If you’ve not already heard of Florence Schechter, she’s on a mission to open the world’s very first Vagina Museum.
The science YouTuber, who has a biochemistry degree under her belt, loves talking about the human body but it’s her passion for vaginas that really excites us. And my oh my, there is so much to learn.
As she holds her first event to raise funds for the innovative project, we caught up with the 25-year-old to discuss the human anatomy, menstruation, contraception, animal vaginas (trust us, they're fascinating) and why this museum needs a place, not only in science, but in society...
How did the idea for the Vagina Museum come about?
I made a YouTube video on the top ten animal penises and loved doing it so I thought it would be great to follow up with a vagina counterpart. I set about trying to research it but I really struggled, there was literally no information. In fact there’s actually an institutional bias towards studying male genitalia – someone wrote a whole paper on this. In the past 25 years out of all the animal genitalia studies that have been done – around 364 – only 8% are singularly about female animal genitalia. A friend of mine had visited Reykjavik, Iceland where they have the Penis Museum and they told me all about it. I figured there must be a vagina museum somewhere in the world so I went hunting for it, thinking that good information on animal vaginas would be held there. But I found there wasn’t one. No one had created a vagina museum.
Well, the vagina has been ignored hasn’t it? It’s only recently in history that it’s been given the credence it deserves. Take period cramps for example, historically doctors refused to acknowledge that they even existed. Imagine that. It really upset me that there was no central place for information on everything to do with vaginas. I thought rather than getting upset, the smart thing to do would be to create my own vagina museum. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m totally ready to become the expert on all things vagina!
What’s your vision for the museum?
The dream is to have a space somewhere in London with four permanent galleries. Science; this will hold all the health information such as anatomy, menstruation, contraception and of course animal vagina info! Culture; this will look at the vagina’s representation in art so will display paintings, music and literature. Society; this will cover everything from sexual violence to the vagina’s place in religion. The history gallery will essentially be a feminism gallery and will cover the history of repression and how we’ve documented vaginas throughout time and where feminism is at now. In addition to these permanent galleries, there will also be a topical temporary gallery that rotates. I’d also like an event space and for the museum to have a community outreach programme so we can work on projects with relevant charities.
Phew, big plans then?
I’m aware of how ambitious this is and I’m aware it might take a decade to achieve but I’ve got to have that goal to work towards. At the moment this project is entirely volunteer run. I’ve got loads of different people helping me. Scientists, doctors, charity workers, comedians, lots of incredible women doing things here and there so we’re making those small steps.
Is it keeping you awake at night?
Yes! There’s masses to do and the plan is hinged on how much funding we get. If a mysterious feminist millionaire comes to me and donates a building it would be a different story. For now, we’ll be working on growing our fund and we’re holding the pop-up Vagina Museum events to raise money. We’re also researching our first travelling exhibit, which will focus on the anatomy and health of the vagina. A travelling exhibition is a great way to evaluate and refine exhibits that might become part of the final museum.
What’s been the reaction so far to the project?
Mostly positive. All sorts of people have got in touch to say that the vagina museum is a really great idea. An older male GP emailed me out of the blue telling me that he’s treated many, many women and very few were confident even talking to their doctor about their vagina. Having a museum like mine will hopefully just open up more conversations about vaginas. I’ve had a few negative comments such as people saying, “vaginas are gross and we don’t need to see them in a museum.” That upsets me because vaginas aren’t gross, they’re wonderful. I’ve also had criticism from women saying that I’m “defining women only by their vaginas and we’re so much more than that.” I’m well aware that women are more than just their parts. Education is important to me, science is important to me. But my vagina is a part of me too and I won’t ignore it. Every month my vagina screams “listen to me” it would be weird if I denied its existence. I’ve had suggestions that it should be called the vulva museum instead, but the vulva is just the external part and doesn’t include everything to do with the mechanics. I’ve no interest in only covering the asthetic element of a vagina. My dad gave me the best feedback though. When a newspaper ran a feature on the Vagina Museum he texted me with such a dad joke, he said, “I love your article, it really hit the G-spot.” He’s super-supportive, he thinks it’s really cool. My boyfriend massively supports me too.
You’re massively interested in animal vaginas, tell us why?
Animal vaginas are the best and I think hyenas are my favourite. If we were to have a mascot for the museum, I think it would be the hyena. For a really long time people thought they were hermaphrodites because they only saw hyenas with penises, and obviously babies come from somewhere, but the females actually have an elongated clitoris that just look like a penis. The reason for this is that it blocks the entrance to the vagina and the only way you can get into it is if the hyena retracts the clitoris to expose the opening. The really great thing about this is that it’s impossible for a hyena to be raped – another hyena can’t get in there without her moving the muscles to allow it. This has led to them living in a matriarchal society. Patriarchal societies exist because of rape being used to control women. There are so many more examples of this and they need to be in a museum, right?
If you could have any famous female ambassadors for the museum (dead or alive) who would you choose?
Emma Watson, Lena Dunham and surprisingly Kim Kardashian. Kim doesn’t describe herself as a feminist but she loves her vagina and she posts herself naked on Instagram because that’s what she wants to do, so I’m totally in support of that. Sophia Jex-Blake, was one of the first women to trailblaze women practicing medicine and she was so cool. I’d love to bring her back as she’d be on board with the museum.
What was your education around vaginas and periods?
Everything I learnt came from a variety of sources. My mum was super-awkward about it so she just gave me a book rather than talking about it. At primary school we had a lesson where they showed us how to stick a sanitary pad on some knickers, then when I was older I got all my info online.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt about vaginas on your journey so far?
That human vaginas are actually really boring in comparison to animal vaginas. One wonderful thing about the human vagina though is it gets longer when you’re aroused. They don’t just expand width ways but lengthways too. That’s pretty cool. I also find it fascinating how periods have only become more important in modern society since the emergence of family planning. Beforehand, women would be pregnant so often that throughout their whole life may only have about 100 periods. Now it’s more like 300 or 400. So periods are a much more important part of our life now.
So, tell us about your first Vagina Museum comedy event?
The whole point of our pop-up events is to raise money for the big picture, to get the message out there and bring the concept of the Vagina Museum to life. Our event sold out weeks in advance and I’ll be announcing the next one very soon. Tonight we’ve got seven comedy acts that include a material scientist who’ll be doing a hilarious set about how to design a sex toy. A yeast researcher is doing something funny around vaginal health and a fascinating lady who does comedy around her experience of surviving cervical cancer. I’ll be MC-ing the whole event and it’s going to be great.
Finally, what’s your favourite thing about vaginas?
Oh they’re just amazing. So many great things happen from them, sexual pleasure…babies…and more importantly we can now decide if we have those babies or not. Previously, vaginas would be a curse because women had no control over them. The empowerment of women and how much they contribute to society is directly linked to how much control they have over their own vaginas. So they’re amazingly powerful.
To learn more about the Vagina Museum and attend the next event, visit vaginamuseum.co.uk
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