Moving to London six months ago to find the Vagina Museum closed was particularly heart-breaking. It has therefore been a long and tiresome wait for it to return.
This first of its kind museum – dedicated to raising awareness about gynaecological anatomy and health - re-opened in its new, bigger space in Bethnal Green on 19 March.
And it does not disappoint. Though small, the museum boasts a huge amount of information, both providing knowledge about and celebrating the vagina.
The vagina is a part of the human anatomy that has been historically disregarded - due to the centring of the male body in scientific research. It is the museum’s mission to address this, and it is for this reason that its existence in itself is refreshing.
The museum’s current exhibition, Periods: A Brief History, sponsored by The Body Shop, explores the historical beliefs that have led to menstruation remaining a taboo subject to this day.
Various theories have been proposed throughout history to try to explain what period blood is and what it can do, such as poisoning penises to curing leprosy. While, obviously, none of this is true, what these myths do is highlight the power that has historically been attributed to menstruation. A power that is now being celebrated through the exhibition.
Though chicken wireframes are used in a DIY attempt to display the research, this is soon forgotten as a result of, not only the free entrance, but how well the material is put together.
Starting from the earliest understandings (if that is what you can call them) of the menstrual cycle, the exhibition invites you to contribute to the conversation about periods from the offset. At the beginning of the exhibition, visitors are encouraged to add to a collection of ‘cave art’ depicting people menstruating – giving the exhibition a sense of interactivity.
This interactivity successfully invites the viewer to feel comfortable, and it is this comfort that perhaps prompts conversations that would usually be avoided out of embarrassment.
The rest of the exhibition provides a whistle-stop tour of gynaecological science from the ancient Greeks and Romans to the present day. We learn what Aristotle thought about menstruation, the role that nature has played in the development of period products, and what is being done to address period poverty today. The exhibition also gives Mary Kenner, the inventor of the period pad as we know it, the recognition she is so often denied since she was a Black woman in America during the 1950s.
Finishing with a giant tampon covered in red glitter - highlighting how a serious topic is addressed in an accessible way - the exhibition is well worth a visit and should be celebrated for its inclusivity. The Museum’s website highlights that challenging heteronormative and cisnormative behaviour is an integral part of its mission as well as acting as a forum for women, the LGBT+ community and the intersex community. It is evident that it is a safe space from the moment you walk in.
While it is undoubtedly a space that celebrates womanhood, with feminism an underlying theme throughout, its feminism is intersectional - recognising that not all women have periods and not everyone who menstruates is a woman. The exhibition is also successfully inclusive in the sense that, by providing education, whether you menstruate or not, it invites everyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, or age, to continue thinking about the realities of periods beyond the hour or so you spend in the museum. It, therefore, forms part of the vital conversation that is destigmatising periods.
For those who unfortunately can’t make it to the east London site, there is lots of information to be found on the Museum’s website. This includes an online re-incarnation of their previous exhibition: Muff Buster’s, Vagina Myths and How to Fight Them. This particular online exhibition is well-thought-out and should in fact be made compulsive reading for young people with vaginas, much as the period exhibition should for those of us who menstruate.
Have you visited the Vagina Museum? If so, what did you think?