Feminism

I went to the vagina museum

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Over the coming months, Backbench will be partnering with Torrin Wilkins, Director of Centre Think Tank for a series of comment pieces. In his column, Torrin will explore prominent policy issues – some of them related to the latest news and others related to his longer-term projects. We’d love for Backbench readers and commentators to respond to Torrin’s policy analysis and ideas, so if you would like to contribute a response, please email editor@bbench.co.uk.  

Please note that all the views expressed in Torrin’s articles are those of Torrin himself and do not necessarily represent the standpoint of Backbench. 

The other week I was at Camden market, and I went to the vagina museum. Yes, an actual museum about vaginas, reproduction, and periods. I’m sure you are already asking why I decided to spend my day there and the answer is quite simple, there is still a taboo around periods.

The exhibit there shows how periods have been shrouded in misunderstanding, myths and stigma. The exhibit shows this with a history of periods and how shame has been attached to them. It then moves on to how period products such as menstrual cups and tampons were created and some of the history around them.

This all got me thinking about how we can tackle inequality, especially when it’s an issue with such deep roots in history. We may have come a long way towards equality, but we are also still a long way from it and we have a mix with some groups seeing large advances and other not. For instance, the museum does a good job of including trans people where there is still a huge way to go before we reach equality on this front.

I think the answer to how we reach equality is a mixture of both how we do it and what practical steps we can take. In terms of how we get there I think Martin Luther King Jnr got it right when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and I think that’s where we need to start. You may think an issue doesn’t affect you but, in reality, it does. As a white man you may think stigma, injustice, and inequality like this wouldn’t affect me, but the reality is it affects all of us and its everyone’s job to support change.

It’s about ensuring we fight for everyone, listen to them and support change where we can. However, this approach to fighting for equality is only half what’s needed. The other half is about fighting for real changes such as free period products similar to the policy Scotland has introduced.

It also lies in changing the rules for people at all ages. For instance I co-authored a paper on “Bathroom Breaks”. This looked at how students in schools are being denied access to bathrooms by teachers and sometimes either wetting themselves or bleeding through their clothing. The change that we could have introduced there to ensure students can use the toilets during lessons would have been simple and easy.

So, if you get a chance to go when the museum is next open, I very much recommend it. It was genuinely worthwhile and I even got some funky notebooks and a few fun pictures as you can see. However, it also made me think (as every good museum should). It made me think about equality. how we get there and what we can all do to fight for it.

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