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A promised 'women's museum' opens as a Jack the Ripper exhibit tonight, and I won't take it lying down

The founder - a former head of diversity at Google - says he wants to investigate why the victims "got themselves into that situation in the first place." What sexist irony

Becky Warnock
Tuesday 04 August 2015 12:34 BST
The museum was due to open earlier this week
The museum was due to open earlier this week

In October 2014 a new museum gained planning permission by promising ‘the only dedicated resource in the East End [of London] to women’s history’. With insulting irony, the museum has now been unveiled as a venue dedicated to the violent crimes of Jack the Ripper. The original application, upon which Tower Hamlets Council gave its approval, states: “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.” Now, what stands there instead is a large drawn silhouette of a Victorian man with blood splattered across the pavement below him, and a placard inviting punters to “visit the morgue and see the autopsy photos and reports of the murdered women”. You can even get the blood-spattered silhouette printed on a pint glass to remember your experience by.

You couldn’t make this sort of insult up. The original document proposing a “women’s museum” cited the closure of the local Whitechapel’s Women’s Library in 2013 to stress its own importance. Instead, the place that was apparently intended to celebrate the contribution of suffragettes and anti-racism protesters now celebrates the life of the serial killer who viciously murdered women across London's East End, from 1888 and 1891.

I’m not a campaigner by trade, but when I read about the development of the new Jack the Ripper exhibit last week, something inside me clicked into action. I felt anger at the deceit involved, of the silencing of women’s voices in favour of a voyeuristic memorialisation of a famous murderer. I felt I needed to do something. So I started a petition through the Campaigns By You section of the 38 Degrees website. I didn’t really expect anything else to happen to be honest. Only it did. And now there’s nearly 3500 signatures and a protest planned for this evening.

The petition is calling on Tower Hamlets council to revoke the planning permission for the new museum on Cable street or force it to close down and re-open as the women's history museum we were promised.

The founder (a former Head of Diversity at Google, because of course he is) claims the new museum “is not celebrating the crimes of Jack the Ripper but looking at why and how the women got in that situation in the first place”. This victim-blaming attitude is staggeringly out of touch. All of a sudden, murdered victims “got themselves into a situation”, presumably by being sex workers and/or human females on urban streets at night. And because they got themselves into it, I suppose it’s fine that we gawp at the gory details of their deaths in a specially developed museum: after all, they’re just prostitutes.

Through the petition I’ve met women from the ‘East End Women’s Museum’ group, an online space dedicated to creating the museum we all deserve, who have over 300 volunteers, and have been active in organising tonight’s protest. The Jack the Ripper Museum unveils its exhibitions tonight, and as women of London, we don’t plan on accepting that quietly.

Hopefully our actions will continue to put pressure on the council to reassess their permission, to stand behind the original celebration of female suffrage. How can we expect to stop the violent crimes against women in today’s society, after all, if we continue to celebrate their killers and only remember women as ‘victims’ rather than comprehensive people? Let’s celebrate all the incredible women that have paved the path before for all of us. Please join us for the protest on Tuesday 3rd August, at 12 Cable Street, E1 8JG, preferably in the suffragette colours of purple, green and white. Because celebrating a murderous misogynist doesn't count as celebrating women's history.

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