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?

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

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