Reading Circles

I’m happily reading the new Our Bodies Ourselves this week, and have the luck to also have a 1973 copy of OBOS to compare it to. So, pretty much, I am high on what happens when women get together to talk about health.  I wish I was around 40 years ago at the start of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, described in the preface of the 1973 book under the heading “A GOOD STORY.”

In the begininning we called the group “the doctor’s group.” We had all experienced similar feelings of frustration and anger toward specific doctors and the medical maze in general, and initially wanted to do something about those doctors who were condescending, paternalistic, judgmental and non-informative. As we talked and shared our experiences with one another, we realized just how much we had to learn about our bodies. So we decided on summer project–to research those topics we felt were particularly pertinent to learning about our bodies, to discuss in the group what we had learned, then to write papers individually or in small groups of two or three, and finally to present the results in the fall as a course for women on women and their bodies.

As we developed the course we realized more and more that we were really capable of collecting, understanding, and evaluating medical information…the process of talking was as crucial as the facts themselves. Over time, the facts and feelings melted together in ways that touched us very deeply, and that is reflected in the changing titles of the course and then the book–from Women and Their Bodies to Women and Our Bodies to, finally, Our Bodies, Ourselves.

The honesty and eloquence of both editions are so swoon worthy–the articulation of confusion and paradox that you know arrives from a group of people thinking hard and digging to find words–for uttering in the first place, and showing the process of it.  Amongst all the tropes (often perceived negatively) of women’s sharing circles (I know I have a huge file of uncool cliche’s in my head, even though it also sounds so damn nice), The Women’s Collective built this wonderful resource–its wonder lying in not only the facts, but in the gut-swinging honesty that it presents them in.  In some ways, OBOS is like the best aunt in the world who has answers for everything, always lets you have sip of her wine, and respects you immensely. Like Tavi Gevinson’s blurb for the new editions says:

My brain was fist pumping the whole way through.

The reason I bring this all up is because I am also reading Jaclyn Friedman’s What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety.  I’m only in chapter one, but danggummit, it’s wonderful! (Just like Yes Means Yes!).  When I looked for it at my local bookstore, I was initially a smidge embarrassed, worried that the clerk would have to awkwardly walk with me over to the sex section, perhaps surrounded by Taschen books about boobs and penises. Maybe you are more brave than me, but sex and bookstores, it’s too much of a clash of the public and private.  Maybe I can get over that after I read this book.

Maybe after we all read this book? So far, it’s like a great gift from the same wine-sharing Aunt that I have assigned to OBOS.  It’s compassionate, well-written, insightful, stern, and really really understanding.  The introduction takes head on the trepidation of reading such a book publicly.  Nobody wants to be seen reading a sex guide, right? We all want to look that we have that shit in gear–no worries here–my engine is fine!    But Friedman smartly takes on everybody, starting off with a quiz about attitudes and conceptions about sex, safety, and the personas we build around them.  Her argument is that if the book has gotten into your hands, one way or another, you are ready to get to the nitty gritty about sex in your life, and sex in society.  She promises big rewards, a map through the messiness of reality, and omits anything resembling a tip or a trick to better sex.

My favorite thing so far about the book is that while it looks like a regular paperback, it’s really a bit of a bootcamp.  She asks things of you that the cool part of your brain wants to cringe at and reject (journaling every day, committing to the entire book), but she acknowledges your possible wonkiness, and then tells you to get over it.  If the text ever leans sentimental or mushy, it also immediately proves how valid the act is.  Friedman writes like a good teacher lectures.  You trust her. You will do what she tells you to because she is not wasting your time.

At then end of the introduction, Friedman recommends reading the book with a group, both as a way to expand discussion, and as a way to keep up momentum as you move through the book.  I bring this up for two reasons–I’m interested in being part of such a group, and I want as many people as possible to read this book.  I’m not sure the blog is the right place to have a discussion–I’m all for documenting process, but perhaps it is too permanent of a forum for this? G-chat, Skype, plain old email…I’m interested. Or if you don’t join up here in whatever unknown form is out there (and fair warning, I don’t know how deep What You Really Really Want goes), consider starting a small discussion group with a few friends wherever you are. How nice would that be?

I am in the thrall of a giant crush on conversation.  I promise there will be no speculums, unless you want to talk about that, too.

2 Responses to Reading Circles

  1. You’re the best kind of feminist, CF. What would I do without you?

    • Ben says:

      I just stumbled on this blog and I am intrigued by your use of the term, “firecracker.” I see you talk about firecrackers a lot, but can you tell me, in a nutshell, what a firecracker is? I am assuming that the term is original to you.

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