Tracee Ellis Ross to Women: Put Yourself First, Don’t Ask Permission to Do So

In a powerful speech, Ross talks about being a 45-year-old, unmarried woman without children who refuses to define her life by patriarchal standards.

Tracee Ellis Ross / JCPENNEY

Tracee Ellis Ross is an award-winning actress with a successful career. Yet, as a single, 45-year-old woman without kids, Ross said she still must confront patriarchal constructs of womanhood.

At Glamour’s 2017 Women of the Year Summit on Monday, Ross gave a candid speech about her experiences.

“It’s really interesting to be a woman and to get to 45 and not be married and not have kids,” she said. “Especially when you have just pushed out your fifth kid on TV.

“You start hearing crazy stuff like: ‘Oh, you just haven’t found the right guy yet,’ ‘What are you going to do?’ ‘Oh, you poor thing,’ ‘Why is someone like you still single?’ ‘Have you ever thought of having kids?’ ‘Why don’t you just have a kid on your own?’ It’s never-ending and it’s not helpful.”

Ross currently stars as Bow on “Black-ish,” which airs on ABC (a division of The Walt Disney Company, No. 36 on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies list). She won a Golden Globe for her work on the sitcom that often has storylines about racial issues.

A Los Angeles native and graduate of Brown University, Ross is the daughter of legendary Motown singer Diana Ross and music manager Robert Ellis Silberstein. In her speech, she talked about having grown up planning her wedding and dreams of “being chosen by a powerful, sexy, kind man who had full lips and gave good hugs and having a baby boy named Lauren.”

But her dreams didn’t stop with just walking down the aisle.

“I also dreamed of winning an Oscar and being on the cover of magazines and making a difference in the world, helping women find our voices,” Ross said. “And from that dreaming, I have built an incredible life. I have become a woman that I am proud to be.”

Tracee Ellis Ross recently released a clothing line with JCPenney./ Instagram.

But, with all her confidence, she can feel diminished when the topic of motherhood is brought up.

“And then someone tells me about their friend who adopted a child at 52 and how ‘it’s never too late for your life to have meaning,’ and my worth gets diminished as I am reminded that I have ‘failed’ on the marriage and carriage counts,” Ross said.

“Me! This bold, liberated, independent woman … why do I get snagged this way? As if all that I have done and who I am doesn’t matter.

“Then, I look back and think about all the ways we’re told that those two goals, being chosen and having kids, are what makes you worthy.”

She said everything from nursery rhymes to movies and even TV shows like “Black-ish” all reiterate “this narrow story of ‘husband plus child equals woman.’”

“And the patriarchy — the patriarchy is not pleased with me right now,” she said. “I’m failing at my function. Let me tell you, Mike Pence, excuse my French, but he’s fu**ing confused by me right now.”

Ross was making reference to Vice President Mike Pence’s anti-abortion stance and attempts to gut Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

She said women should not measure themselves by patriarchal standards.

“I’m going to have to break an agreement that I didn’t really officially agree to sign in the first place, a document drawn up by a bunch of old white guys in a back room, the same group of old white guys who like to pass laws about our reproductive health and choices without us being there,” Ross said.

“That agreement says: We are here to be of service to others, that our destiny is to live in the shadow of men, that we are simply objects of desire, and that we are willing to live with having our voices stifled again and again by the misogyny of our culture.”

Ross explained that now more than ever women must put themselves first, even though she has been called selfish for doing so.

“When I put myself first, what comes back at me from well-meaning people — most men, social media, random ladies at the gym, Mike Pence, whoever — they tell me in all sorts of ways that I am being selfish, pushy, aggressive, controlling, relentless, stubborn, a slut, a nag, oh, and my favorite, a ball breaker, because God forbid a few balls get broken along the way,” she said.

“When we put ourselves first by doing things like saying no, speaking up, sleeping with who we want, eating what our bodies intuitively tell us to eat, wearing training bras instead of push up bras, posting a picture without using Facetune … we are condemned for thinking for ourselves and being ourselves, for owning our experiences, our bodies, and our lives.”

Ross also gave an example of why it’s important for women to make themselves a priority. She made reference to the current sexual misconduct and assault allegations against Hollywood execs such as Harvey Weinstein, and the infamous comment concerning women made by President Donald Trump.

“Especially at this moment, in all its volatility, with all that is happening as the ‘p*ssy grab’ tree is being shaken and grabbers are dropping like rotten fruit,” she said. “And at the same time, with the surge of empowerment: Black Lives Matter. Black Girl Magic. The Women’s March. Me Too.”

Ross offered that women must navigate their own course.

“I am trying to gather all this energy around me, step into it, and match it with my realization that my life is mine,” she said.

Watch the full speech:

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8 comments


  • Didn’t know a lot about her previously but have gained a new role model. As a white woman, I am very humbled that she is so inclusive of multiple/intersectional identities when speaking of advocacy, empowerment, and finding one’s voice (mentioning the Women’s March, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter, which of course includes Black women but also women from every background, and Black men through Black Lives Matter.) That is a grace that white women like me haven’t often lived up to, especially in the traditional Feminist movement and failings with it that still live on today, including some weaknesses with the Women’s March/ subsequent movement.

  • I loved Tracee Ellis Ross before this article, and I LOVE her even more now. This article was both spot on and laugh-out-loud funny! If only we could all be this comfortable in our own skin… My She-ro!

  • I agree wholeheartedly with Tracie because as an unmarried African American lawyer who exercised her option not to have children, you are vilified by patriarchal society, men and women of all stripes.

    Marriage, like the INSTITUTIONS of SLAVERY and PRISON, were created to benefit the white slavemasters and the white supremacist state to the detriment of the servant. As a Black woman whose female ancestors had the QUADRUPLE BURDEN of serving the white plantation slavemasters, white lazy mistresses, black male slaves, and everybody’s children, I wasn’t about to become a 21st Century SLAVE as a MARRIED, WORKING woman/mother. I’m happily single without having any more MASTERS (besides the one who sign my paycheck) telling me what to do with MY time and MONEY that I slaved for.

    In AmeriKKKa and around the world, I see very little difference between how men are fundamentally flawed by MALE SUPREMACY (aka penis DIPlomacy). Like the Taliban, men through pathetic patriarchal supremacy are SUPREME jerks towards SMART, CONFIDENT women with high SELF ESTEEM.

    There’s a special term that’s used by hypocritical Christians who preach to force marriage (with the Biggest Losers in the church) on single PROTESTants: JEZEBEL! If I received a dollar for every misfit male who attends church to have the male supremacist pimp aka a preacher help his sorry az get a wife, I’d be a millionaire. These retarded holy rollers would boldly approach me and TELL me that GOD told them that I was going to be their wife! GOD, unlike these unsophisticated, bumbling bile-thumping (pun intended) retards, would NEVER tell anyone anything about me without MY CONSENT! It’s some pretty weak balls if you need GOD to prop them up. From what I’ve witnessed, there’s no such thing as THE RIGHT MAN, but what most insecure women with massive inferiority and conformity complexes SETTLE FOR! The 50%+ divorce rate is substantial evidence of this fact.

  • Whereas the current liberal, academia, government, etc. ethos and attitude being pushed toward men is more like, “Put yourself last, Ask Permission to Do Anything, Always, and if the answer is no, don’t dare ask again.”

    • Where are you getting your information? What I see coming from government is proclaiming “good people” on both sides when Nazis marched on Charlottesville by the thousand. An almost all white male cabinet. Goldman Sachs white men buccaneers running treasury and commerce. Even white men phony baloney billionaires like Wilbur Ross. White male legislative leadership jamming a tax break for billionaires down our throats.

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