Motherhood and martial arts

Andreia Virmond has managed to balance motherhood, a marriage, a professional career and capoeira – but it hasn’t been without its challenges. Here the UQ Sport staffer examines the microcosm of feminism in martial arts.

I’m proud of having reached an instructor level within capoeira, which I do as hobby. I achieved this while managing my professional career and, recently, having a baby. None of this would have been possible without the support of my husband, who is also a capoeira instructor as well as a CSIRO scientist.

Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that originated in the 16th century. It combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music and is a strong celebration of culture.

There have been plenty of barriers to achieving my goals. Historically, women have had a diminished role in capoeira. This is a product of historical and socio-cultural aspects that are intrinsically linked to the participation of women in society and sports, and many areas for improvement still remain today.

Some of the areas that need to be reviewed to ensure more equal opportunities relate to grading, performance expectation and the fear of backlash. One example is the fact that women usually do not progress to higher belts at the same pace as men. This can be attributed to oversight, incorrect evaluation criteria and reduced training due to pregnancy – although a continued commitment remains during this time, it doesn’t count as training time to progress into the next belt.

Slow progression to higher belts could also be related to a silent expectation that women will ‘deserve’ certain spaces only when they can do capoeira ‘like men’. This neglects obvious biological differences such as strength and speed where, on average, men will outperform women. It is important to note that this refers to the ‘average’ – meaning that there will be women who outperform men on these attributes. The point here is that biological differences should not be confused with an inability to perform.

Other areas for improvement are more subtle and largely due to a lack of awareness around the equality debate. One particular issue is the music in capoeira. The songs either clearly diminish the role of women in capoeira or objectify women both in capoeira and in society as a whole.

The lack of an open debate about gender inequality also increases the dissatisfaction among women in the sport. There is an urgent need for women to speak up about the inequalities.

Together, we can push for change to benefit the next generation of women.

Many male teachers long ago realised the issues in capoeira, and moved into a more inclusive way of teaching and running groups. But there is still room for improvement from the Capoeira community as a whole. All of those that make up the capoeira community (students, professors and mestres) must understand the pain points around gender equality and start to review their actions to ensure that equal opportunities are being created for all.

There also needs to be a change of attitude on the part of women to make better use of the opportunities that are already open to them. This will allow them to reach their full potential by teaching classes, leading groups and events, and speaking up and having a voice when they feel something is not right.

You can learn more about gender inequity in Capoeira here, or follow Andreia’s Capoeira school on facebook here.