Author and Social Worker Grows Up with Our Bodies, Ourselves

Article excerpt

Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era came out in May 2005, the eighth edition (ninth including the original New England Free Press version), more than 35 years since the first publication. As a founder of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective (BWH BC), contributor to all editions and primary author of the "Women Growing Older" chapter in the new edition, I have grown up with this book.

In March, I brought a galley version of the new book-the first fully revised edition since 1998-to the Joint Conference of the American Society on Aging and National Council on the Aging, where I did a workshop. With pleasure, I sat with some women reminiscing about the first edition of the book and the impact it had on our lives. Their comments and observations were gratifying for me to hear:

"It was the first book ever on women's bodies written by women and for women."

"Now we need to take back menopause."

"I remember that moment in my dorm room sitting with my roommates opening the book to a drawing of a woman's genitals and saying, 'Wow,' and passing the book around and beginning to talk frankly about our lives."

"It was a trusted guide that I carried with me. It made me feel I was okay just the way I am."

Our Bodies, Ourselves is a book that profoundly affected a whole generation of women-of which I am a member-as we embraced our identities as women and a women-centered view of the world. Our bodies, as we move through our life journeys, are ourselves and the place from which we view the world. As a founder of BWHBC, I am forever grateful that I came of age in the second wave of the women's movement.


Had anyone said to me 35 years ago, "Joan, you will be engaged and concerned with women's aging issues," I would have said, "Nonsense, no way!" Then, I was in my 20s and, as was true for many in my cohort, I was caught up with the second wave of feminism and issues of pregnancy, childbirth, sexuality and reproductive rights. Now I am 62, post-menopausal, and validating and embracing the issues of midlife and older women. I am a clinical geriatric social worker. And, also, I am grieving the recent loss of my go-year-old mom, with whom I had a very close relationship. Today, I feel especially tuned in to the poignancy, vitality and fragility of life.

Ageism, like sexism, is a social construction that reflects the values of our youth-oriented culture. Do we want to live in a society that turns on its members as they age? We need to question and be sensitized to ageist attitudes-ours and those of others-be they internalized or institutionalized. My hope is that we can live in a society that supports us as we age, aided and abetted by a feminism that is strong enough to last for our lifetime and that of future generations. I feel passionate about this issue from my personal, feminist and professional experience.

Reflecting changes as boomers shift the demographics in the United States, the focus on issues of women in the second half of life in Our Bodies, Ourselves has expanded over the years. No pages were devoted to concerns of later life in the Free Press edition and seven pages on older women appeared in the original 1973 Simon and Schuster edition. The new edition includes 56 pages and two chapters, "Midlife and Menopause" and "Our Later Years," with additional material on a companion website.

"Midlife and Menopause" includes such key topics as menopause and hormone therapy, sexuality and aging, taking care of ourselves, and social and political issues. "Our Later Years" includes information on getting medical care, physical impairment and chronic conditions, caregiving and needing care, living arrangements, end-of-life decisions and survival skills. …