Interview with Merete Ipsen, Director, Women’s Museum in Denmark

Merete Ipsen is the Co-founder of the Women’s Museum in Denmark and since 1984 full-time employed at the growing museum. Before that educated as psychologist and employed as a scientist at the University in Aarhus.
Over the years held a number of positions of trust of which the most important are chairman of the Danish Council of Museums in the years 1998-2002, chairman of the Danish national committee of ICOM 2003-2009. Member of ICOM’s Executive Council since 2010 and of ICOMs Ethical Committee since 2011. Member of the Danish national UNESCO commission since 2010.  She is involved in several European and International projects on women’s history, gender, motherhood, cross-cultural relations etc.  Ipsen is author to a number of articles and books in Danish.
Women’s Museum in Denmark, Arhus, Denmark  –


Women’s Museum Istanbul:  What do you think when you hear your museum is inclusive? How do you define your inclusive concept?

Merete Ipsen: My museum is placed in an old city hall. In former times, only men were allowed to be in the city council. So being in that house is telling the story about exclusion, women were excluded, and in 1915 they were finally included. So inclusion is a historical factor for women in our country. When we started the museum, it was very important for us to be inclusive for women without education, so we hired unemployed women to be together with us and make oral history. Later on, 10 years or more ago, we were very active in being inclusive for women from foreign cultural backgrounds, immigrant and refugee women. We offered a mentor programme to them. They could come to our museum and have a one-to-one mentor relation, in order to learn how to behave in Denmark – not because they should be like us. Who is us? We are all so different! But to learn how they can act in public, how meetings in their children’s school work, and so on. Inclusiveness means to be open minded, inclusiveness is now also to include men, who want to be part of the feminist movement. To be a feminist is not only a position for women. It is also for men who want equality. So inclusiveness is to open up, to open the door, invite, and listen to different voices.

This museum was founded as a grassroots movement in 1982. The absence of documentation of women’s daily life and participation in the development of the civilization called for a new museum. The Women’s museum collected hidden and untold stories and objects from women’s lives and established a professional museum with strong relations to the society around. Over the years the museum has done research, build up a broad collection and shown several cultural historical and art exhibitions. In 1991 the museum received status as a legislated national museum. In 2016 the museum changed focus from Women’s History to Gender Culture. Why? The role of men has changed almost a much as the role of women in our part of the world and the number of cross-gender persons grows.

Women’s Museum Istanbul:   Why do think Women’s Museums are necessary?

Merete Ipsen: Our museum is, compared with many other Women’s Museums, an old museum. It is more than thirty years old, and when we started, women’s history was totally untold. You could not find women’s history. You could find a little bit about queens, but ordinary women’s history was not told. It was necessary to tell the story of women, how women have also taken part in developing society, from ancient times until now. Over the years, life has changed for women, they are now allowed to be educated, are now allowed to earn their own money, and many women also share the childcare with the men. And the role of men has also changed a lot. If we ask little boys if they want to later have a stay at home wife, they say: “I don’t think I want that.” If we ask girls if they want to stay at home and not get a job, they say: “Absolutely not! I want my own career, and earn my own money.” Thirty years ago, the classical role model was still the normal way of life. Now, it is not. So men also had to reflect about their life, their vision for a good life. We hope that in continuing our work with the Women’s Museum, we will also work with men, but the women’s history is still very important.  

Interview: Kristina Kraemer, Gül Aydın

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