When I spoke to Zoe, the Vagina Museum’s Development and Marketing Manager, she admitted that securing the space in Camden was a total coup – and so in line with the area’s radical history. Wandering around the cobbled alleys of the ‘Stables Market’ has acquired a whole new meaning. The location will definitely make the museum more visible and accessible. Just what it needs! And you certainly get a full sense of that on the inside – visitors are both intentional and serendipitous, some giggle, some surprised, while others examine the facts and contents studiously. In its opening weekend (16 November 2019), a staggering 4,000 visitors popped by, many having to queue to see the exhibition.
So, what is it all about ?
The museum’s founder Florence Schechter was shocked to find that there was a penis museum, sex and sex toys museums – and none about the vagina. But such is the stigma about the gynaecological anatomy that it is hardly surprising. The museum therefore is a big step into debunking myths and provides an important resource for everyone. Be prepared for your assumptions to be challenged.
You’ll find some gobsmacking stats like 60% of women can’t label the vulva on an anatomical diagram or that more than a quarter of women aged 25 to 29 in Britain are too embarrassed to attend cervical screening. The exhibition offers fun and informative exhibits – treating the subject with the depth and warmth it deserves! It felt strangely liberating to see it all out in the open and great to see a diverse bunch of visitors.
More than a museum
The response to its opening has been overwhelmingly positive, with people from all over the world, from the USA to Australia and across Europe, showing an interest. There is even discussion, in future, once it is more established and resources permit it, to take exhibitions on tour. But first, the focus is on securing a permanent home by 2030!
Inevitably, there has been some criticism from certain quarters, including about the mission statement, which clearly promotes intersectional, feminist and trans-inclusive values – as it should. We cannot challenge taboo about our bodies and parts of our anatomy without also addressing issues of gender and sex and challenging heteronormative, cisnormative[i] behaviours.
Don’t let yourself be distracted by naysayers. The Vagina Museum has been a long time coming and a welcome addition to London’s feminist initiatives. In addition, it has the potential to act like a hub where likeminded feminist organisations can stage small events, quizzes or comedy nights. What’s not to like ?