First aired on The Current (24/10/11)
When a woman walked into her doctor's office in the 1960s, her doctor was almost certainly male. And he was the expert and not to be challenged. A woman's questions, her understanding and her insights often didn't count for much. Then in 1970, a book called Our Bodies, Ourselves appeared in bookstores.
The book emerged out of a conference about women's health and wellness in Boston in 1969. Eventually, one of those sessions fostered an organization and, in December 1970, a pamphlet was released. The full book followed in March 1971. More than 200,000 copies sold through word of mouth before Simon & Schuster picked it up and published its edition in 1973.
"It was a very organic process," Judy Norsigian, who was an original member of the group and currently serves as executive director of Our Bodies, Ourselves, explained to The Current host Anna Maria Tremonti. "Women all over the world said, 'we want to take this book and make it our own.'"
Despite the huge success the book had, it caused a lot of trouble. Libraries banned it. Women hid their copies. Critics called it trash and pornographic. It dedicated chapters to lesbians, abortions and masturbation, topics considered taboo at the time. However, it was this objectionable content that made the book so revolutionary and so essential for women.
"It had an enormous, transformative impact," said Wendy Kline, a professor at the University of Cincinnati and the author of Bodies of Knowledge: Sexuality, Reproduction and Women's Health in the Second Wave. ""It was the first of its kind in terms of providing women with a resource that was written in a language that was accessible to lay women."
Today, nine editions, 25 translations and four million copies later, the book Our Bodies, Ourselves is considered the book that changed the game on women's health and patients' rights overall. It empowered generations of women and changed the way society thinks about, researches and discusses female health and sexuality.
Yet, both Norsigian and Kline agree even as the 40th anniversary of the publication of Our Bodies, Ourselves passes, we still have a long way to go.
"The work, the mission remains," Norsigian said. "We still have a long way to go in establishing a society in which women's health and well-being and their ability to reach their full potential is really possible."
Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition For a New Era
by Boston Women's Health Collective
Buy this book at:
From the publisher:
"With more than four million copies sold, Our Bodies, Ourselves is the classic resource that women of all ages can turn to for information about every aspect of their well-being. Completely revised for the first time in a decade, these pages give women everything they need for making key decisions about their health -- from definitive information from today''s leading experts to personal stories from other women just like them."
Read more at Boston Women's Health Book Collective.