London: The Vagina Museum

I first became aware of the Vagina Museum a few years ago, when I noticed job listings for it on some museum careers websites. At the time, it merely existed online, with no physical location. However, as of October 2019, it has found a home in Camden Market, and since their first exhibition ends on 29th March 2020, I thought it was high time I paid them a visit. I normally avoid Camden Market like the plague – it’s the kind of place you love when you’re a teenager or in your early 20s (as I was when I first discovered it), but you outgrow it real fast, in my case when some sleazy stall owner tried to kiss my neck (ick), so I hadn’t been there in years, and finding the Vagina Museum was a bit of a struggle, though I ultimately located it behind the Italian Alley.

 

The museum takes up two shopfronts in the market, and felt similar to the Museum of Neoliberalism in size and pop-up style appearance, though the Vagina Museum is searching for a more permanent location where they can hopefully gain more display space, as the current exhibition space feels downright spartan. The museum is free to visit, and the exhibition I saw was called “Muff Busters: Vagina Myths and How to Fight Them,” which is basically exactly what it says on the tin – the presentation of various myths followed by the facts.

 

I think the Vagina Museum is a great idea in theory – there is a Penis Museum, so why not a vagina one? – but the execution of this exhibition was just not up to scratch. Perhaps in keeping with my observation that Camden appeals most to teenagers, that’s who this exhibition seemed to be aimed at, as these myths were certainly not anything that any adult women of my acquaintance still believe, such as “you can’t get pregnant in a hot tub,” or “you can’t get pregnant if you douche with Coke,” (seriously, who does that last one, and why would you think it’s a good idea?!). In fact, based on my experience, women talk about their vaginas with each other way more than men talk about their penises with each other in a serious way (they might joke about size, but they would be embarrassed to talk about actual medical issues, whereas for most women that’s par for the course), so maybe this exhibition was actually aimed at teenage boys.

But if my theory is correct, the Vagina Museum needs to do a lot more to make their exhibitions visitor friendly, because this was just not, especially for the teenagers who might be attracted in by the name. As you can probably see from the pictures, 95% of the exhibition consisted of really big and wordy text panels, with only a handful of objects, mainly the Instagram friendly bloody tampon and moon cups you’ll see later in the post. Even I got bored with reading them, and I love reading. I know dispelling medical myths is a weighty and worthy topic, but the museum clearly has a sense of humour about itself (they host “pube quiz” evenings and their members are called the “Cliterati”) so it would have been nice if more of this shone through in the exhibition.

 

There was a small display showing the work of the “featured artist of the month” in the shop, and I think the Vagina Museum could start with featuring more vagina themed art, as literally the only works were the three pieces you can see in the above photo. Since half the museum is actually a museum shop, I think there was certainly room to display more pieces if they changed the arrangement a bit. That said, they do have some pretty neat things in the shop, and I wish the museum was as thoughtfully curated as their merchandise.

This post, accidentally but conveniently, will fall shortly before International Women’s Day (for which I am giving a talk on women of the collection at work – wish me luck!), and I do think we should all be more free to talk about vaginas, as half of the population have them. I have personally had way more than my fair share of gynaecological troubles, and I genuinely can’t believe how ignorant the average GP is about conditions that affect a sizeable percentage of women, let alone how ignorant the general public must be, so I think anything that demystifies the vagina is a worthy cause (I’m angry about the way I’ve been treated over the years, and I think all women deserve better). Because of this, and because they’re a new museum, I’ll cut them some slack and hope they improve with time (and also move away from Camden Market, because that place is seriously the worst). I’ll give them 2.5/5 for now, but I think they have potential – here’s hoping they can live up to it.

 

16 comments

  1. I agree it looks a bit amateurish, but you’re probably right about it being good for teenagers who might not know this stuff but would be too embarrassed to ask. I remember recoiling in horror the one time my mother mentioned vaginas to me!

    1. I don’t think I’ve ever really discussed the subject with my mother, nor would I want to, but I think it’s good if the younger generation are able to have a more open relationship with their mothers than I do. And I know there’s so much misinformation on the internet, but there is accurate information too if you take the time to look for it, so at least they have more options for finding out about this sort of stuff than we did. I just remember getting kicked out of the school library after laughing too loudly over a book about puberty with my friend.

      1. True, there is more info out there but it’s having the skills to separate the correct stuff from the misleading, and downright dangerous, stuff that is often lacking. Librarian tub-thumping there! Glad to read in other comments your talk went well. I did one this week too (yesterday) – with a free lunch and £50 honorarium thrown in so I feel I’m winning at life at the moment.

      2. Well done! I didn’t get anything along with mine, other than the relief of getting it over with (I actually quite enjoy it whilst I’m doing it, but I absolutely dread it beforehand)! Speaking of tub-thumping, part of my talk was on some washerwomen who went on strike in 1872 in Norbiton. I mentioned that it was also the name of a Chumbawamba album and got some blank looks in return, but at least they laughed at the rest of my jokes.

      3. Ha ha! I did get laughs in the right places, but there would have been no point in making popular culture jokes from about the last 50 years! It was a Ladies Lunch Club, very genteel. One member had just turned 100 so I was able to say that she was already 8 years old by the time all women got the vote. Not my usual audience at all!

  2. Would definitely like to see an improved version of this! It irks me that this isn’t basic knowledge, because, gasp, it’s just not talked about! “Muff Busters” is pretty funny though.

  3. Great review – I do hope they are able to take on constructive criticism like yours as it does sound as if there’s scope for improvements. Best of luck with your talk – I’m sure you’ll rock!

    1. Thanks! I actually delivered my talk on Thursday evening, but I think it went well. Some people came up afterwards and said they were really glad I mainly focused on working class women (and they didn’t seem to mind me talking about executions either, though I toned down the gore quite a bit from what I initially wrote!).

      1. Glad it went well, and that you had such great feedback. Sounds like an interesting talk too – executions are always fascinating (even if they are gruesome)!

      2. There was only one execution I managed to work in – that of a woman who was burned at the stake for petty treason, i.e. murdering her husband. I felt like I was justified in bringing it up so I could clear up the myth about witches being burned at the stake (not in England, they were hanged!) and also point out that men were not accused of petty treason for killing their wives, only if a male servant killed their master, and that the punishment for men was merely hanging. I could definitely give a whole talk just on executions if someone gave me the opportunity!

      3. Your talk sounds amazing – I was aware of petty treason (although I didn’t know the term) as I knew that murdering your husband was seen in the same way as killing the king. Good to know about the witch hanging rather than burning – still not a great way to die, but preferable to burning anyway. I do hope you get the chance to give a longer talk about this.

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