Forcadas – The Brave Bullfighting Women of Mexico and Portugal

It takes a lot of guts to get in the ring with an enraged bull, even when carrying a sharp sword, but the forcadas (women bullfighters) are brave enough to take the bull head-on without any kind of protection or weaponry.

During the early days of bullfighting, the bullring had a staircase leading to the royal cabin, and a group of men called forcados was employed to make sure the bull didn’t go up the stairs. They used a long pole with a steel half-moon at the top, called a “forcado” (fork) to fight the bull, and that’s how they got their name. But nowadays they only use a symbolic forcado during opening ceremonies and historical demonstrations, as their main role in modern bullfighting is the “pega de caras” (face catch). The pega essentially involves challenging the bull with their bare hands and trying to win by immobilizing it.

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Taking on a bull with only your hands sounds dangerous enough for a group of men, let alone for eight women. But it seems bullfighting isn’t a men-only affair anymore, as women groups of forcadas are trying to prove. Just like their male counterparts, the forcadas enter the bullring wearing no protective gear or weapons, and challenge the bull until it attacks. They form a line facing the animal, and the caras (front forcada) taunts it by shouting and taking small steps towards it. When the bull finally attacks, the first forcada has to time her jump perfectly to grab the bull’s head and hang on to its neck. That’s when the other members of the group jump on the bull trying to subdue it. The last focada grabs the bull’s tail and is the last one to let go, after performing a few sliding stunts as the animal tries to turn and face her.

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Groups like the Forcadas of Mazatlan or Forcadas Querentanas are famous in Mexico, and eight teenagers have recently formed the first group of forcadas in Portugal, where killing bulls is illegal. In Portugal, bulls have the tips of the horns severed so they can’t stab bullfighters, but there is still a danger of being trampled.