Our Bodies, Ourselves: A new way of talking about women’s bodies

March 25, 2010

Many of us know Our Bodies, Ourselves simply as a popular series of handy guides to women’s health. But, in fact, the book is credited with revolutionizing the way women think about their bodies and with transforming the doctor-patient relationship.

According to Temple English Professor Sue Wells, the text established an entirely new way of talking about the female body and the scientific and medical disciplines that attend to it. Wells explores the development of this new discourse in her book, Our Bodies, Ourselves and the Work of Writing (Stanford University Press, 2010).

First published in 1973, OBOS grew out of a small discussion group on “women and their bodies” in 1969 Boston and by 1999 had sold more than 4 million copies, been translated into 29 languages and generated numerous related projects.

For her research, Wells interviewed  the writers and pored over 200 cardboard boxes of archives from the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective–the group formed to write OBOS–noting the doodles on their notes and the menu for their potluck on the margins of the meeting minutes.

According to Wells, one source of the book’s power was its tone. “Women did not respond to the book because it gave clear information about what it called ‘venereal disease,’ but because it presented sexually transmitted diseases matter-of-factly, as a part of sexual life, and because the chapter’s critique of failures in the public health system was provocative, connecting a woman’s struggle to find dignified treatment with broader social forces.”

For more: English professor studies landmark book on women’s health

–Kim Fischer

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