Exporting ethics is tricky business. Whether you are the sole vegan at Thanksgiving dinner, or out with a bunch of new travel buddies while traveling abroad, handling ethical issues without seeming like an insensitive, self-involved jerk can be a conundrum.
When preparing for my trip to Seville, Spain with my sister, she expressed interest in attending a bullfight, seeking to imbibe this cultural tradition along with flamenco and the holiday festivals of the region. I would sit this one out, passing on participating as voyeur. But the other day I listened as NPR’s All Things Considered aired a story about the matadora Lupita Lopez. Lopez ranks as one of the only four matadoras, or professional female bullfighters, and spoke of the truth she has found in bullfighting and what it means to be a woman in the macho world, seeing her gender as an obstacle.
While hearing the story did not make me any more likely to attend a bullfight, it did give me pause. I respect a woman strong enough to excel in a male-dominated arena and find truth in the tradition her family has participated in for many generations all the while challenging gender stereotypes.
I also think torturing or killing animals for spectacle regardless of cultural traditions is something ultimately contradictory to advancing feminism. In January, Spain’s leading broadcaster RTVE dropped coverage of bullfighting claiming it was an effort to protect children from violence. Perhaps an even bigger blow to bullfighting was the ban passed last year in Catalonia.
According to an article published in the New York Times in 2008, Spaniards’ interest in the sport is shifting. The article noted, “In 1971, 55 percent of them still claimed to be interested in bullfighting. In 2006, only 27 percent did; most important, a whopping 72 percent said they had no interest in it at all. Younger Spaniards now find diversion in soccer and video games.” Given these statistics, it seems to me one hardly loses the authentic Spanish experience by refraining from supporting bullfighting.
So where does that leave a traveler seeking to respect and understand culture on the one hand, but also looking to stand firm in their ethical beliefs? Culture and identity matter when considering ethics, and to ignore either shortchanges everyone.