The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves: How Feminism Travels across Borders / Edition 1

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The book Our Bodies, Ourselves is a feminist success story. Selling more than four million copies since its debut in 1970, it has challenged medical dogmas about women’s bodies and sexuality, shaped health care policies, energized the reproductive rights movement, and stimulated medical research on women’s health. The book has influenced how generations of U.S. women feel about their bodies and health. Our Bodies, Ourselves has also had a whole life outside the United States. It has been taken up, translated, and adapted by women across the globe, inspiring more than thirty foreign language editions.

Kathy Davis tells the story of this remarkable book’s global circulation. 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. Davis provides a grounded analysis of how feminist knowledge and political practice actually travel, and she shows how the process of transforming Our Bodies, Ourselves offers a glimpse of a truly transnational feminism, one that joins the acknowledgment of difference and diversity among women in different locations with critical reflexivity and political empowerment.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Feminism travels, and Our Bodies, Ourselves is today the most transnational effort of women’s health movements. In this theoretically sophisticated book that I have yearned for, Kathy Davis offers history and an assessment of Our Bodies, Ourselves as a multi-sited epistemological project, and she brilliantly reveals quite hopeful implications for transnational feminist theory. A politically grounded analysis of how Western feminism can become ‘de-centered’ through practice. Brava!”—Adele E. Clarke, coeditor of Revisioning Women, Health, and Healing: Feminist, Cultural, and Technoscience Perspectives

“I highly recommend this study of the travels of the feminist health paradigm created by the Our Bodies, Ourselves book project. Providing a comparative analysis of the transnational feminist coalitions that have formed around translations of the book, Kathy Davis offers fresh, exciting insights to feminist theorists, historians, and health activists. She avoids the dead ends of many reductivist feminist, postmodern, and postcolonial approaches to the body. Davis gives us one of the best examples yet of interdisciplinary feminist scholarship that connects theory and practice.”—Ann Ferguson, coeditor of Daring to be Good: Essays in Feminist Ethico-Politics

Rebecca Walker

“[A] smart, sensitive, hopeful book. . . . [A] brilliant defense of the Second Wave premise that sisterhood really is global.”
Susan E. Bell

“[I]n her beautifully written book, The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Davis distinguishes among the book, the collective of women that produced the book and the multiple (and ongoing) translations of the book. She expertly disentangles the different projects and explains their significance and along the way also reports and deconstructs the myth and considers how this myth enables the circulation and transformation of OBOS in many parts of the world. The major contribution of The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves is not in filling in details about the story of OBOS but in its engagement with key directions in current scholarship about feminism, health activism, knowledge and the body.”
Flloyd Kennedy

“[T]his is a fascinating exploration of the role that feminist health activists have played in releasing women in the western world from the strongly patriarchal medicalisation of their bodies, as well as the role that non-English speaking feminists have played in releasing feminism from the clutch of white, middle-class American feminists.”
Elizabeth R.Thompson

“Davis gives the reader an intimate, comprehensive history of Our Bodies, Ourselves and the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. . . . Davis’ work demystifies Our Bodies, Ourselves as a perfect, infallible text in women’s health and modern feminist movements. It recognizes the impact of cultural difference and sensitivity in conveying information to women as they make decisions about their bodies and relationships. The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves is a strong contribution to existing works on the social impacts of translation and the transmission of information bout women’s bodies today.”
Keidra Chaney

“Davis looks beyond the book’s iconic status to observe its development as an unlikely cultural export. . . . Her thoughtful analysis reveals the tensions inherent in creating and revising a collectively borne work of feminist thought, and the often-rocky attempt to address intersecting identities of race, sexuality, ethnicity, culture, and class. As a history of both Our Bodies, Ourselves and of transnational feminist theory, the book is an invaluable resource for women’s studies scholars and researchers.”
Anahí Viladrich

“Davis’ book brilliantly brings together the debates on contemporary body theory and women’s health activism as complementary corpus of knowledge that merged into concrete feminist agendas. Going full circle, in the end Davis tells us how OBOS finally got back home reconstituted through the voices of a myriad of women who are different from the original group of white baby boomers, but similar in their hopes of all sorts.”
Betsy Hartmann

“Davis’s research and reflections provide not only a welcome new addition to the historical literature on the women’s health movement, but also a finely nuanced understanding of how [Our Bodies, Ourselves] eventually became what she calls ‘a global feminist project of knowledge.’”
Library Journal

Davis offers a kind of biography of the famous women's health reference book, Our Bodies, Ourselves(OBOS) and its adaptations in different countries. OBOSbegan as a packet created for use by women's groups and became one of the most reprinted feminist books in history. The book was translated by groups of women working together in crafting their version for use in other countries, e.g., India, Egypt, Romania, Great Britain, Italy, and France. Davis discusses the pros and cons of this adapting of American feminist works for use by women of different cultures, emphasizing that not all women experience the same health issues in their respective countries. For example, a woman in a strongly Catholic country might not want so much information about choice. The adaptors had to be careful that they didn't sound as if they were imposing rules on women from other countries. Davis also discusses the revisions of the American OBOSas it evolved to include topics such as AIDS and more racially sensitive discussions of body image. She concludes that one of the book's most important legacies is its trailblazing work in providing readers with information pertinent in a very basic way to their lives. Unfortunately, this book is not quite up to the quality of its subject: it is very repetitive, sometimes even to the exact same wording. However, as a study of a milestone book, it is recommended for academic libraries.
—Christina Bauer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822340669
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/2007
  • Series: Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 667,433
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathy Davis is a Senior Researcher at the Research Institute for History and Culture at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Her books include The Handbook of Gender and Women’s Studies (coedited with Mary Evans and Judith Lorber), Dubious Equalities and Embodied Differences: Cultural Studies on Cosmetic Surgery, and Embodied Practices: Feminist Perspectives on the Body.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part I: The Book and Its Travels

1. OBOS in the United States: The Enigma of a Feminist “Success Story” 19

2. OBOS Abroad: From “Center” to “Periphery” and Back 50

3. Between Empowerment and Bewitchment: The Myth of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective 85

4. Reclaiming Women’s Bodies: Colonialist Trope or Critical Epistemology? 120

5. Creating Feminist Subjects: The Reader and the Text 142

Part III: Transnational Body/Politics

6. Oppositional Translations and Imagined Communities: Adapting OBOS 169

7. Transnational Knowledges, Transnational Politics 197

Appendix 1. Foreign-Language Editions of OBOS 214

Appendix 2. Books Inspired by OBOS 217

Appendix 3. Translations and Adaptations of OBOS in Progress 218

Appendix 4. Translations and Adaptations of OBOS Seeking Funds for Start-up 219

Notes 221

Bibliography 243

Index 273

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