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!





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.





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





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

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The Feminine in Capoeira, Part 1 (Malicia)

12 12 2007

Malicia - the feminine in capoeira?

In my very first post, I mentioned that capoeira seemed to be an art form mostly dominated by men; in fact, it’s one of the main reasons this blog exists in the first place.  What’s interesting is that while some of capoeira may be male-dominated, it is not traditionally masculine, the way people might consider football or rugby to be.  Several fundamental aspects of capoeira have been characterized as belonging to the feminine, in ways I find in equal parts inspiring, thought-provoking, and problematic.

I first encountered this in Nestor Capoeira’s book, Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game, in which he deems malicia a manisfestation of the feminine in capoeira.  Unfortunately, I’m living away from home right now and thoughtlessly left the book there, so I can’t quote his exact words to you…but his thoughts were reiterated later on in the book by scholar Muniz Sodré, and due to a brilliant stroke of luck, this particular passage was reproduced in Google’s Book Search Preview:

You also say that malicia belongs to the Feminine aspect of things. I like that. While Masculine is the gender of the defined, the understandable, rational—the gender of power—the Feminine is, on the other hand, the reverse of all this. It is the void. Its power is also of the sort that you don’t know exactly what it is. Its power is “not to be clear” about power itself. It’s the power of the void. Because malicia is exactly that: to go around what is clear and established. And in that sense it is Feminine.  (Sodré as quoted by Capoeira, p. 30)

You can see for yourself (I hope) why statements like that are problematic.  The “void”?  The reverse of “rational”, of “power”?  This is where things get tricky.  As a capoeirista and English lit major, I can appreciate the symbolism in that, the evoked nature of malicia and the dimension it adds to capoeira and the jogo.  And as a feminist, I feel (with all due respect to Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré) that that can’t be right, there must be another way to put it, and that the whole thing should be torn up and sent back into the 19th century, where that kind of thinking belongs!  How exactly do I go about doing this while maintaining the integrity of both capoeira and modern-day/feminist thinking?

The main issue here, I think, is the seemingly necessary genderizing of things, when in fact it’s not necessary at all (let alone the use of capital letters, which just makes the terms look way more qualified than they should).  It’s cool to think of malicia as the “power of the void”, as that unexplainable, irrational thing that gets in through the cracks and hits you where you thought there was nowhere to hit.  When you say that malicia is all these things though–void, irrational, unclear, evanescent–and therefore feminine, that’s where you lose me.  “Void” is exactly what we are not supposed to be! And you can say that assigning feminine and masculine aspects to capoeira adds meaning and depth, similarly to nuance and capoeira movements in the roda, but I think there is a way around that.

The whole reason it’s appealing to associate malicia with the feminine is because of all the things that have been associated with the feminine throughout history.  When you say malicia is “feminine”, you are really saying malicia is mysterious, elusive, intangible, and all those other things that Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré said, thanks to stereotypes that have been entrenched probably since humans first learned to discriminate.  I believe it’s possible to “de-genderize” concepts like malicia while retaining the things one actually means when labelling them “feminine” or “masculine”.  Referring again to the nuance in movements analogy, we do not say that a chapa is “masculine” because it’s aggressive, or that a bait-and-switch sequence is “feminine” because it’s deceptive (or “went around what was clear”)–they are just aggressive and deceptive, respectively.  So why can’t malicia just be what it is, without perpetuating outdated stereotypes at the expense of women and the feminist movement today?


Update:
To read Part 2 (Context), please click here.


Picture source: http://www.baurock.ru/kostik/capoeira.htm