During my usual evening Twitter binge last night I stumbled upon Tracee Ellis Ross‘s tweet about opening for this year’s TED Conference, so I obviously had to immediately add it to my list of ‘mull over this later’ bookmarks. The title is ‘A woman’s fury holds lifetimes of wisdom’, and as a South African woman who identifies as feminist and (to quote Solange) ‘has a lot to be mad about’, I knew that watching the talk would be an invaluable experience.

The Black.Ish actor’s TED Talk was motivated by something we have all either experienced or witnessed as women – men’s entitlement in public spaces. The incident in particular that spurred Tracee to speech was when a man physically moved a 60-year-old woman out of the way for the sake of his self-prioritised convenience in a store during the ever-bustling holiday season. The infuriating incident had not happened to Tracee, but to her friend, who was justifiably indignant by this stranger’s uncourteous actions. ‘Even in her telling of it, I felt fury, too, and why this was a word and a feeling that I was hearing a lot about lately,’ she explained as a prelude to the crux of her TED subject: women’s fury and its validity.

When someone helps themselves to a woman, it not only triggers discomfort and distress, but the unspoken experiences of our mothers’ lives, sisters’ lives and generations of women before us.

Because co-existing with men means our autonomy is constantly compromised and our bodies disposable in their eyes, I (and many women) have had to internally scream ‘f*** off’ or ‘do not f*** touch me’ with a deathly glare in my eyes at overly familiar men in public spaces. This is why the following pronouncements from Tracee’s talk stood out most to me:

1. Fury about entitlement

‘[My friend’s] fury was ignited by lifetimes of men helping themselves to women’s bodies without consent. There’s a culture of men helping themselves to women, and in this case, in a seemingly innocuous way, where a woman’s body is like a saltshaker: “Get out of the way so I can get to the fries” … to the most egregious, violent and horrific situations.’

Thanks to the seemingly harmless, yet incredibly toxic ‘boys will be boys’ slap on the wrist phrase when boys and young men act this way towards a girl (publicly or otherwise), we live in a world that excuses bad, harmful behaviour at the expense of women, as Tracee so eloquently explains this slippery slope:

‘I imagine that some of you are wondering what the connection is between the innocuous and the horrific, two things that seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. Well, the common thread is the spectrum.

The innocuous makes space for the horrific. And women have to live with the effects of both and everything in between.’

2. Fury about lifetimes of objectification

‘When someone helps themselves to a woman, it not only triggers discomfort and distress, but the unspoken experiences of our mothers’ lives, sisters’ lives and generations of women before us. That’s lifetimes of women dealing with men who assume they know better for us than we know for ourselves, being the property of husbands, landowners and having old, white men tell us the fate of our lady parts; lifetimes of having our bodies used for love and objects of desire, instead of bodies that we get to wield and use as we choose; lifetimes of knowing that whether we play by their rules or not, we still have to tolerate harassment, assault and even worse…’

3. Fury about the gaslighting and silencing of women

… because it’s ‘unbecoming’ of a lady to be angry or to raise her voice. To this Tracee said:

‘No. No. No. No, no, no, no, no. Women have been trained to think that we are overreacting or that we’re being too sensitive or unreasonable. We try to make sense of nonsense, and we swallow the furious feelings. We try to put them into some hidden place in our minds, but they don’t go away. That fury sits deep inside as we practise our smiles – (Giggling) “Yes, of course” – and try to be pleasant. “I know” (Giggling) “Yes, yes, of course,” because apparently, women aren’t supposed to get angry.’

I encourage you to acknowledge your fury. Give it language. Share it in safe places of identification and in safe ways.

4. Fury as a call to cut the cord on complacency’s lifeline

‘Today, the global collection of women’s experiences can no longer be ignored. Time’s up on thinking that we’re overreacting or “This is just the way it is.” Time’s up on women being held responsible for men’s bad behaviour. It is men’s responsibility to change men’s bad behaviour. Our culture is shifting, and it’s time. So my fellow women and our gentle men, as we are here together within this particular window of this large-scale movement towards women’s equality, and as we envision a future that does not yet exist, we both have different invitations.

‘Men, I call you in as allies, as we work together towards change. May you be accountable and self-reflective, compassionate and open. May you ask how you can support a woman and be of service to change. And may you get help if you need it. And women, I encourage you to acknowledge your fury. Give it language. Share it in safe places of identification and in safe ways. Your fury is not something to be afraid of. It holds lifetimes of wisdom. Let it breathe and listen.’

Tracee Ellis Ross is also the author of a children’s book (for adults) The Handsy Man, which is a Dr Seuss-like guidebook and layman explanation of sexual harassment to, well, handsy men.

Watch the full ‘A woman’s fury holds lifetimes of wisdom’ TED Talk here: