RELEASE: Mais Uma Volta: Mandingueira’s One-Year Retrospect Magazine

8 03 2009


Well, it finally happened: at long (long, long, long, long…) last, I’ve completed Mandingueira’s one-year retrospect magazine!

And yes, I do realize that I’d promised to release this by about three months ago.  I apologize once again for having dropped completely off the radar for the past while. And I particularly apologize to all those who have been leaving comments that I haven’t replied to. (Heck, I get annoyed when someone just doesn’t reply on MSN, so I’m sorry for being horrible!!)

This will sound super lame, but pretty much my only excuse here is…Montreal is just way too much fun. That, plus a 1.5-hour commute to/from work (each way), and the rest of the time I’ve been taking  a prep course/studying to take the MCAT in a couple months (the entrance exam for applying to medical schools in North America…please don’t ask, it’s a long story).

I’ve barely even been training, to be honest. I haven’t really been “feministing”, either, if not actually doing the opposite. So I suppose it kind of makes sense that someone taking a semi-hiatus from both capoeira and feminism wouldn’t be posting very much on a feminist capoeira blog!  (Provided I ever find time to post again, this paragraph will be elaborated upon hopefully in the near future.)

At any rate, lest we forget, today is International Women’s Day. And oh god, do we have a long way to go.

So, I figured, what better timing for the release of a commemorative magazine about a feminist capoeira blog?

Just so you know, I haven’t actually been working on this for the past three months straight. In fact, I’d completed all but the table of contents & editor’s note right before leaving for Montreal, and just didn’t manage to return to it until the other day!

Now, there are a couple ways you can view the publication. First, I HIGHLY recommend clicking on the main image link provided below. It leads to an absolutely beautiful set-up by issuu.com, where you can virtually flip through the magazine as if it were on a table in front of you.

Next, I’ve provided two pdf files you may download for (1) easier reading or (2) printing! The first file has the magazine’s spread layouts retained (from which you could print out the centerfold as a poster), and the second splits it up into all single pages.

Finally, you may have noticed a new widget on the sidebar featuring the magazine. This is so it’ll always be available for anyone new or returning to Mandingueira to check it out!  Also, please do make sure to check out the final two pages.

I loved, loved, LOVED putting this magazine together, and think it’s one of the best projects I’ve ever done. I hope you enjoy it!

Um abraço,

Joaninha

Celebrating one year of Mandingueira! (click on image to open)

Downloads:

Mais Uma Volta PDF (spreads)

Mais Uma Volta PDF (single pages)





Memories of Lúcia Palmares (or: Life Cycle of a Stereotype)

8 04 2008

Lúcia Palmares, capoeirista from Salvador, BrazilWhat with all the talk of women in capoeira today, what was it really like to be literally a girl training among men, in the dry, unforgiving past of earthy Brazil?  Thanks to Shayna’s Capoeira Connection, we’re all able to get a sliver of insight into the world of Lúcia Palmares, who trained from a young age as one of the few female capoeiristas at the time (and her mestre’s first female capoeira student), under the watchful and critical eyes of Mestre Nô in Salvador, Bahia.

The sound of the atabaque got louder. We stopped in front of a one-story white house, and Mr. Máximo knocked on the closed door. An ugly man who they called Barriga (Belly) opened the door. We went in and everyone was hanging out and talking – about 25 shirtless and sweaty men, blacks and mulattos. I was scared. The room was large and the floor was made of cement, and the walls were white. There were two windows facing the street, but these were closed. A breeze entered through the back door, which faced the sea.

I stayed strong despite my fear. Mr. Máximo took me to a man sitting on a bench near the back door. “Nô, I brought this girl here; she wants to learn capoeira.”

Click here to continue reading

What I found the most interesting about Lúcia’s story is that a lot of old stereotypes about women in capoeira appeared to actually happen in her experience.  For instance: her mother disapproved of capoeira and said it was for vagrants and bandits; Lúcia said she herself would have stayed away from capoeira if she’d known “there were only men in capoeira”; there was cattiness and slight backstabbing between her and two other girls who had started training later; she speaks of girls and/or women trying to seduce male capoeiristas for either knowledge and privileges or “protection” (from what?); and Lúcia herself ended up dating and marrying one of the contra-mestres in her group, in whose shadow she mentions always being even as she became a bona fide capoeirista in her own right.

This brings up something I’ve wondered about from time to time, and although I’m sure this is getting into dangerous and slippery territory, and I don’t think it applies to the particular issue of women in capoeira today, it’s a question worth asking, if only for the thinking it’ll make us do: If a stereotype seems to be true, based on actual evidence and much personal experience, then…is it still wrong to buy into it?  And is it even still a stereotype?

Obviously, the basic answer is yes, since stereotyping means assuming everyone in a certain group has been harvested from the same tire, based on some superficial, usually completely unrelated surface observation.  “Personal experience” is also not very reliable, unless someone has lived for a very long time with members of the group of people in question in every part of the world where they’re found, which is the only way you could get anywhere near enough exposure to be anywhere near qualified in making such statements or assumptions.

On the other hand, what if we added enough qualifiers so that the stereotype was not so broad and all-encompassing?  For example, based on my experience in France, and based on having heard the experiences of nearly everyone else I met in France, any of us would feel completely justified and correct in making the statement: “All the staff of a certain program at a certain university that is in a certain city in France are bureaucratic, inefficient, lazy, and apathetic.”  Is that still an unfair generalization, if all of us had actually experienced firsthand the bureaucracy, inefficiency, etc.? 

Actually, I would say that there were enough detailed qualifiers there that the statement doesn’t count as stereotyping anymore, but just plain description, especially since we’re making it after the fact, and not before it.  But let’s say, and this is still part of the true story/real example, that I and others then had to get other things done in other parts of the city—and it was more of the same bureaucracy and inefficiency.  After having continued experiencing it throughout the city throughout the whole time we were there, I can assure you we were all reporting back to friends and family, simply, “French administration is horrible!  They are all bureaucratic, and inefficient, and lazy, and nobody cares!”  Now, is that still okay?  All the qualifiers have been removed, but we still felt justified and correct in making that statement based on our experiences, even though technically, the most general we could have logically taken it was saying “French administration in this city“.

Well really, I suppose that’s just all it comes down to if you’re trying to get away with a stereotype: making sure that what you’re saying is truly and adequately qualified, so that in effect it’s as far from true stereotyping as possible.  I remember on one of my earlier posts, “Women, Men, and Brazilian Bikinis“, someone talked about how a lot of women seemed to join their capoeira grupo specifically to hook up with the men there.  This person made a point to say it was only “SOME” women, but you can see how a less discerning mind might jump from seeing women in that branch of that group in that city join for the men, to believing and then saying something like “Women just join capoeira to sleep with the male capoeiristas.”  (in the same way my friends and I went from “admin in this one office in this one city in France” to just “admin in France”).

But once you arrive at that point, how do you go back?  Actually, that’s pretty obvious, too: you encounter people who turn your stereotype right on its imbalanced little head.  And really, that’s the whole point of why stereotypes are bad in the first place, right?  Because there is always someone out there who can and will prove it wrong, whether it’s women in capoeira or anyone else.  (Yes, even when it comes to French bureaucracy…sometimes! :P)  On that note, I’ll end with a story of my own:

One of my most gloriously vindicating moments in Morocco occurred at the passport check to leave the country.  As I was about to hand my passport to the officer, he inevitably went, “Japonais?”.  I said no, and he kept on guessing countries for the next 5 minutes, voyaging as far as Tibet and Sri Lanka in what seemed to be a very important quest to match my skin colour to any Asiatic nation.  Finally, he gave up and said, “Okay, what?” 

“Canada,” I all but snapped, virtually slapping my passport coat-of-arms-side-up onto the counter under his nose (to the sympathizing amusement of some girls at the next booth).  To what credit the officer had left, he at least in his expression had the grace to concede defeat. 😛

Picture source: http://www.capoeira-palmares.fr/lucia_cv.htm





Capoeira Song Lyrics List (Songs about Women)

28 03 2008

If you’re looking for a “pro-women” capoeira song to sing in the roda (like maybe when the mestra and contra-mestra of your capoeira group are playing each other 🙂 ), or want to know about more “women-unfriendly” capoeira songs, then you’re in the right place!  Below are two lists of both “pro” and “anti” women capoeira songs, with links to full lyrics and their translations.  I’m not naive (or arrogant?) enough to label the “anti” list “Capoeira Songs You Shouldn’t Sing” or something like that, but they are there purely for informational purposes and your own awareness.  Think of and bookmark this as a resource for the next time it’s your turn to lead the roda!

These lists will continually be updated as I discover more songs that fit under either heading.  Please contact me if you would like to add a song to either list, or believe you see a song on the wrong list!  Also, if I didn’t find a song already translated into English, then it was put at the mercy of Google Translation and my own non-Portuguese-speaking judgement, so feel free to suggest corrections there, as well. 🙂

To find out more about the representation of women in capoeira song lyrics, please read “Women in Capoeira Songs and the Roar on the Other Side of Silence“.

Update: You would be doing yourself a great disservice not to read Shayna’s suggestions and wisdom regarding singing capoeira songs in the roda (about women and in general)!  Check out her advice in the Comments thread, here and here.

Capoeira Songs about Women (positive)

Deixa Menina Jogar
Dona Maria do Camboatá
Dona Maria, Como Vai Você
Ginga Menina
Ingazeira o Ingá
Lagoa do Abaete
Sai, Sai Caterina
Santa Barbara de Relampué

Misogynistic Capoeira Song Lyrics

Retracted (4 September 2009)





Women in Capoeira Songs and the Roar on the Other Side of Silence

26 03 2008

When you clap and sing along in the roda, do you always know what you’re saying, what the words resounding in your ears really mean?  Are you unknowingly patronizing “women [as] the ones who clap their hands” (as opposed to “men are the ones who play pandeiro”), or accusing fellow (female) capoeiristas of being “like a snake / with venemous blood”?  Do you really believe that “woman killed man … / When she doesn’t kill him, she consumes him”?  Are you enthusiastically belting out, “Every jealous woman…I would kill them” and “When a woman is useless / Man sends her away”?

What happened to women in capoeira music?

It’s no secret that capoeira song lyrics contain some questionable and old-fashioned themes about women.  I’ve been thinking about the topic of women and capoeira songs / women in capoeira songs since I came across a thread on the capoeira.com forum, and fully realized that there are actually a lot of sexist, chauvinistic, and misogynistic lyrics in “traditional” capoeira songs.  However, I wasn’t sure exactly how a post on this would work, since such treatment or views of women seemed so prevalent in capoeira songs that either I’d have to make a 20-page study out of it, or simply reduce it all to one obvious sentence (like the first one of this paragraph).

Well, lo and behold, some diligent soul went the route of the 20-page study!  And thanks to the greater diligence of Shayna M., we now have an English translation of it, as well. 😀

Before you read it (link below), just a few comments.  I thought the author, Maria José Somerlate Barbosa, did a good job overall, and she definitely made clear the extent to which capoeira song lyrics degrade and denigrate women.  All of the themes she points out are the typical misogynistic narratives of weakness, deceit, castrating, etc.

However, I agree with Shayna’s note that the author could’ve picked a better choice for the example of a “pro-women” song.  Besides its obscurity, for me, I’m not too crazy about the fact that the song actually reinforces stereotypes of “the feminine”, even if it is to deem them positive instead of negative.  We’ve gone over this issue a couple times on this blog already, so if you would like some elaboration, please read my posts on “The Feminine in Capoeira” (Part 1: Malicia and Part 2: Context), or check out the discussion that developed in the Contra-mestra Cristina post’s comments thread.

Finally, I found it interesting that one of the capoeira songs Barbosa picked to criticize, I actually thought was okay at first.  The song goes:

In order to be beautiful
A woman doesn’t have to wear make-up
Make-up is of the Devil
It is God who gives beauty

Like I said, at first I didn’t see much wrong with that.  In fact, I thought it was a good thing, seeing it as something that spoke out against today’s consumerism and fashion industry, which eats both women and little girls alive.  As you will see though, Barbosa goes on to explain how this song both plays on misogynist themes and demonstrates how men try to control women’s actions.

The fact that I didn’t see this before brought up another important issue for me, something that goes back to that first-year post-modern, feminist, overkill-agenda-pushing English professor I mentioned in my very first post.  The problem my friends and I had with her was that she would bring her feminism into everything, even if the novel we were studying or discussion we were having hardly seemed to have anything to do with gender issues at all.  Eventually, it got to the point where we realized that by continually bringing them up, our professor was doing more to ingrain such narratives into our heads rather than encouraging us to fight them.  That is, by continuing to push how women were seen or portrayed as “lesser”, for example, my friends and I just learned to automatically associate “women” with “lesser”.  See how that works?

So in the case with this capoeira song, is it a good or a bad thing that Barbosa changed my view 180° on it?  This also relates to the larger issue of speaking out against misogyny/sexism in the first place.  As some people think, do feminists “just look for stuff to get mad about”?  And won’t continually pointing out this stuff have the same effect as my first-year English prof on my friends and I, only reinforcing the stereotypes in people’s heads rather than breaking them down?

First, I’ll answer the latter question, quoting the answer I gave to someone in my facebook group.  Their question was, “Why do you think it’s necessary to point out women in capoeira if by doing so, you make a border between men and women?”

I kind of looked at it almost as the lesser of two evils. It’s true that if I do talk about it, it makes people more aware of the “divide”. On the other hand, some divide is there whether I talk about it or not, and if people aren’t aware of it, it will just stay that way. So I guess I’m trying to point it out in order to make people more aware of it so they don’t go along with it unthinkingly, and might even maybe start actively trying to break it down.

So perhaps that was what our English professor was trying to do, as well: make us aware of it so we didn’t unthinkingly go along with everything we read.  However, I still think a lot of what she tried to inject into our curriculum was unecessary, so I’ll just say for my part, as I also told the guy in my facebook group, that I think I do a fair job here on Mandingueira of only touching on feminist issues when they come up naturally, without trying to force the issue in every post.

As for the other question (“Do feminists just look for stuff to get mad about?”), a blog formerly known by the brilliant title of “Shakespeare’s Sister” deals with that issue exactly.  Among her well-written, well-reasoned points, this paragraph touched me especially:

The truth is, if I actually spent my days actively paying attention to every example of misogyny around me, I would be a profoundly unhappy woman. Not bitchy or grumpy or short-tempered, but paralyzingly depressed. Women have to train themselves to avoid consciously reacting to every bit of misogynistic detritus permeating the culture through which we all move, lest they go quite insane. I write about the things I can’t not write about. If I wrote about all the examples of sexism I see every day, I’d never sleep.

This is true, and it resonated especially well with me because it echoes a novel I studied last year, George Eliot’s Middlemarch (which is really good, and which you should all read):

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.

The point in both passages is that for the most part, we humans have desensitized ourselves to others’ suffering, and to a certain extent, this is actually necessary because if we were to or were able to be truly aware of all the pain and injustices and suffering in the world, every instant of hurt and every moment of wrongness, we wouldn’t be able to handle it; we would break down, go insane, and simply implode from the roar which lies on the other side of silence.

And I feel it, sometimes; all the blogs I read are categorized into folders, and sometimes I skip the one labelled “Feminism” altogether just because I don’t feel like reading yet another post or article about how women make 67 cents to every man’s dollar, or how another university paper wrote a “joke” article on rape, or how another film or TV show portrays a world with powerful women as a miserable world for men, or how women’s equality is the cause of everything from depression to the bad economy, or how another objectifying, degrading, insulting ad has been printed/broadcast, or how another sexist zinger has been used to bring down Hillary Clinton (and I’ve pretty much decided I want Obama to win) or in fact any powerful or political woman.

Because honestly, it is depressing.  It would be as if you went online everyday and read a series of blog posts or articles about how capoeiristas are universally belittled and undermined, how capoeira isn’t considered a “real” sport just because it’s done by capoeiristas, how you have to do ten public street rodas for every one soccer game to be taken seriously, how over half of assaulted capoeiristas were victims at the hands of their partners or mestres, how the rise of capoeira is the reason for all of society’s problems, how an ad sexualized violating a capoeirista to sell some product, how whenever you tried to do anything big or great with your life people argued you moved too fluidly or sang funny-sounding songs as reasons to take you down, how your school paper wrote a fun article about raping capoeiristas just for kicks, how another “study” has shown that capoeiristas are inherently dumber than other martial artists, how every day capoeiristas are brutally assaulted or killed, and just because you’re a capoeirista.  And yes, I realize some of those actually did happen in Brazil during capoeira’s early days, but now imagine it happens today, happens in every country on Earth, and that you didn’t just pick up capoeira somewhere along the way but were born with it in your blood.

So, having said that, please click here and read why feminists don’t “look for stuff to get mad about”.

And once you’ve finished that, here’s the study I promised you!

Representation of Women in Capoeira Songs [pdf]

Picture source:
http://content.answers.com/main/content/wp/en-commons/thumb/5/57/300px-Capoeira-three-berimbau-one-pandeiro.jpg





Drama and Babysitting and Pacifiers, Oh My: Children and Relationships in Capoeira

19 03 2008

This topic, based on the “Maternity and Well-Being” discussion at the FICA Women’s Conference, has two main parts to it: women in capoeira having children, and relationships between capoeiristas in the same group.

Having been in neither situation…I don’t know how much I can really say about this.  Consider that a disclaimer!

AwwwwwwFrom my own observations, all of the capoeiristas with families that I’ve seen have been pretty good at sharing childcare time (taking turns training, going to different classes, etc.), and the rest of the group usually seems more than happy to help out.  Actually, something I’ve noticed everywhere is that it seems like all capoeiristas are really good with children!!  As someone who dreads playing/working with children even more than partner work (it would be so like me to faire une bêtise and hurt them by accident; and there is nothing more scathing than a scornful young person; and how does one relate to a 6/12/15-year old??), I’ve always wondered why/how this is?

I will say, also, that I have yet to see a capoeirista who has had a baby look like she was ever pregnant in her life!  So I definitely agree with the discussion group people who said the best way for a capoeirista to get back in the game is to just keep training—if they ever stopped in the first place.  I’ve seen women playing and training while at least a few or more months pregnant, so I imagine they must have gotten back into things pretty quickly after giving birth.

If a woman has a baby and her partner doesn’t do capoeira, then I think that capoeira counts as a major enough part of a capoeirista’s life that her partner should care and be considerate enough to take that into account when splitting childcare duties, at least to a certain extent and provided that the partner doesn’t have something the equivalent of capoeira in their own life.  (If that’s the case, then both should compromise to give up equal times of their activity and take care of the child equally.)

And while I agree with the idea that new parents can stay involved with the academy by doing admin work, helping with events, and playing music, I think it’s also important to recognize that this in no way is a fair substitute for actual training!  So while it’s a good way for the parent(s) to stay connected to the academy while they’re physically or otherwise incapable of training, people (namely partners, and friends and capoeira colleagues to a lesser extent) should help out to try and make sure they can get back to normal training as soon/much as possible.

As for relationships between capoeiristas…well, I can see several pros and cons to this.

Pros:

  • You majorly have something in common.
  • You get to see them more often, and will understand each other’s crazy committment to that Brazilian martial art form nobody can even pronounce properly.
  • Training/playing in the roda might be more fun/interesting.

Cons:

  • You might see them too much and have space issues.
  • It might be hard separating the relationship from capoeira life, kind of like people in office relationships have trouble keeping them separated from work life.
  • If it goes bad, capoeira or training might become a source of stress for you, and you’ll no longer be able to count on it as your standard all-purpose stress-reliever.

On the other hand, this reminds me of two things I’ve been told in capoeira.  The first is that when you’re in capoeira, when you’re training or in the roda, everyone else is just another capoeirista.  In the roda, the other person isn’t your mother, your friend, or your significant other; they’re a capoeirista, and moreover a capoeirista you’re currently playing inside the capoeira roda.

The second?  In the all-too-immortal words of one of my capoeira teachers:

“Training solves everything!  If you’re sad, you train!  If you’re happy, you train!  If you’re angry, you train!  Love, anger, sadness, depression…training solves EEEVVVERRRYYTHING!”

Picture source: http://www.capoeirasantabarbara.com/images/cd2-kids2.jpg





Women in Capoeira: No Traction without Representation!

18 03 2008

This post is based on the second discussion topic from the recent FICA Women’s Conference in Washington, DC: Memory, Media, and Representation of Women in Capoeira.

From the FICA write-up:

This group discussed the perceptions of women in capoeira, and who controls the images presented of women. The group resolved that women need more control over the images of themselves within the capoeira community, and as such, they are going to start a website to present more realistic images of women capoeiristas, document the planning of women’s events, and create an archive of past women’s conferences.

Wait, women don’t already control images of themselves?  Except for those instances when my unruly friends post unflattering photos of me on facebook, I haven’t really come across this as a problem!

I think the lack of representation of women in capoeira is more of a problem than the type or way of representation. If you google “women in capoeira”, you get pictures of rodas, training, capoeira stances…all pretty normal and “realistic” to me! Having said that, I can pinpoint two areas where representation of women in capoeira would be considered a problem.

Do women in capoeira really want to be seen as bonecas (dolls)?The first, as I said, is the mere lack of representation of women in capoeira, but I will get into this secondly because it covers a lot more ground than the other problem area: the (over?)sexualization of women in capoeira.  This type of “representation” could be what the conference discussion group meant by “unrealistic”.  For instance, have you seen the “Bonecas da Capoeira” calendar created by Capoeira Brasil ArizonaReally not the kind of representation we’re looking for!  In my post “Capoeirobics and the Female Chauvinist Pig“, Soneca gives a thoughtful take on the calendar (click here to read it), which more or less articulates my own. 

The bottom line of her comment was—and this is where we get directly into the idea of women controlling their own representation—while we found the calendar objectifying and possibly inappropriate for capoeira, let alone women in capoeira, shouldn’t those women take responsibility for choosing to participate in the project and be represented as they were in the calendar?  Even if they do, however, it’s still problematic because although these particular women controlled how they were represented in capoeira since it was their own choice, as a representation of women in capoeira in general, I would say the calendar is far from most female capoeiristas’ idea of fair representation!

That is really the only major example I’ve seen so far of women being represented in capoeira “unrealistically”, but now that leads us into the other part of it: not enough (“realistic”) representation of women in capoeira.

Many capoeira group websites don’t feature anyone below mestre or contra-mestre level (in photos, bios, etc.), and since it is mostly men in these positions, they have a lot more presence and representation on the internet than women do. The same goes for live (re)presentations in public; since capoeira groups would probably mostly only recruit higher-level students for shows and performances, and there are in general more male higher-level students than female higher-level students, again outsiders (and some insiders) get the impression that there are more males than females in the sport, which often may not actually be the case.

Balance (in more ways than one)! 

And sometimes, women aren’t represented even when they’re already supposed to be the centre of attention! I don’t know know if it’s through ignorance, apathy, inability, plain laziness, or what. I came across a prime example of this while looking up information on Mestra Jararaca. The original article I translated was all about Mestra Jararaca, but of whom did they place a picture, to accompany it? Mestre Curio, her husband! The article’s headline, by the way, was “Mestre Jararaca shows that capoeira is a woman’s place”. Irony, much?

Speaking of which, that’s one form of representation that falls between non-representation and distorted representation: when women capoeiristas are referred to by their relationship with a male capoeirista.  Not Mestra Jararaca in her own right, but “Mestre Curio’s wife”; not famed bandit Maria Bonita, but “mulher de Lampião“.  I’ve done this myself; if someone asked me who a certain woman in my capoeira group was, I might’ve said something like “she does this, she does that…oh, you know, she’s so-and-so’s girlfriend/wife”. 

This alone might not be so bad (I mean, they’re facts), but the thing is, you never hear it go the other way around.  Who says, “Mestre Curio, you know, Mestra Jararaca’s husband”?  It’s the inherent idea that men are the standard/reference point/default and so anything not-men, i.e. women, is affirmed by their association to men, not just by their own individual identities and accomplishments.  Granted, in most cases for now the relationship references are probably because the male capoeirista is more likely to be recognized than the female capoeirista, but then that only goes to show us how everything is connected, in what would be a continually female-negating/downplaying cycle unless we do something about it.

Odetta Norton, from Capoeira Mandinga

However, we run into another problem when it comes to this “doing something about it”.  The first step, you would think, is simply to increase the profiles of women capoeiristas, using the same methods by which male capoeiristas have built their own profiles. [Something I just noticed, by the way:  Why is it that “women capoeiristas” works, while “men capoeiristas” sounds funny and grammatically incorrect?]  Shayna, though, explained while commenting on one of my earlier posts (about women’s capoeira events) why this might be difficult:

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.

To that, I also want to add that based on my experience writing this blog’s Ie Viva Meu Mestra series, it’s much more difficult to find extensive profiles or biographies of high-level female capoeiristas as opposed to high-level male capoeiristas, and honestly speaking, I would attribute that to the idea that a lot of mestres in the capoeira world seem all too happy to toot their own horns, especially when it comes to the internet or other forms of media, whereas the same can’t be said for mestras in general (though of course, there are always exceptions to the rule).

But for instance, when it came to capoeiristas such as Mestra Suelly, Mestra Jararaca, or Contra-mestra Cristina, I all but had to dig through their alleyway trashcans to come up with something!  As Shayna said, this is most likely because many mestras are more concerned with what they are doing than with promoting the fact that they’ve done things; I noticed this myself when most of the search hits I got for Mestra Janja and Mestra Paulinha were articles or references to projects they were or had been in the midst of, rather than full articles about the mestras themselves.

This, then, is part of why I think what the FICA conference capoeiristas came up with is such a great idea: a website archiving all the annals of women in capoeira.  As the post title says…women in capoeira won’t get much traction until we have more representation!

Picture sources:
http://www.capoeiraarizona.com/images/calendar.jpg
http://www.sfmai.org/karate/images/stories/darwin1.bw.jpg
http://blog.syracuse.com/video/2007/11/110207_capoeira.jpg





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