Bullfighting is a traditional form of entertainment in which a bull is taunted and stabbed to death by a bullfighter. The activity, which has roots in ancient religious customs, is popular throughout Spain, Portugal, and Latin America. A bullfighter, sometimes called a matador or torero, is renowned for great courage and skill by proponents of the entertainment. To detractors, bullfighting constitutes the torture and killing of an animal for entertainment and bullfighters are considered by many to be guilty of animal abuse.
In traditional bullfights, there are actually several different types of toreros. Some, called picadors, stab the bull with a lance or spear to enrage and weaken the animal. A banderillero rides a horse very close to the animal and stabs it with barbed stakes, often topped by colorful flags. After the bull has lost sufficient blood and become angered, the final bullfighter is brought out to finish the killing.
The final bullfighter, called the matador, often wears a colorful uniform consisting of short pants, a white shirt, and heavily decorated jacket. Many also wear a traditional cap, and carry a red cloak. The uniform of the matador is particularly important in traditional bullfights throughout Spain and Portugal, although less formal events in other countries may use different costumes.
The matador fights on foot, armed with his or her cape and a sword. The brightly colored cape is used to entice the bull to charge, so that a matador can display athleticism and skill by artfully dodging. After the charges have sufficiently exhausted the already-injured bull, the matador then stabs the animal to death. The final stroke is meant to go straight into the heart of the bull, killing it instantly and, according to proponents, with little pain.
Matadors often rise from the ranks of picadors and banderilleros, gaining practice by taunting and killing younger, smaller bulls. After sufficient training, an aspiring bullfighter undergoes a special test. Upon passing the test, the bullfighter is thereafter referred to as a matador.
A bullfighter risks his or her life in their profession, for which many people consider them brave or heroic. Detractors point out that killing a maimed and exhausted animal may lack the glory attributed to the act, yet the bullfighter does put his or her own life on the line for the job. In cultures where bullfighting is popular, matadors are often regarded as courageous, cool, and fearless.
Since the origin of the entertainment, bullfighters have been almost exclusively male. In the latter half of the 20th century, a few women did successfully pass tests to become full-fledged bullfighters, only to be met with considerable derision and criticism. Female bullfighters have become somewhat symbolic of feminist movements throughout Latin America. One matadora, Cristina Sanchez, is frequently cited as a poster-child for female empowerment after a successful career in the ring.