O is for Our Bodies, Ourselves

1971 edition

For a number of reasons, I have long had a copy of the book Our Bodies, Ourselves on my bookshelf. It was a bible of women’s health at a time – the early 1970s – when there was a lot of misinformation about same. I had a lot of women friends who might use it as reference material.

From this PBS story from December 2012 entitled American Voices: Judy Norsigian-

The Library of Congress recently named Our Bodies, Ourselves as one of 88 books that shaped America. It’s had a profound impact on our consciousness, on the ability of women to see the importance of asking questions, not to just take whatever a doctor says.

Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s…there was so little information, even college educated women knew very little about our bodies, about pregnancy, about birth, about birth control.

And it was out of that dire need to educate ourselves that we created what was a wonderful self-help project. It was simply women coming together, acknowledging our ignorance, and saying, “We’re gonna do something about this.”

As the book evolved over the years, it began to tackle other areas of women’s health. If you’ve ever read medical studies from the 1950s or before, you would notice that most were done on men, and assumed to also to apply equally to women. We know now that it often isn’t the case.

2011 edition


In the past year or so, there has been a move to send copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves to members of the United States Congress. Obviously, there is STILL a bunch of misinformation, or disinformation, out there. The prime, but hardly only, example was when then-Representative, and Senate candidate, Todd Akin of Missouri proclaimed on August 19, 2012: “From what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape is] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

From the Wikipedia: “Our Bodies, Ourselves was also listed on the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s ’50 Worst Books of the Twentieth Century’. The book’s website saw this as newsworthy and accepted the designation gracefully, even posting the text of the review.”

The 2005 edition, I believe, is the ninth iteration of the book, and there is now a 2011 version; don’t know if there was a version in the interim.

This was, BTW, the book my wife bought for herself last fall, after hinting around about me getting it for her, much to my chagrin. Since I had already purchased it, I gave it to one of my colleagues for Christmas instead, and it was well received.

ABC Wednesday – Round 12

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24 thoughts on “O is for Our Bodies, Ourselves

  1. That comment from Akin was THE most ignorant thing I’ve ever heard! Makes me wonder how he got this far in life! Unbelievable!

  2. Interesting post. I was watching Jon Stewart yesterday he had one of the actresses from Mad Men (which I don’t watch and whose name I don’t recall) talking about Women’s roles and whether things have really changed… All I can think of from that time period is growing up with Marlo Thomas’ “Free to be You and Me.” Clearly a much lighter note 🙂

  3. Great post for O. I have a copy of that somewhere. I remember when it came out. As far as the Senator and his heinous statement about rape and pregnancy, I can’t say what I think about him because I’d have to use some very rude words.

  4. Good for you, Carver. Calling Todd Akin a douche canoe would be very rude, indeed. Ha ha ha.

    I remember when this was a resource book for girls who, like myself at that time, had very little info imparted to them by their mothers. My mom had to get snotlockered just to explain sanitary pads to me, so I was thrilled to begin to understand myself through that book.

    Some of the ideas were a bit extreme… ruder than anything Carver wanted to say, but mostly, it was fabulous. A treasure trove. I love that you own this book, Roger! Amy

  5. That Atkin quote went global, was he beamed here from the 19th century. As Goethe said “What we do not understand we do not possess”.

  6. I bought this book in the exact version as the top photo for myself in 1972, I was 12 almost 13. What a relief to learn all about ME! We were taught math, science,art, music and literature even political awareness and current events but “Health” was a stressful 20 minutes where the boys were taken to another room by the coach for their “talk” and we were handed kits for when we would “Bloom”. OMG!
    I was a practical kind of kid and figured I would save my mom the talking points list and buy a book instead. Each of my girl friends borrowed it, we checked things as they came along and it was dog-eared by high school.

  7. I often get the feeling that my upbringing as a woman in England was quite different from the typical American. Maybe it was the hardworking Yorkshire women who ran the household with a rolling pin (well, not quite), but I never felt second class as a woman; wouldn’t go near anyone who tried to treat me as fragile and what I didn’t know, I made sure I found out. Being in an all girls high school where the emphasis was on getting qualified and getting a career, with no emphasis on being a wife and a mother — independence was our goal, was another factor. It was a regular state school, just segregated (men and women)before it was popular to combine them. I’m still a great advocate for separation of boys and girls in school. It just removes that flirty, fragile, female image.

  8. I’ve not read the book, but it’s probably not too late. There will probably always be “those attitudes” as well as generally insensitive and uncaring people … Would that it could be otherwise. Great post! Thanks!

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