The entrance to the Vagina Museum in Bethnal Green is a black hole in a wall down an alley—you wouldn’t know it was there unless someone told you.
Florence Schechter opened it in March 2022 to “spread knowledge of gynecological anatomy in a trans inclusive way and erase stigma of said gynecological anatomy.” I went there last week curious to know how she puts the MEN in menstruation and the GUY into gynecology.
I agree there’s a reluctance amongst women to know anything about “down there” or even name it. What do you call it? Vagina? Too clinical. Pussy? Too pornified. Cunt? A tad brutal; Love Tunnel, Chocolate Box, Front Bottom, etc etc. None of them has the matey familiarity of “cock” or “knob” or “knackers.” My granny believed “clits” were knots in the hair on one’s head and one removed them with a comb or a brush. I remember at a friend’s house I told the parents I want to comb the clits out of my hair and they exchanged a look. I thought it possible I might actually learn something at this museum.
My appearance screamed “TERF!!!” to the masked vigilant young woman on the front desk—her eyes widened, then narrowed, then darted sideways when she saw me. What gave me away? My straggly, grey, crazy-lady hair? The haggard expression on my face and dark marks under my eyes? The two Sainsbury’s orange plastic bags clutched in my hands full of the week’s shopping (the museum is on the way back home from Shoreditch Sainsbury’s)? She moved as if to reach for a red button under the desk (a TERF alarm?) all the while holding me in her steely terrified stare.
The host kindly allowed me to leave my shopping bags behind the desk and provided me with a mask. I perused the cheap and cheerful exhibition—basically a few placards tied with string to some chicken wire—under close supervision.
The first placard said: “At any given time, 800 million people are menstruating around the world, with just over 50% of the global population getting a period at some point in their lives.”
I stared for a long time, unable to move. It’s hard to describe my emotions but the words “what” and “is” and “this” and “shit?” sprang to mind. I felt like the narrator when he claps eyes on the House of Usher: “an utter depression of soul…a hideous dropping off of the veil.”
The publicly funded museum demands—in public—not only that I pretend a man is a woman but also, in order to maintain this pretence, I must not expect to see the word “woman” or “women” in any descriptions of men-struation in case he feels excluded. They refer instead to: “menstruators, bleeders, humans, those who menstruate, someone bleeds, a person bleeds, early humans had very irregular bleeds….” and so on and so forth.
Another placard declares in big letters: “Menstrual blood is the equivalent of semen.” A drawing showed the “similarity” between a woman and a man’s genitals —a clitoris is in fact just a teeny weeny penis and the ovaries are internal scrotum; women have a penis—it’s just smaller and not as impressive as a man’s. I learned that the problem is the word “woman”—once removed, the body and its functions are associated with men and thus the taboo, shame, and filth become fun.
The museum has a chicken wire wall where visitors can express their hopes about “the future of menstruation” on little brightly coloured post-it notes. I wrote “Only women menstruate!” on one and tied it up on the chicken wire with tampons supplied by the museum.
I went to the loo and, when I returned just five minutes later, my post-it note had been removed.
As an experiment, I decided to return the following week disguised with a rainbow bandana. I looked at the exhibits again and wrote two more post-it notes: “Women have a penis!” and “Free menstrual products for all genders NOW!”
I tied my messages to the chicken wire with the free tampons which I decorated with supplied felt tips, to look like a penis. In the “stone age bleeders” section, visitors are invited to “design your own cave art of people menstruating” so I did a huge cartoon cock ejaculating blood.
I said “Thank you very much,” to the masked young woman as I left. “Have a great day!” she replied.
Do you want to bring the "gender madness" to an end? Help us write about it! 4W is able to pay our all-female staff and writers thanks to the generous support of our paid monthly subscribers.
Enter your email below to sign in or become a 4W member and join the conversation.
(Already did this? Try refreshing the page!)