Becoming a woman
in Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age
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Chapter 7 engages with the ideas coming out of the 1970s women’s movement and their influence on the identities of women religious. Through the Nun in the World and feminist theologians, nuns and sisters experienced a more thorough grounding in theology that acknowledged their womanhood and sexuality and linked it to a deeper understanding of their faith. They questioned the ‘charged symbols’ of religious life. Enclosed nuns opened their non-cloistered spaces more readily, and some began to see the grille that separated them from the world as an unnecessary impediment to their ministry. The other loaded symbol of religious life, the religious habit, was being modified and in some communities was seen as a barrier to new ministries. For some, these unchanging symbols of religious life signified tradition, security and the authenticity of religious life. For others, the need for modernity, to meet the modern world in different ways offered a ‘renewed’ way to be an authentic religious. Women religious, like feminists, claimed for themselves the right to define their own place in both secular society and the Catholic world. This chapter demonstrates that both religious and secular ideas shaped these women’s awareness of their womanhood.