Rita Moreno on learning to say no: My mama said ‘men are bosses, do what they say’

Rita Moreno is one of Variety’s four Power of Women covers, which also include Amanda Gorman, Katy Perry and Channing Dungey (CEO of Warner Bros). Rita is an EGOT, one of just 16, which I didn’t realize about her. She’s also 89 years old and has no plans to retire. Rita told Variety that she loves her work and it’s going to stop anytime soon. She also explained how she had to learn to say no after being raised to always answer to men no matter what.

    On why she swears
    It’s not a question of liking to curse. It just comes out. I don’t say f-k because it makes me smile. There are plenty of times I say ‘Oh dear,’ but nobody pays attention to that.

    On not retiring
    I love what I do. The only way I can retire is if I can’t walk. And even then, there’s always a wheelchair — or roller skates.

    On what makes her feel powerful
    The ability, which I didn’t have for many years, to say no. To say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t like that’ or to say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t like you.’ Oh my god that just gives me the shivers. My mamma said, ‘Men are the bosses, men are the kings. You be nice to them and you do what they say.’ But I’m not doing anything they say if I don’t like it.

    On being the only Latina to win best supporting actress.
    It means that we haven’t gotten very far … we haven’t moved as much as we would like to. We want to, but it hasn’t happened yet. I shouldn’t be the only one.

    On ageism in Hollywood
    Why should I have to play a grandmother simply because I’m old? Can I be a lawyer? A scientist? So far, the answer is … not so much. Hollywood suffers in a profound way from ageism.

    [From two stories on Variety]

    Rita is 89 years old and she’s definitely put her foot in it before, but at least she’s learning. She was raised when it was common for women to be subservient to men. That was how we got ahead in society. I’m so grateful to my mom and to my grandmother for not buying into that and for teaching me to be independent. I’ve still internalized so much societal junk, like not making moves in relationships and trying to diminish my accomplishments and type A personality. We’ve been trained to cater to men’s egos not only so they can help us, but for our own safety. It can be deadly to challenge fragile men. We’ve seen that play out on a national scale with 45. Watching my son and his friends, and how respectful and thoughtful they are, I have hope that those toxic roles are being rejected by the next generation.


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17 Responses to “Rita Moreno on learning to say no: My mama said ‘men are bosses, do what they say’”

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  1. superashes says:

    Yeah. I’m in my 40s, and grew up in East Tennessee in the bible belt. I look back today on so many interactions in my formative years, and in some respects an entire system, that were designed to relegate me to a helpmaid, that I simply did not understand at the time. So I totally hear you on internalizing societal junk.

    It took a while for the light to simply cut on for me, and I was fortunate to have a mother who drilled into my head that I did not want to have less money than whomever I married, and would routinely say “if you marry for money you earn every penny.” But even with my mother being who she is, I still have the vestiges of those early experiences and have to check myself.

    I’m so heartened by the conversations we are having now, as well as younger women today. It is really incredible to see people not buying into these prescribed roles and owning their power. Greater body positivity is refreshing as well. My mother and my sister are obese and it hurts to hear fat jokes and comments about who should wear leggings and what not. I’m so glad people are getting called out on it now (Barbara Corcoran, I’m looking at you, you a-hole).

  2. Lightpurple says:

    Rita Moreno is a national treasure and one of the first EGOTs.

    ETA she was also the youngest EGOT winner, who did it in the shortest time span, until Robert Lopez and John Legend came around

  3. Joanna says:

    I’ve always had a problem with standing up for myself and being too nice. Now I’m finally OK with telling off someone who is a creep. Idk why I had a problem with that but it seems like today’s young ladies are more assertive. I think it’s great.

    • DuchessL says:

      Totally agree. I was very quiet younger but i had this rebellious mind that wanted to say and do things my way. I’m glad the world agrees with me. This: ‘Men are the bosses, men are the kings. You be nice to them and you do what they say’ is HELL to me, and our women ancestors lived like that for too long.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        But out parent, grand mother’s and great grandmothers didn’t have the option to be vocal about what they wanted, society didn’t allow it. Hell, even our grandmothers probably couldn’t vote if your an older broad like me. But now society has changed and women are much more able to say as they want, do what they want and make no apologies for it, we don’t need to make apologies. I think it’s wonderful how society has changed for women. I was fortunate, given my personality, didn’t put up with crap that I didn’t like, I was very vocal about my authority and myself as a person. I think that we learn a great deal from our mothers, even if they weren’t assertive, that for me, I internalized her non-combative side and came out the opposite. But now that I look back, I think it has to do with the fact that my father was awful to her and I was scared it would happen to me as well.

      • Otaku fairy says:

        Amen to that last sentence.

  4. Rea says:

    It’s like this at work. Some guy is undermining his boss a female by not doing his assigned duties. He flat out refused to listen & lies about doc appointments when there are team meetings.
    I would have fired the guy already.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      @ Rea, go to her and tell her. He is obviously a narcissistic POS who “feels” it’s beneath him to answer to a women, and he isn’t a team player. (I’m sorry I had to add the team player bit, but it’s true). In addition to not pulling his weight, is leaves it to the rest you to do his work. And why should he get paid when he isn’t doing the work? F#ck him…


    She lost me with the collar and extraneous belts but otherwise that look is fab. Love yellow and black together but I think people are afraid of looking like bumblebees.

    I’m in my late 20s, and thinking of gender interactions and subservience is so odd to me. I was raised by a single mom and have two sisters, and the message was always independence, assertiveness, inner resources.

    It’s been heartbreaking as I’ve gotten older to see how my mom only learned that AFTER her divorces, how she gave so much of herself to men who mistreated and abused her. I am forever grateful for the values she instilled in me, but it’s painful to hear her talk about some topics and just witness that internalized misogyny.

  6. Emily H says:

    There was a wonderful documentary on her on PBS this week. Truly an inspiring lady! She went through a lot in Hollywood.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      She was also featured on CBS Sunday Morning as well. I have recorded the PBS special but haven’t watched it yet. I love her!! I couldn’t believe that she’s 89!! She and Betty White are ones who will never quit working in Hollywood and I think it’s fabulous!!

  7. CE says:

    She is really a hero. Latina/o representation does often get lost in discussions about inclusion in Hollywood. I identify with everything she’s said here

  8. ooshpick says:

    I’m so lucky. My parents are in their 80’s and both are feminists! My mum was a a powerhouse secondwaver and my dad was on board as a socialist. That’s not to say I didn’t have to learn how to say no as my mum pandered to other women but i had some stuff for free. Yay for change.

  9. candy says:

    I internalized so much of this shit as well.

  10. Caramel says:

    She’s still duck in the dark ages and her colourist comments regarding black latinos in “the heights” really proved that. She has a lot to unlearn

    • Valerie says:

      I agree. I hope she’s able to. It surprised me that she would make comments like that.

    • E.D says:

      I completely agree with you but to be honest, I’ve not met many people in her age group that don’t have the same kind of biases ingrained in them.

      I often think it must be quite hard for people from this particular generation to adapt to societal change.

      Hopefully the backlash that was swift over those particular comments she made about ‘The Heights’ have helped her to challenge her internal narrative and perspective?