On our first morning in New Orleans, we visit Loyola University’s tree-lined campus to meet up with 3 young women. Our first appointment is with Puja, a junior biology major minoring in business. Born and raised in New Orleans, Puja is president of an on-campus group called Bridging the Gap, which promotes awareness of racial and cultural injustices not by “scolding people, but teaching them how to accept others.” Puja (left) doesn’t call herself a feminist: “I’m defined as a woman, but that’s not all I am. Being Hindu and raised in a Catholic city, Hinduism defines me more than being female.” Puja feels connected to her cultural traditions, and she’s “not completely against” arranged marriages because they are “based on compromises and family—everyone gets to be involved.” When we touch on the topic of body image and young girls, Puja has a refreshingly positive point of view: “People becoming anorexic just to look like a movie star is really sad to me. I personally feel that I’ve never met an ugly person before. I believe that it is our duty as human beings to outweigh people’s good qualities over their bad.”
An hour later, we hook up with two other girls, Maria (right) and Azebe, who have never met but seem to easily bounce off each other’s ideas. Maria’s family immigrated to Kenner (just outside of New Orleans) from Nicaragua, and moved to Miami after Katrina. Maria, a sociology major, wants to travel after college and maybe become a human rights lawyer. Azebe, the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, cites the Storm as a major turning point in her life and wants to join Doctors Beyond Borders when she graduates.
They both consider themselves feminists—Maria because she wants to be a “strong and independent person” and Azebe (left) because “I think I can accomplish anything.” Both women are politically progressive, and don’t seem to put a box around the definition of feminism. “Having children is compatible with feminism,” Azebe tells us, “because for every amazing person, every Martin Luther King, there’s a strong woman raising them.” Their views differ, though, on how feminism can conflict with traditional ideals, such as the Christian sentiment that infiltrated both of their childhoods. Maria tells us about her senior project assignment at her Catholic private high school—to plan out her own wedding. “I didn’t like that people were choosing my life for me,” Maria says. “It scared me to think that women were taught that marriage was all there is—there’s so much more!” But Azebe has a more personal interpretation of her faith, telling us, “Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I’m a feminist. The way I see it, God wouldn’t want women to waste their gifts.”