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”.
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