Ody Talk

As a new women’s health initiative begins in Scotland. the revolutionary book Our Bodies Ourselves is

.published in a new

edition. On a recent visit to Europe. Norma Swenson. one ofthe original authors, spoke to Helen Roberts.

This year sees the twentieth anniversary ofa group ofwomen who came together to write a book which has been translated into fifteen languages. and has sold around 3 million copies worldwide. That the subject of the book was women’s health and that none ofthe authors was medically qualified might not seem very odd now. but at the time. it was revolutionary. A new edition of ()ur Bodies Ourselves has just come out in Britain.

Norma Swenson. one of the original collective of North American woman authors. explains that initially they called themselves ‘the doctors’ group’. ‘We didn’t want to be doctors or nurses.’ she says. ‘we wanted to assert the validity of the “patient” or the woman.’ They all had experiences of condescending. paternalistic. judgemental and uninformative doctors which they wanted to share. but they quickly moved on from complaining to action.

They split into small groups to research various aspects ofwomen's health. They read journals. talked to sympathetic doctors and soon realised that they were quite capable ofcollecting. understanding and evaluating medical information. On this basis. and together with an element which until then had been missing from health books the experience of good and poor health. and good and poor health care they produced the book.

The authors. in the current jargon.

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tapped a market. In the late 1980s. the relevant question is not just ‘What about the ideology?‘ but ‘What about the profits'.” ‘Royalties.’ explains Swenson. ‘are ploughed back into health projects. We formed a non-profit-making corporation before we made a penny. so no. we didn’t make money. People buy our books because they need to know about

their bodies. so earning the money was a sort ofstewardship. or trust. All the women who put down the money for our book were doing it because they couldn't get that information elsewhere.’

The book still brings in a lot of money. but not enough for all the things they plan to do. so they apply for funds from other sources. ‘This means.’ continues Swenson. ‘that

Awomen's Heanh Network I noon—3pm (social bring i llart. Glasgow contact: has recently been setupin . drinks). i SallyDaghlian.

Scotland. and will provide a j GLASGOW I Community Health we|comelomm forthose lAsimtlar meeting is j Resource Centre. 552 working in the field. j expected to be arranged ()660.

EDINBURGH . shortly. I I HealthSearch Scottish IOpen Meellngfor contacts llcalth EducationGroup.

Lothian women with an interest in the women's health movement. Tue 19 Dec.CraigentinnyHealth Project. Loaning Road. Edinburgh.

j I Scottish Women’s Health 1 Network Lothian Trade Union and Community ' Resource Centre. 12a Picardy Place. Edinburgh.

Woodburn llousc. Canaan Lane. Edinburgh. 452 8666. For information and details ofsupport groups for women's health problems.

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we’re not quite the cosy collective that we once were. We take no drug money. no armaments money. but we have had money from Helena Rubinstein and we have had money from oil.’

There are a variety of projects we have supported initiatives in the older women’s movement. forged links with the disabled women‘s movement. Latin women and black women. We were able to finance a Spanish edition of the book and we did a deal with the publishers which made the book available to clinics at a 72 per cent discount.’

The collective never numbered more than thirteen. and was usually eleven or twelve. They met weekly over many years. and learnt new skills as they went along. ‘Because of the number of foreign editions, we began understanding how foreign markets work.’ says Swenson. ‘We realised that some of the translators were getting peanuts. so we tried to do something about that. but we also realised other things about the translations. For instance. it was six or seven years after the Japanese version came out that we realised that they hadn’t used the chapters on lesbianism and abortion. We make sure now that if people publish the book. they take the whole book.‘

Swenson has no doubts about the need for women to exercise control over their own bodies and their own lives. ‘We need a woman-centred analysis of health technology.‘ she says. ‘What does it do to our bodies? This is another way of talking about ethics. Feminism is a moral discipline. There’s no question about it.‘

The women who formed the Our Bodies Ourselves collective are clear that women can never afford to take for granted the right to control their own bodies. ‘Until recently.’ remarks Swenson. ‘biology really was destiny for the majority of women. A lack of the crucial. basic control ofour bodies had a major consequence pregnancy.’

The message of the Our Bodies Ourselves collective ‘our bodies belong to us‘ was a radical one. and twenty years on it still is.

Our Bodies Ourselves is published by Penguin. price £12. 99.

studios 92 WOODSIDE TERRACE LANE GLASGOW G3 7XP Telephone: 041 - 332 6725

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88 The List 8— 21 December 1989


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