A Recent Poll Says More Than Half Of Women Could Not Identify The Vagina On A Diagram
Museums, by definition, are institutions that conserve collections of objects and artifacts of artistic, cultural, historical, or scientific significance. Of course, this significance is almost always influenced by a museum’s location—the Dalí Theatre-Museum surely belongs in the town of Figuieres, Spain, where Dalí lived and died, and the Blue House is the only place that could adequately capture the lives of Frida and Diego. It’s true that traveling exhibits can bring new knowledge to museums around the world, but a museum’s permanent installations are what really define its impact. As more than half the planet’s population possesses a vagina, the new Vagina Museum in London’s Camden Market is no exception. With its educational posters, sculptures, and feminist-focused gift shop, it boasts content of truly universal (and gynecological) importance.
Fueled by a goal to end stigma, support reproductive justice and promote public health initiatives, London’s Vagina Museum is the first of its kind.
Unlike Reykjavik’s famous Phallological Museum—a space densely packed with nearly 300 penile specimens from local animals—the Vagina Museum focuses on disseminating information, rather than putting biological samples on display. Even so, visitors might expect the Vagina Museum to resemble a sex museum (which, no joke, exist all over the world, from New York to Amsterdam to Barcelona), showing examples of early pornography or ancient Stone Age dildos. But in lieu of tangible collections, the Vagina Museum is dominated by its first exhibition, Muff Busters: Vagina Myths and How to Fight Them, comprised mostly of informational panels that address and shatter long-held myths about vaginal health.
“The anatomy has such complex politics around it that we found it was best to first engage people through what they know, so we can teach them things they don’t know,” said Sarah Creed, the museum’s curator, to The New York Times. “We can talk about cold, hard facts all we want, but that’s not going to change people’s minds. It’s all about unpacking social constructs and changing perspective through engagement.”
While the space itself is quite small, Florence Schechter, the museum’s founder and director, takes advantage of the museum’s intimate atmosphere to fully realize this intention. A single room with exposed brick and wood floors, the museum feels comfortable and safe, inviting people—of all genders, sexes, and ages—to enter and learn about the nuances of the female anatomy (a subject that is still widely and unnecessarily taboo). To Schechter, this information is of particular importance to visitors who themselves possess this anatomy.
“According to a recent poll, more than half the women couldn’t identify the vagina on a diagram,” she said to The Daily Beast.
credit: Isabel Infantes/Getty Images
3-D drawings and sculptures serve as original, customized extensions of the information on the posters, helping to distill and demonstrate the educational content hanging from the walls. Schechter emphasizes the necessity of these creative renderings, affirming that her museum is not rooted in the questionable, largely patriarchal tradition of “steal[ing] some stuff from Africa, put[ting] it in a building, and pretend[ing] it’s a really good thing”—to Schechter, the Vagina Museum is about connecting with its visitors in a way that is current and relevant, focusing instead on “sharing a particular story.”
With her plan to run two exhibitions per year, covering everything from human cervical health to reproduction in the animal kingdom, Schechter intends to take full advantage of this new brick-and-mortar space. On its very first day, the museum drew large, eager crowds, which seems to bode well for the museum’s future.
The Vagina Museum currently has a two-year lease on its Camden Market property, with plans to expand when the contract ends in 2021.
credit: Angus Young/The Daily Beast
“The ultimate goal is to build a permanent museum, but that takes a lot of time and resources. This is like our starter home,” Schechter told the New York Times. The Vagina Museum team has expressed surprise at the public’s positive reception, though they’ve also conceded that the internet has been difficult to navigate.
“Algorithms are set to assume that anything with the word ‘vagina’ in it is adult content or porn,” said Development and Marketing Manager, Zoe Williams. “Our emails go to spam and our online ads get rejected, and it’s all because of stigma.” The hope is that by challenging this stigma with its educational approach, the museum—and other emergent institutions that are sure to crop up in its wake—will not continue to face this sort of issue in the future.
Fortunately, word of the Vagina Museum has spread organically, and people have continued to flock there in pursuit of knowledge, support, and camaraderie.
“I would like people to leave the Vagina Museum knowing that there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Schechter. “I want to get rid of the stigma, so we can start making progress towards equal rights and protecting women around the world.”