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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: