In addition to the enormous influence of my friend/mentor/"other-mother", Liz, about whom I wrote recently, when I was a kid, there were a number of women (individuals and groups) whose lives and work inspired me. The women who were the most significant non-family influence on me were nuns. I did not go to Catholic school, but I did go to CCD classes every Saturday and my family had a long-standing, close relationship with the nuns who ran the orphanage my sister and I came from.
The nuns I knew were all well-educated professional women: they were teachers, nurses and administrators. Not all of the nuns I knew wore habits, and the ones who did tended to wear the "modern" habits which looked more like uniforms than medieval garb. The nuns in my world gave the Catholic Church a feminine face but they also were smart, competent, tough professionals.
I am sure they would have been horrified to know that is how they came across. They sought to be Brides of Christ and humble servants of God's People. The Church would have that mean they were subservient and obedient. Every nun I ever met, including the most tyrannical ones, could behave like simpering ninnies in the presence of a priest, but we all learned very early about the act we were expected to put on when priests were around.
The rest of the time, in my experience, nuns were women who were efficient, determined and persistent in their pursuit of what was best for the children whose education and care were their responsibility. Some of them were intimidating as hell and a few were just bitches, but the majority of nuns I met were tough, sincere, hard-working, committed women who were dedicated educators, nurses and administrative professionals. They were excellent role models in ways I feel sure they never imagined.
They had learned to put on a different face in front of Male Authority and they tried to teach us to do that as well. That act may have fooled the priests. It never fooled the kids ... or at least not the girl-children. We knew that the male priests may have ruled in the hierarchy but the real power of Holy Mother Church was in the hands of the religious women who indoctrinated, educated, loved and prayed for Her children.
That lesson resonated for me in many ways. It still holds a lot of power for me.