A note from the founders of the Our Bodies Ourselves
(formerly the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective)
Kathy Davis has done a remarkable job of telling the OBOS story after interviewing most of the founders and studying our publications, and we invite you to read “Feminist Body/Politics as World Traveller: Translating ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’” originally printed in the European Journal of Women’s Studies in 2002, exploring the history of the global translations and adaptations of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” (The full article is available as a PDF).
Given that it went to press before Kathy could respond to some of our comments and corrections, we wish to alert readers to some disagreements of interpretation and a few factual errors. Thank you for reading!
About the founders of OBOS and the early Women’s Liberation Movement
Davis describes OBOS founders as follows: “Most of the participants were young, white, middle class, college educated women who had been active in the civil rights movement or had helped draft resisters during the Vietnam war.” Though it is true that we were alike on many dimensions, this description overlooks the ways that we varied in terms of family history, class origins, religious affiliation, marital situations, political perspectives and other ways.
We had also been active in other aspects of the student movement than the ones that Kathy mentions; one or two of us were active in organizing at the local level for better community services for families and for teens, and in the prepared childbirth movement.
When Davis writes of us as young women, “it was their first encounter with feminism,” she implies that there was an existing feminist movement of which we could have earlier been a part. However, those of us who took part in creation of the first edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in 1969-70 were not simply encountering feminism but creating it and shaping it as part of a rising women’s liberation movement. The purpose of the original OBOS newsprint pamphlet was not only to share information but also, through our classes and workshops, to facilitate consciousness-raising among groups of women.
Women’s groups around the country and abroad with other programs or missions were simultaneously developing a similar process, one devoted to the idea that the personal was political, and that through talking intimately together we would better understand our lives, and thereby develop the tools to effect social change.
Contrary to the assumption that the women’s movement began in the U.S. and fanned out from here, there are reports of feminist activity in other countries from very early on. Indeed, once “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was published, we were quickly approached by women’s groups in other countries seeking to translate the book.
Davis, in describing our early years, calls the original authors and founders “feminist socialists.” As a group, we have always preferred to avoid labels. If we had to describe ourselves politically, it would be as feminists deeply concerned about a variety of social problems while holding the problem of sexism at the center of our concerns. In general, because OBOS is part of the women’s health movement, we have a slightly different identity from mainstream feminists even to the present time.
Translations and Adaptations of “Our Bodies, Ourselves”
The Japanese edition was not pirated, it was the first foreign edition BWHBC authorized, though Japan censored parts. The Taiwanese version was pirated, and censored.
To honor BWHBCs original pledge to also publish a Spanish edition of OBOS for the United States, the BWHBC hired two women, one from Spain and one from California, to translate OBOS directly into Spanish. With proceeds from the U.S. 1976 bestseller, as well as two foundation grants, the BWHBC itself published Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas in 1977 and in 1979 (the 1979 edition was also slightly revised). BWHBC was sole publisher and distributor of NCNV in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Latin America until 1989. A commercial publisher in Spain worked with women there to publish in 1982 a NCNV for distribution there.
In the early 1980s a group of Latinas, calling themselves ALAS (Amigas Latinas en Accion pro-Salud) affiliated with the BWHBC to create a new Spanish adaptation out of their growing conviction that the direct U.S. translation did not reflect the diversity of U.S. and Latin American women’s experiences. Members of ALAS were convinced that for the book to be done well, it had to be done by Latinas. Forming that network of contributors became the mission of ALAS.
In the late 1980s, BWHBC staff met a number of women’s groups in Latin America who later came to Boston meetings. They further encouraged the continuation of BWHBC’s efforts to create a new book done by Latinas throughout the hemisphere. In the 1990s funding for the new project was secured and a Latina editorial group based at BWHBC was formed. They designed an editorial collaboration between Latin American women’s health activists throughout the region. More than 20 women’s groups from 11 countries in Central, North and South America and the Caribbean adapted translated text. The editorial group updated NCNV, edited the adaptation and incorporated materials from all these groups to offer a culturally based approach more consistent with Latinas’ community values. Thus a new edition of “Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas” was published in time to greet the new century.