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Visual Habits Nuns, Feminism, And American Postwar Popular Culture by Rebecca Sullivan

Visual Habits Nuns, Feminism, And American Postwar Popular Culture


Visual Habits Nuns, Feminism, And American Postwar Popular Culture by Rebecca Sullivan

The 1950s and 60s were times of extraordinary social and political change across North America that re-drew the boundaries between traditional and progressive, conservative and liberal. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the history of Catholic nuns. During these two decades, nuns boldly experimented with their role in the church, removing their habits, rejecting the cloister, and fighting for social justice. The media quickly took to their cause and dubbed them 'the new nuns,' modern exemplars of liberated but sexually contained womanhood. With Visual Habits, Rebecca Sullivan brings this unexamined history of nuns to the fore, revisiting the intersection of three distinct movements - the Second Vatican Council, the second wave of feminism, and the sexual revolution - to explore the pivotal role nuns played in revamping cultural expectations of femininity and feminism. From The Nun's Story to The Flying Nun to The Singing Nun, nuns were a major presence in the mainstream media. Charting their evolving representation in film and television, popular music, magazines, and girls' literature, Sullivan discusses these images in the context of the period's seemingly unlimited potential for social change. In the process, she delivers a rich cultural analysis of a topic too long ignored.


Visual Habitsprovides a persuasive argument of how postwar worries concerning women were calmed by fantasizing about spunky women wearing veils. At the same time, it reminds us of the importance of imagining alternatives to the heterosexual family romance that is far from being the natural order of things. -- Colleen McDannell Bookforum - Oct/Nov 2005 Vol. 12 Issue 3 Visual Habits is a must-read in a culture that has forgotten the influence of professed religious in both women's history and pop culture...women religious, vocations directors and those with an interest in the films and folk music of the post-war era will enjoy grappling with this thought-provoking work. -- Dorothy Cummings The Catholic Register

About the Author

Rebecca Sullivan is a professor in the Department of English at the University of Calgary.

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Book Info

Publication date

10th June 2005


Rebecca Sullivan

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University of Toronto Press


340 pages


Cultural studies



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