Forty years ago this month, Our Bodies, Ourselves hit bookstores. The 40th anniversary edition recently came out, and last night NBC Nightly News interviewed women ranging from author and screenwriter Nora Ephron to famed breast surgeon, author and Army of Women founder Dr. Susan Love.
If you weren’t around then, it’s hard to understand just how groundbreaking this book was. We were just starting to talk openly about things like reproductive health and birth control, and it provided a road map. It’s been published in 25 languages, and Time magazine named it one of the most influential 100 non-fiction books. An updated 40th anniversary edition was recently published (and it’s available at a 70 percent discount to health clinics and non-profits.)
I was 15 when the original version was published. I never thought it would be around for 40 years, or that I would be purchasing a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause to try to make sense of that next female frontier.
The book providing the first real road map for breast cancer was the still-excellent First, You Cry by Betty Rollin, which came out five years later. Although the fall crop of breast cancer books has become as perennial as pumpkin harvests, I think First, You Cry is still the gold standard. Not only is it an unflinching look at the roller coaster of emotions she experienced, it also provides a look into how much medicine has changed. I spent the night in a short-stay unit after my mastectomy; she was in the hospital for a week after hers.
When I look back on what’s changed, I’m glad women’s health issues and cancer are no longer in the shadows. I’m glad we educate ourselves and share our stories with each other and stand up for ourselves as patients and as women. I’m grateful for social media and the community I’ve become a part of.
But when I look at how our society has changed in 40 years, it seems that while there is no shortage of people who are willing to talk, fewer are willing to really listen. A lot of today’s political discourse seems to have hardened into ideology. I see a bit of that in some health discussions too, mainly around patient empowerment. And I find it interesting that patient empowerment is often equated with feminism. At this stage of my life, I’ve become wary of “isms.”
Would I go back to the way things were then? Absolutely not. I’d just like to see a shift to more listening and respectful disagreement in our public discourse.