Monday, July 14, 2008

Ritualized Violence Between Man and Beast

Today marked the final day of the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Tens of thousands of visitors came from across the globe. 45 people, mainly men, are reported to have been seriously hurt or hospitalized, while the Red Cross reports a total of 457 injuries. The running only lasts a few minutes each day, starting promptly at 8am, however collisions, falls, and bullhorns cause a variety of injuries to the heads, necks, groins, and abdomens of participating men. This year's injured consist of a fairly diverse set of nationals, including men from Spain, the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Greece, South Africa, South Korea, Romania, Colombia, and Ghana.

The running of the bulls is a tradition that goes back 400 years, and was popularized worldwide around the 1920s in the writings of Ernest Hemingway (who interestingly enough never did actually run with the bulls himself). Bulls that have been bred in fields and are unaccustomed to large crowds of people are kept in small dark enclosures before they are released into the streets. Blinded by sunlight, prodded with electric shocks, and hit by participants with rolled up newspapers, the large animals are forced to navigate through narrow streets. Oftentimes, they lose their footing and slide into walls, breaking bones and injuring themselves even before they reach their final destination and are herded into the bull ring. The latter is the purpose of the entire event, which has evolved from simply the laborious preparation of bullfights into a cultural spectacle of masculinity and world-renowned tourist attraction.

The internationally-attended running and all its chaos is then merely a precursor to the main attraction--a fight to the death between man and beast in the name of entertainment. Blurring the lines between tradition and sport, bullfighting seems to exploit a subconscious and masculine desire for violence against that which is wild and feared. In its most popular form, bullfighting has spread from 18th century Spain to all parts of the world, including Portugal, France, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Guatemala, and more recently, the United States.

"Bullfighting is nothing more than a public massacre. It shouldn't exist in any part of the world," says an animal activist and Mexican lucha libre (wrestler) who goes by the name of Super Animal. Super Animal, who refuses to give his real name, argues that most people do not support bullfighting, but don't bother to speak up. Together, the activists proposed the government hold a referendum in Mexico on bullfighting, to ask citizens if they would support a ban on the killing of bulls. The idea went nowhere.

Whether cruel or cultural, bullfighting continues to have an important economy of tourism and training. In France and Spain, many young men are enrolled by their parents in bullfighting schools. They learn at a young age how to stab young bulls, which often suffer a great deal in the process due to the inexperience of pupils. These schools exist by the thousands and are subsidized by their respective governments, not unlike cultural programming for the arts, and reveal just how institutionalized men's violence, in this case against animals, can be.

"What do you think continued international popularity for the running of the bulls and bullfighting suggests about cultures of masculinity?"

Please take the time to comment and also fill out our poll at:


  1. Nathalie5:11 PM

    As a woman, I have always seen violent "sports" involving the torture and killing of animals, such as bullfighting and hunting, as some of the worst expressions of masculinity. I've never been able to understand how subjecting a relatively defenseless animal to immense suffering can make someone feel more "manly". I think men's participation in these kinds of activities just reinforces the stereotypical view many women have of men - violent brutes who are incapable of empathy and always trying to prove their manhood. Of course, that isn't the reality - I like to think that most men consider this kind of violence against animals disgraceful. Then again, it's easier to condemn something that isn't part of our culture. To me, something like boxing is just as violent and senseless. I think it's going to take a lot of hard work to get society as a whole to change its definition of what it means to be "manly". Thank you to the men and women of groups like Men Can Stop Rape for taking on the challenge. For me, men who use their physical strength to protect and not to harm (even in the name of sport or entertainment) are the most masculine of all.

  2. I am so glad that I found this blog! I have been to a bullfight in Mexico and was shocked at how the matador tried to get his male parts as close to the bull's horns as possible. Some manliness. Those bulls are drugged before they go out there and have very little chance of survival. The whole thing was awful and I ended up leaving. I am not sure how I got convinced to go to begin with. Thank you for the work you do.
    Glued blue glass

  3. There is nothing equal about bull-fighting or the running of the bulls. It is all about dominance, control, and reinforcing traditional and shallow representations of masculinity.

    Of course, the real issue here is insecurity. It's a lot easier to kill animals than admit vulnerability.