Feminism and Other “-isms” in Capoeira: Explanations, Not Excuses

9 11 2008

Believing in an ism may not mean it works for EVERYTHING...

Last year, I randomly came across a blog that said something along the lines of, “Feminism is a crutch that self-indulgent people use as an excuse to keep themselves and other women in a state of perpetual, self-exonerating victimhood.”

(I tried to find an exact quote that summed up the argument, but had to stop after an unsuccessful and depressing hour and a half of trawling through antifeminism blogs and articles.)

Basically, the statement says that feminism is just an excuse for people who haven’t achieved more to go, “It’s not that I’m lazy; the system is working against me!”

While I firmly disagree with the overly reductive and pretty offensive idea that that’s all feminism is (the system and society DOES in one way or another work against practically anybody who isn’t all of white, heterosexual, and male), I have to say that I can see how becoming invested in an “ism” can cause somebody to inadvertently end up using it the way antifeminists mean it. Interestingly enough, I came to this conclusion through capoeira—more specifically, through a maturing of my ideas in last-last week’s post about floreios, strength, and image in capoeira.

When Explanations Go Wild

First off, let me make one thing clear: ISMS (feminism, sexism, racism, homophobia, agism, etc.) are meant to be explanations, not excuses.  If a woman who has earned and deserves a promotion does not get it because of sexism, that is an explanation, rightly used to point out social injustices in the world and how they work, in hopes of fixing the system. If, however, the woman has not earned nor deserves a promotion but cites sexism as the reason for not getting promoted, then she is using sexism as an excuse, in order to exonerate herself from the fact she didn’t work hard enough or needs to work harder in the future.

What I think is that while everybody starts off with -isms as explanations, the more they become immersed in the world of their particular -ism and the more they learn about it and see just how prevalent it is, eventually, there may emerge a potential danger of unconsciously using that -ism as a personal excuse in addition to a legitimate explanation for “failure” or lack of achievement.

As I mentioned, this thought came to me while further thinking through my views on the “floreio effect”. (If you have not yet read the post I wrote on that, it might be a good idea to do so before continuing, so you don’t get lost.  Click here to read it. Don’t worry; we’ll still be here when you return!)

One Thing Needful

In the floreios post, I pinpointed two things that I believe contribute to a capoeira training system that allows certain capoeira students to derive additional benefits from their capoeira training, as compared to less athletically-gifted capoeira students.  These were (1) having or looking as if you have much physical strength and (2) an academy-wide strength-oriented, floreio-centric attitude regarding capoeira training that I termed “weight-class mentality”.

In truth, there’s a third major factor involved, which I left out because I didn’t think of it until after having formed the full theory as I presented it, and because I was saving it for today’s post.  The third factor is the mentality of the “bigger/stronger” capoeira students themselves.

What I realized is that even though capoeira students do benefit hugely if the first two conditions of the “floreio effect” apply to them, it’s not as if they just sit back and do nothing all the while.  Part of how the floreio effect works is that not only are premature impressions of the student’s “advancedness” reinforced in other capoeira students’ and teachers’ minds, they are reinforced in said student themself. So then it becomes a case of them not just attracting “enriched” training, but one where they also gain the confidence to put themselves in positions that enriches their capoeira training.

For instance, sure big/strong capoeira students are challenged more often (and thus have their skills developed at an accelerated pace) by advanced belts in the roda, because some advanced belts assume that because they’re big and strong, of course they can take it, nevermind how long they’ve actually been training for.  But part of the reason that happens is that the students themselves have the confidence to, and do, regularly buy in to play with the advanced capoeiristas!

Are you turning your -ism into an excuse?

“Anything You Can Do…”

Here’s the important thing: That third factor?  It’s not an external circumstance. It’s completely in the person’s control how much confidence they exude and whether they behave like they’re a beginner (shying away) or a more advanced capoeirista (taking chances and putting yourself out there), triggering further impressions in others that affect their perceptions of you as a capoeirista, despite whether or not you actually are beginner or advanced.

Once I realized that, I felt that my floreio theory had begun to show a slight tear between the stitches.  In a way, it was another -ism. For the purposes of this post, let’s call it “strengthism”. So while I still believe “strengthism” provides a legitimate explanation, without recognizing that third factor it was also possibly functioning as an excuse.  Full disclosure: I never bought in with solidly more advanced capoeiristas in the roda, in my own group, before the “floreio effect” theory and everything I just wrote about occurred to me. I do now!!!

Returning to feminism, or sexism/misogyny, in the context of capoeira there is also a danger of falling back into that as an “excuse” for not advancing.  First, in no way am I discounting the sexism and misogyny that exists; it does, in all the forms and with all the effects on people that feminism describes. At the same time, the point where you take an -ism beyond what it can explain is when it turns into an excuse.  Thus, sexism affects women in capoeira, but since there are still many women succeeding and advancing in capoeira, if you are a woman who isn’t, then it’s probably (for the most part) not completely fair to blame non-success totally on sexism.  Does that make sense?

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

To make it really clear, I’ll use another “strengthism” example from my own experience.  Over the past couple months, for one reason or another, I’ve started to hear a refrain that goes, “technique’s fine, just need more strength [to do the move properly]”, or “good game, you would’ve killed if you were bigger”, and other similar comments that eventually did make me feel strength[ism] was the ONE thing holding me back from actually being good (or, to follow Angoleiro’s prudent example: “good” 😉 ). To be honest, I’m pretty sure my frustration over that was what brought the “floreio effect” to my attention in the first place.

What made me realize the danger of stretching an explanation into an excuse was just another normal instance of the above during a capoeira class: I couldn’t quite get a certain move, and sure enough…”your technique’s fine; it’s just strength”.  By then, I think I’d heard this message often enough that my mind reached a certain point and almost got sucked into some sort of ironic backwards somersault: “Okay, you would be good if you were stronger.  So basically, you are good, since the only thing missing is strength, and you can’t help that so it’s not your fault, especially with the floreio effect in play.” (The unsaid implication: “So now you can rest on your system-is-against-me laurels and become a complacent capoeira student.”)

So obviously, a few problems with that. Firstly, lack of strength is definitely not “the one thing missing”; it’s the weakest point, but that doesn’t automatically mean I’m particularly good at all the other stuff.  Secondly, not having more strength is my fault if I know that’s the problem but still do nothing about fixing it when I have the means to. (Just so you know, I started working out regularly for the first time in my life this past summer, precisely to get stronger for capoeira, and that was before all this came up. And yes, I am proud of myself for actually having kept it up, thank you very much. 😛 )

Finally, what?! “Would be” to “is” represents a somewhat large mental leap there.  It’s like that comic strip with a huge scientific equation on the chalkboard, and halfway through there’s step labelled “then a miracle happens”!  This is complacency: if I really did believe I was already “good” in all the non-strength aspects of capoeira (which I’m not, assuming good means “above average”), then it would be easy to blame all future non-success on lack of strength alone and not on possible weaknesses in those other areas. So then, I’d end up dismissive of moves I can’t get, stop paying attention to non-strength abilities, and ultimately become weakened in everything.  Complacency is sneaky like that.

Of course, that hasn’t really happened.  But it did make me realize the potential “trap” one could inadvertently slide into by investing too deeply in or drawing too deeply on the explanatory powers of a particular -ism.  It’s becoming complacent in the face of discrimination or extenuating circumstances, precisely because you’re so aware it exists. The ultimate irony is that if that happens, you will have kept yourself down even further than discrimination alone might have, completely defeating the purpose we have and learn about -isms in the first place.





Feminism, Capoeira, Cultural Appropriation, & Black Self-Determination

22 07 2008

Last week, a very important and unsettling (for me) but necessarily tough conversation began underneath my “Why ‘Sexist Capoeirista’ is an Oxymoron” post. Kimbandeira raised many deep issues that span across feminism, anti-racism, social values, and of course, our own positions in relation to capoeira.

...taking the time to take Africa and the cultural and intellectual production of African seriously.

These included issues such as the “position of privilege” from which “white [or, I suppose, ‘whitewashed’] feminists” seem to speak while advocating feminism, disregarding or trampling over (inadvertently or not) the not necessarily similar positions of black or brown women in the process, or of other women of colour.

A second major issue was cultural appropriation and sense of entitlement: As “gringas/gringos”, do we have the “right” to change capoeira from its original form/context and modify it into better suiting our own values (even a value such as gender equality)?

Finally, how valid is our 21st-century belief (exemplified in my own short story post, “Contours“) that the individual is what matters, freedom of choice and self-expression, options and unrestrained pursuit of happiness, as opposed to the values system of social responsibility, where duty to society, community, and family comes before the individual, no matter what?

The first issue, regarding mainstream feminism and anti-racism, is one I’ve wanted to approach for a while now, but didn’t because I knew I’d be going in way over my head. So, I have Kimbandeira to thank for giving me the opportunity to bring it to all of your guys’ attention. Please read her comments, and all of the responses, for what I consider to be a completely thought-provoking and eye-opening read. Click here.





Better a Conscious Hellcat than a Sleeping Beauty…

14 07 2008

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(Excerpted from “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening“, Robert Frost)

I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that not many of you have become hypothermic while stranded in a snowstorm in the middle of nowhere. (Just for the record, I haven’t, either.) If you ever do find yourself in this situation, just remember one thing: don’t go to sleep. When your body temperature drops below a certain level, and you begin to feel tired and heavy all over, and all you want to do is close your eyes and sink your head into that soft, fluffy pillow of snow…that’s when sleep means certain death.

To relax is to put yourself in the ultimate danger, here. Compliance is fatal. And yet…it’s so easy. It’s so much easier to close your eyes and let yourself fade away into rest—and oblivion—than to keep struggling, if not with eyes wide open then from one blink to the next. Everything is telling you to board the sweet, cotton candy cloud of dreams: your eyelids, falling like blinds; the giant pillow, waiting underneath; the drifting flakes, promising to cover you in a perfect quilt; your body, begging for relief. But then what?

Though slightly dramatic as far as extended metaphors go, sometimes I feel like that 2nd-stage hypothermic wanderer. Only instead of my body wanting to shut down and rest, it’s my mind and personality.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, especially during instances when the following monologue runs through my head: “Okay, so should I ‘play feminist’ and say something here, or just let it go? Do I want to ruin the fun? Will it even make a difference? Is it really that big of a deal? Oh who cares, whatever!”

Basically, I’ve found, ignorance is bliss. Apathy is peace. Indifference is tranquility, and obliviousness is happiness.

Sleeping, not thinking, would mean being able to appreciate the humour in a joke instead of being annoyed by its premise; able to be chill/cool/relaxed/generic instead of worked up and politicized; able to play along/get along/sing along without feeling like an ever-so-slightly hypocritical sell-out. Sleeping (or is it dreaming?) would mean being able to laugh at everything my friends find funny, and like/respect my capoeira teachers without doubts, and watch a certain new Pixar film without feeling the need to roll my eyes at every gender stereotype along the way, and just enjoy the cuteness.

When you’re asleep, you don’t feel angry, indignant, incensed, or infuriated. When you don’t think or don’t care, you’re not bothered by injustice; you can read the news with cool, desensitized nonchalance; and the full weight of a systemic, worldwide, fundamental, political, religious, societal, deep-rooted undermining, suppressing, assault, and attack on you and/or yours in all his slightest and heaviest forms leaves you well undisturbed.

But at the same time, lest we forget…sleep is death. And that storm will still come to bear down on you, in some way or form, no matter how much you ignore or disregard it.

I once read a quote that began, “Finding feminism is like discovering the Matrix”*—and it is spot on. Who do you think leads happier lives in the movie, those inside the Matrix or those outside of it? But who, after knowing, goes back? Who would purposely commit mental and intellectual, and possibly ethical, suicide?

So yes, sleep would be nice. And, as I said, easy.  (Because what’s easier than default?)  But ignorance and apathy are two things I hate/fear probably just as much as, if not more than, misogyny and other types of discrimination. So, let’s just say…it’s a good thing I’m used to all-nighters.

*“Finding feminism is like discovering the Matrix. You can’t believe you didn’t notice all this stuff, you can’t believe no one told you how fucked up things are. You feel angry for knowing, angry for having not known. It’s such a harsh transition to make. You don’t just gently start to pick up on misogyny here and there. Once the floodgates are open you are smacked relentlessly with realization after realization. It can be devastating and it can feel like the only way not to drown is to find a really big crew and a really big boat, put your head down—and paddle.” -Julia Gonzalves





“My Capoeira Teacher/Friend/Mestre is Awesome, BUT…”

20 06 2008

social friends, ideological foes?

I have a confession. As a feminist, I don’t always do my “duty”. In fact, when it comes to speaking out against things like sexism, homophobicism (a term I made up about 1 second ago, to differentiate between people who just use seemingly homophobic language and people who are actually, definitively, homophobic), and racism, a lot of times I downright fail as someone who allegedly stands for equality.

Like…if a cool friend makes rape jokes (please note the oxymoron) and I don’t say anything, or laugh. Or…if a great capoeira teacher says something sexist and I don’t say anything, or smile. And especially…if a relative gives mortifyingly old-fashioned sexist—or racist—“life advice” and I smile and nod along politely.

In feminist terminology, there’s an expression that goes, “Not my Nigel“. This term refers to the attitudes of women who don’t believe that sexism or misogyny is systematic in society, or that while other men might be sexist or misogynistic, the men in their own lives never are, or “don’t mean it that way”. I.e., “Not my Nigel! He’d never think/do/say that!”

What do you do, though, when it is “your Nigel”, and you know it? How do you react when those you’ve come to like, admire, or deeply respect turn around and disappoint you—sometimes continually—in these little yet ultimately fundamental ways? How do you reconcile the jarring disjoint between your valuing these people in your life, and your values?

Of course, the most straightforward way to solve this dilemna is to just cut these people out of your life completely. If you have nothing to do with them, then you don’t have to be bothered by what they say or do, right? But obviously, “easier said than done” is a major understatement here, especially when it comes to capoeira. It’s not as if you can just leave a class or quit a capoeira group every time a sexist capoeira teacher comes along, nor should you. At the same time, how do you maintain the same respect for, and thus truly effectively learn from, someone whose values you question?

As for dropping friends, I think a close one of mine summed it up best when she said, to paraphrase, “If I were to stop being friends with every guy friend who was a jerk to a girl, I wouldn’t have any guy friends at all.” Wait! Before the comments section explodes, this is of course not 100% true, and I apologize for the extreme generalization. I would have a few guy friends left, and at the same time I might lose a few girl friends, too. However, I hope the point got across. Your friends are your friends, and if you really value them as such, it’s neither easy nor desirable to break ties with them over a verbal instance of bad judgement or two (…or five…or ten…).

Then there’s always confrontation, but when was the last time someone you knew thought it was a good idea to pipe up and go, “Excuse me, Mestre (/Professor/Instrutor/Contra-mestre), but with all due respect, don’t you think what you just said was a little bit—or very—sexist?” Actually…has that ever been done before? How might they react? Would they listen to students’ concerns and be more considerate in the future (or maybe even, against all odds, rethink their views); completely ignore the criticism; or brazenly (or humbly) plead a claim to cultural immunity?

As for friends…pretty much the only thing that happens if you say something is you or all your future related comments lose credibility due to “the feminist” in you. (Because clearly, that detracts from you being a person who just believes in that mystical equality stuff.)

Most people probably opt for one last option: ignorance is bliss! “I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that.” Or are we just up that old Egyptian river*, lacking paddles and all?

It’s a conundrum for sure, and unfortunately, one that I run into more often than normal in capoeira, perhaps due to the nature of the art and its roots. Come to think of it…I think for me, this dilemna does only exist to such an extent in capoeira. All non-capoeirista sexism suspects are cut. (Hey, you! Sexist? Hate women? Join capoeira, and get out of the dog house free! Sign up today!)

I particularly remember a batizado in Italy, which was an awesome bonding experience, but also…well, let’s just say that after some particularly charming pre-party dinner conversation, it’s a good thing capoeiristas love caipirinhas, because—wait, no, I could’ve downed a bottle of pure cachaça after that. (As things were, a Long Island Iced Tea had to suffice. It was either that, or not speak to any of my guy friends for the rest of the night.)

Returning to the issue itself, for me it’s actually part of a larger phenomenon in capoeira, that I’ll be writing about in a near-future, if not the next, post. (Teaser: “The Hidden Dark Side of Capoeira” *dun DuN DUN!*) For now, we’ll just have to keep looking for our paddles—because the only other options are to ride with it…or bail.

*“deNile”

Picture source:
http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=91669814





Be a GOOD Bystander: Preventing Sexual Assault

16 05 2008

If you saw someone being attacked—a man being mugged on the street, a woman being raped in an alley—would you do something? Would you intervene, call for help, phone the police…or avert your gaze, speed up your footsteps, and pretend it never happened?

I want to focus on one particular aspect of the incident I wrote about on Sunday, when a woman was sexually assaulted on-stage by a comedian (“comedian”) as part of his “act”. I’m not talking about the comedian himself, certainly not the woman (unless you’re the victim-blaming type), and not even the culture that allowed it to happen—but the audience. The audience who sat there and watched it happen—and let it happen. As written in The Guardian:

How on earth can these people solemnly preach to us all about the terrible trauma his poor victim must have felt when they all sat in the audience and watched without lifting a finger, then went home and sat in front of their laptops sanctimoniously tapping away at a self-righteous denouncement of his actions which they had just sat and allowed to happen?

You know what the saddest part is? I can understand it.

The bystander effect is one of the most well-known psychological studies in examining how our social consciences work, and what it says is:

When there is an attack or crime being committed, the more bystanders there are, the less likely it is that any of them will actually help.

In other words, if you see a man or woman being attacked in an empty street, and no one else is around, you are much, much more likely to help them or call the police; and you will almost certainly not help them or do anything if they were being attacked in broad daylight, on the busiest street in your city, during rush hour. Unless, of course, you’re genuinely good and brave and valiant like that—which, let’s be honest, many of us aren’t. (Although, if someone would like to do a study on the effects of exposure to capoeira music on a given group of bystanders while witnessing an attack, I’m open to suggestions!)

The following is literally the textbook case of the bystander effect—it’s what started the whole study of this phenomenon in the first place (emphasis mine):

Forty years ago, Kitty Genovese was attacked and murdered outside her New York City apartment building. Thirty-eight people heard her calls for help as they watched from behind their apartment windows. The attack lasted more than half an hour. After it was over, someone called the police, who arrived within two minutes.

Pretty astounding, don’t you think? And I’ve touched on the bystander effect personally here, describing how on my way home one night I wasn’t sure whether I was witnessing a woman being attacked or not, and didn’t know how to react. That led to a discussion in which a very important question was raised:

How do we overcome the bystander effect?

After all, nobody wants to be the insecure, self-justifying, crowd-mentality loser who let a woman get knifed or a man suffer hate crime in front of their very eyes, right?

Although I am the last person who has any concrete solutions to this problem, I firmly believe that the more you know about something, the more you’ll be capable of fighting against it when you need to. So first, I’ll list some things that I’ve picked up along the way. If you witness an attack:

Use your cellphone (or any phone). It’s relatively risk-free, you can do it at a distance from the attack, and you can probably remain anonymous if you’re that concerned about it. The important thing is: just pick up and dial! 9-1-1 [or whatever the emergency number is in your region]. It’s not hard; or it is hard, but not so hard that you can’t force yourself to do it in order to save somebody’s life.

Follow your gut instinct. If you think something’s not right, it probably isn’t. If your stomache, chest, throat, and blood pulse are telling you something’s not right, then it almost definitely isn’t.

Suppress your “What if I’m wrong/What if I embarrass myself?” inside voice. After all, what’s worse: the effects of a little embarassment on you, or the effects of a sexual and/or violent attack on the victim?

Empathize. Studies show that a bystander is more likely to intervene if they see themselves as being a part of the same social group as the victim, or if they have a connection with them in some way. That is, white bystanders are more likely to help if the victim is white, women are more likely to help (than not help) if the victim is a woman, and so on.

The interesting thing is that apparently, this perception can be expanded to include larger and larger groups. So if you see someone being attacked or assaulted, maybe instead of seeing them as a stranger who doesn’t look, think, or live like you, make yourself realize that it’s another student being assaulted there, or another <insert job title>, or another <insert nationality>, or another brother/sister/father/mother, or, in fact, another human being…just like you.

Get training. As capoeiristas, we arguably have a slight advantage over the average non-martial artist when it comes to attacks and self-defense. However, this doesn’t matter if you believe you can’t use capoeira in “real-life” situations. Why? One major reason that bystanders don’t intervene in emergency situations is, quite simply, they don’t know how.

They know they should do something, but have no idea what course of action to take, and are scared they’ll do something wrong, or make things worse. So, if you are serious about wanting to be able to prevent sexual assault when you see it, research ways to identify and stop such situations, so that you’ll be prepared and have confidence in what you’re doing when the necessary time comes.

Know your help will help, no matter what. Having suggested “get training” above, just a reminder that training is not AT ALL necessary in preventing sexual assault or any attack. You don’t need special training in order to shout outloud, yell for help, or call the police. In a study, assault perpetrators said they were able to succeed with their crimes because they knew people would let them. They counted on the bystander effect! Prove them wrong.

Learn how it works. Finally, what I said earlier: the more you know about something, the more capable you will be of fighting it. If you can tell yourself in a situation that your discomfort in helping is due purely to this phenomenon that is distorting your judgement, then you are more likely to overcome it and take action. In that vein, I’m linking to several articles below that are definitely worth a read to find out more about being a good (or bad) bystander, so please take the time to read them.

  • Stepping up to stop sexual assault – A really informative article that discusses the bystander effect in the comedian/assaulted woman case and talks about bystander training (what it can do and how it works).
  • Failing to Fight the Good Fight – It’s not just sexual assault that the bystander effect applies to. This article describes how the author was the only one to stand up against racism in a crowded London metro.
  • As individuals, we help. As a corporate whole, we don’t. – An article about the bystander effect, inspired by a recent incident where cars in traffic swerved around a woman lying in the middle of the road with her head bleeding. Just read the first page (it kind of goes off-track after that).

The first article makes a really good point, that applies to this post as well: Nobody needs bystander training. None of you need to have read this post in order to increase the chances you will help someone you see being victimized, in the future. As I said, any person off the street, any one of us, has the power to intervene when we see someone doing something wrong to another person. More often than not, all it takes is a single word or gesture that shows the perpetrator that people notice. The only problem is overcoming the social forces and tiny voice in our head that says we can’t, for this or that or whatever (non-)reason.

In other words, don’t be a lemming, and don’t be insecure or afraid to take action. Yes, it might be difficult, and I’m not saying or even sure that I’ll be able to do something the next time it’s asked of me, but…someone’s life (which includes life as they know it, e.g. rape is a horrifically life-changing event) could depend on it.





The Brazil/Africa Capoeira Metaphor: Seeing Through Stereotypes

12 05 2008

Do you see through stereotypes?Before/while/after writing the “Is Brazil the Mother or Father of Capoeira?” post, I had some tiny, niggling misgivings about it at the back of my mind, but ignored them for the sake of the post and saying what I wanted to say about the metaphor. However, the more I thought about it, the less comfortable and the more, well, intellectually dishonest it seemed to just leave it, especially when what was bothering me stood out even more clearly with Xixarro’s first comment and then my own response to it. So, I’m going to distill all those thoughts out now.

In the post itself, I noted how the original metaphor and my rationale for its correction were based on stereotypes, something I’ve touched on before here. Thus, the first problem: was I reinforcing those stereotypes by bringing it all up, and basing my rationale on them? The second problem: I felt it was feminist to advocate for Brazil as the mother of capoeira rather than as the father (in addition to it being first and foremost logical, of course). But I was relying on (and so possibly reinforcing) gender stereotypes in order to make that advocation. So then wasn’t that counterproductive, and maybe even hypocritical, feminism-wise?

Okay, first things first. I think it was right to point out that Brazil seems more like the mother instead of the father of capoeira, because when I first realized why the comparison didn’t seem accurate, I felt like there was some hypocrisy going on: “Oh sure, pigeonhole women and femininity as the nurturing, childrearing, breeding-is-their-function ones, until it’s time to give them credit for it (i.e. parenting capoeira), then switch it all around.”

Then, there was the idea that capoeira is “masculine”, so therefore of course Brazil would be the “masculine” partner as well, and the idea that of course the country that’s the most majorly/obviously associated with or seemed to play the biggest part in something (in this case, capoeira) would be the “male”. So, my objection was in order to deconstruct the seeming hypocrisy and system of thought there.

As for reinforcing the stereotypes…I actually realized just how entrenched they were even as I started writing this post: “in addition to it being first and foremost logical”, I wrote, referring to my “correction”. Well, the only reason I found it “logical” in the first place was because my premises were the very stereotypes I was trying to deconstruct!

It all became even more obvious and more uncomfortable when Xixarro made his comment and I replied to it, and I realized I’d somehow gone from arguing against stereotypes to arguing for which stereotypes seemed more “right”! In truth, no stereotypes are right, let alone “logical”—by definition!

It’s not logical that woman = childrearer or = background/minor role*, and it’s not logical that man = leader/fountainhead/major role. Again, those are all purely social, (hu)man-made constructions. Somebody just upped and decided those things, with really no basis whatsoever except for his own inflated superiority complex.

So, in conclusion: While I relied on stereotypes to make my argument against one instance of (mis)use of stereotypes, at least I recognized that I was doing it, and then went on (in this post) to deconstruct those stereotypes themselves. And hopefully, this provided a good case study for you in the recognition and disconstruction of stereotypes, whether as obvious statements or as subtle underlying premises in yourself!

Picture source: http://thegreatconnect.wordpress.com/category/brasil/





Cultural Traditions: Sports, Humour, …Rape?

11 05 2008

While we’re talking about awful British comedians, I had to write about this incident I just read about—because it’s the closest I can get to screaming it from the rooftops. Basically, a comedian named Johnny Vegas brought a woman from the audience up on stage, sexually assaulted her as part of his “act” (and she wasn’t planted), and no one in the audience did anything (though some laughed). I’ll let the article speak for itself (note: the link goes to a blog post quoting the article because the article itself has been taken down due to, surprise, surprise, a libel suit by the comedian):

Once she was on stage, Vegas told her to lie very still. She couldn’t stop her nervous giggling; he threatened to kick her in the ribs. It didn’t come across to me as a joke – and near to where I was sitting, no one was laughing. Eventually Vegas crouched down beside the nervous girl and started stroking her breasts while repeatedly saying, “don’t fucking move”. Then he ran his hand up her leg and began pulling her skirt up. Every time he looked up to address the audience, she would reach down and pull her skirt back down, but he kept pulling it back up. According to Williams, who had a different view of the stage from me, Vegas ended up “fingering her through her clothes for a second or two”.

Although certain facts about the incident are currently in dispute—like whether there was actually, um, penetration, or not—there are still no words. Shame on headline writers posing the issue as a question (“Did he cross the line?” “Did he go too far?” PORRA, uh, YES!).

There are so many things wrong on so many levels with this issue that it seriously makes you want to cry or throw your hands up in the air and turn your back on humanity.

Things wrong with this issue:

1. The comedian thought this would make good comedy in the first place.
2. Members of the audience actually did find it good comedy.
3. The ones who didn’t did nothing to stop it.
4. There are people defending the comedian for his actions.
5. There are people trying to put it all on the victim. (e.g. “She should’ve known better than to sit in the front row.”)
6. Some people think if she didn’t actually get raped that somehow makes it more okay/acceptable.
7. There are debates focusing more on how violating it was (e.g. “It’s not like it was ‘real’ rape.”) and ignoring the fact that she was violated, period.
8. The comedian will face more or less no consequences whatsoever from his crime, let alone actually be charged; and in fact earned money off of it (from the original show), and may earn more in the future due to this spike in publicity or if he wins the lawsuit (god forbid). This speaks volumes about British authority, the press, public opinion, and modern-day culture and society in general.
9. The fact that this is now actually considered and being treated as an “issue”, as if there is another “side” to sexually assaulting someone or being sexually assaulted.

The whole entire thing, the original incident and its aftermath, is an epitomizing example of today’s rape culture. What is it? Wikipedia sums it up pretty comprehensively:

Rape culture [describes] a culture in which rape and other sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or encourage sexualized violence. Acts of harmless sexism are commonly employed to validate and rationalize normative misogynistic practices; for instance, sexist jokes…foster disrespect for women and an accompanying disregard for their well-being, which ultimately make their rape and abuse seem acceptable. Examples of behaviors said to typify rape culture include victim blaming, trivializing prison rape, and sexual objectification.

This is our culture. Just to make sure you really get it, a few concrete examples:

This is rape culture. [“College student sexually assaulted while crowd cheers”]

This is rape culture. [“U of O shuts down paper for misogyny”]

This is rape culture. [“At Jets Game, a Halftime Ritual of Harassment”]

This is rape culture. [“White Sox blew it by allowing sexist shrine”]

This is rape culture. [“Facebook application: It’s not rape, it’s surprise sex”]

Also, the jokes you and your friends make/laugh at, the comics you see, the hip-hop/rap lyrics you hear or listen to, the funny articles you read…all those ones that somehow endorse rape, make fun of rape, or use rape to make fun of something/someone? That is rape culture. And though they in themselves may not seem like such a big deal at the time (and I can attest to that), they’re still horrible in the ideas they promote and are based on, and more importantly they contribute to the bigger picture and general attitude (that is, the sexist/misogynistic one) of how women are seen.

So, unless you’ll find it just as funny if your friend, girlfriend, sister, or mother were to be raped for real…then, why is it so funny in imagination?





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





What Are You Doing for International Women’s Day?

8 03 2008

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day.  Or as some of us might prefer to say, Dia Internacional da Mulher!  In honour of the occasion, and for those of you who came to Mandingueira later in the game, I’m going to take you on a guided tour through the best, most relevant, most important, most thought-provoking, and most interesting feminism-related posts on this blog.  We (meaning dear commenters and I) have managed to cover a surprising number of issues within the short lifespan of this blog, and I think now is a perfect time to give them all their proper due.

Please keep all hands, legs, and stereotypes inside the vehicle, and enjoy the ride!

Dreams for Women, by Antigone Magazine

Let’s begin with the one that started it all, and find out why chivalry in the roda doesn’t pay in Playing Women in the Roda.

Dreams for Women, by Antigone MagazineDreams for Women, by Antigone Magazine

Before we go on, you may be wondering about the validity or necessity of “pointing out women in capoeira”, as someone put it to me.  Realize that for now at least, it is both valid and necessary, by heading on over to Why Write about Female Mestres? The Feminist Catch-22.

Dreams for Women, by Antigone Magazine

Next, we’ll rendez-vous with Nestor Capoeira in The Feminine in Capoeira, Part 1 (Malicia), where I put him in the hot seat for calling women “the reverse” of power and the rational.  But fear not; witness his acquittal (and a discussion on gender stereotypes vs. capoeira tradition) in The Feminine in Capoeira, Part 2 (Context).

Dreams for Women, by Antigone Magazine

Feeling inactive from all this sitting and reading?  Then give your biceps and deltoids a little love, and learn why women shouldn’t sell theirs short in Myth Busters: Women and Upper-Body Strength.

Dreams for Women, by Antigone Magazine

Now that you’re all pumped and in shape, it’s clearly time for an intense capoeira trip to Brazil!  There may be a lot of scantily clad beach beauties there, but are they really “looking for it”?  Don’t make the same mistake we talk about in Women, Men, and Brazilian Bikinis.

Dreams for Women, by Antigone Magazine

Taking a break from theory, hit the ground running in North Africa, where I experienced first-hand, for the first time in my life,  Lessons from Morocco: How NOT to Treat Women.  Then join me in hashing it all out in Lessons from Morocco, Part 2: Cultural Relativity and Other Issues.

Dreams for Women, by Antigone MagazineDreams for Women, by Antigone Magazine

Although I made it through Morocco unscathed, what would you have done if I were attacked—and you were there to witness the whole thing?  See what it may be like to suddenly find yourself in this position, as I did while Walking Home.

Dreams for Women, by Antigone Magazine

Now, why did I decide to take you on this ride?  Because I’m a feminist.  Do you know what feminism is?  Are you sure?  It may not be what you—or most people—think.  Find out how close you are to the truth in Has “Feminism” Outlasted Its Purpose?.

Dreams for Women, by Antigone Magazine

Of course, there are always those who have to ruin the party.  Do you remember how it felt the first time you saw a capoeira-butchered-into-insipid-aerobics class?  Then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about in Capoeirobics and the Female Chauvinist Pig: When Good Things Go Bad!

Dreams for Women, by Antigone Magazine

Finally, if you still have the energy left and are up to the challenge, brave what has been called “the roar of second-wave feminism roasting everything in its wake”, and incidentally a thorough compendium of exactly why I care so much: Robin Morgan’s now (in)famous essay, Goodbye to All That #2.

Dreams for Women, by Antigone Magazine

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for taking today’s tour with Mandingueira Safaris.  Please take all personal belongings, new thoughts, and inspiring ideas with you when you leave, and enjoy the rest of your day!





Walking Home

5 03 2008

I was walking home from the grocery store the other night, bags in hand, when suddenly I heard the sound of a woman more or less screaming bloody murder.  I looked around and saw four guys and a woman across the street in front of me, probably in their 20’s (numbers are an exception to the no apostrophes in plurals rule), and it seriously looked and sounded like the woman was being attacked.  At one point it appeared she was trapped in between three of the guys, then she got away and ran around a car, and then the fourth guy chased and seized her, and you could hear all the guys laughing.

Obviously, after all this time, I wasn’t about to do nothing.  Or was I?  I kept watching to see if it really was an attack, as it wasn’t that late at night and there were still people out on the street, walking up and down both sidewalks.  Should I cross the street and tell the guys to stop, and help her?  (But what if I’m wrong?  Or what if they attack me too?)  Should I call the police?  I started reaching for my cell phone, then realized I didn’t even know the local police/emergency number.

Should I leave it for someone else to handle?  (So this is what the bystander effect feels like.)  I noticed another, older woman jogging towards me, and she was looking over at the woman and four guys as well.  Desperately hoping she would somehow take this out of my hands, I practically went right up to meet her and looked her straight in the eyes, almost blurting out, “Do you see what’s happening, too?  Should we do something?”  But before I could even make a sound, she was gone; she hadn’t even slowed down her jog.  At that moment, once our eyes had met with no results, I felt we were immediately sworn accomplices, co-conspirators in Operation: Desert Silence.

I took a few more uncertain, conflicted steps towards the direction of my home.  (Wouldn’t she make more effort to actually run away if she were truly being attacked?  Oh, so this is how victim-blaming works.)  Suddenly, I saw another man a few feet away from me, in the shadow of a storefront.  He was watching the scene across the street as well, and dialing on his cellphone at the same time.  My mind desperately freewheeled, grasping at straws while still fearing the short one.  (He must be calling the police; it’s okay.)

I took more steps towards home, turning back towards the scene every few seconds.  (Aren’t you a feminist?  Or do your values only stand as far as your keyboard?)  Then I turned completely around and walked back the way I came, so that I would be almost directly across the street from the men and woman again.  They were still going at it, but the commotion seemed to have simmered down a bit.  I kept watching, walking back and forth over that section of sidewalk between the grocery store and my home so it wouldn’t seem as obvious (Or should you make it obvious, that someone notices?  Would that help?).  Eventually, I ascertained they were basically goofing off, playing some sort of flirty tag/cat-and-mouse but just very noisily; moreover, I’m pretty sure I also saw the woman end up resting in one of the guys arms.  So, I went home.

(But what if?)