The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves

How Feminism Travels across Borders

The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves

Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies

More about this series

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 38 illustrations, 3 tables, 3 maps Published: September 2007

Author: Kathy Davis

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Medicine and Health > Medical Humanities, Sociology

The book Our Bodies, Ourselves is a feminist success story. Selling more than four million copies since its debut in 1970, it has challenged medical dogmas about women’s bodies and sexuality, shaped health care policies, energized the reproductive rights movement, and stimulated medical research on women’s health. The book has influenced how generations of U.S. women feel about their bodies and health. Our Bodies, Ourselves has also had a whole life outside the United States. It has been taken up, translated, and adapted by women across the globe, inspiring more than thirty foreign language editions.

Kathy Davis tells the story of this remarkable book’s global circulation. Based on interviews with members of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, the group of women who created Our Bodies, Ourselves, as well as responses to the book from readers, and discussions with translators from Latin America, Egypt, Thailand, China, Eastern Europe, Francophone Africa, and many other countries and regions, Davis shows why Our Bodies, Ourselves could never have been so influential if it had been just a popular manual on women’s health. It was precisely the book’s distinctive epistemology, inviting women to use their own experiences as resources for producing situated, critical knowledge about their bodies and health, that allowed the book to speak to so many women within and outside the United States. Davis provides a grounded analysis of how feminist knowledge and political practice actually travel, and she shows how the process of transforming Our Bodies, Ourselves offers a glimpse of a truly transnational feminism, one that joins the acknowledgment of difference and diversity among women in different locations with critical reflexivity and political empowerment.


The Making of Our Bodies Ourselves is an example of true feminist scholarship. It demonstrates a deep personal and political care for the feminist project – then, now and tomorrow. If we read this story of one book, its origins, its changing forms of production, its translations and its travels as a looking glass into how feminism has changed and grown, and importantly perhaps how it might just keep changing and growing, then Kathy Davis’s book has the potential to make feminist history.” — Michaela Fay, European Journal of Women's Studies

The Making of Our Bodies Ourselves remains accessible to readers who are simply looking for a history of OBOS while also critically engaging with feminist theory. . . . [A] thoughtful contribution . . . showing how OBOS remained relevant across racial, class, and cultural divisions because it combined both common experiences and diversity.” — Erin Hetherington and Jennifer Hatfield, Theory and Psychology

The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves provides a new and refreshing perspective on a time-worn feminist project. While theoretically sophisticated, it is a very accessible book that can be used in undergraduate as well as graduate courses. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in women’s health, feminist theory, and transnational feminist movements.” — Jill Bystydzienski, American Journal of Sociology

The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves undoubtedly contributes to women’s health activism, feminist epistemology, feminist theory, feminist history, feminist historiography and feminist methodology and is a timely reminder of the importance of women’s health in feminist research and practice. . . . I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to activists, academics and any one involved in women’s health. Kathy Davis’s writing is compelling, and after reading this book, it is not difficult to be hopeful about transnational feminism.”
— Jenny Douglas, European Journal of Women's Studies

The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves was definitely a good read. It's interesting to know how informational books - such as Our Bodies, Ourselves—are put together and what other women experience health-wise. She also gives us a background of the women who contribute to the book and how it is used in Women’s studies. The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves will truly peak your interest.” — Tamekia Fain-Lovett, Feminist Review blog

“[A] smart, sensitive, hopeful book. . . . [A] brilliant defense of the Second Wave premise that sisterhood really is global.” — Rebecca Walker, Bookforum

“As a study of a milestone book, [The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves] is recommended for academic libraries.” — Library Journal

“[E]xcellent. . . .” — Linda Gordon, The Nation

“[I]n her beautifully written book, The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Davis distinguishes among the book, the collective of women that produced the book and the multiple (and ongoing) translations of the book. She expertly disentangles the different projects and explains their significance and along the way also reports and deconstructs the myth and considers how this myth enables the circulation and transformation of OBOS in many parts of the world. The major contribution of The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves is not in filling in details about the story of OBOS but in its engagement with key directions in current scholarship about feminism, health activism, knowledge and the body.” — Susan E. Bell, Health

“[T]his is a fascinating exploration of the role that feminist health activists have played in releasing women in the western world from the strongly patriarchal medicalisation of their bodies, as well as the role that non-English speaking feminists have played in releasing feminism from the clutch of white, middle-class American feminists.” — Flloyd Kennedy, M/C Reviews

“Carefully analytical and theoretically informed without being jargon-laden or tendentious, Davis’s study should create a diverse audience of educated general readers as well as of scholars in a variety of academic fields like medical humanities, medical anthropology, gender studies, history, and the history of the book.” — Thomas Lawrence Long, Canadian Journal of History

“Davis gives the reader an intimate, comprehensive history of Our Bodies, Ourselves and the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. . . . Davis’ work demystifies Our Bodies, Ourselves as a perfect, infallible text in women’s health and modern feminist movements. It recognizes the impact of cultural difference and sensitivity in conveying information to women as they make decisions about their bodies and relationships. The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves is a strong contribution to existing works on the social impacts of translation and the transmission of information bout women’s bodies today.” — Elizabeth R.Thompson, Journal of Sociology

“Davis looks beyond the book’s iconic status to observe its development as an unlikely cultural export. . . . Her thoughtful analysis reveals the tensions inherent in creating and revising a collectively borne work of feminist thought, and the often-rocky attempt to address intersecting identities of race, sexuality, ethnicity, culture, and class. As a history of both Our Bodies, Ourselves and of transnational feminist theory, the book is an invaluable resource for women’s studies scholars and researchers.” — Keidra Chaney, Bitch

“Davis’ book brilliantly brings together the debates on contemporary body theory and women’s health activism as complementary corpus of knowledge that merged into concrete feminist agendas. Going full circle, in the end Davis tells us how OBOS finally got back home reconstituted through the voices of a myriad of women who are different from the original group of white baby boomers, but similar in their hopes of all sorts.”
— Anahí Viladrich, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“Davis’ defense of OBOS as feminist epistemology and its intriguing and undeniably vast trajectory provide a useful occasion for thinking about feminist practice under the auspices of globalization.” — Ashwini Tambe, Gender, Place & Culture

“Davis’s research and reflections provide not only a welcome new addition to the historical literature on the women’s health movement, but also a finely nuanced understanding of how [Our Bodies, Ourselves] eventually became what she calls ‘a global feminist project of knowledge.’” — Betsy Hartmann, Women's Review of Books

“Davis’s study is balanced and informative. . . . Davis’s study gestures toward feminism’s potential to transcend boundaries without obliterating differences; she honors earlier feminist efforts without obfuscating their limitations.” — On Campus with Women

“Highly recommended.” — Choice

“Kathy Davis has written a fascinating and thoroughly readable book which lays out an exciting agenda for research into global feminisms.” — Branwyn Poleykett, European Journal of Women's Studies

“This is an important and timely book for feminism. Not only does Kathy Davis illustrate the fascinating history of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and of their famous book, Our Bodies, Ourselves, but her book is a significant contribution to debates within feminism about difference, alliance-building and the drawbacks of both identity politics and postmodernism for feminism.” — Meredith Ralston, European Journal of Women's Studies

“This is an impressive and important book, to my knowledge the first academic study of the production, translation and international transfer of a non-literary work focused on gender issues. It is thoroughly researched, well written and clearly structured. . . . It is a wonderful example of feminist scholarship that uses a most appropriate text—Our Bodies, Ourselves—to examine and, in the end, validate international exchange between women as not only possible but highly fruitful.” — Luise von Flotow, Translation Studies

“Feminism travels, and Our Bodies, Ourselves is today the most transnational effort of women’s health movements. In this theoretically sophisticated book that I have yearned for, Kathy Davis offers history and an assessment of Our Bodies, Ourselves as a multi-sited epistemological project, and she brilliantly reveals quite hopeful implications for transnational feminist theory. A politically grounded analysis of how Western feminism can become ‘de-centered’ through practice. Brava!” — Adele E. Clarke, coeditor of Revisioning Women, Health, and Healing: Feminist, Cultural, and Technoscience Perspectives

“I highly recommend this study of the travels of the feminist health paradigm created by the Our Bodies, Ourselves book project. Providing a comparative analysis of the transnational feminist coalitions that have formed around translations of the book, Kathy Davis offers fresh, exciting insights to feminist theorists, historians, and health activists. She avoids the dead ends of many reductivist feminist, postmodern, and postcolonial approaches to the body. Davis gives us one of the best examples yet of interdisciplinary feminist scholarship that connects theory and practice.” — Ann Ferguson, coeditor of Daring to be Good: Essays in Feminist Ethico-Politics


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kathy Davis is a Senior Researcher at the Research Institute for History and Culture at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Her books include The Handbook of Gender and Women’s Studies (coedited with Mary Evans and Judith Lorber), Dubious Equalities and Embodied Differences: Cultural Studies on Cosmetic Surgery, and Embodied Practices: Feminist Perspectives on the Body.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part I: The Book and Its Travels

1. OBOS in the United States: The Enigma of a Feminist “Success Story” 19

2. OBOS Abroad: From “Center” to “Periphery” and Back 50

3. Between Empowerment and Bewitchment: The Myth of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective 85

4. Reclaiming Women’s Bodies: Colonialist Trope or Critical Epistemology? 120

5. Creating Feminist Subjects: The Reader and the Text 142

Part III: Transnational Body/Politics

6. Oppositional Translations and Imagined Communities: Adapting OBOS 169

7. Transnational Knowledges, Transnational Politics 197

Appendix 1. Foreign-Language Editions of OBOS 214

Appendix 2. Books Inspired by OBOS 217

Appendix 3. Translations and Adaptations of OBOS in Progress 218

Appendix 4. Translations and Adaptations of OBOS Seeking Funds for Start-up 219

Notes 221

Bibliography 243

Index 273
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2008 American Sociological Association Sex and Gender Section Distinguished Book Award

Winner, 2008 Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, presented by the Society of Medical Anthropology

Winner, 2009 Joan Kelly Memorial Prize, American Historical Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4066-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4045-4
Publicity material