CW: sexual violence, femicide, mutilation
Earlier this year, an application for the UK’s first women’s history museum was approved for a location on Cable Street in the east end of London. Cable Street and the surrounding area has a rich history of famous female residents and women-led action, and women’s history in the UK has long been pushed to the sidelines or forgotten entirely, so the news was met with excitement from local residents.
In July the museum opened. And what we got was a tacky, gruesome tribute to the memory of Jack the Ripper, famed misogynist and killer of women.
Women’s history scholar Sophie Yates wrote an article for the Jar Belles at the time of the museum’s opening, explaining exactly why it was so offensive and why another Jack the Ripper museum was so unnecessary. “To put it in context – imagine the outcry if a museum or exhibition was opened about Peter Sutcliffe or Steve Wright, dubbed “modern day Jack the Rippers” for their heinous crimes against women.” Sophie wasn’t the only one speaking out – the museum received a huge wave of criticism and protests have sprung up regularly since. The Women’s Death Brigade (the women’s division of Class War) has been particularly vocal in its disgust at the museum, leading the backlash against it, and the media has widely expressed distaste at the misleading planning application and the museum’s gory contents. For the Ripper Museum isn’t even an accurate, tasteful or original account of Jack the Ripper’s crimes – facts are often incorrect, exploitative images of the women’s autopsies decorate the walls and an endless loop of women screaming plays throughout.
Hilariously, the owner of the museum, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, worked as Head of Diversity at Google before opening his attraction and is Chief Executive Officer of the Global Diversity List (I’ll wait while you finish laughing). You’d think he would understand the concerns of women when their history is largely ignored except in their role as victims, and might show some sensitivity. Instead, he has managed to trump himself by launching a horrific Halloween event (with the help of all-round terrible PR professional Joshua Walker):
“For one weekend only, museum visitors can meet Jack the Ripper. Dare you have a selfie with him in his sitting room where he planned his horrific murders? Or how about a picture with Jack in Mitre Square together with the body of Catherine Eddowes? Are you brave enough to meet him in Mary Jane Kelly’s bedroom – the scene of the most horrific of all Jack the Ripper’s murders. Just be careful not to meet Jack in the basement morgue!”
– from the event’s press release
The event promises the opportunity to “…experience his crimes through the eyes of the women who were his victims. It’s educational, fun and very scary.” Lovely. Because what says fun and educational like taking a selfie next to the body of a dead woman, or experiencing the thrill that those women felt when they were stalked and mutilated? It’s not like anybody cares about Catherine Eddowes; the mother of three was an alcoholic, working class prostitute and so has been ripe for exploitation ever since her terrible death in 1888. And it’s not like women in the UK haven’t had enough of being stalked, or abused, or killed by men; 149 women were murdered by males in 2014. Why can’t we all just have a little “fun” this Halloween and lighten up?
If you’re as horrified by this event and the museum as I am, then please join the protest this Halloween. It’s being organised by Fourth Wave: London Feminist Activists and the event page is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/943584462394265/. While the Mayor of Tower Hamlets has called for a boycott of the museum, we believe that more action is necessary. It seems that Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe has thoroughly blocked his ears to the cries of women asking for some respect and has decided to antagonise us instead. Let’s antagonise him back. He’ll be dressing as Jack the Ripper for the event, a move which shows he’s revelling in his new-found notoriety but will also make him easier to spot, so be sure to let him know what you think of his museum on the day. If you can’t make the protest, there are a couple of useful Twitter accounts for delivering feedback: @RipperMuseum and @JoshuaWalkerPR. Do drop them a line.
It’s time we spoke out loudly enough for Palmer-Edgecumbe to hear. We’re sick of his shameless museum, we deserve more than a history of violence, and selfies with dead women aren’t fun.