Women Bullfighters

Marie Claire  London & Istanbul, 1992 / 2013, 3,500 words; adapted extracts  

The confrontation of bull and matador becomes something else again when the matador is a woman. Everyone, I discovered while writing this article, had problems with women facing the bull: the male matadors, the anti-bullfighting lobby and women themselves. Twenty years later nothing has changed. Matador Cristina Sánchez, portrayed in this article, received critical acclaim and commercial success, but in 1999, at the age of just 27, finding herself excluded from some programmes by male bullfighters, she retired. Working with photographer Cristina García Rodero was, as ever, a privilege and pleasure.

Ángeles Hernández Gómez fought long and hard to become a matador. Her problem was not the usual barrier, parental opposition. Her biggest obstacle, in the 1960s, was the law. Women had been in the ring since at least the 18th century, when bullfighting changed from an aristocratic horseback pageant to a popular spectacle fought on foot, but from 1940 women were permitted to fight only on horseback. This form of the bullfight, or corrida, a preserve of the wealthy, was considered more appropriate on the grounds it was "artistic".

So Ángeles, brought up in Andalucía, went to Latin America and France to learn her profession, then, in 1971, returned home to take on the law.

Ángeles, brought up in Andalucía, went to Latin America and France to learn her profession, then, in 1971, returned home to take on the law.

"My lawyer thought it would be easy because equal rights for women at work was legally established," she explained to me when we talked in 1992. Blonde, svelte and graceful, she confounded the media image of women bullfighters and cowgirls. "But political opposition turned it into a three-year battle. I did everything. I even organised a petition of 100 big bullfighting names."

Without the support of any other women, her case finally reached Spain's Supreme Court and she won the right to be a matador.

EQUAL IN THEORY

In theory Spain’s male and female bullfighters now fight on equal terms. After Ángeles won her court case and municipal bullfighting schools were set up in the 1980s, they began admitting women, some of whom went on to enter the profession. By the early 1990s Ángeles and one other woman, Mabel Atienza, had graduated as female matadors, each fighting bulls around 78 stone in weight.

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