Alexandra Hai, a 35 year old German filmmaker and long-time resident of Venice, has failed in her third bid to be the first person without gonads to guide a gondola, according to the Italian news bureau, ANSA (which incorrectly reports that she is an American).
For at least 1000 years, according to Nicole Martinelli of zoomata.com (in English), no woman has ever been allowed to enter the profession, tightly held by the 400-member Gondoliers' Association. The Association administers the test that admits new gondoliers, and despite years of practice and a bricklayer's physique, they have once again judged that Alexandra lacked that certain elusive quality that a good gondolier must have. She's been trying since 1999.
These kinds of gender exclusions aren't that rare in Venice. It was literally front page, sensational news a couple years ago when a woman waiter started working in a cafe in Piazza San Marco, until then, an all male bastion. I remember chatting about it with a young waiter at Caffè Florian. While he was telling me how he thought the whole thing was rather overblown, one of his grey-haired colleagues butted in and helpfully explained how the physical rigors were simply too much a young lady to handle. (Nevermind that there are scores of female waiters in Venice outside Piazza San Marco.)