(Wo)man vs. Beast

August 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.

Courtesy of Women Make Movies, www.wmm.com.

Courtesy of Women Make Movies, www.wmm.com.

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.

Lisa Goodnight By:   |   August 28, 2009


  1. Avatar wahtera says:

    I watched this POV documentary quite by chance when surfing the Net the other night. I wanted to learn about something I knew nothing about, and bullfighting fit the bill. The fact that it was about women bullfighters made it doubly interesting.

    However, I did not come away with the impression that these women had broken through barriers. Rather, that this is an arena where women are the exception that prove the rule. Bullfighting continues to be a male bastion.

    The film pointed out that throughout history there have always been a few women bullfighters on the scene; that whenever women bullfighters were outlawed in Spain, they moved to South America.

    These have been, and continue to be, women called to bullfighting. It’s a passion they can’t explain. They would, and do, pay for the opportunity.

    They gather a small following, fighting in second and third tier venues. They put up with often times hostile crowds. They lack the managers and financing that any public performer/athlete needs to get ahead.

    Breaking through barriers means a wall is falling; that those who follow this path won’t have the same obstacles to overcome. The fact that one woman has succeeded as a bullfighter today, however, will not make it easier for the women who come after her. This documentary showed that newcomers have the same discriminatory battles to fight.

    A few women propelled by their passion, their calling, will always fight for their chance to be bullfighters. Meanwhile, it’s an industry that employs thousands — all men.

    It reminds me of the fight for women in the military. What woman would ever want to be a soldier or firefighter? In the beginning, only those passionate few. When the barriers were truely broken? Many, it turns out.

  2. Lisa Goodnight Lisa Goodnight says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m curious is there some legislation pending?

  3. Avatar KG says:

    Hi Rachel,

    The Feminist movement has never been about removing responsibility from men to be self-sufficient. And it definitely wasn’t a call for women to support deadbeat couch potatoes.

    There are a lot of great young feminist writers and thinkers out there tackling and analyzing present-day discrimination. If you are interested in learning more, I would suggest:


    And a great resource for the basics of Feminism, what it is and what it is NOT:


    The problems you speak about in your comment are not the result of the feminism. They are the results of ongoing and latent sexism.

  4. Lisa Goodnight Lisa Goodnight says:

    Yes, Rachel, women of your generation should lay down the law. You should not support a man who is sitting on your couch, consuming copious amounts of beer.

  5. Avatar Bellagio says:

    Howard, women haven't won. We still earn 78 cents for every dollar earn by man and if you are female in the U.S. you're more likely to die in poverty. Then consider what's happening overseas. Acid attacks against girls are commonplace in some parts of the world. I could go on and on. But in the end, this isn't a man v. woman fight. Rather, a fight for justice and fairness for all human beings.;. All the best!!

  6. Avatar Rachel says:

    This is Howard’s daughter, a member of the “younger” generation. I’m sure the feminist movement has had some positive effects that have paved the way for young university students like myself and has changed the dynamic of women in the working world. BUT! I am sick of learning the same material that was taught back then that is repeated by women of that generation who seem unhappy with the results of their plight. I feel like there is a definite backlash that has manifested itself in a shift in expectations. Women are expected and are seen as fully capable to have careers, raise and support families and be very good housekeepers at the same time. It seems men have been removed of their financial responsibility and find their role sitting on the couch and consuming copious amounts of beer, paid for by their women. I think it’s time the women of our generation lay down the law, because we weren’t the ones who asked for all the responsibility and we should somehow reintroduce and emphasize the value of the bread-winning man.

  7. Lisa Goodnight Lisa Goodnight says:

    Hi Stacey,
    Thanks for sharing the link and for your comments. In researching this topic, I came across an interesting story about how Brigitte Bardot has asked Carla Bruni-Sarkozy to support a ban on bullfighting in France. That piece of information didn’t make it in the final blog post, but it’s something you and others may find interesting.

    Here is the link:


  8. Lisa Goodnight Lisa Goodnight says:

    Howard, women haven’t won. We still earn 78 cents for every dollar earn by man and if you are female in the U.S. you’re more likely to die in poverty. Then consider what’s happening overseas. Acid attacks against girls are commonplace in some parts of the world. I could go on and on. But in the end, this isn’t a man v. woman fight. Rather, a fight for justice and fairness for all human beings.

  9. Avatar KG says:

    Oh Howard, how nice that you can sit back from your cushy place of privilege and declare that “women have won.”

    Women have made strides, but there is much work left to do. Sexism and gender discrimination still exist. And it just so happens that a lot of young women are concerned about that. And many of them (gasp) proudly call themselves feminists.

  10. Avatar softballgirl78 says:

    I personally don’t see the point of bull fighting, but if women want to do it then I say have at it! It’s great that women get the chance to do what they want to do.

  11. Avatar Howard says:

    I never cease to be amazed at feminists “of a certain age” that are still bringing up these stories. There was a feminist revolution. Women won. Women are involved in very aspect of working at home life. Women go to war and fight along side the men in almost every Army on the planet except maybe in the US. I look forward for the day when baby boom feminists retire along with their ancient PhDs. Because you know, the young women are just scratching their heads with all this out of date obsolete feminist rhetoric.

  12. Avatar Stacey says:

    Bullfighting is a disgrace and should be abolished. It’s time has come and gone! What century is this and we are still subjecting innocent animals to this cruelty and suffering?? I have been against bullfighting since I first found out about. I don’t see how people find entertainment in watching an animal suffer. Just because we have power, does that make it right?? Were these people born without hearts?? I know it’s a tradition but this is shameful and revolting. Like I said, it’s time has come and gone!! I have seen men, children (yes, children!) and now women? I think it’s very sad and an utter shame what they do to these animals and I will never find admiration, inspiration, respect or whatever for the hellish acts set forth upon these animals.


  13. Lisa Goodnight Lisa Goodnight says:

    Hi lifeaftereighty,

    Great questions, especially the second. That would make for an interesting doc./article/film. Thanks for your post.

  14. Lisa Goodnight Lisa Goodnight says:

    Hi Nikole,

    Thanks so much for your comments. The sense I got after watching the film was that these women feel compelled to fight bulls. It’s like some kind of calling for them.

  15. Lisa Goodnight Lisa Goodnight says:

    Hi Michiko,

    Yes, courage is certainly a job requirement for any matador, especially women. In the film one of them said:

    “Death is always there, but we talk about her so much that she’s like a shadow that follows us but we don’t pay any attention to her.”

  16. There is immense need for resources to be made for the furtherance of matador studies. There are a few grants available, but state and federal funding should continue to increase.
    County fairs and rodeos would face strong attendance and find local revenues strengthened through an establishment of bullfighting leagues similar to other professional sports.
    Let’s hope that a grassroots movement can let our politicians hear our voices: we need to support matador training and development for all people!
    Ryan McGivern

  17. Avatar Michiko says:

    Lisa, I’m glad you are writing about this. I went to the Cheyenne Frontier Days a few years ago, like you, reluctantly becuase of my feelings about the animals. But I walked away quite genuinely in awe at the sheer skill and power involved with being able to handle wild animals with your bare hands. Kudos to any woman who has that kind of courage.

  18. I’m supposed to get excited that women have found another way to emulate men?

    Why not showcase the innate feminine powers that give men real cause to wonder, not worry some more? Where have women gone?

  19. Avatar Nikole Hahn says:

    I wouldn’t call bull fighting a milestone. Like you, I’m not a big fan of it. I prefer putting an animal out of its misery in a humane and quick way. What they do is torture.

    As a woman, I think women do not have to prove themselves. If it’s your dream, go for it. If it’s not your dream, stop trying to prove something to men. Otherwise, you spend the rest of your life trying to prove something to everyone.

    Well written article, Lisa.

  20. This is very interesting, Lisa. Thanks! It’s always good to see women breaking through barriers, not just in education, but in employment and cultural events as well!

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