Some background for those of you who haven’t heard the Ripper Museum controversy: Planning permission was granted for a museum in London exploring the rich and varied contributions of women to the history of the area.
The museum will recognise and celebrate the women of the East End who have shaped history, telling the story of how they have been instrumental in changing society. It will analyse the social, political and domestic experience from the Victorian period to the present day.
(Extract from the planning permission document)
It now transpires that museum is going to be ‘Jack the Ripper’ focused. The reason for this decision? It’s ‘more interesting’ to focus on stories of male violence against women and women’s victimhood than on women as agents.
We did plan to do a museum about social history of women but as the project developed we decided a more interesting angle was from the perspective of the victims of Jack the Ripper.
(Mark Palmer-Edgecombe, founder of the museum)
This has, obviously, attracted a lot of rage from … well, everyone. This isn’t simply a matter of jumping on a bandwagon – it’s genuinely upsetting to see the glorification of male violence, again. All too often, women are painted as being victims and this denies their agency and their achievements. The idea that the only interesting angle on women from this place and time is as murder victims is a shocking one – as a medievalist, I am not qualified to write about what alternative angles they could have taken – but many much more qualified and articulate people have done that already.
There are so many untold stories throughout history of women doing extraordinary things – they deserve a museum which tells these stories, not which rehashes tired old tales. Least of all one advertised with this:
(Image taken from http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/a-museum-that-was-supposed-to-be-dedicated-to-londons-suffragettes-is-now-somehow-about-jack-the-ripper-instead–b1yooMknXg)
Women’s bodies should not be a tourist attraction for us to gawp at or to provide cheap thrills. Palmer-Edgecombe may claim he is trying to view the Jack the Ripper story from the perspective of the women, but there are a number of issues with this. His statements on the issue reek of victim blaming
It is absolutely not celebrating the crime of Jack the Ripper but looking at why and how the women got in that situation in the first place.
So, where next?
Sara Huws (@sara_huws) and Sarah Jackson (@sajarinaand) are trying to start their own museum; one which tells the stories of marginalised East End women from their own perspectives, centering them and their lives. To make a museum about women’s history and then name it after a man is symptomatic of how much further we still have to go. You can sign up to support a real museum of women’s history in London here: https://sajarina.typeform.com/to/KKWInj. If you live in Glasgow, GWL is well worth a visit – I’m sure there are other examples from across the country.