Tune in this morning for the Oprah Show which features Oprah Winfrey chatting with some of the Dominican Sisters of Mary of Ann Arbor, Michigan and Lisa Ling’s experience visiting their “real-life nunnery”. It airs at 9 a.m. CST on ABC.
I am both delighted and a bit concerned about how this show will go. On the one hand I am delighted for the Sisters of Mary. This is an excellent opportunity for them to raise awareness about their particular way of living religious life. I am excited that Oprah is profiling the work of Catholic sisters and nuns, even if just one congregation, because it helps raise awareness about religious life and maybe even sparks the imagination of someone who is open to a vocation to religious life.
On the other hand, I am concerned about a few things. One is how the sisters will be portrayed. The promo for the show reads: “They’re young and have given up sex, careers and having children to become nuns! Lisa Ling spends the night in a real-life convent.” Now I’m all for a good sound bite to catch people’s attention, but I worry about this one. Sure it does grab attention, but it also conveys the messages (reinforced by the promo photos and video) such as you have to be very young to join, religious life is about “giving up” stuff, and nuns and sisters are not allowed to have a profession. I think this is the danger in profiling only one congregation because there is a huge diversity of ways of living as a Catholic sister or nun, and viewers might get the impression that that particular way is the only way. Now, I’ve only seen the promo stuff so maybe this will be addressed on the show.
A second concern. Already the show has paired two stories — nuns and geishas. A geisha is, according to Merriam-Webster, “a Japanese girl or woman who is trained to provide entertaining and lighthearted company especially for a man or a group of men”. It is difficult to miss the comparison to the image of nuns portrayed by the show. Both nuns and geishas have a particular “stance” in regard to men — nuns “give up sex” and geishas entertain men. Kind of a “good girl / bad girl” thing. Both nuns and geishas have a particular form of dress — geishas wear a kimono and nuns (in this case) a habit. While it is indeed a fascinating comparison simply by positing the two stories next to one another with no commentary, again there are messages being conveyed here.
Well the show is on soon! More later!