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Alice Von Hildebrand on Feminism and Femininity

11/27/2003 - 8:00 AM PST

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Says Women Can Escape a Trap by Imitating Mary's Strength and Humility

NEW ROCHELLE, New York, NOV. 26, 2003 (Zenit) - Women in the secularized world need to be reminded that fulfilling their maternal role is infinitely valuable in God's sight, says the wife of philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand.

Alice Von Hildebrand, author of "The Privilege of Being a Woman" (Sapientia) and a philosopher in her own right, shared how every woman can find supernatural strength in what feminism perceives as her weakness and look to Mary as a model of perfect femininity.

Von Hildebrand earned her doctorate in philosophy at Fordham University and is professor emeritus of Hunter College of the City University of New York.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

Von Hildebrand: The poison of secularism has penetrated deeply into our society. It did so by stages. Men were its first victims: They became more and more convinced that in order to be someone they had to succeed in the world. Success means money, power, fame, recognition, creativity, inventiveness, etc.

Many of them sacrificed their family life in order to achieve this goal: They came home just to relax or have fun. Work was the serious part of their life.

Innumerable marriages have been ruined by this attitude. Wives rightly felt that they were mere appendixes -- a necessary relaxation. Husbands had little time for loving exchanges, as they were too busy. The children saw very little of their fathers. That wives suffered was not only understandable, but also legitimate.

Q: Why do women need to be convinced that it is good to be a woman?

Von Hildebrand: The amazing thing is that feminism, instead of making women more profoundly aware of the beauty and dignity of their role as wives as mothers, and of the spiritual power that they can exercise over their husbands, convinced them that they, too, had to adopt a secularist mentality: They, too, should enter the work force; they, too, should prove to themselves that they were someone by getting diplomas, competing with men in the work market, showing that they were their equals and -- when given opportunities -- could outsmart them.

They let themselves become convinced that femininity meant weakness. They started to look down upon virtues -- such as patience, selflessness, self-giving, tenderness -- and aimed at becoming like men in all things. Some of them even convinced themselves that they had to use coarse language in order to show the "strong" sex that they were not the fragile, delicate, insignificant dolls that men believed them to be.

The war of the sexes was on. Those who fell into the traps of feminism wanted to become like men in all things and sold their birthright for a mess of pottage. They became blind to the fact that men and women, though equal in ontological dignity, were made different by God's choice: Male and female he made them. Different and complementary.

Each sex has its strengths; each sex has its weaknesses. According to God's admirable plan, the husband is to help his wife overcome these weaknesses so that all the treasures of her femininity will come to full bloom, and vice versa.

How many men truly become "themselves" thanks to the love of their wives. How may wives are transformed by their husband's strength and courage.

The tragedy of the world in which we live is that we have become apostates. Many have abandoned the treasures given to us by revelation -- the supernatural.

Original sin was essentially an attack on the hierarchy of values: Man wanted to become like God, without God. The punishment was terrible: Man's body revolted against his soul. Today, this reversal of the hierarchy of values goes so far that Peter Singer denies man's superiority over animals, and that baby whales are saved while human babies are murdered.

The whole is topsy-turvy: Marriages break down; many do not even consider getting married; partnership lasts only as long as it satisfies one. Unnatural relationships so severely condemned by Plato are fashionable and claim their rights to be put on the same level as those that God has ordered.

Q: How can women's purported weakness be seen as a source strength?

Von Hildebrand: Granted that from a naturalistic point of view, men are stronger: not only because they are physically stronger, but also because they are more creative, more inventive and more productive -- most great works in theology, philosophy and fine arts have been made by men. They are the great engineers, the great architects.

But the Christian message is that, valuable as all these inventions are, they are dust and ashes compared to every act of virtue. Because a woman by her very nature is maternal -- for every woman, whether ...

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1 - 10 of 13 Comments

  1. Bruce Linton
    1 year ago

    To my brother Christians - please, please bear this in mind: THIS WOMAN HAS BORNE HER BURDENS IN THE HEAT OF THE DAY - she is a true widow and entitled to honor, not scorn. Even if she were losing her mind, which she is absolutely NOT, we owe God the reverence of respect for our fellow creatures. For my part, would conclude my admonition with the warning of the "good thief" on the cross next to Christ. In my sister, I see the image of a suffering servant and true dependent child of the Lord's handmaid. She has done nothing amiss!

  2. Rory
    1 year ago

    Ah! I get it. The takeaway is that actually women are far better than men.

  3. Derek
    1 year ago

    Alice von Hildebrand is yet another female chauvinist in disguise. Whatever she says about virtue and holiness, her true preoccupation is power (first of all power over her own husband). In addition, like so many modern women, she cannot help but drone on about how underserved women are as well as dictate to men from on high how they are to better cater to women. In her book, The Privilege of Being a Woman, she gloats over the power wives exercise over their husbands and, taking a truly sickening turn, goes so far as to say that a husband should actually venerate his wife's vulva and "tremble" before it as before a sacred object. She is like any other woman but dresses up with glittering theology that which is simply her own greedy id: her only interest in men is the extent to which they make her feel safe ("courage and strength"); fundamentally it is still all about her. Dietrich was no doubt very much under control and I doubt her "love" for him lasted as long as he did what he was told. She's the same old story dressed up so beautifully that naturally any woman will find her a very attractive ally. In fact, however, a wolf in sheep's clothing.

  4. Angela
    1 year ago

    Alice von Hildebrand has wonderful insight for women and men.
    Terry, Mary was NOT abused, she was so humbled as to give reverence to Christ every chance. She submitted to God's will, not her own. She decreased so that Christ could increase... Every mention of her in the bible points to Christ, as Mary can best lead us to Christ (not to herself). Mary, in her humility, should be our guide.
    I would love to see more articles like this, that uphold true femininity.

  5. Smithy
    3 years ago

    My heart is melting. What a relief to read such a level-headed article -- as opposed to what my life is drowned in day after day after day... oh the miseries of this age.

  6. Erika Franco
    3 years ago

    These articles are so true and somehow reaches so deeply in your heart. It helps you understand the qualities God gave women, those great sacred privileges, learn how to apply them and deal trough human problems.

  7. Kell Brigan
    5 years ago

    And, NOT ALL WOMEN ARE MARRIED OR NUNS. Even if I had wanted to be an at-home 24/7 mom and nothing else, I'VE NEVER HAD THE CHANCE. I'm supposed to go through my life feeling like a total failure bacause I'm single? Dr. Hildebrand (who, by the way, did leave the house to go get one of those evil educations) is frequently brilliant, but the continual "forgetting" that not all women CAN marry, that not all women have children, that there are many, many lives that women are FORCED to live, let alone can ethically, piously CHOOSE to live, above and beyond and/or in addition to "wives" and "mothers" makes it impossible to take the rest of her arguments seriously. She simply isn't talking about real women when she pretends "wife" and "mother" and "nun" are the only legitimate choices. The Church doesn't teach this; the Church openly acknowledges the value of women's work in all arenas of life, and has specifically endorsed being single as one of women's possible vocations (in addition to Religious or in marriage). Why why why are so many people determined to keep single women invisible and condemned to lead apes in hell?

  8. JMJ
    5 years ago

    Because of original sin our intellect has been darkened and therefore we fail to see the supreme good which will truly satisfy. Hence, our human will is weakened because we choose the lesser goods that we see through our dimmed intellects. We experience many false hopes, feminism, is one icing covered cupcakes. We try to live as if this world is our final end and therefore end up compromising our true calling, which is loving service. Women are created to serve just as men are created to serve. We could have all the degrees, write all the books, have all the prestige in the world. We would still be unhappy. Happiness is not in attaining greatness in this world. Happiness is accepting the cross, which will welcome us each time we chose to serve others. "Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." [Mat 20:28]. We will find no happiness in seeking to be served the praises of this world. This is what false feminism has done. Rather than being the light of crucified lover many women have chosen to stop serving.

  9. Tatiana L.
    5 years ago

    Um, there are some good points here. However, speaking of the great theological works being made by men, why shouldn't women have some opportunities to make great works such as Aquinas' Summa Theologica? Indeed, it seems to me that AVH doesn't want me to make a theological masterpiece (and I have the intellectual capacity to make one if I wanted to). It also seems as if all women should sit home and be homemakers. I do get her secular mentality thing, but in a modified form, feminism is acceptable -- in a lot of things, we can do what men do. It's just that how we do it is unacceptable, especially coarse language. That I do agree with her.

  10. EMMANUEL ODUOR
    5 years ago

    Go all the way Dr. AVH. Count on my prayers.


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