Women in capoeira

Women in capoeira

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Part VII of “Ética na Capoeira” (Ethics in Capoeira)
Translation into English by Shayna McHugh
Source: Capoeira da Bahia

“I wouldn’t like to look at a garden that only had thorns…
it’s very good to have a rose in the garden.” – Mestre Nô

The eternal battle of women to conquer their space has already affected the “capoeira
rodas” of Brazil and of the world. The number of female capoeiristas was always much
lower than the number of men who practiced this art. Few women played in the 1940s
and 1950s; among those who did, we highlight “Nega Didi,” “Maria Homem,” “Satanás,”
“Maria para o bonde” and “Calça rala,” all students of Mestre Bimba.

Today the number of female practitioners has grown – mainly as a result of the media’s spreading of capoeira – and the “capoeira rodas” are mixed. But this growth in numbers does not necessarily mean that these women are really participating, really experiencing the art of capoeira.

The concept of fragility should not be attributed to capoeiristas. As mestre Tonico said,
“Woman is very strong because she is the one who washes, who gives birth, who nurses
children; she must be treated with affection and attention – not as a fragile person.”
Because women are considered “fragile,” they have been the victims of discrimination
and are not being respected and recognized as capoeiristas.

Capoeira songs are prejudiced from the moment they picture women as being submissive,
as in: Se essa mulher fosse minha eu tirava da roda já, já, dava uma surra nela que ela
gritava (If this woman was mine I would take her out of the roda already, I would give
her a beating so that she would scream), or treat them as sexual objects: Mulher prá mim,
tem que ser boa na escrita, tem que jogar capoeira, ser boa, gostosa e bonita, bicho bom
é mulher (A woman for me has to be smart, has to play capoeira, be good, gorgeous, and
beautiful; woman is a good animal). This type of song is usually only sung when there
are women playing in the roda.

This practice is being renounced by many mestres, mainly mestre Nô. He also renounces the difference in the type of game that exists when there is “a couple” in the capoeira roda. Mestres/instructors/male students with inappropriate paternal attitudes often play a careful game with women, different from that which they play amongst themselves, always thinking that being physically stronger also makes them stronger in capoeira… which sometimes does not correspond to reality.

Every good capoeirista has the duty to learn and to play the instruments that compose the
roda’s bateria – berimbau, atabaque, agogô – to sing and, mainly, to develop their game
in order to improve the fight, the game, the Brazilian dance. The capoeira woman must
thus seek to win her space; if not, it will continue to be said that quem toca pandeiro é
homem e quem bate palma é mulher (whoever plays pandeiro is a man and whoever claps
hands is a woman). Women are not decorations in the roda.

Another problem is the relationship between male mestres/capoeiristas and female
students. The sexual approaches, true rapes of dignity (also physical rapes) sometimes
occur as much in academies/groups of Brazil as in those of other countries. Mestres who
are unprepared and who come from conditions in which they did not have the opportunity
for artistic/cultural/social (at times also financial) success, feel they have the right to
think and act as though all his female students were at his disposition, thus causing
embarrassments and traumas that often drive promising female capoeiristas to abandon
the art.

It’s not wrong for female students to court the mestre and/or male students of the group
or academy. This is common human nature, as we all know. But the reality is very
different from the ideal, and the relationships frequently lack respect and discretion. In
the same way that a male student, instructor, or mestre goes to other groups/academies to
pester the female students, many of the female students enter into capoeira attracted by
the charm of its male practitioners. Others are true hunters during capoeira events,
pestering visiting capoeiristas and becoming vulgar. “Women are seeking to conquer
their space because it is very good to have a rose in the garden – now, there also must be
discipline and information for both sexes, so that they don’t confuse things,” says mestre

We know that this type of behavior will not change in a day, but it is good for instructors,
professors, and mestres to discipline and guide their male and female students regarding
this subject. They should run their classes in an educational and professional way, so that
capoeira does not lose followers because of bad-intentioned people who do not seek to
know and practice Brazilian culture, but instead denigrate its image through acts
disrespectful to its cultural philosophy and basic foundations.

However, it is important to remember that the great mestres like Bimba, Pastinha,
Cobrinha Verde, Valdemar, Maré, Noronha, among others, never did songs denigrating
any woman; much to the contrary, they always praised women

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