chapter  10
22 Pages

The passion of woman

Sisterhood in work, worship and the vernacular
ByAnuradha Veeravalli

Contemporary studies of women’s movements have concluded that those movements that did not separate gender issues from work issues and those that worked within a common trade union framework have not only seen greater success with respect to reform but have also survived the longest. This chapter argues that the woman saint, within the larger context of the passion of woman and the constitution of sisterhood in institutions of work and worship, represents a case of vernacular feminist ‘institutional’ mode of reform, self-affirmation and dissent, which is fundamentally different from a ‘movements’ framework or a framework of women’s rights. She illustrates the possibility of each woman charting a unique case of self-determination while retaining the essential strength of the feminine, not by biological determination, nor social imposition, nor by solidarity, but by a conscious affirmation of personhood through the institutions of her calling and office. This ‘vernacular’ response counters both orthodox and liberal understandings of freedom and rights of women and breaks the deadlock between anti-difference feminists (anti-essentialists) and difference feminists (essentialists). The chapter then locates its modern and secular avatar in Florence Nightingale’s analysis of the new profession of nursing established by her.