Central Consideration for this Article: How can a museum act as an institution that shapes knowledge and perceptions to create destigmatized narratives about peoples’ bodies?
The featured guest for this Q&A is Florence Schechter. She started the project to build the Vagina Museum and is a science communicator by trade with a BSc in Biochemistry. She was born in London and currently lives in Camden.
The project to start the museum was launched in March 2017 and has since been doing pop ups. The team will be opening their first premises in Camden Market (London, UK) in November 2019. The Vagina Museum is going to be the world’s first bricks and mortar museum dedicated to the gynaecological anatomy.
Jen: What inspired you to start the museum?
Florence: In 2017, I discovered there is a penis museum in Iceland but there is no vagina equivalent. I thought this was pretty unfair and decided to start one. At first it was a bit of a flippant idea, but the more I thought about it, the more it became obvious this is something the world needs. The gynaecological anatomy is hugely stigmatised and this has harmful consequences. A museum can be a way our society comes together to change the narrative and make it a part of the body we can unashamedly celebrate.
Jen: Historically, vulvas and vaginas have been erased from art. For example, the pudendal cleft is omitted from many statues and paintings of nude women. How does the museum promote a new narrative?
Florence: Most of the time when these paintings are shown, the fact that the vulva has been “barbie dolled” is not mentioned. This has led to one of the top questions we get being why statues and paintings don’t have pubic hair (not enough space to answer here!). We will be showing these pieces of art, yes, but with context often not given including how women were viewed in society during the time the piece was made and who the models were. We will also be showing other kinds of art from all over the world which does have lots of vulvas, instead of just the very western-centric narrative we often get in art history.
Jen: On the website you list examples of how the vulva and vagina are “shrouded with stigma and shame”. How does building a museum dedicated to the vagina, vulva, and gynecological anatomy remove stigma?
Florence: Stigma is worsened by taboo. When a topic cannot be spoken about without fear from reprimand and shame, it continues to hold that stigma. But a museum that freely and accessibly shares these stories can help the journey on removing that shame. Museums are used by society to showcase what they believe are important – for example countries will have museums dedicated to important industries or their most celebrated artists. By having a museum dedicated to the gynaecological anatomy, it is a sign that society is changing and this is now a topic we believe is important.
Jen: What child-friendly programs on proper gynecological anatomy and function will there be? How does educating youth support the museum’s mission?
Florence: When we open later in the year, the youth programme will be small in comparison to other museums due to limited resources. More details will come soon about what programmes we will do. What we can say is that there will be no age minimums on coming to see our exhibitions. Engaging with the youth is extremely important because we learn genital and bodily shame very young, and the best way to combat it is to educate before it sets in.
Jen: How can people support the museum?
- Visit when we open
- Follow and share our social media
- Become a member (details coming in August)
- Buy something from our shop
- Celebrate the vulva and vagina and all the related bits!