The Importance of "Our Bodies, Ourselves"

Question: What is “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” and how has it evolved over time? 

Judy Norsigian: It began out of a workshop held at one of the early women’s liberation conferences. This one at Emanuel College in Boston and a group of women meeting at a workshop entitled Women and Their Bodies decided to continue to meet. They had been talking about hot topics around sexuality and healthcare and of course you have to understand that several decades ago we had no information at the lay language level for women about women’s healthcare, very minimal information about sexuality. We were in the dark ages and these were college educated women who met at this women’s liberation conference kind of astounded they could be so ignorant about basic bodily functions and out the continued meetings grew this group that became known as the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. 

Originally there was no intention to write a book. It was a gathering of women in their homes and community centers. They began community courses, know your body kind of courses, and they developed these mimeograph papers that they produced and shared with one another and kept chiming in every time they prepared something on a topic. They went to Countway Medical Library at Harvard Medical School. They talked to a few of the physicians and more nurses who were willing to share information and the end result was this melding of not just the information one might get from a medical textbook, but the real lived experiences of women who listened to this information and they rewrote these term papers. There is no better term for it and they included the experiences of women who chimed in and said, “Well you know this happened to me.” “That happened to me.” And they dealt with everything from the experience of postpartum depression, which of course didn’t even have a language for it then. They were dealing with the fact that some of them have had illegal abortions and what that was like, that they couldn’t get contraception that they had childbirth experiences that were really quite traumatic and did they have to be that way and it didn’t matter what the experience was or what the topic was. What they realized is that they needed to share their stories, share their knowledge as women and then take that to other women to expand the discourse and of course the mimeoed papers became this little newsprint booklet that the New England Free Press put out in late 1970. 

The title “Our Bodies, Ourselves” actually did not come into being until early 1971 and we are about to be introducing the ninth edition of the book in late 2011 during the 40th anniversary year and we’ve seen the book undergo many changes, take on new topics and of course we have a great deal of advocacy and educational work we do in addition to this book and our related books that we’ve produced over the years. But we see ourselves very much as part of the women’s health movement that grew out of a second wave of feminism, late 60s, early 70s and we have been a pillar I would say in that movement and the movement has certainly grown globally. Our connections are with women across the globe and one of the ways that it manifests itself today is in our translation adaptation program. We call it our OBOS Global Initiative and we are actively working with about ten groups in other countries producing their own translations and adaptations of material in “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” Sometimes it’s booklets. Sometimes it’s a whole book and sometimes it’s simply posters on a canoe transport system somewhere in Nigeria. It really varies in terms of how the women take this content and adapt it for their own use. 

Question: How was it different to be a woman 40 years ago? 

Judy Norsigian: Well back then about 40 years ago there was very little information in lay language and we had to turn to largely healthcare providers and mostly our doctors to try to get information and there was tremendous sexism, paternalism and condescension within medicine, so it wasn’t a great place to turn to get questions answered. It was always considered inappropriate. You were speaking out of turn. So we had to educate ourselves. That was number one, but number two there was also a great deal that was done in the field of women’s health and medical care that wasn’t evidence-based as we’d call it today. It was simply because that is what physicians did. They thought it was the right thing to do.  There was no evidence basis for it, so we had lots of unnecessary hysterectomies, unnecessary cesarean sections, although the problem is much worse now and we had over use of certain prescription drugs like mood altering drugs. In those days we had Valium and Librium, things like that that were misused, that were not understood to be addictive, that women didn’t have good data on, so that women couldn’t make good decisions about whether or not to undergo the surgical procedure, take this drug or follow this treatment that was recommended by one’s physician, so we were in this vacuum and we were among the first calling for more research on women’s health issues of course, but we realized that we often were the best experts on our own bodies and that we needed to understand better how our bodies functioned and what we were going through at any given point. 

So back then there was a knowledge gap. There was also a dearth of information and there was also this need to really learn to be assertive, learn to speak up because it was the early days of the women’s movement and many women were socialized to be demur, to not speak up, to not rattle the cage, totally inappropriate when it comes to getting good health and medical care, so we needed to change the socialization of women. That was a big, tall order. Over the years however, as we grew and as we produced more editions of our book we recognized the need not just to demystify health and medical care and to understand certain things, but to move onto get a closer alliance with public health and that is when we really started to work with epidemiologists and to understand better that it isn’t really through medicine that we achieve good health and well being. It’s often through improved measures in public health and it’s really the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and also the level of violence in our streets in our immediate community that ultimately have the greatest impact on our health. 

And of course poverty, if you want to look at determinates of good health and well being poverty is the single most important determinate, so if we could work on poverty reduction we would probably do the most to improve women’s health and well being. So all these issues kept percolating up. We were working on the environment, working on workplace safety issues, working on simply demedicalizing many aspects of women’s health that had become more and more medicalized over time. Why were we doing so many hysterectomies? Why was the cesarean section rate skyrocketing? And all of these interventions going apace without improvements in outcomes and that is really the telling story and then along the way we started tracking something that is probably one of the most important elements in health and medicine today and that is the increasing and inappropriate influence of the pharmaceutical industry over physician prescribing practices and physician behavior and also the public’s belief in drugs and the first and only solutions sometime to a host of medical problems and issues that come up. In fact, we have something called disease mongering today, a term used to connote how the drug industry creates conditions for which it will then market products and these are not necessarily conditions that are true medical issues or diseases. They’re simply orchestrated and artificially created conditions for which we now believe we need medical and drug solutions. 

Recorded on April 20, 2010

When the collective started forty years ago, there was a "knowledge gap" and a dearth of information about women's health issues.

Volcanoes to power bitcoin mining in El Salvador

The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.

Credit: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.

The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.

Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.

Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.

Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.

A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.

Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."

Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.

Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.

"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.

Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.

"This is going to evolve fast!"

If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.

The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.

Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.

Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.

"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine

How were mRNA vaccines developed? Pfizer's Dr Bill Gruber explains the science behind this record-breaking achievement and how it was developed without compromising safety.

Sponsored by Pfizer
  • Wondering how Pfizer and partner BioNTech developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time without compromising safety? Dr Bill Gruber, SVP of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, explains the process from start to finish.
  • "I told my team, at first we were inspired by hope and now we're inspired by reality," Dr Gruber said. "If you bring critical science together, talented team members together, government, academia, industry, public health officials—you can achieve what was previously the unachievable."
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 12 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the emergency declaration unless ended sooner. See Fact Sheet:

Keep reading Show less

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Keep reading Show less

Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."