The Greek and Roman worship of virgin goddesses glorified females independent of men, but this esteem did not carry over to mortal females. Women’s roles were defined strictly through marriage and motherhood – no acceptable position existed for the single, free woman. Roman law specifically required a woman to be bound in marriage or registered as a prostitute…

Christ spoke of the righteousness of self-imposed virginity and viewed it as something more laudable than marriage; this was a radically new idea. It granted women autonomous significance, and the virgin who forsook marriage gained preeminence over the married woman…Taking vows of virginity, men and women of any social strata were able to travel and work together as chaste partners for the first time. Women also could choose to live together in groups, relying on each other for help and support rather than on fathers and husbands.

Elizabeth Kuhns, The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns

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