It has been more than 40 years since the pioneering women’s health book, Our Bodies, Ourselves, written by women for women, was first published.
A panel discussion about the book and women’s health issues took place at Pearls of Wisdom, the annual “marquee event” of the Women’s Collective Philanthropy Program of the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation, October 18, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.
Panelists included Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton, spiritual leader of Or Haneshamah, Ottawa’s Reconstructionist congregation; Dr. Janet Dollin, a family physician who contributed a chapter to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies Ourselves; Betina Kuzmarov, associate dean (student success) and assistant professor of law and legal studies at Carleton University; and Dr. Lisa Rosenkrantz, a family physician and mohel.
Dollin said the book was conceived in 1969 when 12 women sat down in Boston to talk about women’s health.
The book “really caused a stir in 1973,” she said. “That was the same year that Henry Morgentaler was arrested for performing abortions. Just four years before that, advertising and selling the pill in Canada was illegal.”
Although much has changed since the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves was published, Dollin said women today face “new and different issues” and need the kind of information included in the 2011 edition to make “informed decisions about our health.”
“Information is power. Personal health issues are political issues,” said Dollin, adding, “our religion has its own views on healthcare and sexuality.”
“Bodies have always been a very messy part of Jewish thought,” said Kuzmarov. “The female body was treated differently. The physical differences between the sexes have been highlighted since the beginning.”
Rabbi Bolton said that, in the traditional text in Genesis, “we are created in the image of the Divine … In all of our diversity of shape and capacity, we’re all God’s creations.”
As well, “modesty is considered a Jewish value,” she said. “Cultural values play a part, and that has evolved over the centuries. Judaism, no less than the secular world, is subject to contemporary trends in fashion.”
Rabbi Bolton said Jewish women, as women, “must call on each other to make their own choices about what to do with our bodies.” For instance, if later in life, women are creating households and partnerships, “it shouldn’t be secondary because they aren’t sexual relationships.” It’s about body, mind and soul, and “we occupy ourselves as Jewish women in many divine ways.”
“We know biologically that our sexuality changes as we age,” said Rosenkrantz, “and our body lets us down as we age … Society leads us to believe we should be sexual all the time … [but] there is a reality of biology that gets in the way.”
Michael Landau, chair of the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation, praised the hard work of the Women’s Collective Philanthropy Program to help women and children. The Women’s Collective Endowment Fund, directed by the program, is designed to use the power of collective philanthropy to make a systemic difference in the status of women and children.
“On behalf of a very grateful community, we say thank you,” said Landau. “With this support we invest in the future of Jewish Ottawa and ensure that we provide an abundant future for everyone.”
For more information, or to become involved with the Women’s Collective Philanthropy Program, contact Arieh Rosenblum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-798-4696, ext. 270.