FICA Women’s Conference 2008 cont’d on Mandingueira!

16 03 2008

Did you miss out on the recent FICA Women’s Conference in Washington, DC?  Were you disappointed in having to miss all the insightful, interesting, and valuable discussions that went on about women in capoeira?  So was I!  Which is why I’m going to (re)visit and feature them here on Mandingueira, one topic and one post at a time.  I’ll look at what was said at the conference, give my two cents, and then open the floor to you guys so we can all join in the discussion, regardless of geography!

Today’s discussion revolves around “Violence, Self-Respect, and Self-Defence“—although as you will see, a more appropriate title would be “Teasing and Criticism in Capoeira Training”.

In capoeira training, where is the line between tough love and uncalled-for-ness? 

Capoeiristas at the conference took an interesting take on this topic, looking at more subtle forms of violence in capoeira, such as verbal abuse, humiliation, and “disrespectful behaviour”.  (I would add that sexual harrassment, however slight or implied, fits under here too.)  This was a good choice, since I think all those things are a lot more relevant and prevalent in capoeira groups than outright violence is!  Eventually, the question of the student-teacher relationship came up, which of course involves complicating factors such as Brazilian culture and capoeira “tradition”.  By the end, they came up with several thought-provoking questions:

Just how much “teasing” can we allow before it’s disrespectful?
Is my mestre being cruel to me or “testing” my commitment?
Is he telling me these things because he cares?
How much does this criticism fracture my self-respect and self-esteem?
As a woman, am I more sensitive to this treatment, or is it more personal?

This topic interests me because I know at least one or two people who have been bothered by what was called “humiliation tactics” in capoeira training, for instance yelling, mocking, name-calling, or putting down.  However, I’ve never been unduly bothered by it, and I can say why:

  • I don’t feel like I’m being singled out and picked on, because I notice that everyone gets the exact same treatment, regardless of things like gender, rank, or connections.
  • Having said that, there is a sort of sliding scale in that students of higher rank or believed to have higher potential will be more aggressively pushed than, say, new or beginner students.  However, I think this makes sense, and because of this, have also learned to see it as a good thing if a teacher pushes or criticizes me, because it shows (I think/hope) that to at least some extent they think I’m worth paying attention to.
  • What the teachers do/say is never so much that I ever feel like my self-respect or self-esteem or anything like that is being slowly chipped away at.  Like I said, sometimes it actually boosts my confidence because it shows I’ve gotten “on the radar”.  However, and this relates to the fourth question above, it also depends on each individual, so perhaps teachers should be sensitive to how much each student would be affected by their comments, and adjust the tone/form of their criticism accordingly.

As for “testing committment” and “because s/he cares”, I have to say that if the teasing, etc., is truly hurtful to the student, then these are kind of flimsy excuses for it.  There are other, better ways to test a student’s committment besides seeing how much pyschological bullying they can stand, such as telling them they need to train more often/regularly, or having them volunteer for the academy (doing admin, helping out with events, teaching if they can, etc.). 

Likewise, if a teacher truly cared, they wouldn’t deliberately act in a way that would harm their students in the long run.  I’d say that giving you criticism is definitely because they care, since they want you to improve and you can’t know how to improve without knowing what needs improvement.  However, it’s the way they do it that’s important.  For many, even most students, the “tough love” route probably is the way to go, especially considering capoeira is still largely a martial art/physical activity, even with its many other aspects.  Again though, I’d say a lot of it comes down to the invidual personality of certain students and discretion of their teachers.

Finally, we have the question of how female students are treated by male teachers, when criticized.  If it were based on personal experience with my own capoeira grupo, this topic (happily) wouldn’t exist.  However, I do recall one instance from a time I checked out another capoeira group’s class.  I was practicing take-downs with a partner, and apparently we weren’t going through with the movement hard enough.  So the teacher came over and told us to genuinely try to take each other down, and at the end he said to my partner, “Don’t worry about falling; you have a big butt so you won’t feel it anyway”, or words to that effect.

My partner just laughed in reply, and so after a brief initial jolt I didn’t think more of it, but now that I see it written out like that, I’m actually kind of shocked!  Would a male capoeira student ever have something like that said to him?

This brings up several more questions that the fifth question in the list above sparked in me:

  • Is a capoeira teacher getting more personal than they should be, making those types of comments?  Do they know it, and what are the implications if they do or don’t? 
  • Should they be accountable whether it’s deliberate (as opposed to cultural background, not realizing implications, treating everyone like that, etc.) or not?
  • If we (women) take a comment personally, is it because we’d take it personally anyway, or rather because we’re sensitive to the possibility that it could’ve been meant personally, or has personal or gender-issue implications?  And if the second, does it matter?

As you can see, I’m coming up with more questions than answers here!  But then again, that’s where all of you guys come in.  Have you experienced or witnessed “crossed the line” criticism during capoeira training, or thought about how you’d deal with it, or how it should be dealt with in general?  While both men and women get teased and criticized, is it a genuine phenomenon out there that women receive such treatment differently/in different ways and directly because they’re women? 

[Note: I haven’t even touched on non-criticizing harrassment here, such as hitting on students, commenting on their looks, figures, etc., so if you would like to bring that up to discuss as well, definitely do so!]

Please respond in Comments below!  (And if you were at the conference, feel free to add any extra information or ideas that wasn’t included in the FICA write-up.)

Picture source: http://www.cdonotts.co.uk/classes/main.jpg

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8 responses

16 03 2008
Cenoura

wow, that comment amazes me just in the sheer utter “what makes that seem like a good idea?” sense. I’ve been called out(all the fricken time) as an example of what you might have to do with a particular move if you’re smaller, but never anything that personal-it can be exasperating, but suggestions for what to do if you don’t have the reach help my capoeira, someone commenting on the size of a butt doesn’t. Which is really where I’d draw the line-does it help? and I know what you mean about the criticism-I’ve felt worse when I wasn’t criticized and knew I did something wrong than when I was-it’s exactly as you say “does he really think that’s the best I can do?” and even if there is a cultural context, I do think that it should be acceptable to say “that isn’t something to say”. which I realize is intimidating to say to a teacher. so maybe that’s just an ideal to work towards.

17 03 2008
angoleiro

woah! you know this whole topic is veeery broad. I already forgot the first questions of your post by the time I was reading the last ones. this whole teasing and harrassing topic does have much more layers than the simple “what a teacher is allowed to do an what not”. I think it is very important for a teacher to leave out sexual harrassment and hitting on students. Of course, everybody knows that that happens all the time and in many groups, but it does in fact lead to problems in classes and to people leaving classes and so on. On the other side, I know for myself that I am quite tolerant to teasing, due to the fact that I do tease myself when giving lessons (not much though, I kind of try to keep everybody happy) and that I was teased a lot of times (my teacher did know that I do not take things personally, that was the reason why he did tease me a lot). People had there fun, I was being teased but did not care and my teacher was usually able to make everybody understand what he was talking about.
Example: one of the favourite lessons my teacher gave to beginners was taking me and doing a ginga together with me and playing around, always looking at me. To lighten things up he said “and DO always watch the other person and look into his eyes, even although the person might look ugly like this guy does”(meaning me). I think some of the beginners felt more ashamed on that than I did 😉
but there are others who can’t take teasings or even direct criticism (even if meant non-teasing). this is an area where a good teacher does come out compared to a bad one. a good teacher knows how to teach every one of his students personally, pushing the one who needs and being nicer to more…errrr…sensitive people (on the other side some just do say “eat or die”, live with a harsh reality/teasings by your teacher or leave the class if it is too hard for you…)

17 03 2008
Joaninha

Hey Cenoura,

Haha, that’s actually really good though that they make a point to “customize” the movements for smaller people! A lot of my vingativas fall short thanks to my length-challenged legs. =\

And that’s a good point about whether it helps or not, too. Although, there are a lot of comments that don’t necessarily help, but also don’t really matter or do particular harm, so where/how do we draw a line?

17 03 2008
Joaninha

Lol, sorry Angoleiro. It is a pretty broad topic, and it could’ve gotten a lot broader if I’d had the time!

Yeah, everything you say makes sense, I think in the end it really does all come down to the individual student and individual teacher.

That’s something I wonder about too though, the “if you don’t like it you can leave” mentality…since they do have a right to say that I guess if it’s their overall style for everyone, and if it’s in a big city the student probably does have a few options for academies, with different styles and varying levels of strictness/harshness…but at the same time, there should be some flexibility/sensitivity on teachers’ parts, right? Like you said, that’s what diffrentiates a really good teacher from just an okay or even bad one, that they help each student learn and grow the best they can, in their own way…on the other hand, maybe it works that way anyway, with the students who can’t take it leaving, and the ones who can or who are learning toughening up, so in the end it works out for everyone?

17 03 2008
cenoura

I’d be curious for some examples of comments that don’t really help, but don’t harm either. I do consider pointing out weaknesses to be in the help category, though I agree with you that there should be some level of sensitivity about what a particular student will respond to in the way the teacher wants(which I think should always be to improve them).

17 03 2008
angoleiro

the “if you dont like it, go” attitude is a kind of grumpy attitude and those teachers who have this one tend to have not too many students (out of obvious reasons…). anyway, if you can take it and the teacher is otherwise quite good in his teachings (and if I would not have an alternative) I would stay. And if it works out for everybody, there is in theory no reason to frown too much about such teachers.
But as I said. When I have the alternative I’d go to another teacher (even if he might be “less qualified”)

18 03 2008
Joaninha

Oh, well I meant ones like Angoleiro said, “look at your opponent even if he’s sore on the eyes like this guy here”, or other joking-insulting things teachers say to lighten the class (as opposed to seriously/insensitive insulting because they’re just like that)—but actually yeah, that would hurt except for the fact Angoleiro doesn’t care and they all know it, so I guess the bottom line really is just dependent on each student.

Angoleiro, what do you mean go to another teacher? You mean actually switch groups?

4 01 2009
Korlinda

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