Tracee Ellis Ross Empowers Women to Live Life According to Their Own Rules

Source: Essence

While Tracee Ellis Ross plays the mother of five on ABC’s Black-ish, the actress herself lives an entirely different life.

“It’s really interesting to be a woman and to get to 45 and not be married and not have kids,” Ross said as she began her now viral speech at Glamour’s Women of the Year Summit last week. “Especially when you’ve just pushed out your fifth kid on TV.”

During her 11-minute speech, Ross detailed how society treats women who remain single and childless, and how cultural expectations diminish our gender for not conforming. Drawing from personal experience, Ross explored how ambition doesn’t always align with the so-called norm.

“I grew up planning a wedding… But 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. And from that dreaming, I have built an incredible life. I have become a woman that I am proud to be,” she said.

“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. Me! This bold, liberated, independent woman,” she said. “I’m killing it! So, why? Why do I get snagged this way? As if all that I have done and who I am doesn’t matter.”

She explained that society constantly tells young girls and women that “being chosen and having kids” are the end goals for anyone who wishes to lead a meaningful life. In her words, “husband plus child equals woman.” We aren’t complete unless someone deems us worthy of their love and progeny.

Source: Good Housekeeping

But with four simple words, Ross realized that, despite her success, she was still being sucked in by societal influence.

“I’m sitting there free writing, maybe conversing with my inner child, and I write down: MY LIFE IS MINE. My life is mine,” she said. “Those words stopped me in my tracks and honestly brought so many tears to my eyes. Seems so obvious, but obviously it wasn’t. Because I have NOT been living my life as if it was my own… I have to put myself first and not be looking for permission to do so.”

Ross continued by explaining that, when women speak out or stand up, they’re condemned for being themselves. Women are regularly persecuted for stepping outside the accepted bubble of womanhood because the patriarchy feels threatened by those who don’t follow the “rules” their forefathers set in place. But, as Ross said, she’s going to have to break an agreement that she never officially agreed to in the first place.

“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.”

Instead, Ross promised to her reality and her dreams and let those elements be her guide as she navigates her individual life. In the same breath, she invited the women in the crowd to do the same.

“Join me for a moment and imagine: What would it be like for women to completely own our own power, to have agency over our own glory and our sexuality, not in order to create a product or to sell it, or to feel worthy of love, or use it as a tool for safety, but instead as a WAY OF BEING?” she asked the audience.

Women need to stop thinking of themselves in respect to others around them. We must focus on who we are inside in order to understand who we are to the outside world. We were not put on this earth to please anyone but ourselves. We owe the men of the world nothing and, with Ross’s words echoing among us, we must recognize that we have countless allies who believe we’re worthwhile because of who we are, not who we love.

There’s nothing wrong with following the traditional path — the one paved long ago that says we should make stops only to pursue marriage and family. But we cannot chastise those who choose to forge their own road through the fields and forests that line the way.

Life isn’t linear. We’re all meandering along in some way or another. You zig. I’ll zag. If we meet again along the way, at least we will do so knowing that we were our brave selves, as Ross said. Our whole selves. The complete, real, true people we were always meant to be.

Read Ross’s full speech here or watch the entire presentation below:

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

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Stop Using Social Media as the Scapegoat for Society’s Demise

During the early morning hours of May 7, Nicki Minaj took to Twitter to help fans in need. Over the course of this dialogue, Minaj agreed to pay out an estimated $30,000 of her own money to help the fans in question afford their college tuition and school supplies. While many critics might be skeptical about the motive behind her random acts of philanthropy, it’s hard to ignore that Minaj’s generous soul would never have connected with these struggling individuals had it not been for social media.

Of course, it’s easy for people to focus on social media’s failings. It promotes narcissism. It’s an unyielding distraction. It hinders everyone’s attention span. However, along with the bad, we’ve been exposed to a world of good that outweighs any negative sentiment. We now have an outlet for connecting with people outside our immediate circle, allowing us to learn and grow in ways we never could have before its creation.

Thanks to Twitter (and the Web, in general), we have the opportunity to remain abreast of international news in real time. Yes, there’s an enormous amount of content to sift through at any given moment, but by adopting healthy social media habits, it’s simple to filter through what’s important and what’s frivolous fluff. You see, those who claim that social networks drain people’s time and ruin kids’ attention spans are those who’ve failed to master healthy social habits themselves. All good things must be consumed in moderation—even media. We may live in the era of the Netflix binge, but that doesn’t mean such behaviors are smart. When used properly, social media arms us with the tools necessary to dismantle widespread ignorance and hold public figures accountable. Social media acts as the weapon we need to effectively fight for what’s right.

Following the U.S. presidential election, for instance, voters quickly took to social media—in some cases to celebrate, in some cases to express their disbelief and anguish while establishing the foundation for what’s now known as The Resistance. Women came together via social to plan and execute the Women’s March on Washington, as well as its sister marches across the world. And organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, have turned to social media to mobilize supporters and bolster donations. Without such outlets, these groups never would’ve come together so quickly and effectively. Without social media, it would’ve been much more difficult for these like-minded activists to find one another and turn their mutual disgust into productive outreach.

Even in less extreme cases, social media has the potential to make people feel less alone. Prior to social networks, outcasts likely felt that there was no one else in the world who understood their struggle. But, by being able to express their emotions online, many have found support they might’ve otherwise gone without. Those with minor grievances can also take solace in social media, for the memes and comics that rule the space demonstrate we’re not as alone as we once thought. (No, you’re NOT the only one who feels that way!) Critics will argue that social media has the opposite effect, as Facebook and Instagram posts often make said outcasts feel even more out of the loop than before, but when you stop to evaluate the new connections at their fingertips, it’s easy to see that social empowers them to change their situation for the better.

Face it—bullies will never cease to exist. There’ll always be people who tear others down in order to make themselves feel superior, no matter their platform of choice. But it’s our responsibility to teach today’s children how to navigate these new networks. Our parents taught us how to handle the challenges that came along with growing up, and we’ll have to do the same. Kids still have to face the same battles, even if they’re fighting on uncharted battlefields. Remember! We’re the ones who created this supposed mess, so we’re the ones who will have to right the course. We will have to teach them how to limit their screen time. We will have to teach them how to be mindful of others online. We will have to teach them not to idolize the manipulated images and personas they see across platforms.

Parents and authority figures who believe social media has ruined today’s youth are merely projecting their own insecurities, for they exhibit these less than stellar behaviors themselves. They’re guilty of deifying the celebrities they follow, and checking their phones excessively. They’ve become addicted to refreshing their feeds and awaiting new notifications. Yet, each time another adult gives their child an iPad or smartphone as a stand-in for an actual caretaker, they perpetuate the very problem they wish to rectify. Unless we take responsibility for how we conduct ourselves, we will never be able to alter the issue at hand.

Until then, critics will continue to focus on social media’s failings and blame these networks for what’s wrong with the world. Social media isn’t without its flaws, of course, but we mustn’t overlook the value it brings to the modern world. As with any tool, social can be used for good or evil. Let’s remember what social media can help us accomplish—as was the case with Nicki Minaj—before we vilify these networks once and for all.

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(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

We’re All Flying “Han” Solo

Why Validation Must Come From Within

As I grew up, I began to realize that the concept of actually growing had been lost on my DNA.  Even now, as a 23-year-old woman measuring just less than 5’, the short jokes get tossed about like a football.  (Cue traumatizing “Monkey in the Middle” memories.)  However, this then hurtful teasing eventually taught me the greatest character-building lesson of all – to defend myself and embrace my personality, humor and talents regardless of how petite the packaging appeared.

We live in a world fixated on conformity, so to find children who highlight stereotypes and ostracize others based on their interest or appearance simply comes naturally as they mature.  How one handles the situation often indicates whether such experiences turn out to be successful life lessons.  And for Katie’s mother, grace did not come into play when her daughter’s choices were under fire.

The entire fiasco began when Katie came home from school upset one day, only to confess that her male classmates teased her about bringing a Star Wars water bottle to school for lunch (though how they’ve managed to neglect her matching Star Wars backpack, I will never understand).  As her mother, Carrie Goldman, explains, Katie happens to be quite an avid Star Wars fan, but refused to carry the bottle any longer after the boys claimed Star Wars was not for girls.  When faced with a child breaking into tears, most mothers would console their child and teach them that they are special for there never has been and never will be another person like them in this world.  Most teach children to love themselves and embrace their differences despite the potentially overbearing opinions of others.

Instead, Katie’s mother hopped on the Internet to tell Katie’s story and solicit the help of strangers all across the globe.  Though she simply intended to find a few female sympathizers, Ms. Goldman seems to have underestimated the universality of childhood teasing.  And while it appears we have another heartwarming story of people coming together on our hands, we are actually witnessing the extent of the dangers the Internet poses to this young generation that has never known a time without Wi-Fi.

The Internet, you see, provides a forum for instant gratification.  With social networking now an integral part of our daily lives, we need only hop on our computers or Smartphone to gain access to a world of strangers looking for the exact type of approval and validation our dear Katie desires.  Instead of finding people who accept Katie for her differences, Ms. Goldman has simply found hundreds and thousands of people who are exactly like Katie, emphasizing a power in numbers and sameness, not the strength of individuality.  How will Katie ever truly appreciate her personality if she seeks those just like her every time she feels shunned by her peers?

Generations upon generations of children have survived such relatively harmless teasing, and all have emerged stronger and more self-assured than when they began.  Never once in this whole entire ordeal have we learned that validation must come from within and that self-confidence can only come to be when you are fully satisfied with yourself.  And to even attempt to equate such teasing with the severity of bullying as it has appeared in the news as of late has no concrete bearing, for children are bound to clash.  Tolerance and acceptance begins at an early age, and much bigotry comes from the unsavory values of one’s parents.  Promote confidence and independence throughout your child’s formative years and have faith in your efforts as a parent, for every child is different from another.  And while Dec. 10 now also stands as “Support Star Wars and Geek Pride for Katie” – a judgmental name in and of itself as it implies Star Wars attracts only “geeks” – not every child will find their mother scouring the Internet for support.  The rest of today’s youth will simply have to learn to love themselves the old-fashioned (and seemingly antiquated) way.

Photo courtesy of Chicago Now

The Traditional ‘Drive Safely’ Holiday Disclaimer

Perhaps April Fools’ Day isn’t quite what you’d call a holiday. There are theories as to its origin, but we don’t highlight this day because of its specific religious or historical significance. As far as it seems, Hallmark doesn’t really profit off this 24-hour romp of silliness. And this certainly is not a day of gift-giving, unless you consider the painful grimaces on those you’ve fooled to be a small gift to yourself.

But, like the plethora of national holidays that come with drunk driving warnings, April Fools’ Day requires an advisory all its own.

For instance, Darren Rowse reported that his website, ProBlogger, had been acquired by Google. Having tweeted the press release title, many simply believed their eyes and began retweeting a piece they neglected to read first. Creating quite a buzz, Rowse spent the remainder of his day (he resides in Australia so the day of trickery has come and gone by now) confirming it was indeed a hoax, and even fielding a congratulatory phone call and a press inquiry from a reporter wishing to write a piece on the acquisition.

While Mr. Rowse did have to engage in a bit of damage control in order to save his gullible followers from certain confusion, the likelihood that this prank will come back to bite him is slim. In fact, he wishes his joke would actually become a reality. (So let’s just keep all our fingers crossed and endure the awkward hunt and peck method until bloggers finally get the respect they deserve.) The confusion and backlash were minimal, making it an ideal example to warn pranksters about how quickly a tiny joke can spiral out of control.

However, not all jokes and pranks have such a happy ending of sorts. Some pranks, like Mr. Rowse’s, only cause momentary buzz, but cool down rather quickly, having minimal (if any) negative effects on the future. Then there are the jokes that should simply never be joked about in the first place. When trying to conjure up a last-minute joke today, avoid these mistakes and commonplace last resorts so you don’t end up biting your tongue later on. Karma is always bound to come back around, so don’t bite it before it bites you.

Accident, Illness or Death – Whatever you do, NEVER joke about someone’s life or health. Whether you’re attributing the ailment to yourself or someone else, the person on the receiving end of your “joke” just may take you seriously because it is in poor taste to ever tease about such a thing. So why would they ever think you’re lying? And the last thing you want to do is make up some unfathomable story and find it to be true later on down the road. Chances are you’d then feel a sense of guilt, as if the universe is trying to pay you back.

‘I Want You Back’ – Perhaps it’s better if we just keep that phrase in the past along with the *NSYNC song of the same name. If your goal is to break the heart of someone you once claimed to love, then toying with their feelings a little more should do the trick when you confess your never-ending love, beg for another chance with them, then let out a loud, “APRIL FOOLS’!” Don’t proclaim you want them back unless you genuinely mean it. Then, if it’s not a joke, wait until tomorrow to make this declaration so they BELIEVE you. It’s a day for jokes and humor, not emotionally beating someone to a pulp.

A Day to Crack Break People Up – Let’s say you have a significant other. You two have been together for a while, there have been bumps in the road, but overall you are quite happy and hope things continue to progress. Oh, wait. Does that calendar say it’s April 1? It does! So, because of your inability to brainstorm a witty prank at the drop of a hat, you succumb to a common fallback prank: You pretend you want to break up. Whichever way this joke plays out, you’re ultimately doomed. Either your significant other will be crushed, brought to tears and then inevitably hate you when they find out it’s all a joke, or they will admit they’ve been secretly considering breaking up with you and be glad that the feeling is mutual. If you’re lucky, they’ll be joking right back, but what if they aren’t? No need to instigate a lose-lose situation that could easily be prevented.

How… Romantic? – Great relationships are based on trust. So, when you decide to tell your significant other that you love them for the first time, perhaps April 1 isn’t the best day to do so. Most will realize the date, whether they’ve been planning their own shenanigans or have just been reminded of the occasion throughout the day, so anyone who hears those three little words for the first time on such a day is going to be a little wary of their actual meaning. Sure, you may genuinely mean what you’re saying, but there’s no guarantee and may leave them questioning your words for the forseeable future.

Prankster, with Child – Ladies, unless you have had a hysterectomy or have gone through menopause and know this can only ever be a joke, DO NOT pretend you are pregnant! Just because it may be a joke at the current moment doesn’t mean it won’t come true next month or the month after. Joke about such things and the universe just may make it a reality because we all know Karma likes to have the last laugh.

Many pranks succeed, but so many fail miserably. Share your accomplishments and horror stories below!

The Only Thing We Have to Fear

There is a flash and suddenly a giant boom as the clouds roll.  Windows shake from the vibration and lights flicker, threatening a power outage.  A child runs to their parents in the middle of the night, woken up and scared of the storm outside, their imagination running wild as the sounds persist in the dark of their bedroom.

However, there is no immediate danger.  This imaginary evil only exists in the child’s mind, though the fear holds strong nonetheless.  Whether what we perceive is truth or fantasy, its power can alter how we proceed in life.

While children are simply frightened by the potential monster under their bed, or a possible boogeyman in the closet, adults are as easily as scared by the unknown.

For many, the future is full of fear.  When we are younger, the future seems bright, full of new words that help us express ourselves and swing sets that allow us to soar to new heights.  But with age, we become tight-lipped and afraid of falling, fearing the actual essence that makes life worth living.  We fear risks and decision-making and change.  Remaining stagnant feels less threatening than taking a step forward even though moving may only result in a stumble or fall, while inactivity will slowly crush the soul.

To be scared stiff is to miss what could be.  There will always be the chance that things will go wrong and you will have to start over.  But there is an even greater chance that things will turn out wonderfully.  Most of the qualms we have about the future stem from our own minds, starting off as worries and manifesting into paralyzing ‘what if’ scenarios.

But most of all, we often do not make that move forward because we are afraid what we want may actually come true.  If we stop ourselves preemptively, we will always keep the dream alive, for having a dream to aspire to sometimes means more than trying and failing.  However, if one never tries, one will never learn that they could very well obtain exactly what their heart desires.

Yet nothing is wasted.  Every effort, every challenge is a chance to learn more about yourself and the world around you.  Only fear can blind you from the beauty and possibility that surround you.  And though it may sound cliché and a tad cheesy, one line from the Hilary Duff movie A Cinderella Story says it all: “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”