Goodbye to All That

4 02 2008

This was an essay I read today, and it was so powerful and illuminating (the way a large searchlight illuminates a murder scene) that I’m going to re-post it here as today’s entry.  Please note that although it concludes as an endorsement for Hillary Clinton as the next President of the United States, I don’t necessarily prefer Clinton myself and I’m not posting it for that reason.  I’m posting it for everything the author writes up until the endorsement, and if you are anti-Clinton, please do not let the conclusion wipe out everything you have read before that point. I know it’s a long read, but it’s the best, most comprehensive piece of writing I’ve ever seen that gets across so clearly why I care, and why we should all care.  Please take the time to read it, and if after doing so, you still don’t understand, still don’t see the need for feminism, still don’t care or feel at all disturbed, bothered, angered or indignant…then read it again.

— 

“The entire future of women’s rights rests upon her election. Love her or hate her, she had to win — or all women lose because the resulting nyah-nyah-nyah from the misogynists of America would become a deafening and dangerous roar.

We solemnly agreed, even though some of us were really Barack Obama fans or John Edwards supporters.

We recognized that the stakes are high, very high, for women.”

-Antonia Zerbisias, Broadsides

GOODBYE TO ALL THAT #2
by Robin Morgan

“Goodbye To All That” was my (in)famous 1970 essay breaking free from a politics of accommodation especially affecting women.

During my decades in civil-rights, anti-war, and contemporary women’s movements, I’ve avoided writing another specific “Goodbye . . .”. But not since the suffrage struggle have two communities–the joint conscience-keepers of this country–been so set in competition, as the contest between Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) and Barack Obama (BO) unfurls. So.

Goodbye to the double standard . . .

–Hillary is too ballsy but too womanly, a Snow Maiden who’s emotional, and so much a politician as to be unfit for politics.

–She’s “ambitious” but he shows “fire in the belly.” (Ever had labor pains? )

–When a sexist idiot screamed “Iron my shirt!” at HRC, it was considered amusing; if a racist idiot shouted “Shine my shoes!” at BO, it would’ve inspired hours of airtime and pages of newsprint analyzing our national dishonor.

–Young political Kennedys–Kathleen, Kerry, and Bobby Jr.–all endorsed Hillary. Sen. Ted, age 76, endorsed Obama. If the situation were reversed, pundits would snort “See? Ted and establishment types back her, but the forward-looking generation backs him.” (Personally, I’m unimpressed with Caroline’s longing for the Return of the Fathers. Unlike the rest of the world, Americans have short memories. Me, I still recall Marilyn Monroe’s suicide, and a dead girl named Mary Jo Kopechne in Chappaquiddick.)

Goodbye to the toxic viciousness  . . .

Carl Bernstein’s disgust at Hillary’s “thick ankles.” Nixon-trickster Roger Stone’s new Hillary-hating 527 group, “Citizens United Not Timid” (check the capital letters). John McCain answering “How do we beat the bitch?” with “Excellent question!” Would he have dared reply similarly to “How do we beat the black bastard?” For shame.

Goodbye to the HRC nutcracker with metal spikes between splayed thighs. If it was a tap-dancing blackface doll, we would be righteously outraged—and they would not be selling it in airports. Shame.

Goodbye to the most intimately violent T-shirts in election history, including one with the murderous slogan “If Only Hillary had married O.J. Instead!” Shame.

Goodbye to Comedy Central’s South Park featuring a storyline in which terrorists secrete a bomb in HRC’s vagina. I refuse to wrench my brain down into the gutter far enough to find a race-based comparison. For shame.

Goodbye to the sick, malicious idea that this is funny. This is not “Clinton hating,” not “Hillary hating.” This is sociopathic woman-hating. If it were about Jews, we would recognize it instantly as anti-Semitic propaganda; if about race, as KKK poison.  Hell, PETA would go ballistic if such vomitous spew were directed at animals. Where is our sense of outrage—as citizens, voters, Americans?

Goodbye to the news-coverage target-practice . . .

The women’s movement and Media Matters wrung an apology from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews for relentless misogynistic comments. But what about NBC’s Tim Russert’s continual sexist asides and his all-white-male panels pontificating on race and gender? Or CNN’s Tony Harris chuckling at “the chromosome thing” while interviewing a woman from The White House Project? And that’s not even mentioning Fox News.

Goodbye to pretending the black community is entirely male and all women are white . . .

Surprise! Women exist in all opinions, pigmentations, ethnicities, abilities, sexual preferences, and ages–not only African American and European American but Latina and Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Arab American and—hey, every group, because a group wouldn’t be alive if we hadn’t given birth to it. A few non-racist countries may exist–but sexism is everywhere. No matter how many ways a woman breaks free from other oppressions, she remains a female human being in a world still so patriarchal that it’s the “norm.”

So why should all women not be as justly proud of our womanhood and the centuries, even millennia, of struggle that got us this far, as black Americans, women and men, are justly proud of their struggles?

Goodbye to a campaign where he has to pass as white (which whites—especially wealthy ones–adore), while she has to pass as male (which both men and women demanded of her, and then found unforgivable). If she were black or he were female we wouldn’t be having such problems, and I for one would be in heaven. But at present such a candidate wouldn’t stand a chance—even if she shared Condi Rice’s Bush-defending politics.

I was celebrating the pivotal power at last focused on African American women deciding on which of two candidates to bestow their vote–until a number of Hillary-supporting black feminists told me they’re being called “race traitors.”

So goodbye to conversations about this nation’s deepest scar—slavery—which fail to acknowledge that labor- and sexual-slavery exist today in the US and elsewhere on this planet, and the majority of those enslaved are women.

Women have endured sex/race/ethnic/religious hatred, rape and battery, invasion of spirit and flesh,  forced pregnancy;  being the majority of the poor, the illiterate, the disabled, of refugees, caregivers, the HIV/AIDS afflicted, the powerless. We have survived invisibility, ridicule, religious fundamentalisms, polygamy, teargas, forced feedings, jails, asylums, sati, purdah, female genital mutilation, witch burnings, stonings, and attempted gynocides. We have tried reason, persuasion, reassurances, and being extra-qualified, only to learn it never was about qualifications after all. We know that at this historical moment women experience the world differently from men–though not all the same as one another–and can govern differently, from Elizabeth Tudor to Michele Bachelet and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

We remember when Shirley Chisholm and Patricia Schroeder ran for this high office and barely got past the gate—they showed too much passion, raised too little cash, were joke fodder. Goodbye to all that. (And goodbye to some feminists so famished for a female president they were even willing to abandon women’s rights  in backing Elizabeth Dole.)

Goodbye, goodbye to . . .

–blaming anything Bill Clinton does on Hillary (even including his womanizing like the Kennedy guys–though unlike them, he got reported on). Let’s get real. If he hadn’t campaigned strongly for her everyone would cluck over what that meant. Enough of Bill and Teddy Kennedy locking their alpha male horns while Hillary pays for it.

–an era when parts of the populace feel so disaffected by politics that a comparative lack of knowledge, experience, and skill is actually seen as attractive, when celebrity-culture mania now infects our elections so that it’s “cooler” to glow with marquee charisma than to understand the vast global complexities of power on a nuclear, wounded planet.

–the notion that it’s fun to elect a handsome, cocky president who feels he can learn on the job, goodbye to George W. Bush and the destruction brought by his inexperience, ignorance, and arrogance.

Goodbye to the accusation that HRC acts “entitled” when she’s worked intensely at everything she’s done—including being a nose-to-the-grindstone, first-rate senator from my state.

Goodbye to her being exploited as a Rorschach test by women who reduce her to a blank screen on which they project their own fears, failures, fantasies.

Goodbye to the phrase “polarizing figure”  to describe someone who embodies the transitions women have made in the last century and are poised to make in this one. It was the women’s movement that quipped, “We are becoming  the men we wanted to marry.” She heard us, and she has.

Goodbye to some women letting history pass by while wringing their hands, because Hillary isn’t as “likeable” as they’ve been warned they must be, or because she didn’t leave him, couldn’t “control” him, kept her family together and raised a smart, sane daughter. (Think of the blame if Chelsea had ever acted in the alcoholic, neurotic manner of the Bush twins!) Goodbye to some women pouting because she didn’t bake cookies or she did, sniping because she learned the rules and then bent or broke them. Grow the hell  up. She is not running for Ms.-perfect-pure-queen-icon of the feminist movement.  She is running to be President of the United States.

Goodbye to the shocking American ignorance of our own and other countries’ history. Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir rose through party ranks and war, positioning themselves as proto-male leaders. Almost all other female heads of government so far have been related to men of power—granddaughters, daughters, sisters, wives, widows: Gandhi, Bandaranike, Bhutto, Aquino, Chamorro, Wazed, Macapagal-Arroyo, Johnson Sirleaf, Bachelet, Kirchner, and more. Even in our “land of opportunity,” it’s mostly the first pathway “in” permitted to women: Reps. Doris Matsui and Mary Bono and Sala Burton; Sen. Jean Carnahan . . . far too many to list here.

Goodbye to a misrepresented generational divide . . .

Goodbye to the so-called spontaneous “Obama Girl” flaunting her bikini-clad ass online—then confessing Oh yeah it wasn’t her idea after all, some guys got her to do it and dictated the clothes, which she said “made me feel like a dork.”

Goodbye to some young women eager to win male approval by showing they’re not feminists (at least not the kind who actually threaten the status quo), who can’t identify with a woman candidate because she is unafraid of eeueweeeu yucky power, who fear their boyfriends might look at them funny if they say something good about her. Goodbye to women of any age again feeling unworthy, sulking “what if she’s not electable?” or “maybe it’s post-feminism and whoooosh we’re already free.” Let a statement by the magnificent Harriet Tubman stand as reply. When asked how she managed to save hundreds of enslaved African Americans via the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, she replied bitterly, “I could have saved thousands—if only I’d been able to convince them they were slaves.”

I’d rather say a joyful Hello to all the glorious young women who do identify with Hillary, and all the brave, smart men—of all ethnicities and any age–who get that it’s in their self-interest, too. She’s better qualified. (D’uh.) She’s a high-profile candidate with an enormous grasp of foreign- and domestic-policy nuance, dedication to detail, ability to absorb staggering insult and personal pain while retaining dignity, resolve, even humor, and keep on keeping on. (Also, yes, dammit, let’s hear it for her connections and funding and party-building background, too. Obama was awfully glad about those when she raised dough and campaigned for him to get to the Senate in the first place.)

I’d rather look forward to what a good president he might make in eight years, when his vision and spirit are seasoned by practical know-how–and he’ll be all of 54. Meanwhile, goodbye to turning him into a shining knight when actually he’s an astute, smooth pol with speechwriters who’ve worked with the Kennedys’ own speechwriter-courtier Ted Sorenson. If it’s only about ringing rhetoric, let speechwriters run. But isn’t it about getting the policies we want enacted?

And goodbye to the ageism . . .

How dare anyone unilaterally decide when to turn the page on history, papering over real inequities and suffering constituencies in the promise of a feel-good campaign? How dare anyone claim to unify while dividing, or think that to rouse US youth from torpor it’s useful to triage the single largest demographic in this country’s history: the boomer generation–the majority of which is female?

Older woman are the one group that doesn’t grow more conservative with age—and we are the generation of radicals who said “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Goodbye to going gently into any goodnight any man prescribes for us. We are the women who changed the reality of the United States. And though we never went away, brace yourselves: we’re back!

We are the women who brought this country equal credit, better pay, affirmative action, the concept of a family-focused workplace; the women who established rape-crisis centers and battery shelters, marital-rape and date-rape laws; the women who defended lesbian custody rights, who fought for prison reform, founded the peace and environmental movements; who insisted that medical research include female anatomy, who inspired men to become more nurturing parents, who created women’s studies and Title IX so we all could cheer the WNBA stars and Mia Hamm. We are the women who reclaimed sexuality from violent pornography, who put child care on the national agenda, who transformed demographics, artistic expression, language itself. We are the women who forged a worldwide movement. We are the proud successors of women who, though it took more than 50 years, won us the vote.

We are the women who now comprise the majority of US voters.

Hillary said she found her own voice in New Hampshire. There’s not a woman alive who, if she’s honest, doesn’t recognize what she means. Then HRC got drowned out by campaign experts, Bill, and media’s obsession with All Things Bill.

So listen to her voice:

“For too long, the history of women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words.

“It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls. It is a violation of human rights when woman and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution. It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small. It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war. It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide along women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes. It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.

“Women’s rights are human rights. Among those rights are the right to speak freely–and the right to be heard.”

That was Hillary Rodham Clinton defying the US State Department and the Chinese Government at the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing (the full, stunning speech:
http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/hillaryclintonbeijingspeech.htm).

And this voice, age 22, in “Commencement Remarks of Hillary D. Rodham, President of Wellesley College Government Association, Class of 1969” (full speech:
http://www.wellesley.edu/PublicAffairs/Commencement/1969/053169hillary.html)

“We are, all of us, exploring a world none of us understands. . . . searching for a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living. . . . [for the] integrity, the courage to be whole, living in relation to one another in the full poetry of existence. The struggle for an integrated life existing in an atmosphere of communal trust and respect is one with desperately important political and social consequences. . . . Fear is always with us, but we just don’t have time for it.”

She ended with the commitment “to practice, with all the skill of our being: the art of making possible.”

And for decades, she’s been learning how.

So goodbye to Hillary’s second-guessing herself. The real question is deeper than her re-finding her voice. Can we women find ours? Can we do this for ourselves?  “Our President, Ourselves!”

Time is short and the contest tightening. We need to rise in furious energy–as we did when courageous Anita Hill was so vilely treated in the US Senate, as we did when desperate Rosie Jiminez was butchered by an illegal abortion, as we did and do for women globally who are condemned for trying to break through. We need to win, this time. Goodbye to supporting HRC tepidly, with ambivalent caveats and apologetic smiles. Time to  volunteer, make phone calls, send emails, donate money, argue, rally, march, shout, vote.

Me? I support Hillary Rodham because she’s the best qualified of all candidates running in both parties. I support her because her progressive politics are as strong as her proven ability to withstand what will be a massive right-wing assault in the general election. I support her because she’s refreshingly thoughtful, and I’m bloodied from eight years of a jolly “uniter” with ejaculatory politics. I needn’t agree with her on every point. I agree with the 97 percent of her positions that are identical with Obama’s—and the few where hers are both more practical and to the left of his (like health care). I support her because she’s already smashed the first-lady stereotype and made history as a fine senator, and because I believe she will continue to make history not only as the first US woman president, but as a great US president.

As for the “woman thing”?

Me, I’m voting for Hillary not because she’s a woman—but because I am.





Equality is a Deadly Sin? Feminism as Envy

31 01 2008

Last year, I had to do a presentation on a short story called “Envy” for my Russian Lit class.  It was the perfect opportunity to buy a book in the trendy-looking “Seven Deadly Sins” Oxford series I’d been eyeing up at the bookstore.  I was happily strolling my way through its small, friendly 100-somewhat pages when I came across the following passage:

The modern feminist movement can, I believe, be said to have been built on an impersonal, generalized envy. Women wanted what men seemed to have: freedom of choice in career, in mates, in living with the same irresponsibility (in every field of endeavour) as men. Most women would say, I suspect, that not envy but a strong sense of injustice powered the feminist movement. They would not be wrong, but I would only add that envy and a sense of injustice are not always that easily distinguished, let alone extricated, one from the other. (-Joseph Epstein)

Alright.  First thought: What?! This is wrong!  Second thought: Well…it does kind of make sense.  Hindsight: No, he’s wrong.  And this is why:

When was the last time you felt envious of someone?  (Be honest!)  More importantly, why were you envious of them?  Was it because they had more time to train capoeira than you had, and thus improved more quickly?  Was it because they naturally played the game better than you did?  Was it because they were stronger and more flexible, and floreios came a lot more easily to them?  (If you drew a blank after all of those, insert applicable or non-capoeira example here!)

Envy does not a good capoeirista make!Whether it is skill, money, power, relationships, or circumstances, one thing that nearly all envied objects have in common is either their extraneousness to our current lives, or the large amount of chance involved.  Chance includes things like beauty, talent, intelligence, and personality (“Why did they get to be born <insert envied trait>?  Why wasn’t I?”).  Extraneousness includes things like money, power, promotions, and relationships, and can also be traced back to chance (“I deserve <insert source of envy> just as much as s/he does!  What makes them so great/lucky?”).  If there were neither chance nor extraneousness involved, it would not be true envy, as according to Epstein, inherent in the emotion is a feeling of injustice done—and there is nothing lucky or injust about someone getting promoted over you at work if they have been pulling overtime while you’ve been arriving late for the past three months, for example. 

If you look it up, Dictionary.com defines envy as “a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions”.  No one necessarily has a right to natural advantages, extra/better possessions, or chance successes; these are all “privileges” you come across in life, for lack of a better word.  Envy exists precisely because no one necessarily has a right to riches or built muscles or a perfect significant other any more than you do.  That’s why a sense of injustice is inherent in envy.

With that said, why is feminism not envy-based?  At first, it does seem to be: feminists are basically fighting for women to get the same amount of money and power in the world that men get, right?  No, or at least not exactly.  Feminism is about fighting for the opportunity for women who have earned it to achieve the same amount of money and power as men who have earned it, and more than men who haven’t, for equal opportunity.  That, and what Epstein himself says: for freedom of choice. 

Now, the last time I checked, the possession of equal opportunity and freedom of choice were things that were (1) inherent to living as a human being on this earth (it’s called a right) and (2) not controlled by chance (it’s called racism, sexism, homophobia, the glass ceiling, take your pick).   If pure envy originates in the belief that no one necessarily has a right to what is being envied, then how can we envy people for something we all do have a right to?  We can’t; it just doesn’t make sense.   Just because envy involves a sense of injustice doesn’t mean it always works the other way around.  The author may be right in saying the two aren’t always easily distinguished, but not in this case. 

Feminism is not envy, is not based on envy, and for Epstein to relegate the entire feminist movement to such is to drastically demean it, its goals, and its/their importance.  And, to put it bluntly, it’s terrible PR.  I can hear it now… “Ah-hah! <scoff> All that women-are-people equality stuff, and those feminist crankpots have just been bitter greedy little chits all along.”





Canadian Blog for Choice Day

28 01 2008

Again, not putting any thoughts forward, but just wanted to acknowledge:

The Morgenthaler Decision (20th anniversary today):
http://thestar.blogs.com/broadsides/2008/01/oh-henry.html

The Blog for Choice Challenge:
http://thestar.blogs.com/broadsides/2008/01/canadian-blogge.html

Please click on the given links for more information!





Myth Busters: Women and Upper-Body Strength

28 01 2008

This entry is a follow-up/sister post to the one I guest-wrote on The Capoeira Blog, “6 Keys to Building Upper-Body Strength“.

So, I have a confession to make.  Originally, the guest post I wrote for Faisca wasn’t supposed to be a general guide to building upper-body strength.  Originally, it was going to be something with a title like “Upper-Body Strength-Building for Women”.  It was my idea, but it wasn’t until I actually started working on the post that I realized something like that would actually go against everything I’ve/this blog has been standing for!  Mandingueira is not for women; it is about women, and for everyone. 

The reason I changed my mind is because to write an article about “strength-building for women” would imply that it is separate from the same for men; yet a strong woman would need the same level of advice as a strong man, regardless of her gender.  By the end of my first draft, however, I realized that my post read more like a beginner’s guide to strength-building—but all my information had come from purported “women’s guides” to strength-building!  Is anyone else seeing a pattern here

Abada capoeirista shows how it's done!There was one thing in particular that nearly every article I came across had in common:

“Women generally have far less upper-body strength than men.”
“Typically women do not have strong upper bodies.”
“These statistics merely illustrate what everyone knows, that women naturally develop less strength than men.”
“In terms of inherent upper body strength, we really are the weaker sex.”
“Most women have trouble performing a standard push-up.”  (And adding insult to injury: “To perform a modified push up, simply push up from your knees.  Most women can perform a push-up in this position.”  Really, now??  Some of us actually CAN do knee push-ups?!?  That’s AMAZING!!)

Wow, I feel weaker already.  Kind of ironic, considering all these articles purported to help you build your strength, not doubt it!

The age-old myth of women having less muscular strength than men do is just that—a myth.  This excerpt from Shameless Magazine puts it best:

Many people believe that all men, as some sort of single unit, are stronger than women. And reason says that simply isn’t true. Men’s strength is just as variable as women’s. Men, on average, are bigger than women, with a higher lean body mass-to-fat ratio. But women generate the same force per unit of muscle as men. That is, muscle pound to muscle pound, women and men are similar in strength. A strong woman is strong, full stop. (emphasis mine)

This observation was confirmed by a study from the US National Strength and Conditioning Foundation, which adds that although women and men have the same muscle strength, the reason many men appear stronger on the surface is because they have more muscle mass from being bigger (as opposed to muscle strength), have a higher lean body mass-to-fat ratio, and have different fat distribution in the body than women do.

Wait a minute (I can hear someone say), aren’t we just picking nits now?  What does it matter if technically women’s muscles produce the same amount of power, if due to the other factors mentioned above, a woman’s body altogether still produces less power, on average, than a man’s body altogether?  And if this is true, what’s wrong with saying so?

First, this distinction is important to make because it’s actually a pretty big one, with implications and consequences depending on whether one makes it or not.  Stating without qualification that women have less strength than men, period, is inaccurate and suggests that this is an inherent trait in women, something that can’t be changed.  As mentioned though, women’s muscles have the exact same strength as men do, and it is in fat distribution and lean body mass where they differ—factors which are variable and can be changed through training or exercise. 

Moreover, even though muscle mass is cited as a contributing factor of men’s strength, the same studies have shown that women build strength the same way men do yet without building as much muscle mass—which is interesting, because if both men and women build strength equally, but only men’s muscles build much mass to go with it, to me that suggests that in the end, women’s muscles would actually have more power per inch/pound than men’s, to do the calculations!  And as Shameless said, if a strong woman were matched with a man with less muscle (or lesser built muscles), more fat, and less lean body mass, she would in that case definitely not be “the weaker sex”.

Second, making this distinction is important because it affects how people approach this and related topics, and this ties in to the last question above.  There is nothing wrong with explaining why many women have less net strength output than many men.  After all, a fact is a fact, right?  The problem arises when people start making unqualified statements like the ones at the beginning of this post, and making them frequently and thoughtlessly.  Although clearly I was kidding when I said “I feel weaker already”, can you imagine what the effects of reading or hearing statements like that over and over again would be on someone’s mindset, whether consciously or subconsciously? 

If you imagined the logical, you’re right: other studies have shown that women significantly underestimate their own strength, compared to men.  Because we’re told we’re weaker, we think we have even less strength than we have to begin with.  This affects everything from whether or not a woman will reach her full potential while weight training, to whether or not she’ll choose to fight off a man who attacks her in the street, or just “let it happen” because to fight back would make it worse (according to another disastrous, popular myth). 

It’s all woven into one more narrative about what women are or aren’t or should be or shouldn’t be, whether it’s a young Mestra Edna’s relatives telling her “martial arts aren’t for girls”, or today’s average female capoeira student only able to find articles reiterating how weak she is compared to all the male capoeira students in her class—which may be true, but also just as well may not, and who’s the article’s author to say?  So mulhers é meninas, remember this the next time you aim for that macaco/s-dobrado/bananeira/cool upper-body strength-requiring move!

Picture source: http://www.worldartswest.org/Assets/Performers/AbadaAndyMogg.jpg

————————————————————————————
If you found this post useful or interesting, please
click to subscribe to my blog, by RSS feed or email!
————————————————————————————





Lessons from Morocco, Part 2: Cultural Relativity and Other Issues

21 01 2008

Woman walking down side street in MarrakechIn my last post (Lessons from Morocco: How NOT to Treat Women), I talked about how intolerable I found the behaviour of many Moroccan men towards women in the streets to be, and set aside the matter of cultural relativity to be dealt with later—that is, now.  The issue, as my friend pointed out to me, was this: I hated the heckling and calling and kissing noises and so on because I wasn’t used to it.  For women who had grown up in that culture though, they’d be used to it and thus not mind or care.  So, since the men were allegedly all bark and no bite, I had nothing to worry about and should be fine if only I let go of my own cultural prejudices (i.e. the idea that everything they did was inappropriate and disturbing).  Even my friend, who although just as feminist is much more easygoing and laid-back than I am, said she didn’t mind as much towards the end of the trip, whereas I was more sick of it than ever.

My response to this is: it doesn’t matter if you’re used to it or not; it’s the principles and the ideas behind the actions and reactions that matter.  Cultural relativity only works to a certain extent, and past that you could very easily find yourself arguing for letting people get away with murder.  There are many cultures around the world that harbour certain practices, such as female circumcision/genital mutilation in Africa, polygamy and sexual/sexual child abuse in Canadian and American towns such as Bountiful, and the abandonment or killing of female babies in China.  These things are all culturally or religiously entrenched practices, and accepted as normal by the people within each culture, but clearly, that doesn’t make them right.

Alright, so if cultural relativity doesn’t make the men’s and boys’ behaviour in Marrakech right, why, exactly, is their behaviour wrong? 

My very first instinct would be to say it’s wrong because of how it made me feel—unsafe, uncomfortable, and vulnerable everywhere I went, no matter when or where.  That should be enough; it’s why bullying isn’t allowed in schools, isn’t it?  However, cultural relativity does create some leaks in this one.  As mentioned above, I only felt the way I did because I wasn’t used to experiencing that sort of behaviour on a daily (read: minutely) basis.  So, since I was (supposedly) never in any real harm, I had no major reason to feel unsafe/uncomfortable/vulnerable and thus my feelings alone, as a reason on their own, polemically speaking, might not be enough to condemn the behaviour as wrong.

Taking my emotions out of the equation then, why is it still wrong?

Moroccan man in Marrakech souks (market streets), possibly catching Joaninha in 100% tourist mode

I really struggled to answer this question in a way that would hold water rationally and objectively.  In the process, I came up with several smaller points that backed up my main one, even if I didn’t know exactly what that was, yet:

1. It objectifies women.

The idea that it’s acceptable to call at and suggestively greet random women in the streets wherever they go implies that women are ever things to be looked at and commented on, as if we were not touring a foreign city or going out to dinner, but deliberately parading ourselves in front of the men/teenagers/boys clustered on the sidewalks.  You know that feeling you have when someone is staring at or watching you, even if you don’t see them?  Imagine being permanently in that state, and change the staring to leering.  Welcome to Marrakech! 

2. It degrades and demeans women.

After about two days, I realized part of why the calling, etc., bothered me so much.  Even if the men did not seriously believe their behaviour would get them what they wanted (although who knows), underlying it all was the idea that they would call, coo, or whistle, and we (women) would come.  Like we were animals.  Or infants, or children, come to think of it.  This reminds me of my “Playing Women in the Roda” post, where I said the “Chauvinist Theory” equated women capoeiristas to beginner capoeiristas; and of the incident where MSNBC’s Chris Matthews pinched Hillary Clinton on the cheek.  It’s the idea that just because we are female, we are somehow less than full or full(y) qualified persons, and can be treated accordingly.

3. It alienates and encourages self-oppression of women.

On our second last night in Marrakech, we met three other women our age and shared a laugh over the mass idiocy we’d all had the good fortune to experience.  Then, they said something that completely chilled and disturbed me.  At one point during their trip, they told my friend and me, they’d gotten so fed up with all the unwanted male attention that they decided to wear headscarves, like many Muslim women in the country do.  And you know what?  The attention, according to them, decreased dramatically. 

To me, that’s even worse than if the attention had gone on as usual.  What’s being said here is not only “You are available for heckling because you are a woman”, but “You are available for heckling because you are a woman with the audacity to leave your face/hair/head bared and not cover yourself.”  I get the feeling not wearing a headscarf in Marrakech might possibly have been the equivalent of wearing a revealing top in North America, which brings us back to the idea of men assuming women are looking/asking for it just because of something they wear (or in this case, don’t wear).  (SeeWomen, Men, and Brazilian Bikinis“).  It didn’t help that while trying to sell her one, a shopkeeper put a scarf around my friend’s head, almost as if to veil her, saying, “This is how our women wear their scarves.”  While we’re on the topic, not that it should matter, but my friend and I were in long-sleeves and pants for the entire trip.  We didn’t even bother with T-shirts, even though it was around 20 degrees Celsius or hotter each day.

Shops in Djemma el Fna, main market square in Marrakech

After looking over all those points together, the answer to my question became obvious, and was much simpler than I thought it was, which is probably why I had such a hard time pinpointing it at the beginning:

I wasn’t heckled because I was me, Joaninha, “English major and obsessed capoeirista”.  I wasn’t heckled just because I’m Asian (though if I hear “Konichiwa” ONE more time…).  I wasn’t heckled just because I’m a tourist—by shopkeepers, yes, but not random men on the street.  If someone exactly like me went on my trip in Morocco, only male, they would not have been bothered nearly as much (although it’s true I can’t speak for any gay male populations in the country…).  The shopkeepers’ heckling didn’t bother me as much by the end of the trip, because I learned to distinguish it from purely male heckling.  Fair enough: they wanted to sell things, I was a tourist, it was likely I was interested in buying things.  The male heckling, though, was not fair at all: they wanted something, I was a woman, but it was not likely I might be interested in that thing.

In short, the majority of the heckling was purely sex-based.  (And I mean sex in all senses of the word.)  That’s why it’s wrong.  Isn’t there something out there that says it’s wrong to discriminate in words or actions based on gender, race, or religion?  Oh yeah—it’s called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

So, it doesn’t matter if you’re used to it or not.  Harassment is still harassment.  Even if it’s not supposed to mean or lead to anything more than an annoyance (albeit a deep, implications-filled annoyance), it’s the ideas and mentality behind the bark that opens the way to it becoming a bite.  Sure, nothing happened to my friends and I, but that’s just it—nothing happened, and we still felt intensely uncomfortable; imagine what it must be like for all the girls and women in the world to whom something does happen?  If the base level of appropriateness in North America is common decency and respectful behaviour, and rapes and assaults still happen, what are the chances of such incidents occurring when the base level of appropriateness in a culture already constitutes verbal harassment? 

Maybe you might say that the rapes and assaults happen precisely because North American men don’t have the “outlet” of heckling women everyday in public, and so are repressed and thus burst from it in more explosive ways, but that idea, ignoring its own lack of merit, again is based on the idea of men “not being able to control themselves”, which is about as vendible as Peter Mans Bridge.

Anyway, I’m glad that I went to Morocco.  It was a really interesting trip, still fun, memorable, and full of new and different experiences.  I’m even glad for the heckling and all that, kind of, because it made me see and feel for real exactly what I’ve been talking about all along on this blog, which I think will contribute to Mandingueira in the long run.

Tomorrow, pure capoeira!

Update: Hmm, so it seems I’ve offended a person with ties to Morocco, according to a comment I received.  Alright, I guess I could have been more careful not to make such wide generalizations (e.g. “Moroccan men”), but something about the comment tells me that wasn’t what he was concerned about.  Oh well; all the blogging experts say you haven’t made it until someone hates you, so maybe this is a good sign? 😛 

Update 2: Aaaaaand…now I have incoming links from Morocco sex and prostitution sites.  That might explain it…





Lessons from Morocco: How NOT to Treat Women

19 01 2008

Marrakech at night 

When I first started writing this blog, it was because I thought it would be a good way of combining, interest, passion, work experience (you never know), and activism. However, all this time that I’ve been writing, especially on the feminist side of things, everything has just come out from my head, things I thought or ideas based on how I saw the world around me, with what little experience I’ve had. Even though I felt strongly about the topics I wrote on, the process of writing each entry was more of a mental pursuit than anything else (as opposed to an emotional or a personal pursuit). Like I said in one of my earliest entries, while I believe it’s important to bring attention to capoeira from a feminist perspective, I myself have never personally experienced sexism in capoeira; I’ve yet to truly enter the workforce to face the glass ceiling; and I’ve had to deal with little else in my everyday life.

Then, I went to Morocco.

It wasn’t horrible. The sights were striking, the scenery was different, the food was cheap and amazing, and it was all very interesting and something to experience. However, I don’t know if all of that makes up for the deep, ugly gash that is the flaw in Moroccan (male) culture.

[Note: I’ve gone over some of this already with my friend who came here with me, and she did bring up the point of cultural relativity, so I do realize it exists, but I’m going to put that aside for now.]

Basically, my friends and I could not go for three minutes—if even that—without getting called at, whistled at, heckled, followed, harassed, come on to, yelled at, beckoned to, hit on, sworn at (because we so rudely weren’t interested), and generally just bothered and interacted with very unsettlingly and annoyingly. 3 minutes.

It was unavoidable, and the men were everywhere. I’m sure “A woman’s place is in the house” is alive and well in Morocco, because no matter where we were and looked in the city (Marrakech, the capital), especially in the old/central part, Medina, about 80-90% of the people you see are men, teenage guys, or boys. I’m not exaggerating. What’s more, they don’t seem to have lives or livelihoods or anything better to do than hang around storefronts or sit on steps and call out slimy greetings to young female tourists who walk by. I am dead serious about this: they’re not in the middle of doing something (although many others who also harassed us were, like shopkeepers), and they’re not just passing by (although many who did just pass by took liberties as well, such as motorcyclists, car drivers and passengers, and pedestrians, who kindly thought we were worth full 180-degree head turns for maximum oglingage as they walked by). They lined sidewalks, lined marketplace aisles, and lined streets, almost as if they were waiting for us, or anyone young with that extra X-chromosome.

And they lined alleyways. Dark, lonely alleyways that my friends and I found ourselves going through when we got lost on our first night, on the way back to our hostel. We didn’t have a choice; it was the only (straightest, quickest, and nearest) way back, and at that hour pretty much all the side streets in Marrakech become dark, lonely alleys. There were several instances when we had to walk in between groups of loitering guys on either side, and speaking for all of us, I truly thought getting mugged or worse was a completely real possibility on at least 5-8 separate occasions that night (read: hour).

There were four of us at the time; we’d traveled in pairs and had met each other at the hostel by accident—so imagine if there’d been only two? (One isn’t even worth thinking about—women and girls, do not travel to Morocco alone! Listen to this especially if you’ll be an obvious tourist, or are young/pretty, and go alone under no circumstances if you have blonde hair. My friend got groped or almost-groped about 4 times in the street—our only instances of actual physical harassment—and it’s very well-known in Europe that most men there and nearby—i.e. northern Africa—love blondes.) [Update: Please see Comments for critique and qualification of this “advice”.] I have never felt so unsafe in my life, and my friend said something so striking and telling afterwards that I’m going to repeat it here:

“Never, in my life, have I ever felt soawkward—being a woman.”

I, on the other hand, after three days, had never wanted to deck anyone more in my life. Everything about this whole experience made it crystal clear to me that my blog isn’t just a waste of time or pointless stirring up of old and tired issues. They are old and tired for a reason. The only reason my friends and I were bothered so much is because we were female tourists (so twice-easy targets) who happened to be “unchaperoned” by any males. We came across other tourists during our time in Marrakech, and the predominant thought in my head every single time I saw an elderly couple, or a family, or a co-ed group of young adults was that they were probably enjoying a completely different tourist experience than my friends and I were, and I still cannot get over the discrepancy.

Do you recall the Comments section of my “Women, Men, and Brazilian Bikinis” post, where Xixarro said, “We can’t be expecting women to go thank every man that passes her ‘normally’, can we”?  Well, it is so bad here, the harassment is so frequent and omnipresent, that every time we passed a man walking towards us, all I would think was, “Please don’t say anything. Please don’t bother us. Please don’t come near us”; and when the man passed without incident, we really DID feel compelled to genuinely thank him for “acting normal”!  It was ridiculous; a man just gave us directions to somewhere without pressuring us to follow him or attempting to stick to us, and we spent the next five minutes exclaiming over how nice he was.

So, what have I learned from this experience? Well, I’ve learned not to look around freely anywhere—because if you accidentally make even the slightest bit of eye contact with a guy, they will react and do or say something unwanted (even 10-year old boys! That’s what they learn). I’ve learned to not smile, because as my friend observed, “Don’t smile. You’ll be a target if you look too happy.” (Most likely because then we’d not only be perceived as Western hussies, but drunk Western hussies.) I’ve learned what it’s like to feel truly unsafe just because of who I am, and what it’s like to seem a minority of 10% because of something I share with 50% of all human beings.

The most frustrating thing of all was that each time I got close to or beyond snapping point, my friend would tell me to calm down because “you can’t change things”—because she was right, it wasn’t just the fact of the matter itself that infuriated me, it was the idea of “this is just how it is” on top of that. But I don’t want to believe that things can’t be changed, because where do you go from there? Nowhere, unless down. Even if I don’t know for sure whether or not things can be changed (although I may have my own sneaking suspicion), thanks to this trip, I now know, believe, think, and feel that they must be.

Which brings me back to this blog.

Update: Click here to read Lessons from Morocco, Part 2: Cultural Relativity and Other Issues





Has “Feminism” Outlasted Its Purpose?

6 01 2008

 

The word, not the concept!

I ask because of a discussion I had with some friends tonight, and to elaborate on my “What is Feminism?” page.  As you probably know, the word “feminism” has become associated with all sorts of things that do not actually represent what feminism is.  It has become not exactly a dirty word, but definitely a word with some sort of stigma attached to it, so that many people who have feminist values will not or are scared to label themselves “feminists”–because it has become a label for something other than it should.  The following conversation is a perfect example:

Friend 1: I’m not a feminist, but…
Friend 2: No, I know you’re a feminist.  Let me ask you something: Do you believe men and women should have equal rights?
Friend 1: Yes…
Friend 2: Then, you’re a feminist.

Because that’s all “feminist” means–it means you believe that men and women are equal, should be equal, and should have equal rights.  Nothing more, nothing less. 

This is why I don’t actually like the term “feminist” or “feminism”.  I don’t think these terms should exist at all, because they imply that you are particularly for equality, more so than what’s normal.  Well, who normally isn’t for equality?  It’s as if you were to call someone “contact lensist” for believing in “contact lensism” because they insisted people who wear contact lenses are equal to and should have the same rights as people who wear glasses.  It’s just a given!

My friend made a good point, which was that when the idea of feminism originated, equality wasn’t at all a given, which is why the term originated–because back then, “feminists” really were people who were in favour of equality between the sexes to an unusual degree (within the context of the mentality at that time).  So back then, feminism was a term for an “extreme” belief or movement, and in a way (as my friend said), it’s good that we’ve now come to the point where the term does seem pointless and redundant.

The thing is, it seems as if while the movement has progressed, the extremity implied by the word “feminism” has progressed along with it–no longer does “feminism” just mean equality, it means female chauvinism and misandry.  Equal does not mean imbalanced in the opposite direction.  It’s detrimental, this perversion of what “feminism” means, because people only see the latter, louder “meaning”, and it affects their thoughts and views towards the former, maybe without them even knowing it.

Which brings us back to the original question.  I almost feel like we should give up on the word “feminism”, that it’s time to cut our losses and part ways.  No one likes feminism?  Fine, we don’t like feminism either.  Throw it out, let it die; it’s not what we want.  What we want is women’s equality, and that’s all; it doesn’t matter what you call it.

Picture source: http://images.jupiterimages.com/common/detail/01/49/23404901.jpg





Women, Men, and Brazilian Bikinis

30 12 2007

Brazilian beach 

So, I have a friend who is very cool, very nice, and generally awesome.  But then he said this (below) the other day, which made me think, and then made me think he was wrong.  So despite his coolness/niceness/general awesomeness, I’m going to talk about that today.

(paraphrased due to inexact memory)

If you go to Brazil, have you seen the bikinis they have there?  Tiny—tiny little things, barely covering anything.  If I see a woman wearing one of those, then I’ve basically seen all of her.  But if she’s changing and I accidentally see her, she freaks out and screams.  Well, so what?  I’ve already seen her in her bra and underwear, because I’ve seen her in her swimsuit–they’re exactly the same.

Women are…they wear clothes that show things, to be noticed.  But if a man shows that he notices, and says something, then she gets mad.  It’s hypocritical.

Where do I start?  On the surface, I don’t think that’s all completely wrong, and might be fair enough in many cases.  At the same time, something about it still doesn’t feel right to me.  Both statements involve assumptions that could do real harm if taken too far or too generally.

Assumption #1: If two articles of clothing look the same, they are the same for all intents and purposes, and are interchangeable, as are the situations in which they are used; thus, the woman shouldn’t care.

This assumption is flawed because it makes clothing the issue, when what must be differentiated is situations and contexts.  A woman who is fine wearing bikinis on the beach wouldn’t be fine wearing just underwear in class because it’s a completely different environment.  She wouldn’t be fine wearing a bikini in class, either.  The clothes are the same, but it is the situations that are different and so the significance of the clothes changes accordingly.  (To take an extreme example, imagine a Playboy model walking around naked in a mall.  It’s okay for her to be naked in the magazine, but not in the mall, right?  But since people have already seen her naked in the magazine, why not?  Because the situations/contexts are different.)

You could say that that’s bs and doesn’t make sense, that if you wore a bikini, the fact you’re inside a building doesn’t mean people will see an iota more of you than if you were on the beach, so it really doesn’t matter.  And you would be right.  However, society for hundreds and thousands of years has conditioned most of us to believe otherwise, to believe it does matter.  Society, in general, says to us: “It’s okay to be nearly naked on a beach in Brazil.  It’s not okay to be nearly naked inside your capoeira academy.”  This is dictated in the same way society once dictated: “Women can wear skirts, but a woman wearing pants is indecent” and “Women can wear long dresses, but anything above ankle-length is for harlots.” 

Today, obviously, women do wear pants and skirts shorter than ankle-length.  However, that was because they decided to take ownership of the situation and make it acceptable.  No men said to them, “Pants cover your legs as much as skirts cover your legs, therefore you will now feel comfortable wearing pants, and we will all be okay with that.”  So even if a guy were genuinely being forward-thinking and advocating for the further liberation of women/their bodies, it might not exactly be for him to say, since it’s not his body. 

And as much as I’m for the breaking of socially constructed mentalities like the “where is a bikini acceptable?” one, it’s not fair to ask/tell women to blatantly flout the dictatorship, since everyone else is still ruled by it and will react accordingly, to the detriment of the woman.  (For example, if a woman were to train in a bikini, she might be fine with it and my friend might be fine with it and not care, but all the other men and women would care and think certain things about that woman, since they are still ruled by the general mentality that bikinis are fine on the beach but not in class.) 

It’s almost a chicken-and-the-egg situation: people’s behaviour won’t change unless the mentality of society changes, but its mentality won’t change if people’s behaviour never changes.

Assumption #2: All women wear revealing clothes always with the intention of showing or flaunting it and getting attention.

First of all: not true.  It’s so probable that a woman just thinks a certain top looks nice or flattering on her overall, and that’s why she wears it; if it happens to be slightly revealing (within reason), that does not necessarily mean she wants guys staring at or making comments to her, etc.  It’s also possible that the top’s neckline moved or shifted without the woman noticing, although perhaps ignorance is a weak defense.  Still, the point is that you can’t assume

Now, what if a woman does wear revealing clothes deliberately to get attention?  What “rights” does that give men with respect to their behaviour or words towards this woman, if any

I think this again has to do with perceptions and social mentality.  In most places, it’s generally expected that men would “notice” this woman tactfully and unspokenly; thus if someone were to break this unspoken code and actually mention to the woman just how revealing her top is, she might feel affronted.  The point quoted at the beginning of this post attacks just this: the woman shouldn’t feel affronted, and would be hypocritical to feel so, because she got the attention she was seeking.  I think I agree with this, although obviously, whatever the “attention” entails must not exclude respect for the woman, and her dignity.  This is where it gets tricky though, because where do you draw the line?

I suppose part of it also rests on each individual woman and man involved in any interactions like that.  And that’s why it’s even more important to not make such generalizations or assumptions.  Because if you get one person wrong, what’s to say you won’t stop at the rest?

Update: I found a line that puts Assumption #2 in another, perhaps clearer, way.  From Just a girl in short shorts talking about whatever: “If a woman is not totally covered, or otherwise looks sorta sexy, she is asking for it, since men cannot be expected to control themselves.”  (That’s like saying doing a floreio in the middle of  a game is asking to be kicked or smashed to the ground, since obviously the other player can’t control themselves.  It’s insulting and unjust to both parties.)

Update 2: A friend of mine added that it doesn’t matter how revealing someone’s clothes are; she should be able to wear anything and not be judged or derogated for it, because what you wear has (should have) nothing to do with other people.  It’s a personal choice, it doesn’t change their personality or make them more or less anything they aready are or aren’t, and really it’s none of anyone else’s business.  If only people would/could realize that!

Picture source:
http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/tomandbecky/2005_brazil/1123546560.html

————————————————————————————
If you found this post interesting or useful, please
click to subscribe to my blog, by RSS feed or email!
————————————————————————————





Capoeirobics and the Female Chauvinist Pig: When Good Things Go Bad

21 12 2007

Cardio CapoeiraHave you ever seen something happen, take hold, and spread as you helplessly looked on, thinking, “Something has gone very wrong here”?


Capoeira and feminism both began as movements of resistance. Feminism remains one, of course, and arguably capoeira as well in many cases. In her paper Resistance through Movement: Women & Capoeira, Djahariah Katz makes an intriguing connection by pointing out how capoeira and some of the stereotypes that feminism fights against today both grew out of a state of disempowerment:

Seduction and manipulativeness are stereotypical qualities assigned to women. They are qualities that arise out of disempowerment, they become strategies of resistance. There is a discourse that these qualities are innate in women, that we inherently lie and manipulate. These qualities are celebrated in capoeira as malícia, using trickery to beat your opponent. This is a way that capoeira takes a social reality in the present and uses it to its advantage to turn the tables on their position. Most capoeiristas were and are disempowered in society. The philosophy of capoeira is about survival. It teaches you how to walk through the world with your own power.

I found this to be an interesting paradox. Today, women are disempowered because of the existence of such stereotypes, that they are inherently this or naturally that. Yet in the past, women who really used manipulation and whatnot did so because of the same sort of disempowerment, having no other options at hand. What was, in a way, the original feminist movement helped give rise to part of what hinders its modern day successor.

Similarly, capoeira is starting to encounter some backlash from its historical self-preservation. Mestre Bimba moved capoeira off the streets and into training rooms and academies, taking what may have been the single most influential action in the advancement of capoeira’s preservation and popularity. But now, we see such a model making the art vulnerable to things like inferior teachers who are only after money, to the risk of losing roots and traditions as academies and their teachings become more contemporized, and to the ever-hovering net of corporatization—not to mention spin-off “capoeirobics” classes reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster. [Note: I’m not going to post a video here because that’d be roughly four minutes of your life that you’d never get back, but if you’re really curious you can look up “capo-robics” on youtube, “cardio capoeira”, or “capoeira class” by username darksamuraix.]

Katz says that what capoeiristas did was take the “social reality” and manipulate it for their own purposes. When Brazil’s government wanted to promote the national image of Brazil, for example, Mestre Bimba helped to incorporate capoeira into this image, thereby ensuring the protection and continuation of capoeira, as an [Afro-]Brazilian art form. As inspiring as it would be to say that feminism should look to capoeira as an example, however, one thing concerns me.

Capoeira preserved itself not by just taking advantage of “social reality”, but also by conforming to this reality. Fighting outdoors was not okay, fighting indoors was; enter the academies. That’s (partly) why it was allowed to survive, and in the case of capoeira, it worked out. The equivalent of women doing such a thing today, though, might be the phenomenon that writer Ariel Levy terms the “female chauvinist pig”:

Our popular culture, she argues, has embraced a model of female sexuality that comes straight from pornography and strip clubs, in which the woman’s job is to excite and titillate – to perform for men. According to Levy, women have bought into this by altering their bodies surgically and cosmetically, and—more insidiously—by confusing sexual power with power, so that embracing this caricaturish form of sexuality becomes, in their minds, a perverse kind of feminism. (Jennifer Egan, New York Times)

To me, this takes “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” to new and twisted heights. Excerpts from Levy’s book add how these women are also thought of as “post-feminist”, how wearing the Playboy bunny logo is no longer a symbol of degradation and patronization, but of liberation. How can you be post-feminist in a world that has yet to be feminist? Conforming to “social reality” in this case, even if with self-mockery or deliberate irony, is to regress, not progress. No advantage is even gained, beyond what was described as “sexual power confused with power”.

The point of movements of resistance is not to conform to but to break “sociality realities”—because they are social, i.e. man-made, not true, natural, objective “realities”. Just like “capoeirobics” are considered a perverse form of capoeira—if not immediately denounced as not capoeira at all—“female chauvinist pigs”, while they or others may think they are somehow helping the cause of feminism, are only hurting and demeaning it.





The Feminine in Capoeira, Part 2 (Context)

14 12 2007

Within or without capoeira, it's all about context. 

What’s wrong with being “feminine”?  That was the question nagging me as I finished Part 1 (Malicia) of this topic.  As pre-empted by some of the comments that followed, I also started having doubts in terms of the need to place capoeira and capoeira discourse in the context of its cultural origins.  Additionally, one of the things I’m starting to fear doing on this blog is going too deeply into text and discourse while I write, too far into another plane, and forgetting that it’s all supposed to come back down to be grounded in good ol’ everyday capoeira.  (On the other hand, sometimes that’s the fun part…)


Sorry for the extra bit of waiting this time this round!  I did a lot of thinking for this, so I hope it’ll have been worth it…  Today, I’ll start by excerpting from an article on www.capoeira.com, in which Jessica Fredican responds to sexism in her capoeira class and Nestor Capoeira’s take on malicia:

He talks a lot about malicia and, at the time, I was really turned off by it. … But the nicest games still involve being able to outwit and trick your opponent….

These goals lend themselves perfectly to traditional views of feminism. Ancient cultures worldwide have invented stories and myths that portray women as internal, sinuous, ambiguous, dangerous creatures. They aren’t external like men, carrying their genitals outside their bodies, displaying great feats of strength. Yet, women have this dangerously inexplicable power to knock men on their asses. This primordial and universal femininity involves hiding your intentions and using unexpected and unseen manoeuvres to defeat the opposite sex.

So maybe we should just be feminine. It would almost seem that capoeira was designed especially for women – a circle (a traditionally feminine symbol) in which to carry out their dangerous rituals of masking and trickery.

This was the article that started my doubts.  I loved the ideas in it, and the way she framed universal stereotypes of “the feminine” made me think, “Well, what’s wrong with that?”  Personally, I think it’d be pretty cool to have a “dangerously inexplicable power to knock men on their asses”, so if that’s what it means to be “feminine”, then why not “just be feminine”?  Same with the other things she said–if being “feminine” means being able to “hide your intentions” and “use the unexpected”–in other words, if being “feminine” means being an expert in malicia–well, wouldn’t it then be a compliment to be given that label, rather than anything derogatory? 

And especially that last part–if capoeira itself not only consists of the feminine but is the feminine–then, how in the world could it be a bad thing?

I believe all of this relates to context.  In the philosophical, metaphysical, symbolic context of capoeira, “the feminine” is esteemed because it is the source of malicia, and malicia is esteemed by capoeiristas.  I think where we run into trouble is when such symbolism is taken out of context–out of the centuries of culture and history and mythology that Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré were drawing on when they characterized malicia–and then applied to everyday life, whether unthinkingly or not. 

[Side note: While I’m exonerating Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré from the accusation of sexist views, on grounds of cultural context, I also want to add that in hindsight, their use of the word “power” could have meant brute force rather than power in the more general sense of the word, especially since I’m sure many consider malicia to be a power in itself.]  

For instance (returning to what I was talking about before the side note), in the symbolic context of capoeira, “the feminine” is partially defined as “not rational”–by which it is meant that you can’t explain malicia, you can’t use reasoning and logic to teach it to a student, the same way you can teach them how to land a kick properly or where to place your hands while doing rolé.  Switch into the everyday context of running a business though, or governing the country, and this “symbolism” is exactly why we have things like the glass ceiling, and why while 52% of the Canadian population is female, they are represented by a government that is nearly 80% male.

Now, I am not saying I think that people begin learning capoeira, get introduced to malicia, and start subconsciously discriminating against women (give me more credit than that!).  However, it is something similar that occurs, in a larger pattern over time and throughout society; only, instead of capoeira and malicia, people learn it through myths, through religion, through normative fairy tales and children’s games.  The specific mediums and symbols differ, but they all send the same messages about women and what “feminine” and “female” mean, without any barrier of “culture and history” to contain them in their respective contexts, as we do with capoeira. 

So I suppose that’s really what I wanted to get across in Part 1.  My conclusion is that though I still don’t like what Muniz Sodré said, I can understand that it does add depth and interest to thinking about capoeira and the game, and that it’s okay as long as we keep it within the metaphysical/philosophical/symbolic context of capoeira, that it’s actually more than okay because this way we preserve part of the roots of capoeira, and the culture and traditions it was steeped in.  It only becomes not okay when we take that message out of context and apply it to the “real world”, which is what you see happening in the media, workplace, government, etc., today, and even to the everyday world of capoeira, which is why I had to write this post.  Thanks again to everyone who commented last time, and as always, muito axé. =)

Picture source:
http://capoeira.uchicago.edu/Gallery/Kristie/studio/back_handspring.jpg

————————————————————————————
If you found this post useful or interesting, please
click to subscribe to my blog, by RSS feed or email!
————————————————————————————