According to the INEGI, Mexico’s National Statistics and Geography Institute, more than 51% of this country’s total population (of 112.3 million) is female. So how can a space as tiny as that of the Museo de la Mujer – The Women’s Museum – be expected to reflect the history, achievements and role of women in society, while doubling as a cultural center for programs related to women’s studies? It’s a tall order to begin with, and the UNAM (Mexico’s National Autonomous University) funded site, inaugurated earlier this year falls far from its goal. It is inexplicable how a 15 year project could end with such meager results.
It is bad enough that women are not taken seriously in this society, that equality remains a myth, that all but a handful of women hold top level positions in both public and private spheres and that women are systematically discriminated against, but a first attempt to honor this gender and trace its importance historically fails miserably. Housed in the long forgotten and abandoned Publishing House of the University, the small colonial structure (located on Bolivia 17) has been painstakingly renovated. Although the admirable architectural outcome does not offset the fact that it is in a remote, inaccessible, low traffic zone on the periphery of the Centro Historico, the architectural makeover itself is the sole redeeming aspect of the museum.
The ambitious list of themes, divided into 8 rooms, are lofty and unattainable: (1) Equality, Universal Principals of Harmony; (2) a Dual Cosmovision of Ancient Mexico; (3) the Virgin Mary in Viceregal Mexico; (4) Women at Home and Insurgent Women; (5) Freedom and Education; (6) From Teachers to Revolutionaries (7) Women Citizens; and (8) From the Women’s Revolution to Modern Times. The flow is poor, the signs are spotty, the guards are unprepared.
Given that Mexico is recognized for its outstanding museography and innovative solutions related to cultural displays, this long awaited site is nothing short of a let down. Not even the valuable art works of renown Mexican painters such as José Luis Cuevas, Francisco Toledo, Guillermo Ceniceros and Esther González, as well as sculptures by Federico Silva, Sebastián y Glenda Hecher which dot the exhibit can atone for the lack of cohesion and research.
If this museum aims to show how women have changed the world, or at least Mexican society, it does not come close to meeting its objective. In fact, the long awaited Women’s Museum, if nothing else, makes evident the secondary role that women continue to play not only in this misogynist society but in the heart and budget of a heavy-weight university. My question to the UNAM is why did it even bother? It seems that Mexican women’s fame is destined to remain relegated to domestic violence, and the outrageous head count of femicides in Ciudad Juarez. A possible solution to this embarrassment could be to shift the focus of the museum to its second objective, converting it into a Women’s Study Center, and taking away the word “Museum” from its name.