Trans-Santiago: Camino de Gender

On August 24, 2020 … I finished my first Camino de Santiago: 713 km (443 miles) on foot across northern Spain. It was everything, and a pandemic. A suitable countermeasure to 11 weeks of total springtime lockdowns. This post is about my view on GENDER on the Camino. Being a lone pilgrim for days on end, the mind had the time to… 🙂

Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage route and a multibillion-euro industry. The image of a Pilgrim follows one at all times: street signs, local logos, souvenirs, murals, statues, graffiti, etc, ad nauseum. The Pilgrim is a pilgrim is a pilgrim… So what does a Pilgrim look like? About halfway through my journey I became acutely aware that most pilgrim representations were … masculine-presenting. Men. They were “all” men. Which, while historically accurate(ish), was non-representative of even my own lived experience as I shared the Road with quite a few women. I grew curious to document each pilgrim-myth sighting. This is my (incomplete) report.

Spoiler alert! The number is 4. Here are the images of women pilgrims I met on Camino Frances: the labels for the Peregrina beer, the mural outside the Museum of Energy and a Peregrina gas station bar in Ponferrada, and a statue – the only one of its kind, that I saw – by Miguel Couto atop O Cebreiro. Four (!) out of hundreds of impression along the way. And I was paying attention.

Below are two sections of images of pilgrims: pictorial/2D depictions and 3D/statues. Most of them are kitschy, some are beautiful in execution and/or placement, with a few downright wow-now examples. When I go back on the Camino, I will catalog public pilgrim art in a more dedicated way. My wish is to see a more diverse representation of the concept of a Pilgrim. It is a spiritual practice (and a sustainable tourism option) open to everyone. The visual mythology of the journey should and can reflect its experiential realities. Statistically the men/women ratio among the pilgrims has been running 50/50 plus-minus a few percentage points in recent years. I am not even getting into non-binary, etc… Queering the Camino is for another time (and that time shall come). Women of Santiago deserve manifested artistic presence along the way. It matters, beyond a sense of safety and belonging – full stop.

2D Pilgrim Representations / How do you read gender in these?

3D Pilgrim Representations / How do you read gender in these?

I “loved” coming across this image on the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela. A literal “imagine yourself here”. With a pre-set beard. Until I do the Camino with Conchita Wurst (queer ancestors willing), this is an unacceptable status quo.

If you liked this story, encourage me to story-tell by Buying Me Coffee 🙂

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