Why the Vagina Museum needs a physical home - Museums Association

Why the Vagina Museum needs a physical home

Founder Florence Schechter talks to us about finding a bricks-and-mortar space for the museum.
Yosola Olorunshola
The world’s first ‘bricks-and-mortar' Vagina Museum is a step closer to becoming a reality.  

With plans to open at a location in London’s Camden Market in November 2019, the project has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £300,000 to cover the costs of exhibitions, outreach programmes, rent and staff salaries above the London Living Wage.

The museum, which initially launched as a pop-up project in 2017, aims to demystify and celebrate the vagina – challenging stigma around gynaecological health and tackling questions around body image, sex and consent, while centring an inclusive and intersectional approach.  

Outreach and community engagement will be at the heart of its mission: collaborations with medical professionals, schools, activists or comedians will help the public explore this misunderstood area of human anatomy.  

Museums Journal spoke to founder Florence Schechter about the role of the Vagina Museum in the heritage sector and society at large. 

Why does the UK – and the world – need a bricks-and-mortar Vagina Museum?   

The world needs the Vagina Museum because it is still a hugely stigmatised part of the body. This taboo leads to some big real-world consequences, like people being too embarrased to go to the doctor for their cervical smear or not telling their employer the reason they need to take a day off work due to menopausal symptoms. But since museums are used by society to showcase what they believe to be important, we think we can be part of a societal change that will value and celebrate this part of the body.

Tell us more about the name? Why is it important that it’s called the ‘Vagina Museum’?  

The museum has to be called the Vagina Museum - we've thought about this a lot. We can't go with something subtler like "Private Parts Museum" because if we're going to be fighting stigma, we have to practice what we preach. We can't be the "Gynaecological Museum" because that is very medical and will put people off. We can't be the "Vulva Museum" because you would be amazed how many people don't know the word, and if people don't understand who we are from the name, they won't come. We can't be "Female Reproductive Museum" because that focuses too much on only one function and is trans-exclusive, so Vagina Museum it is.

You’ve referred to the ‘inherent misogyny’ of the heritage sector. What can be done to challenge this from within?   

A huge part of fighting misogyny in the heritage sector, I think, is to let go of the belief that museums know best. The roots of the industry in the UK are strongly placed in Victorian times when being the "gentleman collector" was very fashionable. And because of this, there is the feeling that if you work in a museum, you aren't just an expert in your field, but in everything related too. Which is a very Victorian man thing to do, so what’s the first thing a heritage professional can do? Be quiet and listen. It's hard to admit you have been wrong, but it must be the first step.

What have you learned from your first two exhibitions ‘Exhibitionist’ and ‘Is Your Vagina Normal?’   

From the previous exhibitions we've done, one of the first things we've learnt is so simple. When we started, we were worried that people would be inherently nervous about talking about vaginas and vulvas and generally issues related to it. But we found completely the opposite - people are desperate to talk about these things. Periods, birth, contraception, fertility, sex. These topics are so taboo, many people can't even talk to their own friends about them. So when our fabulous volunteers run exhibitions and create a safe, warm, welcoming space, it's like the floodgates open and we have conversations people don't feel like they can have anywhere else.

What do you hope the museum’s collection will look like and how will people participate in the space?  

We're not going to start collecting just yet as we don't yet have appropriate facilities (although we are considering approaching a university or existing museum to host our collection in the meantime). When we do, we're going to be collecting within the fields of vulva art, gynaecological medicine, period products, sex toys, all manner of things within the scope of "vagina heritage".  

I hope people will participate in the space by contributing to our exhibitions and collections themselves - this is a part of our heritage often not focused on and there's a big gap. But also, I think we need to find a way that people can participate within their comfort levels as it is such a personal area.

Find out more about the Vagina Museum or donate to the crowdfund appeal to support the project.

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