The House of Women


The Square and the Net

The representatives of the Casa Internazionale delle Donne (International House of Women) from Rome, in the antechamber of the Capitol, waited to be received by the Mayor. The first Citizens’ Social Media Manager was intent on posting a press release on Facebook. The Mayor’s Virtual Bulletin Board had been used for months as the official voice of the municipality of Rome.

Coco was in the square together with over a thousand other women who shouted slogans. They raged furiously against the eviction of the house threatened by the Capitoline Council. While looking around for her friend, Coco felt the vibration of the smartphone in the back pocket of her pants. In came a WhatsApp message from Maria with a link to the Facebook post of the first Citizen. Coco looked up from the phone seeking her friend, and she realised that the post had already come to the attention of the square. The eviction procedure was not suspended.

The Facebook post, reflected in the irritated gestures and drawn faces of the women in the square, spread like a digital wildfire. The women were feeling betrayed and taunted. Coco could hear the thought hammering in everyone’s minds: what is the delegation doing? What kind of negotiation are they up to, if the mayor has already posted a press release?

It was a mockery, the usual theater of institutional power. A theater that pretends to welcome social issues and to listen to people’s concerns. In fact, they had already decided in defiance of the people’s wishes.

Coco saw Maria in a squad of women in front of the staircase. She quickly caught up with her.

“Enough, let’s go up,” pleaded her friend. “Let’s raid the council chamber!” added a woman with a long nose beside her. While the most ardent were already heading towards the police cordon that protected the entrance to the building, a warning was raised among the elderly: “We cannot raid while the delegation is at the table! In this way we politically delegitimize the board!”

Mumbles, quarrels, small groups where people discussed animatedly. An older militant insisted: “We cannot enter now, we must wait to hear the delegation.” At that point Maria, after typing on her phone for a while, reassured: “No problem, we wrote in the WhatsApp group, we asked Laura who is in the delegation, to tell us if it is ok that we raid… We won’t move if they don’t give us the ok.”

Time passed, on the WhatsApp group the delegate was silent. No double tick. Maria constantly checked the display, Coco looked around. The women in the square were furious and impatient. It made their blood boil to see the numerous likes and for the solidarity comments that the Mayor’s Facebook post continued to collect. Some began to reply.

Finally, silently, Coco, who had not said anything until then, approached Maria and whispered softly: “Maybe, if the delegate is at the negotiating table, she is not looking at the messages on WhatsApp…”

When, late in the evening, the delegation came out confirming the words of the Mayor already read on social the network, only a few women remained in the square in the pouring Spring rain. The eviction continued and the people of the Internet were on the Mayor’s side.

To Understand

WhatsApp was an asynchronous communication tool. Once you sent a message, you had to wait before receiving a reply, as it used to be for letters, telegrams, postcards, emails. Yet we all fell constantly into the illusion that it was synchronous and that therefore it was normal to expect an immediate response from our interlocutors just like it happens in a phone call.

This distorted perception was favored and indeed provoked by the design of the messaging system itself, by the interaction structure. Every detail of the interface, from the colors to the sounds of the notifications, was designed to compress response times, thus building the impression of sharing the same space-time, as occurs in a live discussion.

There are times when it is not possible to communicate with someone and immediate decisions must be made. Let’s get rid of the illusion that you can always be connected, that you can get instant feedback, especially in crowded situations. Let’s try to imagine the bodily and emotional situation of the people with whom we try to communicate: it could be useful to avoid false expectations or the unleashing of deleterious crosstalk.

The Word to the Social Media Manager

For some time now, Facebook pages and profiles had become the official spokespeople for politicians with institutional positions. They gave users the feeling of having a direct relationship with the person. Actually, the accounts of politicians, like those of many public figures, were managed by a team of communication, marketing and social platform experts.

Reactions, engagement, sentiment: everything was carefully screened and evaluated in order to increase the number of followers and interactions with the contents of the politician’s pages. Quantifying was the main method for evaluating the success of an influencer, whether it was a mayor, a singer, a fashion guru or a renowned chef, it didn’t matter.

What was really important was to constantly feed the followers with the most suitable images and words to create a sense of intimacy and belonging. Politics was done to the sound of tweets, grams and posts that oscillated between serious and facetiously in order to maintain an high user interaction with the account.

A Bit of History

The International House of Women in Rome is located in the monumental complex already called Buon Pastore (used since 1600 as a female prison), earmarked in 1983 for social purposes, especially for female citizenship.

In 1987 the Roman Feminist Movement, following the eviction from the House of Women in Via del Governo Vecchio - Palazzo Nardini, occupied the seventeenth-century part of Via della Lungara, 19, claiming the intended destination and starting a long negotiation with the Municipality for the restoration and handover of the building to female associations.

In 1992, thanks to the support of the Coordination of Women elected by the Municipality of Rome, the International House of Women Project was listed among the works of Roma Capitale and approved by the Municipality itself. The International House of Women thus becomes an autonomous body in charge of enhancing women’s policy, offering services and consultancy.

In 2017, a dispute opened with the Municipality of Rome regarding unpaid fees. The Mayor accused: “The House continues to not want to pay (…) Feminism shouldn’t have privileges”. The International House of Women brands this claim as fake news.