group leaders do is try to quash individuality and force “groupthink” onto the capoeiristas, then they will run!

27 02 2008
Joaninha

Hey, Peditra! I’m glad the event went well, and that you enjoyed it. That’s an interesting point you brought up, about “cat-fighting”, and kind of an unfortunate one, that that sort of thing exists! While we’re on the topic of rodas representing real life, people also always talk about “cat-fighting” in the workplace, in school, etc. …so I think it’s a much bigger issue than just in the roda. This would make for a good post/discussion topic as well… Thanks for your comment!

28 02 2008
Shayna

Pedrita wrote, Normally, all-women rodas turn into cat fights.. im still not sure why, maybe because when women fight men, we play tough, but when we play women- maybe we feel like we are trying to prove something?

One thing that I think contributes to the cat-fighting is the “alpha female” phenomenon. Let me explain what I mean… (I might have said this before on this blog; if so, forgive me!)

Since in most groups – probably like 98% – the instructor/mestre is male, he is the established “alpha male.” The other men recognize his superiority and don’t have to compete to be top dog. But the “alpha female” spot is open. Sometimes it’s filled by the highest-level female capoeirista, sometimes it’s filled by the woman who does the most administrative work for the group, sometimes it’s filled by the woman who sleeps with the mestre… but in any case, it can be competed for. And when women see each other primarily as competitors and not as comrades/colleagues, then you get cat-fights both inside and outside the roda.

This mentality is tough to change. I’ve been the “alpha female” in some groups, and not in others. I’ve never been in a cat-fight. But still, whenever a new/visiting woman shows up, my first reaction is always to size her up and watch her closely to assess her skill. I don’t react this way to men, for whatever reason.

To end on a positive note – I have fond memories of being in one group where another woman and I were both definitely sizing each other up. Our first game together was tough & rather ugly, as we both pushed each other and tried to get the edge, the upper hand. Our mestre chastised us several times for playing too aggressively. But neither of us could one-up the other, and when we discovered we were pretty much on the same level, we ended the game with a new respect for each other and ended up becoming close friends.

28 02 2008
cenoura

I can’t comment much on cat fight, maybe our group is just too small-I’m currently the only woman that’s been there for more than about a year. But there is another kind of related thing that I have heard my mestre talk about and I’m curious-how often do you guys see people who play in big rodas get matched up-the video we were watching that brought this up was really blatant-white guys played other white guys, then two people with african descent played, then a pair of girls played each other. Do you see that happen much? do you do it? I know I will tend to play new girls more often(I could try Joanhina’s tip about walking under people’s legs, so I’m pretty unintimidating) but that’s about the only time. If that type of. . . I guess typecasting . . . happens, do you try to mix it up? how?

28 02 2008
Shayna

cenoura, I can’t say I’ve really ever seen that happen… except for once, a 90% male group’s street roda in Brazil, where men always played men until a child bought in, and then a woman would buy in and play with the child, and then all the women would play each other one after another, until two men would go to the pe do berimbau and re-start the male games.

I got a LOT of attention when I was the only woman who would actually buy in and play with the guys! Attention in a good way – they all wanted to play me, and I had some great games. Also, the guys were ALL higher-level cords, and the women were ALL beginners. Quite frankly, the impression I got was that the women were more interested in hanging around in their cute white pants and watching the guys than in playing capoeira…

28 02 2008
cenoura

haha-yeah, I know EXACTLY what you mean with the last sentence. Some things are the same everywhere.

2 03 2008
Joaninha

Wow, Shayna—you haven’t mentioned the alpha female idea on this blog before, and I’d never heard of it before, but I find it a really interesting and sound theory!

Actually, if I think about it, I know I feel a lot more comfortable and enjoy playing guys more in the roda than women, precisely because I’m scared of potentially getting into a catfight, even though I never have before and don’t think I would. I guess this means I’m not really interested in becoming an alpha female (at least not at the expense of relationships with other people in my group), but now I’m wondering how this all ties in to the bigger picture of women and catfights, etc. In a mestra-led group, Shayna, do you know if males fight similarly for an alpha-male spot?

Cenoura, about the typecasting, I think I know what you mean a little bit. I’ve definitely seen tall Caucasian guys paired together, etc., especially when the teachers want us to deliberately play rough, but I’m pretty sure it was all mostly based on build/body-type, not so much ethnicity or anything like that. And yeah, women would be paired together, too.

I actually find it really funny how people have commented about women being more interested in looking cute and checking out guys, more than once on this blog, because personally I’ve never come across anything like that! Have I just not been in this long enough?

2 03 2008
Shayna

I actually find it really funny how people have commented about women being more interested in looking cute and checking out guys, more than once on this blog, because personally I’ve never come across anything like that! Have I just not been in this long enough?

I encountered it more in Brazil than in the U.S… especially in Bahia. There is still the stereotype of capoeira as a “men’s sport” – kind of like football here.

2 03 2008
Cenoura

well, what I said shouldn’t be taken to mean that all the girls I see are like that. It’s more a couple of examples that tend to stick with me-and I guess I base that comment on the girls who either get a boyfriend and leave, or don’t after a few months and leave. I don’t see it often, but what I’ve seen is awfully obvious. but I can’t speak for anywhere other than the US-need to get around and see more groups, which you talk about in another post. I’m also interested, Joaninha-how often do you try to match up size? we’re usually strongly encouraged to mix it up-try to work with many different body types in class.

2 03 2008
Joaninha

Shayna:
Ahh, okay. …I really need to get myself down to Brazil some time in the preferably near future!

Cenoura:
From what I can recall, size would only be matched up every so often—like I said, pretty much just when we’re specifically supposed to play rough and try taking each other down. Otherwise it’s just however it plays out in the roda, like normal.

3 03 2008
Balanca

The only capoeira “Women’s Event” I have attended featured ONE visiting professora, but all the other mestres, instructors, etc, were male. The students at the event, however, were 95% female. It made for a very strange vibe and left a bad taste in my mouth. Both for the catfights, and the girls looking like there were there to impress the guys, but also that the guys seemed a bit predatory. That was one afterparty I did not stick around for.

In general, I have seen some girls who seem into capoeira mainly for the guys, but I think the guys are more concerned about avoiding those girls than is warranted. It’s as if guys feel that most girls are there just to get a boyfriend or hook up with hot guys, regardless of how many girls they actually see acting that way.

3 03 2008
Cenoura

oh creepy, Balanca. I don’t blame you for not sticking around for that afterparty. that leaves a bad taste in my mouth just reading about it.

3 03 2008
Joaninha

Ditto, that is almost Twilight Zone-ish in its creepiness, Balanca! Almost like the whole thing was a set-up for some ulterior purpose…(cue Hitchcock music)

That’s an interesting point though about guys overcompensating in wariness…although like I said, I haven’t come across that side of capoeira yet, but it’s something I’ll have to keep in mind for future reference.

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