Alice Von Hildebrand on Feminism and Femininity

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

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NEW ROCHELLE, New York, NOV. 26, 2003 (Zenit.org).- 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 with ZENIT 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 married or unmarried, is called upon to be a biological, psychological or spiritual mother -- she knows intuitively that to give, to nurture, to care for others, to suffer with and for them -- for maternity implies suffering -- is infinitely more valuable in God's sight than to conquer nations and fly to the moon.

When one reads the life of St. Teresa of Avila or St. Thérèse of Lisieux, one is struck by the fact that they constantly refer to their "weakness." The lives of these heroic women -- and there are many -- teach us that an awareness and acceptance of one's weakness, coupled with a boundless confidence in God's love and power, grant these privileged souls a strength that is so great because it is supernatural.

Natural strength cannot compete with supernatural strength. This is why Mary, the blessed one, is "strong as an army ready for battle." And yet, she is called "clemens, pia, dulcis Virgo Maria."

This supernatural strength explains -- as mentioned by Dom Prosper Gueranger in "The Liturgical Year" -- that the devil fears this humble virgin more than God because her supernatural strength that crushes his head is more humiliating for him than God's strength.

This is why the Evil One is today launching the worst attack on femininity that has ever taken place in the history of the world. For coming closer to the end of time, and knowing that his final defeat is coming, he redoubles his efforts to attack his one great enemy: the woman. It says in Genesis 3:15: "I will put enmity between you and the woman." The final victory is hers, as seen in the woman crowned with the sun.

Q: Why do you think women have moral power?

Von Hildebrand: The mission of women today is of crucial importance. In some way, they have the key to sanity -- the first step toward a conversion. For supernature is based on nature, and unless we go back to a natural soundness, the sublimity of the supernatural message will be lost to most of us.

Why do they have the key? Because their influence on men is enormous when they truly understand their role and mission. Again and again I hear priests say that they owe their vocation to their grandmother or mother.

St. Monica, in collaboration with God, brought back her wayward son to God. St. Bernard's mother, St. Francis de Sales' mother -- who was only 15 years older than he -- and St. John Bosco's mother were key factors in their spiritual way to holiness.

Q: How is Mary a model of femininity?

Von Hildebrand: Women have the key because they are the guardians of purity. This is already clearly indicated by the structure of their bodies, which chastely hides their intimate organs. Because their organs are "veiled," indicating their mystery and sacredness, women have the immense privilege of sharing the sex of the blessed one: Mary, the most holy of all creatures.

Feminism began in Protestant countries, for the plain reason that they had turned their backs on Christ's mother, as if the Savior of the world would feel deprived of the honor given to his beloved Mother.

Mary -- so gloriously referred to in the Apocalypse -- is the model of women. It is by turning to her, praying to her and contemplating her virtues that women will find their way back to the beauty and dignity of their mission.

Q: How did writing this book help you grow in appreciation of being a woman?

Von Hildebrand: Writing this book has been a privilege. It gave me a unique opportunity to meditate on the greatness of the woman's mission, following in the steps of the Holy Virgin.

Mary taught us two rules leading to holiness. One is: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy word." This indicates that the woman's mission is to let herself be fecundated by grace -- holy receptivity. The second is: "Do whatever he tells you."

This is the holy program that the Church offers us. No doubt, if women understood this message, marriage, the family and the Church would overcome the terrible crisis affecting us. As the liturgy says, "God has put salvation in the hands of a woman."