As some of you know, an incidence of sexual assault that occurred at an event we attended recently for another group in Minnesota in part prompted this post, but I wont discuss those details further to respect the wishes of the victim.
Essentially, we never want any of our students, or any female at all (Floração student or not) to feel unsupported or alienated if an occurrence of assault of harassment were to occur. It is insane to me to think that the overall culture in MANY capoeira environments makes it so that a woman at an event could get sexually assaulted and not feel supported enough to stop the roda. Now, each woman has her own choice in how she may want to handle a situation like that in the moment AND WOULD BE SUPPORTED HOWEVER SHE WANTS TO HANDLE IT. However, I would bet money the most women feel that if they tried to stop an event and cry out, “LOOK! This “mestre” (or whoever- often it is a high belt abusing their power) is a predator and look what he just did to me!!!” they would be at best ignored and at worst ostracized from their capoeira community- possibly not believed, called “loose”, or even called a “square”- maybe not with it enough to tolerate what some want to play off as a cultural difference. Most environments in capoeira as a whole do not leave women feeling supported in situations like this- I’m willing to wager a bet that most women have not been invited to conversations at their training schools about specifically how their peers would support them in an occurrence like this. Many of us remember the footage from a recent event where a man sexually harassed a woman capoeirista during a capoeira game IN FRONT OF EVERYONE, and not one person stopped the roda or said a damn thing until far after the fact. What in the actual hell, everyone?!
After talking together and with our students, here are some really obvious things we at Capoeira Floração have made explicit that we will do- both preventative measures, and ways we would react if an instance did occur:
1. We have a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault and harassment at our school and at any other group’s event. This is something easy for everyone to say, but this is what it would look like: it’s not enough to remove the predator or not allow them back. Real ties need to be cut and it needs to be made public who the offender is. People should know what that person does.
2. We are obligated to no one but our students. We will NEVER bring in any teacher who is not safe and proactive in giving women a voice in capoeira. Period.
3. At other groups events, if you are the target or sexual misconduct, know that you can and should tell us immediately. We will stop the event. We don’t live in some alternate universe in capoeira where something like this should be kept quiet. We will stop the event, call it out, leave, and support you in however else you would want to pursue it.
4. We won’t tolerate sexist attitudes and actions. Often we think of sexual misconduct as inappropriate touch, etc.- which it is. But the reason why those more blatant acts occur is because we exist in a climate of oppression towards women. This of course applies to society as a whole, but in capoeira we can do things like: allow women to play games of equal length as men- don’t buy them out quickly... keep women leading the roda on instruments as well... use women high cords as examples as often as their male counterparts... speak up and stand up when something sexist is said or done... don’t sing songs that objectify women like “leva morena me leva”.... the list could go on. The point is, when we act complacent about any sexist act or attitude, it perpetuates the climate of oppression that hangs heavy on women in capoeira.
The student experience is at the center of what we do as a capoeira school and community. We don’t exist based on any affiliation with a group who tolerates sexual misconduct. We don’t need that. Capoeira doesn’t need that. Our obligation is to our students and to capoeira. To grow capoeira, TRULY grow it in the sense that we are not only teaching to others and giving back but also IMPROVING it... and that means to stop being complacent. Complacency makes us complicit. We need to step up as a community across the board and take real, proactive measures to not tolerate sexist attitudes and actions, to know that what happens to one person effects us all, to react appropriately, swiftly, and effectively to not leave space for offenders and oppressors to thrive in capoeira, and to provide a better alternative- events, spaces, schools, and communities where women are respected, have a strong voice, and are truly treated as equals. We have a long way to go... what will YOU do?