Gender and gondoliers in #Venice; my comments in The Guardian

A ‘traffic jam’ of gondolas in Venice

On 29 June 2017, the UK newspaper The Guardian published an article titled ‘Patriarchy on the canal: why is there only one female gondolier in Venice?’, written by Angela Giuffrida. To read the article in full, click on the link below;

Patriarchy on the canal: why is there only one female gondolier in Venice?

The article perceptively explains that there are no formal barriers of discrimination to females becoming gondoliers in Venice. The fact that there is only one female gondolier currently operating in the city reflects the tradition of fathers handing down the role to their sons. Indeed, the only official female gondolier also followed in the footsteps of her father, who was a gondolier in Venice for 40 years. Giorgia Boscolo was the first female to pass the gondola exams. The lack of female gondoliers is not due to the work of the rowing being too physically demanding for women. As Boscolo has stated, childbirth is much more demanding!

The article also discusses how German citizen Alex Hai became a private rower for a hotel chain owned by a local aristocrat in Venice. Alex Hai did not manage to pass the gondolier exam and became a private rower and recently revealed he is transgender and used to be a woman.

I would add that Alex Hai is indicative of a contemporary turn towards transsexualism over the last decade. The tension between existence and essence, or reality and one’s sense of what it should be, is now rarely played out through religious or political movements. Instead of this tension taking these social forms between the individual and society, it is often played out at the level of the individual between the self and the body. So Alex’s comment that he had mastered rowing “while in the body of a woman” very much speaks to this contemporary form of this tension; the self feels like the body is not right. With the decline of a sense of political tension between the individual and society, there is less of a sentiment of people not feeling right in their country, vocation or social position and fighting for social justice. Alex stated in a Facebook post that he was not a woman “and the struggle of feminism is not my personal struggle.” The conflict between existence and essence is reduced to the body and a surgical procedure rather than a fight for social justice, as was the case with the feminist movement. Alex’s remarks are referenced here:

Venice’s first female gondolier announces he’s transgender

For an excellent explanation of the rise of transsexualism, see this blog by Josie Appleton;

Transsexualism and the breakdown of personality

Finally, The Guardian article explains how the ancient tradition of the gondolier has been maintained by the growth of tourism. I also make some comments about how the gondola has come to symbolise Venice’s ancient traditions against modernisation, especially motorboats.

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