academics Alice von Hildebrand

Room to Grow: My Thoughts on Being a Woman

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After twenty-one years of life and four years as an undergraduate, I can only safely claim one nugget of wisdom for certain:
there is always room to grow.
When my boss announced that our theme for the blog this semester would be man, woman, and love, I instantly became nervous. These topics are difficult, and being philosophically rigorous in this regard can be infuriating!
Interestingly, I didn’t always think it was such a big deal.
Maybe it was pride. Maybe it was excitement over reading new thinkers. Maybe it was intellectual laziness. But last year, I thought I had this whole “woman” thing figured out.
What is it to be a woman? What is authentic femininity? Ask me! I know all the answers because I’ve thought about it for a whole day! Look: here’s my pretty little chart separating masculinity and femininity! See, isn’t it easy?
Geeze – I was so ignorant.
I want to start off this new semester blogging for the Hildebrand Project by admitting that I find myself at a place in life with so many more questions than answers. What does it mean to be a woman? Is that necessarily the same as asking what it means to be feminine? How is my situated femininity related to this giant umbrella of “gender” which seeks to hammer-out different objective norms with every turn of the age? My head is spinning. I look at myself in the mirror, and know that I am feminine.
But what is that?
What would it take to find the answers?
I think it takes bravery – bravery to admit that we probably don’t have satisfying answers at the moment. And that’s okay. The intellectual life is a work in progress; I don’t ever want to reach a point when I’m satisfied enough by my “answers” that I stop turning over rocks as I pass by them. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of growing complacent by picking sides: you find a school of thought or a particular thinker that you mostly agree with, climb into their life raft, and ignore the dynamism of the ocean of thought surrounding you.
Last year was my life raft. I found answers that served as quick “band-aids” for the moment, and I shut my brain off for a while to revel in my seemingly newfound enlightenment. It seems that people in general typically feel better about having things “settled.” We don’t like leaving things up in the air, hanging without answers, burning our insides with giant question marks. But new questions began to pick at me. The silt collecting in my mind was stirred up.
The water is murky right now. And that’s okay.
The locus of my confusion lies in the distinction between sex and gender. While my womanhood is very biological and real and physical, my femininity is mysterious and seemingly immaterial.
I had spent my whole life taking this vocabulary for granted until I took an epistemology class last semester which analyzed the study of knowledge from the standpoint of gender.
Is knowing gendered? Do men and women “know” differently? In what ways? What does that look like? How are men and women different in the first place? Wait – what even is it to be a human person?
The questions began to build on one another, and in all humility, I began to realize that I had reached some hasty conclusions in the past that perhaps needed some re-visiting and analysis from a fresh perspective. Perhaps after further thought and more reading, I will find that I still agree with myself. Or, maybe not. Regardless, this semester is going to be a journey – a work in progress.
So what’s the point?
The point is: I want you, dear readers, to journey with me. I don’t know where this semester will take us. But I can tell you that I will do my best to be as epistemically responsible as possible, to stay out of the life rafts, and plunge into the dynamism of the waters around us.
We have been given such monumental companions for this journey in the lives of Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand. Making their philosophies the locus of my study this semester, I hope to present their views in a way that is both respectful and challenging.  I probably won’t agree with them all the time. You might not either. And that’s okay.  Their philosophy and the witness of their marriage is the path upon which we will reverently trod on our journey to stretch ourselves as thinkers in our own rights.
Are you ready? Let’s go.

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My next post will begin to explore the concept of “person” in general as our starting point.  



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