Fighting another kind of bull

Spain's top female matador has quit, unable to overcome her colleagues' prejudice

CRISTINA SANCHEZ sat pale and composed as she made her first public appearance since her announcement on Tuesday that she was retiring from the pinnacle of her profession as a bullfighter. Usually seen in a tight- fitting, spangly suit of lights, her hair in a tight pigtail, she appeared austere in loose black and white, her hair falling about her perfectly made-up face.

Sanchez was the first Spanish woman to storm the male-dominated world of bullfighting at the very highest level. Now she claims it was the machista attitude of the Spanish male that finally drove her from it. "None of my colleagues would share a billing with me, so I couldn't get the good bookings. They never told me why. I became disillusioned and lost my enthusiasm. It's very painful, the worst that could happen to me."

Few can be surprised that Sanchez's historic career as Spain's first fully fledged female matador has ended this way. For more than 10 years, this slight former trainee hairdresser, who is still only 27, dedicated her life to perhaps the most dangerous art in the world, where few men triumph, let alone women. She reached the highest point one triumphant afternoon last year when she was carried shoulder-high from the main gate of Las Ventas in Madrid, the La Scala of the bullfighting world. But after that, as she admitted yesterday, everything started heading downhill.

"I thought after last year that it would all become easier and that all my years of struggling would pay off," she said, her voice trembling, "but to my surprise it became more difficult." She found herself excluded from all the main bullfight festivals, and wondered if, after all she had achieved, she was destined to trail round the B-circuit of village fiestas.

A bullfighting enthusiast confessed to me the other day the truth that her colleagues apparently did not tell her: "If a top bullfighter performs below par, and he is outshone that afternoon by the other fighter, then it's painful, but you accept it. But not if it's a woman. No bullfighter can accept being outperformed by a woman."

For years Sanchez fought against the prejudices of this male-dominated world, celebrated by Ernest Hemingway as epitomising the destiny of a man to face and conquer his fear of death. Women were considered to have no part in this. She faced sneers and sniggers from male companions who said you had to be on top form to kill a bull, so how could a woman do that if she were having her period?

Others considered the whole idea of a woman bullfighter a preposterous contradiction: a woman is subtle, a bull is crude, they said. Women are born to give life; how can they take it away? The toreador enters the ring flirtatiously and warily, like a woman, they say. But when the bull is dazzled and subdued, the fighter becomes a man, appropriating the bull's waning powers to conquer his fear by the final sword thrust, the penetration. How, they protest, could a woman do this?

Finally she achieved what tens of thousands of aspiring male bullfighters fail to do, and was acknowledged as having the skill and bravery to match the best, only to find that once she had proved it, they refused to accept her in case she did better than they. This implacable fact of Spanish life was what vanquished her, and will doubtless crush the hopes of other young girls toiling away in the bullfighting school in Madrid who look up to her as an inspiration. Sanchez was the first female graduate of the school. What would she say to them? For a moment yesterday she lost some of her icy aplomb. "What can I say to them? I'm not the best person to give them encouragement. It's a very difficult profession."

Sanchez is from Parla, a modest suburb of Madrid, and her father was an undistinguished bullfighter in his youth. Her parents, though initially wary of her career, backed her ambitions. She was single-minded, obsessive, with no interests apart from bulls. She has the neat limbs, serious expression and blazing, direct gaze of any young toreador.

After years of triumphs in South America - the traditional route to Spanish stardom - she was finally handed her sword as a matador three years ago in the French bullring at Nimes, in the company of a pair of Spain's most distinguished matadors. Last year, she had a crowning moment of glory at the San Isidro festival in Madrid.

Purists say that she is weak at "the moment of truth", at the kill, but she dismisses that as nonsense. "I've killed well countless times, over and over again." But the criticism enables ringside theorists to undermine her.

For a while it seemed that Sanchez had overcome the prejudices. She came to be taken seriously. But yesterday she revealed that this was all show, and that whatever she did the men were never going to let her enter their world.

"I never exploited my situation as a woman," she said. "I've fought, fought, fought like a true professional. I've written pages in the history of bullfighting, and I'm proud of that." She plans to fight a handful of good corridas at the end of season, "to have a good send-off, which I deserve." Even for Sanchez, having cojones wasn't quite enough.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea