Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | Wednesday, 29 July 2015

It Seems Women\\\\\\\'s Deaths Are More Compelling Than Their Achievements

Jack The Ripper Museum Faces Protests And Petition For Its Closure

The Debrief: A Jack The Ripper museum has been made by the same people who promised to deliver the UK's first women's museum. Because why tell the story of some women's achievements when you can talk about the vicious ways they can be murdered?

UPDATE: As well as the launch of an e-petition to see the Jack the Ripper museum closed and re-configured as a women's museum (as promised) there was a protest on Tuesday 4th August outside the venue:

 

 Picture this. A women's museum in London, accessible to all, telling stories of Suffragism, women's earnest (and sometimes fatal) fight for the vote, their vital contribution to the home guard in the World Wars, their importance in spying during the World Wars, their subsequent liberation movement in the 1960s and 70s, their involvement in anti-fascist activism and their current, ongoing quest to help reach actual, proper, in-real-life-and-not-just-on-paper equality.

It was going to happen. At least it was according to a 2014 document from Waugh Thistleton, the architects designing this museum at 12 Cable Street, east London. It reads that the site would: 'retell the story of the East End through the eyes, voices, experiences and actions' of women. This 'first class' museum would've been the UK's first dedicated to women. The document was accompanied by photos of suffragettes and equal pay campaigners, and was even going to be called the Museum of Women's History.

But as it turns out, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, the man who was paying the architects and applied for planning permission for the site, had a change of heart. Now the museum is a Jack The Ripper museum! So instead of looking at the many achievements of British women since the Victorian period, it will be looking at the brutal ways some unfortunate women's bodies were raped, killed, mutilated and rumoured to be eaten by a man whose identity remains undiscovered to this day.

Residents near the museum are unhappy about this change of use - which was approved in October by Tower Hamlets council. Julia Broadbridge told the Evening Standard: 'The history of the East End is not just about misogyny: it’s about the Battle of Cable Street, it’s about Oscar Wilde and The Picture Of Dorian Grey, among other things.'

Julian Cole, a filmmaker, said: 'We feel we have been completely hoodwinked and deceived. My neighbour thought it was some kind of sick joke.'

Mr Palmer-Edgecumbe, who's worked in diversity recruitment and is part of a team that decides a 'global diversity list', defended his project: '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.

'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.'

Yes, he really did say that people would be more interested in the deaths of some women than the achievements of thousands of others. And he did say that Jack the Ripper's victims 'got in that situation', as if walking into your own rape and murder is an option women take, like getting a bus or eating a sandwich. It feels ridiculous to have to defend the livelihoods of a few women who died almost 130 years ago, (you see, they were prostitutes, so maybe they were asking for it?) but unfortunately it appears we still have to.

Tourists, will surely arrive in their droves, forming  clumps of cagoules and hefty cameras along the pavement outside this museum. But though it could be argued that Whitechapel (the place, not the TV series, though you've got to wonder how its popularity had a hand in Mr Palmer-Edgcumbe's decision-making process) could benefit from tourism to Cable Street, we've already got the Jack The Ripper experience at the London Dungeons. There was an exhibition of Jack the Ripper at the Museum of London this year, too. Do we really need two museums offering rubbernecking at the unsolved, bloody deaths of a few women at the behest of one museum dedicated to the east end's many and diverse women and their successes?

The Jack the Ripper museum opens on Tuesday 4th August, with the council declaring: 'Ultimately the council has no control in planning terms of the nature of the museum ... The council is investigating the extent to which unauthorised works may have been carried out.'

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