The Vagina Museum has reopened in Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets, after a six-month-long closure, with an exhibition devoted to the history of menstruation.
The unique museum, devoted to breaking down the taboos around female bodies and gynaecological anatomy, first opened in 2019 in Camden Market.
After its lease was not renewed, the museum was forced to temporarily close its doors in 2021 and relocate to a new place in Sugar Loaf Walk, Bethnal Green.
Florence Schechter, the director of the museum, told ELL: “Even if you do not have a vagina, you probably love someone who has a vagina, maybe you want to have sex with people who have a vagina, you might have a child who has a vagina; it is something that is relevant for everybody.”
The museum currently displays two exhibitions: a permanent one focusing on the gynaecological anatomy, as well as the most important issues those with vaginas face today, and a temporary one, Periods: A Brief History.
“People wanted to learn about basic things; they wanted to see stuff about menopause or endometriosis, so we realized what we really need is a permanent exhibition.”
“We went through the past two years of feedback that we have got, we also emailed our members and asked them what they would like to see, and this is what we have come up with.”
The permanent exhibition called From A to V is dedicated to female genital anatomy, health issues, and women’s rights. Here visitors can see a wall of vulvas, each of them picked by Schechter from an online database containing 500 images and the vaginally bleached knickers that went viral last year on Twitter.
In front of the permanent exhibition, there is a large space that will be used to hold events for educational purposes, and they are working on a school outreach programme as well.
As the museum is free, it is mostly funded through grants, donations, memberships, and its shop.
Schechter said: “We want to turn the place into a community gallery, but we need more money for it, so we are applying for funding at the moment, and when we get funding, we will open that up.”
Zoe Williams, the museum’s development and marketing manager, explained that the new exhibition is centred around menstrual stigma and its origins.
She said: “We have got a lot of menstrual taboos which are with us today, and all this exhibition aims to look at where did they come from, has it always been like this, has menstruation always been a taboo, what taboos exist.”
Similarly to the museum’s permanent exhibition, Periods: A Brief History also drew on feedback and added stories to the exhibition about menstruation from around the world for visitors’ requests.
The museum says that to respect everyone’s gender identity, unless they are referring to specific individuals, they are using gender-neutral language. Williams said: “Throughout this exhibition, we do use gender-neutral language because we recognize that not everybody who menstruates is a woman, not every woman menstruates, and throughout time and space, gender has been constructed differently.”
Williams explained that she found there is no one culture that has an entirely negative view on menstruation nor an entirely positive one. The exhibition walks visitors through the history of menstruation from Ancient Egypt to the 20th century.
Williams said that even though there is still a stigma around menstruation, there are positive changes finally happening in our societies.
“We are starting to see a movement towards positivity of our periods. The myths are starting to bust, but we are not there yet. I hope that we will get there.”
Williams said: “What we invite everybody participating in this exhibition to do, is have a conversation about what you have seen today, donate to period poverty, and take a thing to reflect what do you think periods in the future will look like.”
Schechter added: “If we want to live in a better society because the current one we are in is obviously not great, one of the major ways to do that is with intersexual feminism, so come here and join the fight.”