Our Bodies, Our Blog

Our Doctors, Ourselves: Barbara Seaman and Popular Health Feminism in the 1970s

By OBOS |
photo of quote from Barbara Seaman

“If the plastic speculum was the tool of choice for self-help advocates, leading women to a better understanding of their own bodies, then the popular media was Barbara Seaman’s preferred weapon in the cultural battle against medical sexism.”
Kelly O’Donnell, in her article “Our Doctors, Ourselves: Barbara Seaman and Popular Health Feminism in the 1970s”

Barbara Seaman, a popular journalist in the 1960s and 70s who wrote for magazines including Brides, Ms., Ladies Home Journal, and Family Circle, was one of the first journalists to publicly sound the alarm about the risks of early contraception pills. In her 1969 book, “The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill,” she detailed the research showing that the high doses of estrogen in the early pills made it more likely that women taking them would get blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, and cancer.  She also argued that paternalistic male gynecologists — and at that point 97 percent of gynecologists were men — were failing women by not informing them of the risks and by discouraging them from learning about their bodies and questioning their medical providers.

The book helped bring about Senate hearings on the safety of the pill, which in turn led to black box warnings on prescriptions and the development of new, safer contraceptive pills that contained far less estrogen.

Seaman went on to write and advocate for women’s health throughout her career. One of her most powerful strengths was her ability to reach a wide audience, including women who didn’t consider themselves radical or feminist but were frustrated by the care they got from their doctors. Seaman also served on the board for the National Organization for Women and was a founder of the National Women’s Health Network.

Historian Kelly O’Donnell has written a wonderful article on the role Seaman played in the burgeoning women’s health movement and how her journalism expanded the reach and impact of the women’s health movement. The article, “Our Doctors, Ourselves: Barbara Seaman and Popular Health” was published in the winter 2019 edition of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. Generally behind a paywall, the publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press has generously agreed to make it freely available for the next month. Check it out here!

The Very Early Perimenopause: What We Can Learn from Dr. Jerilynn Prior’s Research

By Guest Contributor |

by Nina Coslov

In my early 40s, I started noticing changes in my body. A once great sleeper, I was now waking at 2 a.m. – often with lots of energy and sometimes with anxiety. I’d be awake for about 3 hours before I could get back to sleep. Around the same time, premenstrual breast tenderness returned — something I hadn’t experienced since my 20s, before I had children. Not long after, I’d notice from time to time a pervasive edginess, a revving — an energetic … More

Woman handing menstrual supplies to Colombian prisonersWoman handing menstrual supplies to Colombian prisoners

Dirty Business: Lack of Menstrual Equity in Colombian Prisons

By Guest Contributor |

By Charlie Ruth Castro

Lee este post en español

Let’s talk about menstruation – a natural and necessary process among women, but one that we have been culturally taught to hate, hide or even make fun of.  Also, let me talk about a dirty business perpetrated by certain officers from INPEC, the Colombian national institution in charge of penitentiary policy. In many prisons, INPEC has routinely failed to supply adequate menstrual products for the female prison population.

Being deprived of ways to deal with bleeding is outrageous, … More

Woman handing menstrual supplies to Colombian prisonersWoman handing menstrual supplies to Colombian prisoners

Negocio Sucio: Falta de Equidad Menstrual en las Cárceles Colombianas

By Guest Contributor |

By Charlie Ruth Castro

Read this post in English

Vamos a hablar de menstruación, el proceso más natural y necesario para la buena salud reproductiva entre las mujeres, pero aquel que culturalmente nos han enseñado a aborrecer, ocultar o incluso a hacerle burla. Y por otro lado voy a hablar de un negocio sucio perpetrado por ciertos funcionarios del INPEC -la institución nacional a cargo de la política penitenciaria- en muchas de las cárceles de Colombia: el desvío de presupuestos para el suministro de toallas higiénicas … More

text: The fight to take back our genestext: The fight to take back our genes

Congress Wants to Give Companies the Right to Own Our Genes

By Guest Contributor |

by Lori Andrews

Six years ago, on June 13, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court in AMP v. Myriad took a great step forward for women’s health by unanimously ruling that human genes could not be patented. Now a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives have released a bill that would allow companies to own our genes once again.

Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution provides that any patent system must “promote progress in science and the useful arts.” But patents on genes do not promote the … More

“Simone de Beauvoir alone would never have gotten me from intellect to action”

By Guest Contributor |

Note from OBOS co-founder Judy Norsigian: After publication of my reflections piece in the June 2019 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), I received this wonderful email from Kay Johnson. Her story reminds us all once again of how ONE life experience (reading a book/having a terrific teacher or mentor/participating in an eye-opening social justice action/etc.) can change the course of our lives and bring us into partnership with others also committed to racial, economic and social justice for all.

I am … More

Refusing to Be Silenced: Federal Gag Rule an Active Threat to All Who Care about HIV

By Guest Contributor |

by Anna Forbes

On April 23, Judge Michael McShane of Federal District Court in Oregon issued a preliminary injunction against a federal “gag rule” written to forbid health care providers from even talking about abortion to patients who have questions about it.

The two parallel suits before him were filed by the American Medical Association, Planned Parenthood of America, and a coalition of over 20 states (along with numerous other plaintiffs) that oppose this gag rule.

Scheduled to go into effect on for May 3, the rule … More

“A Female Body in this Specific Moment”: Our Bodies Ourselves Exhibition

By OBOS |

As the 50th anniversary of the first edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” approaches, a New Haven museum has launched an exhibition featuring art inspired and informed by the book.

The exhibition, also titled Our Bodies Ourselves, features a variety of media created by more than 70 artists. The works are on display at the Ely Center of Contemporary Art through April 10.

A sack that hangs with the video from “Gestation” Photo: Lucy Gellman

The exhibit includes participatory installations like Megan Shaughnessy’s video work, which … More

three early teenage girls laughingthree early teenage girls laughing

Gender-Inclusive Puberty and Health Education is Life-Affirming for All

By Guest Contributor |

by Joel Baum and Kim Westheimer

A fifth-grade student walks into their first-ever puberty education class. They look around the room: maybe they feel like everyone else has already developed in ways they haven’t. Maybe they wonder why they already have characteristics a person of their gender isn’t “supposed” to have for a few more years. Or maybe they feel like they just can’t identify with lessons that should be giving them vital information about puberty and health.

Indeed, most puberty education classes omit foundational issues … More

Cervical Cancer Prevention posterCervical Cancer Prevention poster

Cervical Cancer Prevention: What You Can Do

By Guest Contributor |

by Gary A. Richwald, MD, MPH

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. More specifically, January 21-27 is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, and for good reason: nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and more than 4000 of them will die from it. Luckily, this form of cancer is now largely preventable. Women can take steps to reduce their chances of contracting human papillomavirus (HPV), a widespread virus that can cause pre-cancerous changes in the cervix.

How Does Cervical Cancer … More