Monday, March 17, 2014

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Judy Norsigian on Women's Health in America

I recently heard Judy Norsigian, a cofounder of Our Bodies, Ourselves, speak near my college campus. I really enjoyed hearing Norsigian speak. I had interviewed her by phone and written about Our Bodies,Ourselves (OBOS) in the past, so it was a real privilege to be in the same room in her and hear what she had to say. You can read my notes on her speech here.

Although I already knew about the history of OBOS because of the article I wrote on the organization and the interview I conducted with Norsigian, I found her discussion of its founding and work really interesting. It’s really mind blowing to think that before OBOS came out, there was no literature on women’s bodies that used easily-understandable language and was intended to educate the general populace. I guess my surprise at this lack of information stems from the fact that I don’t really remember life without the Internet; to me, any knowledge I wish to access is, and always has been, a click away.

I think it’s really great that OBOS doesn’t limit itself to only providing accurate information about women’s bodies and health, but also extends into the activist arena. Considering how politicized the woman’s body and health has become in the past few election cycles, I suppose it would have been difficult for OBOS not to take a stance on the issues, but I’m still happy that it has. It’s awesome that they have actually reached out to members of Congress to show them that their votes on women’s health are being monitored, and the public expects them to be educated on the issues.

It’s also wonderful that the organization gets involved in issues that aren’t strictly related to women’s health, like encouraging young women of the millennial generation like myself to vote through the Our Bodies, Our Votes. I found Norsigian’s mention of her niece’s reluctance to vote (because “politics is boring”) really powerful. If someone close to a woman like Norsigian, who is so active in progressive causes, can fall prey to not wanting to vote, then it can happen to anyone. There is so much at stake for women in every election, and it’s imperative that millennials understand that every vote counts. I’m glad that OBOS is doing its part to get young women into voting booths.

I also found Norsigian’s discussion of the dangers of donating eggs really eye-opening. I’ve read a little bit on the Internet about how this is a highly under-researched practice and that it is unwise to respond to random donor requests, but I had never heard that the search for egg donors had spanned internationally, or the extent of the dangers of donating too often.

The lack of research into egg donation just underscores how little the medical world cares, or is willing to pay attention to, women’s health concerns. At Norsigian’s recommendation, I watched the documentary Absolutely Safe, which is about the dangers of silicone breast implants and the medical world’s inattentiveness to the issue. It’s actually terrifying how little research has been done into these implants, despite the volume of women who have had problems with them. It’s the same story with egg donation. On a personal, anecdotal level, I know so many women whose cancer, MS, or other fatal diseases went undiagnosed for years because (male) doctors didn’t take their complaints seriously. Medical practitioners, apparently, just don’t want to listen to women.

It makes me feel good to know that organizations like OBOS and activists like Judy Norsigian exist, since they are fighting the good fight and making sure that women’s health improves. OBOS had (and continues to have) an indelible mark on history, demystifying women’s bodies and creating an environment where women could begin to ask questions and understand themselves better. Women like Norsigian continue OBOS’s mission, working to ensure that public health decisions are based off of good science and research. I am so grateful to live in a world where there are activists working to ensure that my health is taken care of.

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