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A way to female scientists

Conception and development of an idea

The exhibition "Una via alle Scienziate" - "A way to female scientists" is a project of the formaScienza association conceived in the framework of the event "The ways of science", organized by formaScienza that took place in Rome in November 2011 at the Public Library "Guglielmo Marconi".

The district where the Public Library "G. Marconi" is situated, is characterized by the fact that all its streets and roads are named after scientists. In addition, the municipality where it belongs, XV Municipality of Rome, is hosting the Faculty of Sciences M.F.N. of the University of Rome "Roma Tre".

The event included a series of initiatives like, conferences, theatrical readings, science workshops for adult audience and for schools, dedicated to the scientists that give their names to the streets of the district.

In this context, what we noticed, with surprise, is that there are no streets dedicated to women scientists.

Trying to figure out the motives for such shortcoming, we decided to organize an exhibition that would present the biographies of outstanding female figures that have chosen to follow the adventurous path of scientific research.

The exhibition constitutes a journey through centuries of history, starting with the first woman to graduate and taking us all the way to present day. It also offers the opportunity to ponder on the various mechanisms of female discrimination that are still present in today's society, and look for courses of action in order to achieve equality of genders.


Cinzia Belmonte, Tommaso Castellani, Marco Discendenti, Cinzia Grasso, Linda Leccese, Tina Nastasi, Laura Scarino.


This exhibition aspires to give a worthy follow-up to the work started with the exhibition "Female scientists of the West" that took place in 1997 in the Eleusi-Pristem Center of the Bocconi University, organized by Sara Sesti and Liliana Moro.

We would like to thank for their valuable contribution: ASDO, Rome Public Library Guglielmo Marconi, Eleusi-Pristem Center of the Bocconi University, Women and Science, IRPPS-CNR, Milan Free Univerity for Women, Rome Municipality XV, PartecipArte.

A special thanks goes to: Claudia Colonnello, Francesca Romana Capone, Serena Dinelli, Alessandro Marziano, Carmela Mennuni, Liliana Moro, Mariella Paciello, Sara Sesti, Adriana Valente, Flavia Zucco.

Official request at the Municipality of Rome to name a street

The biographies included in the exhibition "A way to female scientists" present the life of important female figures in the history of culture. However, their names have been ignored during the assignment of street names in the city of Rome. Exiting the exhibition, we placed a map of the district without the street names and we request to people who have attended the event to choose a street and name it after one of the female scientists that were reviewed.

This gesture is not only symbolic: in parallel with the staging of the exhibition, under the initiative of IRPPS - CNR, a request has been forwarded to the Departmemt of Culture - Coordination Service of the Counseling Committee for the Toponomy of the Municipality of Rome to dedicate a block of streets to the female scientists, italian and international, "on display". The request has been accepted and the names of 50 female scientists have been included in the city's "list of names", waiting to have a street assigned to them.

A promotion committee has been assembled in which participate IRPPS - CNR, formaScienza and Public Libraries of Rome.

Since the district of XV Rome Municipality already has streets named after famous scientists, the promotion committee has formally requested to assign space also to female scientists. On the 8th of March 2011 the local administration made public that the request had been approved by the council and it had decided to dedicate two important parks in the area to Elena Cornaro Piscopia and Laura Bassi (the parks previously known as Magliana Antica and Blaserna), declaring their intention to proceed with similar gestures in the future.

The exhibition and the Forum Theater

During the opening day of the exhibition we presented the show "Science of men", a performance of Forum Theater that was intended to underline the problem of gender discrimination in the field of research. The performance was organized by PartecipArte and formaScienza.

Forum Theater is an innovative branch of theater with audience participation.

During a show of Forum Theater the public witnesses a short scene that represents a problematic situation. The scene is played twice. In the first representation the public needs to identify problems and errors. At this point an external figure, called the Jolly, encourages the audience to suggest ways in which the situation would evolve differently. The scene starts again following these suggestions and during this second run, the audience can interrupt the scene whenever they think it is appropriate and suggest alternative actions, taking the place of one of the characters or even creating a new one.

This way the public can actually experience the consequences of every new suggestion. After each intervention, the Jolly brings new questions to the audience in order to encourage participation and the search for solutions. At the end of the show the Jolly makes a summary of all alternatives and solutions that the public has considered most appropriate to overcome the initial problematic situation.

Usually the scenes presented during a Forum Theater are elaborated through the analysis of the problem in a theater workshop dedicated to this subject. In particular this show has been developed by formaScienza during a workshop where the subject of gender discrimination in the field of research has been explored under the artistic direction of Olivier Malcor, member of PartecipArte. The participants of this workshop included university researchers, associates of formaScienza, actors specialized in Theater of the Oppressed and Serena Dinelli, communication psychologist specialized in gender issues. During this workshop we have developed the scene of Forum Theater "Macho Science".

PartecipArte is a group founded in Rome in 2008 by Olivier Malcor, Cinzia Papucci and Sergio Covelli. PartecipArte is a member of the Theater of the Oppressed International Network and it endorses the ITO charter of principles.

Opening day and debate

The exhibition has been presented for the first time in Rome on November 3rd 2011. The event was introduced with a presentation by Flavia Zucco, ex research supervisor at the Institute of Neurobiololy and Molecular Medicine (INMM) of CNR in Rome and outgoing president of the association "Women and Science", that was followed by a debate with a very particular structure. A performance of Forum Theater was presented, with the title "Macho Science", dealing with the discrimination mechanisms that women face in the field of research, developed by formaScienza and PartecipArte. The participation of the audience, that included many male and female scientists, has been so intense and passionate that the debate on the subject went on for a lot longer than anticipated.

Workshops in schools

In adolescence, gender differences play a crucial role in the development of individuals and can have important psychological and social implications. In our society, based on information, teenagers are exposed to news and discussions on multiple subjects even outside the protected school environment. In what way do they acknowledge various arguments when it comes to questions of gender? How do they experience in adolescence the issue of gender differences? What kind of strategies do they develop? What kind of role models do they adopt? What is their behavior on the subject?

We invited schools visiting the exhibition to participate at a 2hour workshop that aimed to investigate the questions mentioned above using the techniques adopted by the Theater of the Oppressed. Stereotypes and gender issues have been explored through play, with the principal question being how do teenagers perceive them. The results of this exercise were surprising and even worrisome in some occasions.