The work on the book “Women and Their Bodies” is complex and multifaceted. Understanding the writing process and its rational requires a short presentation of the American book, after which we will explain the cultural adaptation of the book to the Israeli society and the writing itself.
The American book As is well known, one of our main objectives is the cultural adaptation of the American Feminist book “Our Bodies Ourselves” for Israeli Hebrew speaking women. The book is a Global feminist project (more about OBOS). The original book was written in the roaring 70s and was (and in many ways still) considered revolutionary. A group of American women from Boston, who felt a lack in knowledge on issues of sexuality, fertility and health, tried to gather all the women gynecologists and midwives from the Boston area and hear what is missing in their professional opinion. Soon they found out that a very small part of women dealt with these issues, and the ones who did, would not cooperate and kept a strictly “professional” attitude. The Boston women decided to gather materials and impressions on their own. They founded an association and interviewed women of various disciplines, ages and ethnic origins. This data collection project was the basis for the first American book. Since then an updated edition of the book is issued once every five years and in over 20 countries in different versions.
The Israel version- the journey, process and the completed books
The Israeli version of the book was published in 2005.
Our intention is to create a clear readable book, each woman’s “bible”; a book that can be found at each home and library, which contains answers to the questions which we are afraid to ask out loud, or to which we do not know where to find the answers; a book that combines interesting and accessible writing – a contexture interlacing issues of the body, health and sexuality of Israeli women with various knowledge fields, such as: western medicine, alternative medicine, feminist theory and action, and interview segments with women of different sectors, ages and origins. Our activities are based on the perception that knowledge, presented clearly and accessibly, can allow women to improve their health and will increase their awareness to their rights, health and bodies reduce fears that stem from ignorance and provide us with a conscious egalitarian position to the medical establishment. We are working on two books at the same time, one for Hebrew speakers and the other for Arabic speakers, which have a few similarities and differences. Read more about the Hebrew edition.
In the different chapters we emphasize a broad contexture of knowledge from various areas and points of view. Our writing is never purely “scientific”. We put much stress on the multiplicity of voices and perceptions, and try not to be judgmental; we write in the female plural form and emphasize the Israeli culture and local characteristics and not only the dry facts… So aside from the continuous writing of information, we combine quotes from interviews conducted with women throughout Israel) and short texts of 500 words (which we call gray passages) that turn the spotlight on subject-related phenomena, and deviate from the general flow of the chapter. Some gray passages were written by women professional (for instance in the chapter about the midlife period, there is a medical text about hormones and the related discoveries made along the years) and others are personal texts that stem from women’s life experience (in the same chapter there is a text written by a woman who decided to take hormones, and a text written by a woman who decided not to take them).
The work process
The book is composed of 32 chapters in different levels of progress, and a large part of them is ready for print (see topic overview). The work on each chapter begins with a search after the proper editor, a woman who is enthusiastic about the issue, loves and knows how to write and how to work in a team, and is creative and open minded. The editor’s work is important and rewarding, though exhausting at times. With each chapter we hope to make women re-think their selves and their bodies, and hope questions and understandings will echo in our minds long after writing and reading each chapter.
Our ambition is to complete the work on each chapter within 4-5 months… it’s good to have ambitions in life – It usually takes longer. When beginning to work on a chapter we usually already have a few names of women who read or heard about us and asked to join the project, and after finding the editor we form a group of women, some experts on the issue, others are interested in it from different angles. The group writing is intended to represent different views and knowledge, for instance in the chapter about food we have dieticians, overweight women, thin women, some with different eating disorders, specialist in women’s eating disorders, a chef, a cook book writer, someone who the subject is otherwise close to, etc. The basis for each chapter is the translation of the American chapter. Prior to the meeting, all the women read the chapter a critical reading and ask themselves: Which parts are relevant for Israel and which are not? Which special viewpoints should be raised? How can women be helped in different crossroads and phases? and more.
The first meeting provides the framework of the chapter, and therefore a representative of the chief editing staff always takes part in it, to make sure that the chapter does not draw away from the spirit of the book. During the brain storming meeting the general framework of the chapter is formed and the group members are teamed up with their responsibilities. Each member goes home to write and in addition other women are approached and requested to write gray passages. During the next few months, the group meets again based on the members’ needs; most of the work is done by email and the editor integrates the information segments with the quotes and the gray passages.
Finally the dream becomes a reality. The book is brought to the editing committee and after the initial editing the chapter is forwarded to two external readers who can also add their viewpoints. Once again the chapter returns to the editing committee: this is a stage where information is added and more passages, ideas and comments are inserted. At the end of this stage, the chapter is forwarded to the editor. The editing team approves or rejects the final changes, and so on and so forth…
As is customary in our society, 3 principles direct our editing job:
1. Clarity and accessibility: The book is written for women of all sectors of society and therefore the writing should be clear and accessible; occasionally statistics and data are referred to, but there aren’t many academic references.
2. Israeli characteristics: Our idea is to culturally adapt the book to the Israeli society and therefore we emphasize this issue greatly. When data is brought within a chapter it is mostly based on Israeli data, and many of the gray passages describe experiences or phenomena from a perspective unique to Hebrew speaking Israeli women, such as female soldiers’ body image, or Israeli women’s health compared to European women.
3. Feminist writing: What is feminist writing? This can indeed mean many things, depending on the feminist you are… but we did make some decisions, one of which is that for the most part the book will be written in the “we form” (i.e. female plural). We are all, in different ways, on the same boat, if not today than maybe tomorrow (even in difficult chapters such as violence). We try not to be judgmental, mixing different sources of knowledge and presenting the information with no specific hierarchy.
The process of working on the book is many times messier and mostly longer than is described above; let’s not forget that we are dealing with a large team of women working on each chapter, all voluntarily…. However participating in a writing group contributes a great deal and many times affects women’s perceptions. As writers and editors we not only empower the readers, but mostly ourselves; we grow stronger during the search and the thinking process, while learning and thinking about issues concerning us all.