Women’s History Gets Slashed for Serial Killer Museum
A museum dedicated to women’s history was set to become Britain’s first. The proposal, approved by London’s planning council last August, billed it as "the only dedicated resource in the East End to women’s history" and the first such museum in England, following the closure of the Women’s Library in 2013.
“The museum will recognise and celebrate the women of the East End—the famous, the infamous, and the anonymous—who have shaped history,” stated the proposal submitted by Mark Palmer Edgecumbe, the former head of diversity, talent, and inclusion at Google.
Emphasis on “anonymous.” When the museum unveiled its signage to the public last week, it appeared there would be no inclusion of iconic British suffragettes such as Women’s Social and Political Union founders Annie Kenne and Christabel Pankhurst, a photo of whom appeared in the proposal. But two months after it was approved, he quietly submitted a change of use application for the building, flipping the museum’s focus entirely, according to the London Evening Standard.
Set to open on Tuesday, it is now the Jack the Ripper Museum, and, as its name suggests, it will honor one of the world’s most infamous murderers of women, and sex workers in particular. Edgecumbe’s initial goal of honoring the role of women in history seems to have been about as unsuccessful as his attempt to improve diversity at Google.
A month after Edgecumbe left his post at the global tech company in May, Google released an updated diversity report showing virtually no improvement from when the company first made its reports public in 2014. Women still account for just 30 percent of Google’s workforce, which is 60 percent white and 31 percent Asian. Hispanics represent 3 percent of the company’s employees, and blacks account for 2 percent.
Edgecumbe has championed his workplace diversity initiatives, but his Jack the Ripper Museum sends a far different message: Even the men who are famous for killing and terrorizing get honored with museums, while the women who helped shape history are largely forgotten. No monuments, no museums, and no celebrations. Diversity in the workplace and representations of it in the media and in museums are, of course, different things; however, the glass ceiling that keeps women out of boardrooms is just as limiting as the barriers to equal representation in the arts world.
Women’s advocacy groups like Equal Visibility Everywhere have long campaigned for increased gender representation in museums and on monuments, stamps, and currency, on the basis that cultural images deeply affect how people see themselves and imagine their own possibilities for leadership. The subliminal message presented by the media, Equal Visibility Everywhere President Lynette Long told TakePart earlier in July, is that men define history. “It’s a very powerful one. It’s inherent in our culture: on the money, on the coins, on the stamps, and in the statues and monuments,” she said.
In art museums in general—not just those dedicated to women’s history—women are also severely underrepresented, both in the galleries and behind the scenes. Just 28 percent of solo shows at eight selected museums throughout the 2000s went to female artists, according to statistics compiled by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. A report released last year by the National Center for Arts Research found that an even smaller percentage of museums—25 percent—were run by women, who make about a third less than their male counterparts.
But perhaps no one made the case for honoring women’s history better than Edgecumbe, a CEO for The Economist’s Global Diversity List and chairman of the board of trustees at The Inclusive Foundation, who has written frequently for The Guardian about the need for more women in the boardrooms of the U.K.’s top companies. In the museum’s initial proposal, Edgecumbe argued that 100 women’s museums exist globally, yet there are zero in the U.K. “Despite the immense contribution of the women of the East End to the historical, social, political and economic development of the United Kingdom, no museum exists to showcase their achievements,” he wrote.
No thanks to the Jack the Ripper museum, that statistic still stands.