(Wo)man vs. BeastAugust 28, 2009
This week I’ve been thinking about women bullfighters, thanks to a new release from Women Make Movies (WMM), which was established in 1972 with the specific mission of training women to become film and video makers. The film, titled Ella es la matadora, will be nationally broadcast on PBS’s POV series on September 1.
Putting my feelings about bullfighting aside, I watched because the film, which is in Spanish with English subtitles, offered me another opportunity to hear the language I have studied on and off for years. While Ella es la matadora is difficult to sit through and I turned away a few times, there were some interesting historical facts about how women have taken part in bullfighting since the 13th century, including nuns!
San Francisco-based writer Tommi Avicolli-Mecca, who passed on the documentary, called it a dubious milestone for women.
But milestone it is.
The 1999 book Texas Women Who Dared to Be First profiles Patricia McCormick, the first professional woman bullfighter in the United States. According to her website she is now retired and lives in Del Rio, Texas, where she devotes much of her time to her artwork.
In some ways, the taunting McCormick faced in the bull ring is not unlike what other women trailblazers deal with in more traditional workplaces. According to a 1954 article in Time, “as she paraded around the arena with the bull’s two ears that the admiring judge had awarded her, a fan called: ‘If you could only cook.’” (If you are interested in the significance of bull’s ears, read Christopher Cooper’s explanation in an April 2, 2009, article titled “A Bullfight in Seville.”)
Like Avicolli-Mecca, you may pass on Ella es el matador, but you may want to consider another title from WMM’s collection. The company, which should be celebrated for keeping women’s issues on the agenda, has a repertoire that includes Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority, which was screened at the AAUW convention in St. Louis and A Jury of Her Peers, which has been screened by AAUW branches.
And it’s great to know there are wealth of stories out there about women that are provocative, controversial, and inspiring all at the same time.