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Our Bodies, Ourselves Anniversary
V anessa Weeks counts herself among the lucky ones. The Roe v. Wade decision had been handed down six months earlier, in January 1973, allowing her to have a legal first-trimester abortion shortly after discovering that she was pregnant. At the time, Weeks was a teenager living with her devout Christian Scientist parents in Long Beach, California.
Although Weeks knew nothing about reproduction or pregnancy prevention then—her family did not believe in discussing things anatomical or sexual—a friend had let her peek at Our Bodies, Ourselves several months earlier. “It was the only place I’d ever seen the word ‘period’ or heard that it could be late,” she recalls. “My mother had dismissed my first menstruation, never using any term except ‘time of the month.’ She showed me how to use a Kotex and mark the day on the calendar; there was not one word more.”
After having her abortion, Weeks remembers spending hours alone in her bedroom. “I read Our Bodies, Ourselves from cover the cover. It was literally a life-changing experience,” she says. “ Our Bodies, Ourselves propelled me into the women’s movement and more significantly, propelled me into reality. I have no idea where I’d be without it.”
35 years, since the first 193- page newsprint edition of
was published by the New England Free Press
Our Bodies, Ourselves
has helped millions of women
around the world understand their bodies and become assertive and
informed. The just-released 8th edition, published by Simon and
Schuster, is an impressive 850 pages. Although much of the content
has changed since its first incarnation,
Our Bodies, Ourselves
continues to remind women that they, themselves, are health experts,
knowledgeable about issues like childbearing, pregnancy, and sexuality.
Our Bodies, Ourselves
continues to contest
the medical profession’s efforts to treat and medicate such
normal life events as meno- pause and aging.
Small wonder that 4 million copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves have been sold worldwide, reaching an estimated readership of 20 million in its 3-plus decades. Over the years, 300,000 copies of the English-language edition have also been distributed, without cost, to groups in Africa, Asia, and Europe. This has prompted translations and adaptations of the book into 18 languages including Braille.
“We’re part of the international women’s health movement,” says Sally Whelan, manager of Our Bodies, Ourselves ’ Global Translation/Adaptation Program. “In the early 1990s our publisher reverted most foreign rights to us. This has enabled us to transfer rights to women’s groups for $1.00, rather than to a publisher or translator, and gives these groups editorial control over language and content.”
Since 2001 adaptations of Our Bodies, Ourselves have been produced in Bulgaria, Moldova, Poland, and Serbia. A French edition, produced in Senegal and released in 2004, has been distributed in 21 French-speaking African nations. A South Korean book is due out later this year and a Spanish language edition was released throughout Latin America in 2000.
Each country decides its content. “In Serbia,” Whelan explains, “female bodies were recently used as war spoils, so the authors focused a lot of the book on violence against women. They also removed the chapters on exercise and nutrition. Since people were starving it was inappropriate to talk about fitness and eating well.” Similarly, in Armenia, the government’s pronatalist posture made discussion of birth control controversial. While the authors included contraceptive information, they did so fully aware of possible repercussions.
The Our Bodies, Ourselves website offers other examples of cultural divergence. Take Senegal. “Aside from getting funds, the main problem encountered was the heterogeneity of the team involved in editing the book. It included men and women from very different backgrounds, visions, and countries. Some came from West Africa and some from Central Africa. Despite this variety of backgrounds that is enriching, the differences in perspectives [some members of the team being radical feminists, others very conservative] was a big problem.”
In addition, high illiteracy rates forced the authors to question the wisdom of creating a written text. The website offers an explanation for the project’s ultimate resolution: “Because of the large number of African languages in the region, and the fact that these languages are not written and still oral, and because French is the working language in West and Central Africa, the book is in French.” Still, the authors state that they are soliciting funds to translate the information into local languages so that it can reach the widest possible audience.
“Women around the world have come to know Our Bodies, Ourselves as a trusted resource that combines women’s testimonials with accurate health and medical information,” Whelan boasts. “They also recognize it as a powerful tool for organizing around issues they care about—sexuality, reproductive rights, childbearing, violence against women and access to healthcare. It positions women to influence policymakers and media so that what is at first just a book becomes a living tool for reproductive health literacy and empower- ment, a tool for advocacy and change.”
Judy Norsigian, executive director and one of the founding members of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, the group res- ponsible for creating early editions of the book, has seen Our Bodies, Ourselves move from a consensus-driven entity to a traditional not-for-profit organization. She has also seen the group weather internal and external strife, from funding crises to near-paralyzing con- flicts between staff members. Yet she remains upbeat. “First of all,” she says, “when you are working in a community of like- minded people, you don’t need huge successes. You take comfort in knowing that without your efforts, things would be much worse. I also know that Our Bodies, Ourselves has been lifesaving for many women. ”
Newer issues, from AIDS to the direct marketing of drugs to consumers, from rampant eating disorders to the medicalization of childbirth, prod Norsigian. “The challenge is getting good information that is not tainted by corporate interests,” she says. “There is a lot of misleading stuff out there and the need for quality information is greater than ever. Ironically, despite greater access to technology, access to tried-and-true medical care is still hard to get. Access is a huge problem for most people, especially women.”
This makes Our Bodies, Ourselves an essential resource. The 2005 edition is supplemented by a companion website (www.ourbodiesourselves.org) that provides links to government, community, and feminist programs. It also provides information that could not be crammed into the 850-page volume. More than 500 U.S.-based, Canadian, and African writers, editors, reviewers, medical authorities, researchers, and activists worked on the book; the result is a new Our Bodies, Ourselves , not a revision of the 1998 edition.
“Not much [from the older editions] could be eliminated,” admits managing editor Heather Stephen- son. “But everything is updated and new issues are covered. That’s the reason the book has grown so much. There are always new topics to include,” among them: breast implants, the debate over female sexual dysfunction, direct-to-consumer marketing, the use of microbicides, and menstrual suppression.
Sarai Walker was the photo editor for the 2005 book. “The photos are of women you’d never see in a fashion magazine,” she says. “We had to rethink the whole book to find ways to illustrate ideas. We want it to be appealing so people pick it up and get hooked in.”
Walker also wrote the section on body image. “I wanted to develop a hard-hitting chapter dealing with the media, weightism, and the objectification of women. One of the things I wrote about is plastic surgery. Gay or straight, it doesn’t matter. Women are caught up in changing who they are. I also wanted to explore the camera lens as a male eye. Why is it that the covers of both women’s magazines and men’s magazines depict women? The chapter also deals with aging, racism, and reality TV shows.”
Despite the fact that Our Bodies, Ourselves 2005 treads new ground, Walker says that the book retains “the Our Bodies, Ourselves voice. We don’t talk about women in the third person; everything is ‘we.’”
It was that inclusive tone that first brought Vanessa Weeks to feminism. “I was raised immersed in the utter denial of the human body and its functions,” she says. “ Our Bodies, Ourselves opened my mind, like millions of women’s minds, to feminism ‘ourselves’ and to our bodies. Without it I would not be the proud mother of three terrific, enlightened sons, 19, 14, and 9. I could well have a 32-year-old child, raised in poverty by a young, uneducated mother with a dubious, if not destructive, sense of reality.”
As for Our Bodies, Ourselves , new books on menopause and childbearing are in the planning stages, and will expand on information provided in the latest edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves.
Eleanor Bader is a freelance writer and co-author of Targets of Hatred.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.