A museum devoted to the history of working class women’s struggles in the East End of London sounds like a great idea.
Certainly Tower Hamlets council in east London thought so when they approved the planning application.
The application included photos of Matchwomen strikers and suffragettes and described how it would celebrate “how women’s industrial action led to better working conditions for all”.
The museum is set to open this week—but it’s no longer devoted to women’s resistance.
Instead the US former head of diversity and inclusion for Google, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, has created a museum of Jack the Ripper.
Jack the Ripper became the media’s name for the person assumed to be responsible for the multiple murders of women, many working as prostitutes, in London the late 1880s.
Louise Raw, author of Striking a Light, which tells the story of the Matchwomen’s strike, told Socialist Worker the museum was “an absolute obscenity”.
She said the museum owners were “profiting from the blood of women”.
Protesters are calling for the council to shut it down.
Palmer-Edgecumbe claims he changed his mind because the new subject was “more interesting”.
But the website admits he has wanted to create such a project since 2008.
He claims his museum “in no way glorifies or glamorises Jack the Ripper”.
Yet as Louise points out the museum’s logo is the figure of the murderer in a top hat “in silhouette, looking sexy, glamorous and mysterious.”
The women’s only representation in it is the trail of blood at his feet.
The portrayal of poor women as murder victims of a notorious serial killer was clearly deemed to be a more profitable commodity than celebrating women as class fighters.
Louise points to the Victorian establishment’s “obsession with the sexuality of working class women”. Women working as prostitutes were demonised.
The museum wants to cash in on the continued myth-making about the identity of a murderer under the facade of looking at the lives of the victims.
Yet in this tale the women are merely autopsy reports.
As Louise said, we have to remember the women who were murdered were “real people”.
“They were mothers and grandmothers, their descendants could be living in east London today.”
Palmer-Edgecumbe’s promises to give some proceeds to charities such as Eaves which support women who have suffered domestic violence and sexual exploitation have been dismissed.
Louise describes them as purely “cynical” and Eaves denied they have ever been contacted.
“He is using the Eaves charity as a human shield for the commercialisation of torture, mutilation and the murder of women.”
The anger the scandal has provoked has led to talk of trying to establish a museum that is genuinely about working class women and their struggles.
As Louise said, “Maybe something good will come out of this”.
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