Feminism/Literature/Our Bodies, Ourselves

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Our Bodies, Ourselves is a book about women's health and sexuality produced by the nonprofit organization Our Bodies Ourselves (originally called the Boston Women's Health Book Collective). First published in 1971, it contains information related to many aspects of women's health and sexuality, including menopause, birth control, childbirth, sexual health, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental health and general well-being.

Now in its 9th edition, and published in 26 foreign editions and braille, the current edition, published in 2011, contains 825 pages. The New York Times has called the book "America's best-selling book on all aspects of women's health" and a "feminist classic."[1] In addition, the organization has created two single-topic books. Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause was published in 2006,[2] and Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth in 2008.[3] The Boston Women's Health Book Collective earlier produced Changing Bodies, Changing Lives: A Book For Teens on Sex and Relationships[4] and The New Ourselves, Growing Older: Women Aging with Knowledge and Power.[5] After the release of the original Our Bodies, Ourselves, at least one other publisher produced a women's health book written for women as health consumers, namely The New Harvard Guide to Women's Health.[6]

History[edit | edit source]

The book arose out of a 35-cent, 136-page booklet called Women and Their Bodies, published in 1970 by the New England Free Press, and written by twelve Boston feminist activists.

The booklet was originally intended as the basis for a women's health course, the first to be written for women by women. The health seminar that inspired the booklet was organized in 1969 by Nancy Miriam Hawley at Boston's Emmanuel College. "We weren't encouraged to ask questions, but to depend on the so-called experts," Hawley told Women's eNews. "Not having a say in our own health care frustrated and angered us. We didn't have the information we needed, so we decided to find it on our own."[7]

The women researched and wrote up the information themselves. Wendy Sanford wrote about abortion, Jane Pincus and Ruth Bell about pregnancy, and Paula Doress and Esther Rome about postpartum depression. The booklet sold 250,000 copies in New England without any formal advertising.[8]

As a result of their success, the women formed the non-profit Boston Women's Health Book Collective (which now goes by the name Our Bodies Ourselves) and published the first 276-page Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1973. It featured first-person stories from women, and tackled many topics then regarded as taboo. Since then, over four million copies have been sold. Simon & Schuster is the current publisher.

Style[edit | edit source]

The first book was a product of the feminist movement and could still be said to reflect its values. The personal experiences of women are taken into account and are quoted throughout, while the social and political context of women's health informs the content of the book.

Topics such as male-to-female and female-to-male transsexualism/transgenderism are discussed in the most recent edition and considered in a nonjudgmental manner, despite the controversy to which they have been subject within the feminist movement. The writing style of the book tends toward a familiar, inclusive tone, with the authors referring to women and themselves as a collective group.

The current edition uses material published in the 1984, 1992, 1998 and 2005 editions.

Chapter Topics in Book[edit | edit source]

Bodies and Identities

1. Our Female Bodies: Sexual Anatomy, Reproduction and the Menstrual Cycle
2. Intro to Sexual Health
3. Body Image
4. Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

Relationships and Sexuality
5. Relationships
6. Social Influences on Sexuality
7. Sexual Pleasure and Enthusiastic Consent
8. Sexual Challenges

Sexual Health and Reproductive Choices
9. Birth Control
10. Safer Sex
11. Sexually Transmitted Infections
12. Unexpected Pregnancy
13. Abortion

14. Considering Parenting
15. Pregnancy and Preparing for Birth
16. Labor and Birth
17. The Early Months of Parenting
18. Miscarriage, Stillbirth and other Losses
19. Infertility and Assisted Reproductive Technologies

Post-Reproductive Years
20. Perimenopause and Menopause
21. Our Later Years

Medical Problems and Navigating the Health-care System
22. Selected Medical Problems
23. Navigating the Health Care System

Major Forces Affecting Women's Sexuality and Reproductive Health
24. Violence Against Women
25. Environmental Health
26. Politics of Women’s Health
27. Activism in the 21st Century

Criticism[edit | edit source]

On July 17, 2005, New York Times columnist Alexandra Jacobs wrote an unflattering review of the new edition of OBOS, stating that she disliked the pink cover, as well as the sharper editing and new policies.[9] The editors of the book responded in an August 14 letter to the editor stating they "appreciate[d] Alexandra Jacobs' nostalgia for earlier editions," but that they were "evolv[ing] ... to stay relevant and accessible to ... [their] readers."[10]

Our Bodies, Ourselves was also listed on the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute's "50 Worst Books of the Twentieth Century".[11] The book's website saw this as newsworthy and accepted the designation gracefully, even posting the text of the review.[12]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Back cover.
  2. WorldCat entry, as accessed Nov. 6, 2010.
  3. WorldCat entry, as accessed Nov. 6, 2010.
  4. WorldCat entry, as accessed Nov. 6, 2010.
  5. WorldCat entry, as accessed Nov. 6, 2010.
  6. WorldCat entry, as accessed Nov. 6, 2010.
  7. [1]
  8. [2]
  9. New York Times review
  10. OBOS editor's response
  11. "The Fifty Worst (and Best) Books of the Century" (PDF). The Intercollegiate Review. Fall 1999. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
  12. [3]

Further reading[edit | edit source]