It will be the first museum of its kind, presenting the vagina through a variety of perspectives in order to "demystify and destigmatize the vagina."
Remember your first sex-ed class? I do. I was ten when I discovered the scary process that my body would go through if I ever got pregnant. There were graphs and diagrams. I was informed that day that I could produce eggs. Not the kind that hatched ducklings, but ones that resembled a pink Death Star getting attacked by debris that I later discovered was called sperm. Not once did I hear the word vagina mentioned in this. In fact, it would be more than a few years before I knew of its existence. Even after I found out about this mysterious body part, I would still wonder about it.
More than twenty years have passed since that awkward biology class. You’d think that now we’d be more willing to talk about that secret place that’s hiding behind the vulva. Instead, we continue to carry this confusion about where it is and what it is. Considering the lack of research regarding endometriosis, vaginismus, vulvodynia, cervical cancer, PCOS, and other medical problems affecting the region, we can only imagine that it will be a long time before society is comfortable even saying the word. However, there is a museum that is being created to fill this void of knowledge. The Vagina Museum will be an institution in the United Kingdom that will open the conversation to everything related to the vagina. We had the chance to speak with the museum’s founder, Florence Schechter, about the origins as well as the future of the project.
“There was a study in the UK done by the Eve Appeal, a gynaecological cancer charity, that found that half of young British women can’t locate a vagina on an anatomical diagram. People are using euphemisms instead of calling it what it is. People are not going to the doctor because they’re too embarrassed. I want to just have the information there, freely available. Anyone can walk in and just come and learn about it. There will be free entry. Even if you don’t have a place or people to talk about it with, you can come to the museum and talk about it with us.”
Image by Allison Honeycutt
We don’t have to look far to know there’s a lack of public understanding regarding female sexuality. The continuous rise in teenage pregnancy and STIs, in places where abstinence-only programs are the only available form of sexual education, leaves us to asking ourselves whether the stigma and misinformation will stop any time soon. I asked Florence to tell me about the moment she realized she was setting up the Vagina Museum.
“I’m a science communicator and one of the things that I do is I make videos about science. I made this one which was top ten animal penises. It was really fun and it did well. I thought okay I’ll make a vagina one. But I went on the Internet to do my research and there was barely any research at all. I found that there’s actually a bias against vaginas in scientific studies.
A friend of mine had just been to the Penis Museum in Iceland, so I thought if there’s a penis museum there’ll be a vagina museum that will have research that I can look up. But there wasn’t an equivalent to the penis museum. There was like a virtual museum but they’re wasn't a physical museum. It was mostly art, then there’s a medical museum, and lots of women’s museums, but there wasn’t a vagina museum. I was really upset about this. And I was like 'well, anyone who wants to change it has to make one.' You can actually see on Twitter when I came to this thought process.”
“One of the major aims is to demystify and destigmatize the vagina. It is something we don’t talk about."
Image by Tammen Terhi
I want it to be an encyclopedic museum, so anything and everything to do with the vagina is going to be there. From science to art to sociology to history.”
When I was reading about the museum, I was intrigued at how it had been able to create a place that, while being dedicated to vaginas, still managed to be gender inclusive and intersectional. This is incredibly vital, since it includes trans men who have vaginas, without also assuming that a woman must have one. However, Florence said that even that caused some confusion and misunderstanding from the public opinion.
“Gender inclusivity is one of the major values and always has been since the inception of the museum. The party line is Not everyone with a vagina is a woman, not every woman has a vagina.”
Image by The Crystal Pyre
“Some people have said things like I fought hard for women’s rights and I don’t like that you’re reducing women to vaginas. I never claimed it to be a women’s museum. So, I don’t understand that side of it. You can have a museum about one particular body part. If someone opened a lungs museum nobody would be like, ugh why don’t you do a whole body museum? The other side is people who don’t like the fact that we’re gender inclusive. There was someone who produced a poster for a temporary exhibition and someone said, Could you tell me why you’ve used the words people instead of women? And I so wanted to reply, Do you not think that women are also people? Is it not accurate?”
I also asked a question that seems to show up anytime there’s any sort of call-to-action regarding gender equality and raising issues about groups and communities that are rarely considered in our mainstream culture. What about people who don’t have vaginas? After all, nobody blinks when they hear about a penis museum or an ancient temple full of phallic representations. Yet the team behind the Vagina Museum has faced criticism from the public because they’re using the word and reclaiming its place in our society.
“People who don’t have vaginas still have to learn about them because they know people who have vaginas. They probably work with people who have vaginas. They need to be understanding of those issues so that they can interact with them more appropriately. How many times have you been annoyed at a man who’s asked jokingly if it’s your time of the month? It’s so frustrating. The flipside is that you don’t just interact with people who have vaginas. Vaginas will also directly affect your life. If you want to have a baby, you’re going to have to get that baby by putting something up a vagina, and its probably going to come out of a vagina. If you want to care about that baby, you need to understand the issues surrounding that process.
It’s not intended to be a scientific learning experience where you’ll point at the cervix or uterus and that’s it. The museum will include sociological things as well. Men need to be a part of changing the world for the better. They need to be part of stopping child marriages and FGM. They need to learn how we can change our society so it’s less transphobic, homophobic, and misogynist. The only way they’re going to be a part of changing this world into the wonderful feminist utopia we all hope to it would be, is if they learn and talk about these issues.”
Image by Kylah Reed
Finally, I asked if she could summarize the message she wants to present through both the museum, as well as the movement behind its creation. What can we hope to see and understand once we start talking and learning more about the vagina?
“The vagina is amazing. It’s wonderful thing and we should all be celebrating it.”
The Vagina Museum recently announced their first pop-up museum exhibit called "Is Your Vagina Normal?" which will delve intro three topics:
- Does my vagina look normal?
- Does my vagina smell normal?
- Does my vagina feel normal?