Animal rights' criticism
The sport is heavily criticised by animal rights campaigners who call it a form of animal torture since the bull suffers severe injuries and dies a slow painful death. Animal rights campaigners target bullfights in Spain and other countries to raise public awareness. Bullfighting is banned in many countries; people taking part in such activity would be liable for terms of imprisonment for animal cruelty. "Bloodless" variations, though, are permitted and have attracted a following in California, and France. In Spain, national laws against cruelty to animals have abolished most blood sports, but specifically exempt bullfighting.
Bullfighting and gender inequality
The sport is male-dominated. In 1999, Spain's only professional female matador retired after 10 years, blaming her male colleagues' "machismo". Cristina Sanchez is the first woman to have fought on foot — as opposed to on horseback — in the prestigious Las Ventas ring in Madrid.Sanchez had been subjected to frequent verbal abuse by conservative fans and open hostility by colleagues who believe that women in the ring are unlucky. Many refused to share a billing with her and put pressure on ring owners not to include her in fights. “Women should be in the kitchen, backing up men. It is unnatural for them to fight,’’ said Jesulin de Ubrique, who has described himself as the women’s favourite bullfighter.
According to Sanchez:
“Bullfighting is a man’s world, geared to male psychology and needs... Bulls are associated with courage and virility and some men cannot forgive a woman for being able to hold her own in that environment.”
Women have fought bulls since the 18th century, but a law in 1908 banned then from the ring on the grounds of “decency and public morality”. The restriction was lifted in the 1930s but reimposed by the dictator Francisco Franco in 1940. It was lifted again only after his death in 1975. Women bullfighters still remain rare - Sanchez was the only woman in her Madrid bullfighting school.
Arguable one of the most famous female bullfighters was Concepción Cintrón Verrill, better known as Conchita Cintrón or La Diosa Rubia (the blonde goddess). She killed over 750 bulls during her career. Born in Chile in 1922, she died in Lisbon, Portugal on February 17, 2009.
She first fought in public in the Plaza de Acho, in Lima, in January 1936. On July 31, 1938 she made her debut as a novillera, also in Lima. This event established her as a professional rejoneadora, a rare (but not unprecedented) honor for a woman. She made her Mexico City debut at the Plaza del Toreo on August 20, 1938. She failed to kill her bull, but nevertheless was a great hit with the crowd. She was reported to have "caused pandemonium in the stands".
She was gored in 1940 in Mexico City, by the bull Chiclanero. She fainted and was taken to the infirmary, but refused surgery and returned to the ring. There with one quick thrust she dispatched the bull and collapsed.
Arrested in Spain
She also fought in Spain, despite the laws banning female bullfighters. However, since the laws specified only the Spanish form of bullfighting, in which the bull is killed from on foot, not from horseback, she was able to fight as a 'rejoneadora'. The Spanish prohibition against women matadors was said to be motivated more by the possibility they would have to be partially uncovered before the crowd in the event of a cornada (goring) than as a precaution for their safety.
In Jaén (Spain) in 1949, in what was meant to be her last fight of her career, she asked for permission to dismount to complete the kill but was denied by the authoriites. This was her signal to leave the arena, and leave the killing of the bull to the novillero assigned to her for that task. Instead, she dismounted, grabbed his sword and muleta, caped the bull and prepared it for the kill. She actually went in for the kill and then dramatically let the sword drop to the sand. The bull charged. Cintrón stepped from his path and simulated the kill by touching his shoulders with her fingers as he rushed by. The novillero then entered the ring and performed the kill, as originally planned.
Cintrón was arrested as she left the ring for violating the law banning women from fighting on foot. With the audience on the verge of rioting in protest of her arrest, the regional governor pardoned her and she was released.
The American author, actor and filmmaker, Orson Welles, who wrote the Introduction to her biography and was a fan of Cintron said:
""Her record stands as a rebuke to every man of us who has ever maintained that a woman must lose something of her femininity if she seeks to compete with men."