Face it. Every nun you've ever seen in pop culture — on TV, in movies — wears a heavy black-and-white uniform ("habits" to us Catholics), coupled with either a stern face and a ruler or a saintly ethereality. Back in my parochial schooldays, some of the boys asserted that nuns had no legs at all, just robotic simulacrums with wheels instead. (Catholic boys have vast imaginations.) When Sister Judith hiked up her skirt to prove them wrong, it felt scandalous.
I learned a lot about nuns as I grew older, most notably in college. Now those old stereotypes really bug me. Despite their depiction in media, many nuns don't wear long, heavy habits anymore. They haven't since the sixties, when Vatican II brought sweeping updates to the Church. Some don't wear habits at all. They dress simply, yet appropriately for the situation. The first time my friend Mary Claire met our now mentor and friend Rosemary (a Sister of Providence), she was wearing jeans and a "Ms." t-shirt. She was working in her garden at the time.
Yes, nuns garden. They eat pizza and drink beer. They go to movies. They hold doctorate degrees, not just in theology, but in subjects as diverse as mathematics and education. They write books. They are involved in politics. In fact, a one-time vice presidential nominee for the Socialist Party was a nun. I met her. She was awesome-ly cool.
Most nuns are extraordinary women, educated, passionate, socially aware. They'd make excellent priests. Unfortunately, old stereotypes die hard...even within the Catholic Church.
I once saw a photo of a woman carrying a sign that read, "If you won't ordain us, don't baptize us." In other words, don't bother allowing women admission to a religion that doesn't fully recognize us and allow us full participation. I don't feel quite that strongly; but some days, I come awfully close...especially on days when I see another desexualized stereotype on my TV screen, masquerading as a nun.
- Lori Strawn