Consuella Kelly has served as the Graduate Assistant for the Women’s Studies Program this year, taking on all manner of responsibilities. If you’ve come to any of our events this year, you’ve met Consuella, almost always the first to greet you with a smile. At the risk of overloading her in the semester’s final weeks, I asked her to write a blog post reflecting on her experiences, and the result is a really wonderful discussion of how her understanding of feminism has evolved. As Consuella writes here, “I came to understand that being a feminist is more about how you identify yourself, how you pay homage those who came before you, and how you choose to make a difference.” Feminism as a movement embraces our individuality–the is part of what the “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” project articulates so well–and Consuella does a terrific job of capturing that spirit here.
For a very long time, I have identified myself as a feminist. From middle school through to my undergraduate years, being a feminist has always been about doing – being involved in some sort of activism that would draw attention to the issues. For me, that meant writing articles in the school newspaper, organizing roundtable discussions, involvement in protests, and challenging school politics. After graduating from school, in hindsight, I now realize that my involvement slowly melted away and with it my identification as a feminist.
Upon returning to higher education, I was no longer able to just brush the creepy crawly feelings away that I got when confronted with instances of inequality – gender, sexual, racial, etc – during my sabbatical from education. However, I do not want to make it seem like the occurrences increased, they had not, what grew was my awareness – and disappointment – with my inaction. I started to believe that I wasn’t a feminist. I subscribed to the narrow-minded way of thinking when it came to feminism. I thought that to be a feminist you had to act a certain way.
What I have learned in the past two years from professors, classmates, and, specifically, this program is that feminism does not have a fixed identity. It looks and acts like an individual. Meaning, the way feminism is practiced varies accordingly from person to person. Nevertheless, I sincerely thought that I had to be noticeably active to be worthy of calling myself a feminist and this is far from the truth.
At SIUE, I have met some amazing feminists who have reshaped this thinking and refocused my understanding. They have renewed and reinvigorated my belief in myself as a feminist. From their example, I came to understand that being a feminist is more about how you identify yourself, how you pay homage those who came before you, and how you choose to make a difference – no matter how aggressive or passive.
They taught me that I could choose to make a difference by doing something as brazen as burning my bra in the quad or something as simple as listening with an open-mind to those who chose to speak on the issues. I could choose to show my respect and admiration for the pioneers by creating a bulletin board honoring their contributions to the movement, and that I did not need to feel ashamed because I did not know all of their names. And, most importantly, I choose how I identify myself – I am what I say I am. Feminism is all about choice.
I choose to be a Southern Belle who wears low-cut tops and, sometimes, impossible high-heeled shoes. I am that “Bitch” who knows what I want, how to get, and I don’t have to make apologies. I am a proud African-American plus-sized Accessary (modern term for fag hag) who loves, promotes, and encourages equality for all. I am a feminist.
I would like to acknowledge the time, dedication, and compassion of those who have made such an impact on me during the last two years: Catherine Seltzer, Jessica DeSpain, Candice Love Jackson, Howard Rambsy, Jill Anderson, Eileen Joy, Valerie Volgrin, Carly Hayden Foster, Ruth Bell, Lydia Jackson, Patty Barney, Nicole Holmes, Kayla Hays, Katherine Wallace, Kayla Wilhelm, Christy Koester, Heather E. Smith, and Falon McCain.