Know Thy Selves

Our Bodies, Our SelvesRemember when it was all the rage to sit on the floor of the campus gym sans pants, whip out your compact, and examine your vagina? No weewees, no woohoos, no girliebits; we were hot to call a vagina a vagina, and we were determined to get up close and personal enough to be on a first name basis. Our Bodies, Our Selves was the handbook, although I seem to remember the 70’s bearing a rather unbalanced focus on the Bodies half of the equation. Frankly, it was a whole lot easier to find a group of women ready to shed their clothes for Enlightenment than to find one who actually carried (or owned) an actual compact. Makeup was for sissy girls.

Women 1970's via ourbodiesourselves.orgWe were a Gung Ho sort, and even if we read our Sartre naked in the bathtub with a guy we’d met at the falafel house only an hour earlier, we were hungry to know it all, do it all, feel it all, read it all, live it all, conquer it all, save the world, free women from centuries of silence, get it out there, and live it real. We were ready and primed to Make Life Our Bitch. We all looked like Ali McGraw, and we were determined to be taken as seriously as Gloria Steinem. We brought womanhood, for a time, from darkness into light, and it all started with a fierce determination to know ourselves, vaginas and all.

When did we lose touch?

A year ago today I sat in my kitchen with a close friend that I see only twice a year. She was waiting for test results from a biopsy, which would be positive. I had cancer too but didn’t know it — didn’t suspect — and wouldn’t until much later that spring. When did we move from living our lives armed with mirrors and books and knowledge and experimentation to living our lives with long and mostly irrelevant To Do lists, blindfolded against our innermost secrets? When did answers become written in water, and taking care of Our Selves become a second fiddle melody? When did we move from Knowing to Not Knowing, because Knowing has become so damn hard?

Contrary to popular belief, Our Bodies Our Selves was not about sexual liberation, even though most of us seemed to read it that way. In fact, it was about women learning to care for their own health. Forty-ish years later, we pretty much take care of others instead.

We march; we speak out; we advocate for free mammograms; we rally; we sit with each other and shave our heads in sisterhood; we refuse to be talked down to; we have each other’s backs. But we still never quite know what’s inside us at any given moment — a sobering reminder to seize the day.

Cousin Cousine 1975In many ways, 18 was bliss, wasn’t it? Knowing our bodies was largely a pursuit of pleasure: learning to kiss, trying exotic new tastes from multicultural gems near college campuses, teaching our muscles to scale mountains on weekends with adventurous new friends, getting silly with markers or grimacing under tattoo needles. At 56, knowing my body means something else entirely, and mostly what it means is discovering how much of what I’ve learned to love is now on the list of things that I’m forced to un-love (exotic tastes and climbing mountains high on the list). Making peace with the woohoo was a hell of a lot easier than making peace with organs that mutate in silence, and oh, how much more fun!

And so these later days reprise that urge to know, deep down; to feel, deep down; to live, deep down. If there is no magic mirror to show me what monsters lurk inside or to predict which cures will simply kill me another way on another day, I need to be in tune enough with my spirit to hear the longings of the body I yearn to heal: feed me; love me; take me out dancing; sing me a song; let me spend the afternoon painting my body with daisies and then giggle loud and long enough to wake the neighbors; or linger in a field of wildflowers way past time for dinner. Feed me a daily moment of bliss. Or three.

P.S. Dedicated to Carol, Susan, the MoHos, Jeanne Beanie, Carol H, the Duke Forestry School, my Love, my family

11 thoughts on “Know Thy Selves

  1. The picture with the naked woman attracted me, but I stayed for the writing. There is a lot of feels in this post, thank you !
    (sorry for my poor english, it’s not my native language)

  2. In reading this post, I found myself feeling nostalgic for those days….when I was so full of hope that my daughters would experience a whole new kind of womanhood, carved from a path that my contemporaries and I forged for them. We did lose touch, though. Didn’t we? Maybe more inspiring blog posts from Pam Goode will help us find the way again. xoxo

  3. I am almost ashamed that my first response to your blog would come with this post, but try as I might, I can’t seem to find a way not to. Having only reconnected with you during the past year, I have come to look forward to your blog with anticipation that only can be called eager. Your way with words, your perceptive insight, and your ability to succinctly capture the essence of a true feeling always impresses me, not to mention the appropriate mix of humor, irony, and angst which makes for some great reading. Pam, you know your craft and it inspires those of us who possess not half your talent. As for the entry itself, all I can say is, “if we had only known!” Our lives have a way of catching us off guard, sometimes when we feel most protected, but it’s the ability to adapt and adjust that keeps us moving forward; poised and hopeful for each new day. I feel fortunate to have met you, grateful to have reestablished contact, and honored that you would think to include me in your acknowledgements. As you so aptly put it some 30 years ago, time may pass but good friendships will endure. Recalling some of our experiences from that long ago past, it is gratifying to know that despite some awkward moments, we were able to develop and create a lasting bond of true friendship. That is my reward, and heartfelt it is. (Just out of curiosity, where was that falafel house?!!!)

    • Falafel House was, in fact, a house rather than a falafel eatery. I heard the name for weeks before I finally asked and learned that a group of students lived there off of East Campus and chose the name because . . . well I was never sure, but I suspect it was just a very cool word at the time, exotic and a little mysterious, much as we fancied ourselves. And You — are as true and kind as ever 🙂

  4. Wow. You are amazing. It is a privilege to know you. Please, you must not ever stop writing.
    Though I gotta say I am thankful that those gym floor sit-in’s fell out of fashion by the time I hit college.

  5. Dear Pam,

    Your writing, (as well as your art!) always touches me in it’s brazen — and deeply brave — honesty; in the way you shed light, and sometimes sharp humor, on facets that make me ponder beyond my usual confines, but this…this resonates and reverberates! I hope this goes viral. What you have to say and the way you have said it is beautifully…painfully…honestly, exquisite. I believe there are countless women who, if they have an opportunity to read it, will thank you for it — as do I.

    L & S,

    F —

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