Impact and Influence of “Our Bodies, Ourselves”

These in-depth materials cover the impact and influence of the “Our Bodies, Ourselves” books around the world and the growth of the organization, including the OBOS Global Initiative.

Also view Reading “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” a collection of readers’ stories about their experiences with the book.

Works by OBOS Founders

The Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe: OBOS’s Papers
The Schelsinger Library maintains an extensive collection of records (1969-2003), including minutes from meetings, letters from readers, and discussions about health and politics and drafts of manuscripts. Some of the records are available online.

The Boston Women Health Book Collective and “Our Bodies, Ourselves”: A Brief History and Reflection
Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association (Winter 2009)
by Judy Norsigian, Vilunya Diskin, Paula Doress-Worters, Jane Pincus, Wendy Sanford, and Norma Swenson
This article offers a history of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” as well as the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, its author and sponsor of numerous women’s health initiatives. The organization’s transition from a small, grassroots collective to a non-profit organization working at both the domestic and international levels is briefly discussed, including the development of a more diverse board and staff. Past accomplishments and current concerns of the global women’s health movements are described, including some of the larger advocacy organizations active in the women’s health field. Collaboration with feminist physicians over the past two decades is also noted.

Formative Years: The Birth of Our Bodies Ourselves
Boston University Conference, A Revolutionary Moment: Women’s Liberation in the Late 1960s and Early 1970s (March 2014)
by Joan Ditzion, Paula Doress-Worters, Nancy Miriam Hawley and Wendy Sanford
In March 2014, four of the co-founders of Our Bodies Ourselves — Joan Ditzion, Paula Doress-Worters , Nancy Miriam Hawley and Wendy Sanford — presented a panel on the history of the organization and the book at a conference on the history of the Women’s Liberation movement. During the panel, they wove together their diverse personal coming-of-age stories with the organization’s early history. Extensive notes from the panel are posted at the above link.

Studies, Articles and Books on “Our Bodies, Ourselves”

“Our Bodies, Ourselves” and the Work of Writing
Stanford University Press | January 2010
by Susan Wells
This study tells the story of the first two decades of the pioneering best-seller – a collectively produced guide to women’s health – from its earliest, most experimental and revolutionary years, when it sought to construct a new, female public sphere, to its 1984 revision, when some of the problems it first posed were resolved and the book took the form it has held to this day.

“Write a Chapter and Change the World”: How the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective Transformed Women’s Health Then — and Now
American Journal of Public Health | October 2008
by Heather Stephenson and Kiki Zeldes
From the first newsprint edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” which became an underground sensation, to the brand new book, “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth,” released in March 2008, the group has educated women and men, critiqued the medical system, examined inequalities based on gender, race, sexual orientation, class, and other categories, and urged readers to move from individual self-help to collective action promoting social policies that support the health of women and communities.

Encouraging Women to Consider a Less Medicalized Approach to Childbirth Without Turning Them Off: Challenges to “Producing Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth”
Birth | Aug. 20, 2008
by Judy Norsigian and Kiki Zeldes
Within the United States, women routinely confront negative and distorted ideas about birth, and highly medicalized births are the norm. The writers and editors of “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth” discuss their efforts to write a book that provides women with accessible, evidence-based information; examines the social, economic, and political factors that shape and constrain childbirth choices; and inspires women to work toward ensuring that all women have access to the full range of safe and satisfying birthing options.

Transforming Doctor-Patient Relationships
Journal of Health Services Research and Policy | July 2007
by Sheryl Ruzek 
Historians often ponder how books change history. “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” the enormously popular and influential work, will long be studied for igniting and sustaining a worldwide women’s health movement. It should also be studied for how it transformed doctor-patient relationships and why it is such a trusted source of health information.

“Please Include This in Your Book”: Readers Respond to “Our Bodies, Ourselves”
Bulletin of the History of Medicine | Spring 2005 | Full article
by Wendy Kline
This paper focuses on those ordinary women who responded to editions of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in the 1970s and 1980s, illustrating how readers played a crucial role in the development and articulation of health feminism. By analyzing the exchange between writers and readers of the most popular and influential women’s health text of this era, it reveals the process by which feminists translated and interpreted medical information about women’s bodies.

OBOS Global Initiative / Global Adaptations

“Our Bodies, Ourselves” Gets an Israeli Makeover: Women’s Classic Tells How to Say “Menopause” in Hebrew and Arabic
The Jewish Daily Forward | Oct. 18, 2011
by Beth Schwartzapfel
When Dana Weinberg and Raghda Elnabilsy set out to adapt the seminal text “Our Bodies, Ourselves” for Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking populations in Israel, they had to reinvent some of the very words that defined the original version. […] The first meeting was held at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, a village halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that was jointly established by Jewish and Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel. It was a symbolic choice in a country where geography is a matter of life and death, made by activists acutely aware of the imbalance in resources available to women from their respective communities.

Translating “Our Bodies, Ourselves”
The Nation | June 16, 2008
by Linda Gordon
The progressive social movements of the last half-century produced millions of pages of print, from manifestos to journalism to novels, but nothing as influential as “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” The feminist women’s health manual is the American left’s most valuable written contribution to the world. This claim is meant to be provocative, of course, but it’s true. The publication of an excellent book about the book, Kathy Davis’s “The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves: How FeminismTravels Across Borders,” makes this a good time to examine its impact.

The Making of “Our Bodies, Ourselves”: How Feminism Travels Across Borders
Duke University Press | September 2007
by Kathy Davis 
This book has garnered numerous awards, including: 2008 American Sociological Association Section Sex and Gender Distinguished Book Award; 2008 Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, presented by the Society of Medical Anthropology; 2009 Joan Kelly Memorial Prize, from the American Historical Association. Chapter 7 is available online: “Transnational Knowledges, Transnational Politics.”

Based on interviews with members of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, the group of women who created “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” as well as responses to the book from readers, and discussions with translators from Latin America, Egypt, Thailand, China, Eastern Europe, Francophone Africa, and many other countries and regions, Davis shows why “Our Bodies, Ourselves” could never have been so influential if it had been just a popular manual on women’s health. It was precisely the book’s distinctive epistemology, inviting women to use their own experiences as resources for producing situated, critical knowledge about their bodies and health, that allowed the book to speak to so many women within and outside the United States. [Suggested corrections]

Feminist Body/Politics as World Traveller: Translating “Our Bodies, Ourselves”
The European Journal of Women’s Studies | 2002 | Full article
by Kathy Davis
Global feminism has been criticized as a form of cultural imperialism, whereby a white, western model of feminism is imposed upon women in nonwestern contexts under the banner of universal sisterhood. In order to provide this theoretical critique with some empirical grounding, this article focuses on the worldwide impact of one of the most influential books ever to be published in the U.S., “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” [Suggested corrections]