The last book I read from my list of 50 Books Every Woman Should Read Before She Turns 40 was Our Bodies, Ourselves by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. Our Bodies, Ourselves first came about in the late 1960s. Since then numerous editions and expansions have been written, with the latest edition published in 2011. The latest version is an 825 text book on women’s health and sexuality in the United States. Because of the length and subject, I bought this book months ago and read it in small chunks so I wouldn’t tire of it.
When I first noticed Our Bodies, Ourselves on the list of books I had decided to read, I wasn’t too excited. Text books aren’t always thrilling, and I did not know it had been rewritten throughout the years. I thought I’d be reading a health text from the 1970s. Fortunately, I was wrong on a number of points.
Although I can’t necessarily recommend picking up this book and reading it cover to cover, I really admire what the authors are doing with this project. This is a book written for women, by women. It covers topics including: puberty, child birth, birth control, abortion, menopause, relationships, violence against women, sexually transmitted infections, health care, as well as common diseases and cancers. The book is written in a non-judgmental, informative style that feels inclusive. Small blurbs from women describing their varying experiences make the book feel more personal. These blurbs show the wide array of what women have encountered and their responses. The idea is that knowledge is power, and the more women know about their health and bodies, the better off they will be.
Although this book is defiantly feminist and progressive, it seeks to inform choices rather than dictate. Each type of birth control described clearly states how effective it is (both when used correctly and real world numbers), side effects, positives, and negatives. Then the choice is left up to you depending on your health, your needs, and your personal priorities. I have to admit that I thought I was pretty well-informed and would not learn much from this book. However, even the first chapter describing the anatomy of women’s sex organs was sometimes illuminating. In addition, it was nice to get some concrete, side-by-side numbers on the newer birth control options.
With a book covering this vast amount of information, it is, by necessity, pretty general. The book quite often includes links, websites, and other places to go for more help and information. Occasionally, there would be a sidebar describing efforts to make informative books and pamphlets for women in different countries around the world–written and presented by women in those countries. The book felt like a very unifying project that seeks to help women get the most out of their lives.
I can see Our Bodies, Ourselves being a helpful reference book to keep on your shelf as a clear, informative guide when questions pop up regarding health and sexuality. If all teenage girls could somehow know all the information in this book, I think women, on the whole, would be so much better off.
Finally, I have to admit that I have decided to read only 49 out of the 50 books before I turn 40. I began reading The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir with very good intentions. Beauvoir is a remarkable, impressive woman. However, about thirty pages into it, I realized I had another 830 very dense pages to go, and I just couldn’t do it. It was such a relief to give up on it, and now I’m back to reading whatever I want.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.