At first glance, someone might wonder why the MIT Libraries haven’t withdrawn this ancient-looking volume. The paper it was printed on is cheap, and turning brown and brittle. The photos and drawings are black and white; most were provided by members of the Boston Women’s Health Collective and their friends. The book has that homemade “Sixties and Seventies look.”
The front cover of this first edition bears a large black and white photograph of three women holding a handwritten sign that says, “Women Unite.” They’re not alone but are part of a demonstration in the early days of the Women’s Liberation Movement. This is proudly confirmed by the text on the back cover which begins, “Sharing our experiences with one another, we of the Boston Women’s Health Collective discovered that there is an imperative need for women everywhere to learn together about our bodies in order to have control over them, and over our lives.”
The book was cheaply made so that it would be affordable and thus widely accessible. Flip the title page and you’ll see that the book was available to clinics and other health-counseling providers at a discounted price. The book’s content, on the other hand, is amazingly rich: it conveys all the excitement and energy of doing something collectively that is new and empowering.
Forty years ago, at the beginning of the Women’s Liberation Movement, and as a part of that beginning, twelve women who were attending a women’s liberation conference in Boston met to talk about women and their bodies. Today it may be difficult to imagine how unusual and exciting it was in the 1970s for women to share experiences about their bodies, health, and sexuality. These women – a nascent collective – took their show on the road and developed a course. Then they wrote research papers. There was such demand for both that they compiled this book, which is full of detailed information and stories about childbearing, menopause, birth control, abortion, rape, venereal disease, and sexuality, both straight and gay.
In the early Seventies, women didn’t talk about these topics with one another, much less publish books about them. But the need and desire for this information, and for sharing it, was and continues to be so great that Simon and Schuster has kept printing Our Bodies, Ourselves, releasing new editions ever since.
The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, which produced this book and all its subsequent editions, now calls itself “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” On October 1, 2011, the group will celebrate its forty years of activism with a symposium of global partners, allies and friends, and with the release of the ninth edition of the book. They’re offering another opportunity to share experiences, and not only at the symposium: on their website they’re asking people to share their stories about how the book made a difference in their lives, and every day there are new posts by women of all ages.
Our Bodies, Ourselves is a book written by and for women, and clearly it is much more than that. Inspired by a movement and written by a collective, both the book – in its many editions and translations – and the collective, in its various configurations of members, friends and activities, continue to educate and empower women all over the world.