With a Groundbreaking Handbook and a Dystopian Tale, Women Gain a Voice

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The Fight Over Women’s Bodies

From breaking sexual taboos in the 1970s to “The Handmaid’s Tale” today: the fight over women’s bodies continues — on the streets and in popular culture.


By RETRO REPORT on Publish Date September 12, 2017.


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In popular culture, what lies ahead is somehow almost always bleak. That is certainly the case with one of the year’s most acclaimed television series, about a dystopia of the not-distant future.

In an America renamed Gilead after a violent theocratic takeover, women are denied control over their own bodies. The more fertile among them, known as handmaids, are sex slaves, forced to bear children for barren families of the ruling class. Based on a 1985 Margaret Atwood novel, the Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been nominated for 13 Emmys and is an obvious favorite at the awards presentation Sunday night.

Ms. Atwood has said that every predation inflicted on women in her book actually happened somewhere at some time across the globe, including in the United States. But as shown in this first offering of a new Retro Report series, women’s struggle for reproductive rights and other forms of corporeal self-determination is enduring.

Retro Report, whose video documentaries explore how major news stories of the past still resonate, turns its lens on “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” a book first published in the early 1970s. It revolutionized how health care for women was discussed. In frank language and illustrations, it delved into topics that a half-century ago were publicly taboo, from birth control to pregnancy, from sexual desires to menopause.

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Elisabeth Moss in “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

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Take Five/Hulu

Judy Norsigian was one of the women who got the project rolling. “We were dealing with a system,” she said, “that was antithetical to getting good medical care and being treated like full human beings.”

Early on, Ms. Norsigian and her colleagues found their book banned by some schools and libraries, or kept hidden behind checkout counters. Nevertheless, they persisted. Over the decades, revised several times, “Our Bodies, Ourselves” has sold in the millions, a lasting monument to raised consciousness.

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