Tracee Ellis Ross Talks Women’s Anger at TED2018 Vancouver


“A woman’s fury holds a lifetime of wisdom,” says Tracee Ellis Ross. “It’s time to let it breathe.”

And breathe it will, when the world beholds her not-yet-released talk delivered at the TED2018 Conference, which calls upon women to give language and shape to their collective fury. Not only does Ross encourage women to express centuries’ worth of repressed anger, but she also urges men to be allies—to be open, self-reflective, and accountable.

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It’s been a big week—though lately it’s always a big week—for the Black-ish actress, women’s rights advocate, and author of “The Handsy Man,” a children’s-book-for-adults she debuted on Jimmy Kimmel Live to help men understand sexual harassment. She may have swapped the silver-sequined jumpsuit she wore in Drake’s “Nice For What” video for a sleek black pantsuit to command the TED stage in Vancouver on Tuesday night, but essentially her message was the same as it often is. Whether she’s roaring her truths on national television, creating art, or speaking directly to Silicon Valley venture capitalists, she insists that women will no longer be ignored.

Tracee Ellis Ross Ted 2018

Tracee Ellis Ross at TED2018 in Vancouver

TED

Ross opened the conference with a seemingly innocuous story. A friend of hers—an actress in her sixties—had been filling out some forms at the post office, when out of nowhere, someone moved her out of the way. “Someone physically put their hands on her and moved her,” said Ross. “Apparently, he needed something that she was blocking, so he moved her. He put his hands on her and moved her out of the way.”

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The friend had been shocked at first, the actress continued, and then a fury she couldn’t explain slowly rose up inside of her. Ross shared her friend’s response with the crowd: “I wanted to get physical. I don’t know why…He didn’t hit me, he didn’t hurt me, he didn’t violate me—he moved me, and yet I wanted to hurt him and yell at his face.”

And yet this was a violation of a kind. This seemingly small act triggered Ross’s fury, too. It spoke to an even bigger truth: that men have long assumed they can do what they want, and make assumptions about women’s bodies and lives when it suits them.

“We’ve swallowed the furious feelings. We’ve tried to put them in some hidden place in our minds.”

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Ross has been outspoken about how at 45 years of age, her unmarried and childless status has prompted countless unhelpful comments from men who seem to think they know what is best for her. Last year, she said she’s sick and tired of comments like: “Oh, you poor thing,” “Why is someone like you still single?” “Have you ever thought of having kids?” and “Why don’t you just have a kid on your own?”

Why her body and her choices should be anyone else’s business made her angry then, and galvanized her to live life on her own terms. Ross is also committed to helping other women embrace their infinite possibilities. Last year, in a conversation with Doreen St. Felix at the New Yorker Festival, she said of her role as married mom Dr. Rainbow Johnson on Black-ish, “It’s very important to me that I’m not wife wallpaper.” If she sees something in the script that doesn’t sit well with her, she pushes back: “Really, am I chopping vegetables again? Why am I doing a lady chore again?”

These instances, like Ross’s friend’s story, are less egregious examples of sexism and harassment on the spectrum of experiences faced by women across the globe, but they nonetheless help to make Ross’s message clear. She’s done with “the culture of men helping themselves to women’s bodies.” She’s done with men assuming they know best. She’s done with paternal privilege—“of old white men controlling the fate of our ladyparts.” She’s done with “women being the property of husbands, landowners—of women’s bodies being hit and hurt, manipulated and moved.”

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But that’s not where her impassioned address ended. Ross warned the many tearful people in the audience that in regards to race and inequality, she might have another talk’s worth up her sleeve. “I think racism trumps everything,” said Ross in a Hollywood Reporter Roundtable Series conversation in 2015, when asked about the most sexist thing that had ever happened to her in Hollywood. She spoke of the frustration of reading film roles she identified with, but then realizing they weren’t meant to be for a black woman. Black-ish examines the many sides and intersections of family, identity politics, police brutality, race, and gender—and in Rainbow Johnson (a role for which she’s won two Emmys), Ross has the type of complex role she desired.

For now, though, she wants to talk about gender equality and encourage all women to express their anger. “We’ve swallowed the furious feelings. We’ve tried to put them in some hidden place in our minds, but the feelings do not go away. We’re not unreasonable, or overreacting. No. No. No.”

And as for men? She stresses it’s time to work together for change. “May you ask how you can support a woman, and be of service, and get help if you need it. And women, I encourage you to acknowledge your fury. Give it language, share it in safe places and in safe ways.” The audience rose to their feet, along with Ross’s brothers Evan and Ross Naess, and sisters Chudney and Rhonda, there to support their sister, whose bold voice called for the healing to begin.

Ted2018 concludes on Saturday, April 14.



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