Girls and women have been quietly administering remedies, giving health advice to their sisters and friends, and learning about their own bodies behind closed doors for centuries but now we want them to start talking to us. We want the women of postwar Britain to tell us their stories of 'everyday healthcare'.
'Everyday healthcare' is a mother looking after her sick child, a girl telling her younger sister what period pain feels like, a young woman learning about sex from magazines, and new mothers swapping their birth stories.
We often forget about this 'everyday healthcare' performed within families and homes. It is so much part of our ordinary lives that we almost stop noticing it. But for most people, contact with health professionals is very a small part of their total experience of health and illness.
The Body, Self, and Family project explores women’s experiences of “everyday health” in late twentieth-century Britain. We want to know how women stay healthy, avoid illness, or cope with pain. We are interested in all different kinds of health – not just physical fitness, but mental health and emotional wellbeing.
We probably all agree, now more than ever, that health is one of the most important aspects of life. But it can be really difficult for historians to find out about 'everyday health'.
When something is habit, routine, or just 'normal', it is much less likely to be recorded – and this means that there is less evidence for historians who want to find out about these ordinary aspects of life.
This is why the Body, Self, and Family project is interviewing women born between 1940 and 1970. The interviews we record will be kept in the British Library so that future generations can understand more about women’s experiences of health and illness. We are also writing a book about women’s 'everyday health'.
We want to know more about the health experiences of all women. But another important aim of our project is to fill in the gaps in existing histories. Some women’s health stories have hardly been told. For this reason, we are really keen to hear from LGBTQ+ women and those who identify as working class, Black, Asian or minority ethnic.
So far, we have interviewed 30 women. Some of these women worried at first that their lives were not interesting or important. But every woman we have spoken to has told us something that we didn’t know about women’s 'everyday health'.
We’ve been given a recipe for ‘butter pie’. We’ve learnt that changing jobs multiple times in life isn’t a Gen X phenomenon. We’ve discovered that agony aunts could be a lifeline for young gay women. We’ve heard from mothers campaigning for better provisions for menstruating girls in schools. And we’ve ended up in awe of Black women working in communities to support each other.
Together with our participants, we are building up an incredibly rich picture of women’s lives.
If you are a woman born between 1940 and 1970, we would love to talk to you. Get in touch with us to sign up or find out more. We are very happy to answer any questions about the project and we are looking forward to hearing from you! You can also follow us on Twitter.
Professor Lucy Noakes
06 September 2020
Categories: Public Engagement, Research