Nightly News   |  October 25, 2011

How ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ changed women’s lives

In their own words: About 40 years ago, the short pamphlet on female health issues became a game-changer for women who weren’t getting enough information from their doctors. Director Nora Ephron, breast surgeon Dr. Susan Love, former Planned Parenthood president Faye Wattleton, political analyst Mona Charen, and other women share what the book meant to them.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Finally tonight, the book that was a landmark for a lot of American women is turning 40 years old. " Our_Bodies ,_Ourselves" was a groundbreaker, a game changer. It got its start in life as a short pamphlet 40 years ago this month. Then it became a book. Started arriving in American homes, and it was a revelation for women for what it talked about, like sex and plumbing and menopause, information a lot of women at the time weren't getting from their mostly male doctors. For some it quickly became a kind of bible for the female body in terms of health and empowerment. So for this 40th, we asked some high-profile women what the book meant to them, in their own words.

Ms. JUDY NORSIGIAN (Co-Author, "Our Bodies, Ourselves"): Back in the very early '70s there was nothing like " Our_Bodies ,_Ourselves." And the beginnings of " Our_Bodies ,_Ourselves" were primarily about demystifying health and medical care.

Ms. NORA EPHRON (Novelist/Screenwriter/Director): " Our_Bodies ,_Ourselves" was a book that you had to own in the '70s if you were a woman, period. My strongest memory is not something I read in it. It's of me reading it, and I remember where I was sitting when I read it. I remember where it was on the first bookshelf it was on, and I remember that I went to it on all sorts of occasions to find out what some of my choices were in the situation.

Dr. SUSAN LOVE (Breast Surgeon): Personally, " Our_Bodies ,_Ourselves" really set the stage for my whole career, because in medical school I was being taught one thing, but I saw the light that there really was another way you could deal with these issues. You didn't talk about having breast cancer. That was still a big secret. Other taboos about talking about lesbianism, talking about, you know, birth control, abortion. None of those things were talked about in books, much less in polite conversation.

Ms. FAYE WATTLETON (Former President, Planned Parenthood): The women who wrote " Our_Bodies ,_Ourselves" sacrificed a great deal because they were challenging deeply embedded taboos. They were ridiculed. They were scolded. They were verbally abused. We sometimes don't realize that what we have today came about through very difficult circumstances.

Ms. MONA CHAREN (Columnist/Political Analyst): The political message is what I found off-putting, because it was part of a movement, a larger movement within our society, that was attempting to delink sex from love, commitment, marriage, fidelity. It does not respond to what the average woman is most concerned about in her life, which is, you know, the stability of her family life and her love relationships.

Ms. VERONICA ARREOLA (Blogger, Viva la Feminista): I'm Latina. I was raised in a Catholic way. My daughter's not going to have to sneak it out of the library or try and sneak it off the top shelf of my closet. I'm trying to raise her and teach her about her body and that she is in control of her body.

Ms. NORSIGIAN: There are now 26 foreign editions of " Our_Bodies ,_Ourselves." It's really amazing in some ways that a project like this has survived 40 tumultuous years, lots of obstacles, lots of challenges, and yet the core of the book remains the same and reaching an ever wider audience of women and girls.

WILLIAMS: Some of the many women strongly affected by a powerful book now 40 years old.