Gloria Steinem talks race, reproductive rights and Michelle Obama at Milwaukee Planned Parenthood event

To commemorate 80 years in Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood celebrated with a luncheon featuring Steinem as the keynote speaker.

Speaking to a crowd of nearly 1,300, Gloria Steinem, long-time feminist and founder of Ms. Magazine, described the progress our nation has made in regards to women’s rights. The luncheon, held in the main event center on the third floor at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee last Friday, October 14th, marked the 80th anniversary of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin (PPWI).

Debbie Phillips, founder of Women on Fire, a supportive community of women, and a pioneer in the field of executive and life coaching, led a 45-minute long discussion with Steinem. Topics included Steinem’s support for Hillary Clinton, the possibility of Clinton becoming our first female president and Michelle Obama’s New Hampshire speech defending women everywhere.

Expressing her fervent support for the First Lady, Steinem said, “I am so grateful to have Michelle Obama as a voice. I think, right in this moment in time, she is the most credible, effective, powerful voice that I can think of.”

Relating the election to the discrimination that often occurs in politics, Steinem explained, “If we mathematically determined how we have been selected leadership—first eliminating all the females, then eliminating all the men of color, then eliminating all the people who haven’t been able to purchase a college degree—I figured out we’ve been choosing our leadership talent from about 10 percent of the population. This has been penalizing everybody.”

A lecturer, writer, political activist and organizer, Steinem has spent most of her life campaigning for women’s equality and reproductive justice. Steinem helped found the Woman’s Action Alliance, an innovative national information center that focused on multiracial, nonsexist children’s education, as well as the National Women’s Political Caucus, a group that centers on increasing the numbers of pro-equality women appointed to office at state and national levels. In 2013, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.  Recently, Steinem published My Life on the Road, which details her life as a traveler and facilitator of positive change.

The discussion circled back to Steinem’s advocacy for Planned Parenthood’s fundamental purpose—female reproductive rights. When asked what comes next in the women’s movement, Steinem responded, “It’s not for me to say what comes next because each of us is strongest when we are acting on what we are experiencing and what we care about and getting other people to do it with us. Movements come from the ground up. I think if we were to look, mathematically, at what is affecting the largest number of people, first it would be the achievement of reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right—like freedom of speech or freedom of assembly—because the control of reproduction is the first step in every hierarchy and it normalizes other hierarchies. So, if you have a patriarchal system that is also racist, it is doubly restrictive because you have to restrict reproduction in order to maintain the separation and the continuation of racial separation or castes.”



Elisabeth Wallock is a contributing digital editor at Milwaukee Magazine. She graduated from Colorado State University and has interned at Marie Claire in New York and Urban Outfitters in London.