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

20 06 2008

social friends, ideological foes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Picture source:

Why “Sexist Capoeirista” is an Oxymoron

28 05 2008

Or: Why Sexist Capoeira Teachers Should Not Be Promoted

Capoeira is

A short while ago, my friend and I had a conversation about capoeira teachers who are sexist, who treat their female students as inferior to male students of the same level (and below…so to male students in general). One of the things that struck me about the conversation was when I heard that other (male) students and teachers had excused a contra-mestre’s behaviour by saying he just “didn’t know how to act” (being new from Brazil and all, since, you know, obviously treating students equally takes special skill and talent there compared to all other parts of the world). [On the off-chance that someone read that as being really offendingly politically incorrect, please note the dripping sarcasm!]

My friend’s (and my) response to that: How can you be a contra-mestre and “not know how to act” when it comes to teaching? Even leaving aside if you’re naturally inclined to be sexist, or genuinely hold sexist views, you’d think somewhere along the way you would’ve learned what’s acceptable and what’s not, especially in such a position of responsibility (and power). (Not that I think pretending to be not-sexist is great, but if that’s what it takes, then better than nothing.)

This is a perfect example of what Faisca mentioned in his post on teaching capoeira: “15 years does not [necessarily] a good instructor make.” However, let’s take this a little bit further:

Forget good instructors. Does 15 years a good contra-mestre make? Does 30 years a good mestre make?

To be a qualified teacher, one should know what it means to teach, and what teaching is about. More importantly, they should know what their subject is about, and know it through and through.

Being deemed and respected as a mestr(a/e), contra-mestr(a/e), or any of the nearby levels implies that you have what verges on a deep, profound knowledge of capoeira, and have at least a better than average notion of what capoeira is all about.

Well, what is the one thing that capoeira is MOST touted for being all about, by beginners and advanced capoeiristas, old guard and avant-garde alike?

Universality. All-inclusiveness. “For men, women, and children.” (-Mestre Pastinha, in case anyone forgot)

In that case, wouldn’t that mean that a capoeirista who is sexist (or racist, or in fact discriminatory in any rights-violating way), and lets it show in the capoeira environment, lacks true understanding of one of the most basic, fundamental concepts of capoeira?

And thus is not prepared to be granted the recognition and responsibility that comes with being deemed a “full”/”good”/”advanced”/”true” capoeirista in the way that today’s capoeira systems do?

I mean, think about it. Beginner and novice capoeiristas are expected to be well-rounded in terms of the “physical” aspects of capoeira in order to be promoted; they need to know both movements and music. Even if they have great floreios and great game, they won’t go anywhere if they can’t hold a berimbau or sing any songs.

As you progress in capoeira, this required all-roundedness expands to include the metaphysical—that is, capoeira philosophy. Well, a basic part of the philosophy of capoeira is that it’s for everyone: girls as well as boys, women as well as men. So, wouldn’t promoting a supposedly philosophically advanced capoeirista who doesn’t understand that concept be akin to promoting an esquiva-challenged beginner capoeirista to novice level?

Of course, none of that applies if a certain mestre or contra-mestre or so on really believes that capoeira is not for everyone, and that “true” capoeira philosophically does mean Brazilian Males Only.

But otherwise…just saying. If capoeira is truly universal, as we all love to say it is, then please hang up your bigotry, or abada. Because a sexist capoeirista is, arguably, no capoeirista at all.

Picture source:

Capoeira Song Lyrics List (Songs about Women)

28 03 2008

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

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

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

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

Capoeira Songs about Women (positive)

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

Misogynistic Capoeira Song Lyrics

Retracted (4 September 2009)