romantic venice? more like sexist venice

Posted on May 10, 2007


The International Herald Tribute highlighted Venice’s first female and foreign-born gondolier, Alexandra Hai, and her travails at getting and keeping the job.

10journal550.jpg NYT picture

But what really caught my eye further in the story was that women are still restricted from waiting on tables at St Mark’s Square. The story said that the first female waitress at St Mark’s Square’s cafes was hired only eight years ago, when Ljubica Gunj was permitted in 1999.

Eight years ago!

That’s after people have been to the moon and back countless times, the cold war had ended and communism fallen, apartheid had been reversed in South Africa, and more women had become heads of states, even in male-dominated bastions like Latin America and Asia.

Yet, women still can’t freely wait on tables in Venice, at least not on the piazza, only indoors.

The Venetians could argue that Hai is incompetent at steering the gondola, that it needs the strength she doesn’t have, she can’t sing, etc. We’d never know the truth as both sides dispute each others’ accounts.

But what arguments do they have against women waitressing out at the piazza? That cups of Venetian coffee are too heavy for them? That the crowds at St Mark’s Square would be too hard for women to handle? That female waitresses can’t dodge the pigeons as quickly as the men?

Bollocks, I say. It’s most likely to do with keeping the great tips to be made to the men who’ve traditionally worked there. It doesn’t take a genius to know that the Square crawls with tourists during peak season and many of them want to sit outside to people watch or just enjoy the place, while they pay for extremely overpriced drinks.

How could Italy, a member of the European Union and G8, tolerate something like this?

As travellers and consumers, we should ensure that this type of sexist behaviour isn’t condoned. Go find Hai to peddle you down the canals, or sip your coffee at places where they have waitresses outside. And leave them big tips.

Afterall, if the male gondoliers are really better than Hai at steering or singing as they claim, or waiters do a better job out at St Mark’s Square, they shouldn’t have any fear of dealing with a little female competition, should they?

Posted in: sexism, travel, venice