Human Rights, Consciousness, Change

The highly-charged atmosphere at UB Center for the Arts on May 1st was a celebration and fundraiser to mark the 80th year of Planned Parenthood of Western New York. The large crowd was populated by men and women of all ages, but many were women of my era who witnessed the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and beyond.


The audience greeted the legendary featured speaker to the stage with a standing ovation. Gloria Steinem is a writer, lecturer, editor, and feminist activist—an icon of the second wave of the women’s rights movement. She is most known as co-founder of Ms. magazine in 1972. The publication translated the feminist movement into print at a time when assumptions about the role of women was being challenged.

Feminism is many things, but it is generally concerned with a commitment to offering women the same rights as men and reorganizing society so that the well-being of people takes precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires.

I began to tune into this idea as a SUNY Oswego student in the early 1970s. For the first time, young women had an opportunity to step away from of the boundaries of traditional roles. Without a map, that was often confusing. Following traditions simplifies life—discovering personal freedom requires invention. Ms. magazine and feminist authors provided guidance. While marriage and motherhood after college was still the norm during the mid-1970s, the feminist view offered alternatives. Pursuit of personal development, work, and pleasure was suddenly an option.

The central issue then continues to be challenged today. Steinem’s talk revolved around reproductive freedom, as she considers this to be the most important human right—one that is not yet realized. The headline “Without Access, There is No Choice” sounds like one from 40 years ago, yet this appears on the cover of the Winter 2013 issue of Ms.

Margaret Sanger established the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn during 1916. The Family Relations Institute opened in 1933 on Niagara Street. The name was later changed to Planned Parenthood Center of Buffalo. Planned Parenthood of Western New York has now grown to offer preventative health care in five locations across the region and a mobile clinic.

“It’s not about biology—it’s about consciousness,” Steinem emphasized. Raising awareness is always the beginning of intentional change.

She touched on many topics during her brief time on stage, but she was especially hopeful about this very moment. She marks this as a historical moment. As the population continues to diversify, we are about to be free of white male hierarchy. The potential for hostile responses to this change also makes this a dangerous time.

“We are linked not ranked” seems to be the takeaway message from the evening talk.

During the Q&A, a “politically incorrect” question was posed in jest—something about how she manages to look so good. Focusing attention on the superficial appearance of an accomplished woman (or anyone) is highly unfeminist. The audience laughter indicated some shared curiosity.

At 79, Steinem maintains her signature mane of hair and youthful urban style. “I do what I love,” she answered and told the audience that she aspires to live to be 100.

“I live in the future,” she explained. “If we understand the why of things, we can change it.” Living with purpose is clearly good for longevity.

Gloria Steinem’s humanist and holistic view is refreshing. The audience buzzed with an uplifted mood as they streamed out into the balmy spring night.

I would have enjoyed hearing more insights and stories from “the battlefront.”What might she have to say about the impact of reproductive choice on a generation of women who are now aging? How are young women  (and men) integrating feminism into their 21st century lives?

The evolution of how we live together on the planet will continue to be an ongoing question for each one of us.

May 2013

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