Our Bodies Ourselves: Women (and Men) UNITE
Our Bodies, Ourselves was a landmark publication when it was first published in 1971 and it is still regarded as one of the best consumer health books (ninth edition published in 2011). This book inspired the women’s health movement and it inspired me to do an internship at WHCC, the Women’s Health Concerns Committee, in 1978. WHCC was the information source for the Governor of Pennsylvania in regards to issues concerning women’s health.
Seeing the original cover of the book connects me to so many feelings. It was the first time I really felt seen and cared for as a woman. It was the first time I had the idea that I could ask for better care, like a warmed up speculum or a less invasive procedure. It was a book about women empowering ourselves through knowledge, awareness and uniting together with our VOICES.
At WHCC, we hosted women’s circles with the focus of connection with our bodies. Women sitting in a circle talking about their bodies and feelings and asking questions about health, sexuality, vulnerability and power. In the circles, we taught women about breast and pelvic self- exam. At the beginning of the circle, each woman was handed a plastic speculum, lubrication, a small hand mirror and a flashlight. This was her “kit” of supplies to use in the circle and to take home with her.
We all took off our pants and sat in the circle as we all examined our own genitals. On the outside and the inside. We were taught the techniques and we were given permission to look.
I remember how special and sacred it felt to see my cervix and look at the lips of my vagina. To touch myself, as I moved my labia majora to see the vaginal opening. Lifted the clitoral hood to see the clitoris. I wondered why we didn’t encourage girls to look at their genitals. Why we didn’t give them permission to feel and taste and touch their bodies.
In contrast, a boy is taught to hold his penis, as soon as he learns how to pee on the toilet. Permission is received at a young age to touch himself, at least as a part of aiming his penis towards the toilet.
What do we fear about empowering girls and women with a connection to their bodies? Do we fear the power that is hidden inside?
I am writing this to tell you that there is something new waking up in me and I want to talk about sexuality and the power that is tied up in all of the rules and repression. I am reclaiming my sexuality and with it reclaiming more of my voice. It is time for the voices of women (and men) to unite.
The conversation continues… join me and share your experiences in the comment section.
From the website: “Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS), also known as the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, is a global nonprofit, public interest organization based in Cambridge, Mass. OBOS promotes accurate, evidence-based information on girls’ and women’s reproductive health and sexuality, and addresses the social, economic and political conditions that affect health care access and quality of care.”