They didn’t mean to lie to me, but they did.
I went anyway, even though I had to leave halfway through the bullfight I went to in Spain.
Here is my experience:
It was way-too-damned-cold at the bullfight. Well, they called it a bullfight, but it was not quite like any bullfight I’d ever heard of. Much closer to “running of the bulls” in Pamplona than a fight.
They herded all the women, children and old men behind red wooden barricades to eat fried toasted fava beans and watch, and herded all the young and middle-aged men into the street to run around and trying not to get gored by the bull. The newsmen sat up in trees with their cameras trained on the bull and the men around him, waiting for action.
Side streets were lined with stalls for snacks and beer, and hawkers (men, of course) walked along the street yelling if people wanted ice-cold beer or snacks. I didn’t want an ice-cold anything at that point, but that’s just me. Brr.
Each non-barricaded side street was taped off by a white line that “the bull will not cross.” I wonder who told the bull that? Even the person explaining the white lines to me snorted with derision when she explained it, but “that’s just how it works,” she said.
We sat behind the barrier for over an hour before they let the bull out, and by then I felt frozen almost solid. I was trying to keep myself from shivering, but I only brought one coat, and it wasn’t nearly warm enough. I kind of wanted to go out into the street just so I could walk around freely. I asked several people why women couldn’t go out in the street, but the only answers I got were shrugs and “that’s just how it works.”
“Tourada à Corda”
The matador with the red cape or umbrella does not have any weapons; he tries to anger bull and make him charge rather than hurt him. There are no picadors, no one shooting javelins or spears into the bull.
Unique to Terceira, they make it into a game called “Tourada à Corda.” They keep the bull on a long rope, held at the other end by “pastores” (shepherds), young men in traditional garb consisting of a white shirt, black hat and grey pants. When the bull tries to gore the matador or an unlucky spectator, jump the barricade or cross one of the white lines, the pastores yank back on the rope to try to stop him, or at least slow him down.
They don’t kill the bull like in Spain. Instead, they set him back out to graze for at least 8 days before putting him back in the street to run again. Therefore, they argue, it’s not cruel.
While I agree that Terceira-style bullfighting is much less cruel than the Spanish style, it is still cruel. The first bull ended up bleeding from many places from sliding around on the asphalt from being jerked to a stop by the pastores, and was clearly miserable the entire time.
I must admit, however, that the second bull appeared to be having a great time intimidating the matador and spectators, gleefully charging and he never fell down. He appeared to understand and enjoy the game in a way the first bull did not.
Gender Role Rigidity
There was only one adult male under the age of 65 behind the barricades, and he was taking care of several small children, presumably his own. He apparently gets a pass. Every other adult male was out in the street with the bull, smoking and drinking beer, and mostly going nowhere near the bull.
There was not a single female in the street. Not. A. Single. One. I had no desire to run with the bulls, but it supremely annoyed me that the gender divide was so absolute, and my contrary nature kicked in.
Because it was so cold, I walked and ran around the streets behind the barriers several times, trying to warm up. At one point I wandered far enough away that I ended up standing on one of the side streets just behind the white tape.
“If I cross the tape, I thought, I’ll be breaking the gender rules. “
“But to do that, I have to run with the bull.”
“And I’ll probably offend some people.”
“But then, there’s hundreds of guys out there, and most of them stay as far away from the bull as possible, so it can’t be that hard.”
“I don’t want to do this.”
“But the gender role rigidity pisses me off, and I want to flaunt it.”
“Oh well, here goes!”
I stepped proudly out into the street. I glanced to my right, and saw the bull charging full speed straight toward me, not twenty feet away. Holy crap!!! I took off running as fast as I could, aiming for the first low stone wall I could see. I leaped over the low wall into the underbrush, and rolled to a stop, immediately checking behind me: safe; the bull ran straight past.
As I stood up and brushed plant-life off of myself, I realized that I had landed squarely in a huge mint field, and I reeked of minty freshness. There are many worse ways to end up smelling and feeling after running away from your first charging bull!
At that point, I figured “what the heck, I already had to run away from the bull once, I might as well make good on my ‘promise’ and be a chick running with the bulls.” So I wandered back out into the street once the bull was far away, and meandered back and forth with the guys.
The shocked looks and comments I got were like art and music to my eyes and ears. Yes, I was doing something culturally inappropriate. Yes, I offended some people. But sometimes you just have to break the rules. Plus, as a foreigner, I can get away with it because I can just say: “I didn’t know!”
But I did know, and I was loving flaunting the gender norms. After a few minutes, one of my Portuguese brothers noticed me, walked up and said “What are you doing here?!? You can’t be out here!” I pinned him in place with a defiant stare and demanded: “why can’t women be in the street?!?” He answered: “because the bull runs really fast, and you could get hurt! You should go back behind the barricades!” In my head, I heard the echo in his nonsensical sexist response of “that’s just how it works.”
I shrugged and gave him a confused look like I couldn’t understand why he would say such a thing, and started meandering around the street with him, staying as far away from the bull as possible. I asked him why he went out in the street for the bullfights and he answered: “that’s just how it works for the men. You drink beer, smoke cigarettes and hang out. It’s great!”
Well, I don’t smoke or drink beer, but I do hang out, and I sure as hell break gender norms when I want to.
That’s just how I work.