THERE are few spheres left in the modern world that remain predominantly the realm of men, but one of the last vestiges of machismo must surely be the bullfighting ring.
This does little to deter Miriam Cabas, a sweet-faced 20-year-old from the small town of Los Barrios across the bay from Gibraltar in southwestern Spain.
Miriam, who describes herself as an animal lover, is in her first year at university studying to be a vet but in her spare time she is pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming a bullfighter.
“I have always known exactly what I wanted to do in life – to study veterinary medicine and train to be a bullfighter,” she said in an interview with the Olive Press.
“I love animals and I love the ‘toro bravo’ fighting bull – above all!”
It was her grandfather who first piqued her interest in the bulls and enrolled her in a bullfighting school in Algeciras at the tender age of five.
“My grandfather Gregorio was the one who introduced me at a very early age and taught me all about it.
“He wanted to be a bullfighter when he was young, he was one of the old ‘maletillas’ and I inherited his dream, which is now mine,” she explained.
There’s no doubt her grandfather would be proud.
Last summer she debuted in the ring in Aracena where she performed so well she was awarded two ears and was carried out of the arena on the shoulders of her male colleagues.
“It was and I think it will remain as one of the most amazing days of my life,” she recalls.
Asked if it was harder for a female bullfighter to succeed, she said: “It doesn’t matter to the bull if you are a man or a woman, so the challenges in the ring are the same.”
But she admitted that as a woman she feels extra scrutiny. “In terms of the spectators I feel that I am being looked at under a magnifying glass and a lot is expected of me.”
But she refuses to classify herself as a feminist, believing such labels are pointless.
“No, I am neither feminista nor machista. I believe and fight for equality. We have to get up each day and fight for our dream, no matter what. Gender is not a problem or a difference.”
Perhaps a bigger challenge is that Miriam is attempting to forge a career at a time when the tide of opinion is well and truly turning against the most traditional of Spain’s cultural traditions.
Polls reveal that public opinion is increasingly against bullfighting as Spain’s animal rights lobby has grown in strength and found political allies in the left-wing coalition government.
But Miriam doesn’t agree that bullfighting is on the way out.
“Bullfighting is booming again and it shows in the number of people, and young people, who come to the bullfights again and again,” she said.
“We have gone through a few years where people were inhibited, and admitting that you were a fan of bullfighting was almost a crime. But everything is changing and people have realized that you have to have the freedom to decide for yourself.”
“As long as there are aficionados who love bullfighting, it will continue,” she insisted. “And there are many of us who are madly madly in love with it.”
- Hemingway, my dad and running the bulls of Pamplona
- Coronavirus and culture wars: Spain’s bullfighting industry faces a crunch point in 2022