CFP: Rhetorical Pasts, Rhetorical Futures: Reflecting on the Legacy of Our Bodies, Ourselves and the Future of Feminist Health Literacy

We are pleased to publish this call for proposals for a Special Issue of Peitho: Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition

image of 3 different copies of our boidies our selves

Rhetorical Pasts, Rhetorical Futures: Reflecting on the Legacy of Our Bodies, Ourselves and the Future of Feminist Health Literacy

Special Issue Editors
Sara DiCaglio, Assistant Professor, Texas A&M University 
Lori Beth De Hertogh, Assistant Professor, James Madison University

On April 2, 2018, the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective announced that they would no longer publish updated print or digital versions of their foundational text, Our Bodies, Ourselves (OBOS) due to financial pressures and the changing nature of online health information. Since its original publication in 1970, OBOS (then called Women and Their Bodies) has provided “evidence-based information on girls’ and women’s reproductive health and sexuality” to millions worldwide. It was included in the Library of Congress’ 2012 exhibit “Books That Shaped America” and recognized by Time magazine as one of the best 100 nonfiction books published in English (OBOS, About Us). As Susan Wells aptly puts it: “Our Bodies, Ourselves was not just a routine women’s health manual with a feminist twist. Nothing like it was available when the book was first published in 1970” and it was eagerly consumed by “an audience of women hungry for this information” (2).

Beyond its wider impact, OBOS is of particular interest to feminist rhetorical scholars due to its unique composition; the text, as Wells argues, seeks to integrate its writers, its audience, and others involved in its publication to create a living document in which “[i]nvestigating the body is a joint project of reader and writer” (Wells 167). The well-documented archival and published history of OBOS is filled with reflection on its creation and revision into nine published editions (see Stephenson; McPherson). This interest in revision is inherent to the text’s creation; as the introduction of the first edition states, “[These pages] are not final. They are not static…They should be viewed as a tool which stimulates discussion and action, which allows for new ideas and for change” (5). The desire to create change within an audience, and to change in relation to its audience’s needs and responses, illustrates the drive to tie rhetorical work with community change on a local, national, and global scale that is central to all editions of the text.

Despite its intentions, OBOS has not always been received positively. Jennifer Yanco notes that OBOS’s original creators represented a “group of highly educated urban women” who created the manual on “the assumption that their book would speak to all women, including rural peasant women and marginalized urban women” (515). Similarly, Donna Haraway argues that OBOS and its visual logic of individual bodily discovery does not provide for a more systemic feminist knowledge politics that can approach political and global inequalities (41-42).

Considering the local, national, and global impact of Our Bodies, Ourselves, as well as its many successes and shortcomings, this special issue reflects upon the rhetorical work and legacy of the past forty-eight years of OBOS and considers future directions for community-driven health literacy organizations and activism. We invite contributions that rhetorically examine questions related to health and community, particularly those that directly engage with OBOS’s legacy as a feminist health endeavor. Contributions may examine a variety of topics, including but not limited to:

  • What does the legacy of OBOS mean for feminist rhetoricians of health and medicine?
  • Does the model of a feminist collaborative health text as exemplified by OBOS still speak to contemporary audiences
  • What are the rhetorical implications of OBOS for feminist health movements in both the past and present?
  • How might intersectional, queer, and/or transnational readings of OBOS inform our understanding of feminist historiography in health contexts?
  • How do the kinds of collective health writing we see in OBOS influence our understanding of authorship and readership in rhetoric and composition?
  • What are the rhetorical implications of and uses for OBOS in the classroom?

Submission Details
Authors interested in exploring these or other questions should send a proposal of no more than 500 words, along with a two-page CV, to the special issue editors, Sara DiCaglio ( and Lori Beth De Hertogh ( Proposals should be submitted via email by August 10, 2018.

Final submissions might take a variety of forms, from traditional articles (6000-8000 words) to digital/multimodal formats, to shorter pieces that do definitional work, pay tribute to OBOS, or respond to larger works in the field that examine OBOS in the context of women’s reproductive health. If you have questions or would like to pitch an idea prior to formally submitting a proposal, feel free to contact the editors.

Proposals submitted via email: August 10, 2018
Authors notified: September 10, 2018
Full articles due: January 15, 2019
Revisions due: April 30, 2019
Anticipated publication date: Summer 2019