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Tracee Ellis Ross at TED2018: Why Women's Fury Is Actually Wisdom

“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.

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

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.”

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.


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.


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