Why I'm Opening The World's First Museum Dedicated To Vaginas

Vaginas are interesting. I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. They’re complicated, beautiful, controversial and mysterious, still, in 2017. I’ll go out on a limb and say that not even the most mansplaining, pussy-grabbing, "where’s-my-dinner" misogynist would suggest that vaginas are boring. Vaginas are fascinating.
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But if you were thinking there’s a place you could go to learn all about them and just how fascinating they really are (some kind of museum perhaps?), well, sorry, there isn’t. There’s a penis museum. It’s in Iceland. But there isn’t a museum about vaginas. Not anywhere. Not yet.
Florence Schechter is working on it. Since April this year, she’s been on a mission to open the world’s first ever Vagina Museum, complete with four dedicated gallery spaces (for science, history, culture and society), along with a café and a gift shop. So how’s it been going? Is the world any closer to having a museum dedicated to female genitalia? I decided to find out.
When I catch up with Florence, she is just back from Edinburgh, where the museum has put on its first art exhibition. “I was really proud of it,” she grins. “I think I’ve met more artists in the past few months than I ever have before in my life.”
Florence has embarked on a series of fundraising events in the form of exhibitions, comedy nights and panels. Don't worry if you missed the Edinburgh one, there are loads more coming up. But the ultimate dream is to open a real bricks-and-mortar museum, a place for people to get together with like-minded others, to research and to learn. “I’d like it to be almost like a community centre,” Florence explains. “I think it’s important to have a place because we’re human, we respond to being face-to-face in the presence of things. Looking at objects, learning in a hands-on way.” The project has been fraught with challenges – even the issue of the name has opened up a can of (rather politicised and opinionated) worms.
“Sixty-five percent of women can’t say the word 'vagina',” she says, referring to a 2016 survey by the Eve Appeal (this same survey found that only half of millennial women could correctly label a vagina). “The name is a big issue. A lot of people have pointed out that it shouldn’t be called Vagina Museum because it’s not only about vaginas, and that’s true. The vagina is only one part. Really it ought to be called the Gynaecological Museum. But, come on, who’s going to visit that? Some people suggested Vulva Museum, but that’s no more accurate. And I thought 'vagina' is a word with more punch.”
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And it’s not just the word 'vagina' itself that’s complicated. Florence is finding that, when it comes to feminism, it’s impossible to please everyone. Especially in the world of internet trolls, where one mention of feminism turns a comments section into an intellectual cesspit faster than you can say Simone de Beauvoir. “Sometimes people are very resistant for a number of reasons. Sometimes people say, 'Why are you talking about this?’ Sometimes people say, ‘Privates should be private.’ There was one journalist who tweeted that they’d seen our press release and asked, ‘What has happened to England?’ Yeah, insane, right? But mostly it’s been positive.”
The big issue is clear; Florence goes there before I even bring it up. “It’s kind of gross to talk about, because we’re British, but one of the biggest challenges is money. Setting up a museum costs millions.” And her plan to set it up in London, where rent seems to get higher by the day, isn’t helping the cost. “It has to be London. I want it to be an international museum, to discuss issues from all over the world. To do that, really it has to be London.” But where in London would make the dream location? Maybe on her home turf in Camden, or in a cool Shoreditch warehouse? “Holloway Prison,” Florence answers instantly, grinning mischievously. “When the Suffragettes got put in prison, that’s where they were, so it’d be amazing to have it there. But I’m not even thinking about venues just yet.”
When it comes to spreading the word and making connections, Florence is definitely on it, with partnerships with top academics, gynaecological cancer charity the Eve Appeal, and countless artists and performers already under her belt. For now, she’s taking the trolls and the haters in her stride and focusing her energy on the people who want to help, but once the museum is on its feet, she’s ready to take on the world. “I’m sure once this thing’s up and running, we’ll be asked to comment on things. Like, Trump says he wants to grab another pussy, reporters will be asking ‘Vagina Museum, what do you say about this?’ And I want to comment on these things. I want to be a beacon. I want to speak up for people who can’t speak up.”
For a full list of the Vagina Museum's fundraising events, click here.
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