Alice von Hildebrand featured
Woman’s Role in Society and in the Church, Part 2: The War On Femininity6:00:00 AMAnne Foster
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."
In the garden of Eden the devil turned to Eve, for as we had said in my previous post, the Devil recognized the threat she posed to him due to her influence over the man and her exclusive role as the Mother of the Living. Evidently, the story takes a turn for the worst, original sin takes it’s toll, the harmony of man and woman is badly disrupted, and the beauty of their unity is obscured.
In her work Man and Woman: A Divine Invention Alice von Hildebrand expounds upon this discord between the sexes. She claims that the separation which divides human persons takes place the moment they separate themselves from God by sin. The fact that Adam and Eve sinned together created a chasm between them that resonates to this very day. (1)
Throughout history men and women have become victims to fallacious caricatures of one another and sweeping generalizations, typical of shallow minds and fallen human nature. It would appear that there is more enmity between the sexes than between them and their true enemy, the one whom they met in the garden so long ago.
Many figures of history, philosophy, and literature, have portrayed men as tyrannical egotistical brutes and women as simple minded house fixtures or conniving seductresses, both deserving of a good lashing on occasion. That being said, although they are not mentioned as often, there are many great thinkers and writers over the ages such as Dante, Shakespeare, and Dickens, who have written beautiful passages concerning man and woman, upholding the beauty, dignity, and mystery of both.
So then, where exactly does the tension lie? Who is the real threat to the dignity of women and their role in society?
Here is where I must finally address the elephant in the room: feminism.
The feminist movement is well known for advocating noble causes such as equal pay and opportunity, awareness of sex-trafficking and rape. And yet, myself and Dr. von Hildebrand would claim that particularly in the 21st century, women’s beloved civil rights movement has evolved into their greatest enemy, for in its zeal to defeat “sexist stereotypes” feminism has morphed into a blatant attack on the role and vocation of women.
That the majority of secular feminists attack the woman’s privileged role of motherhood is quite evident. Rather than defend her sacred birthright, many woman today fight for “liberation” from it. Much of this has stemmed from the introduction of "the pill" and has skyrocketed since Roe v. Wade. Rather than revere their unique role in creation, maternity is viewed as an inhibition and weakness which should be put into submission.
As we all know, to give birth is a trial and most young women grow up dreading it. In an interview Alice von Hildebrand explains, that Eve was punished in the one domain that was her glory, to give birth. The very moment you know a woman is pregnant, you know that she is weak, fragile, and that she suffers. And thus, many see maternity as a burden which prevents women from competing with men. These are only a few reasons why many women fear and feel burdened and intruded upon by pregnancy. However, despite the ominous reputation of pregnancy, the feminist “Women’s Health Rights” agenda has not liberated women but has rather enslaved them. Women now fear their own bodies and renounce their own femininity. G.K. Chesterton writes of feminism, “I want to destroy the tyranny, they want to destroy womanhood.” (2)
Aside from the controversy of women’s reproductive rights, many women have become frustrated with the traditional role of “motherhood” in general, they complain that it negates their identity, making the term “woman” reducible to the sole role of “motherhood.”
Dr. von Hildebrand believes that this mindset is indubitably flawed. Contrary to the popular feminist belief, motherhood is a fount of graces in which supernatural virtues become most accessible; virtues such as patience, humility, meekness, self-giving love, etc. Although every individual woman is as diverse as the stars in the sky, each woman is called to become a saint. Therefore, why justify our inadequacies and complain that we are being reduced to “mothers” and instead, why are we not lamenting our pride, weaknesses, and sinfulness. Our vices are what enslave us, not men, not our reproductive systems, and not our feminine proclivities.
The real way to be a champion for women is not so much in asserting ourselves but by being what we are called to be, namely, saintly women.
What I have been dishing out may seem like a bunch of archaic and brainwashed hogwash. However, isn’t there a possibility that the reason we modern day women are so restless is because we have adopted the lens of secularization, viewing our value and worth in light of worldly “virtues”? Dr. von Hildebrand writes that the slogan of the day is “self-fulfillment.” However, this secular understanding of “self-fulfillment” is only attained by accomplishing, producing, and inventing. All of which are more important than “being.” She writes that this type of fulfillment pays no heed to the “Christian principle that what matters most is not what one produces, but what one is as a person. Love, generosity, purity, moral courage, humility, and the like are what is precious in God’s eyes, they have, in the words of Kierkegaard, an “eternal resonance.” (3)
Thus, I suggest we all take a step back and look at our lives and ourselves in light of the spiritual. Through the spiritual dimension alone can a proper understanding of what it means to be a woman be restored.
Alice von Hildebrand calls this the spiritual outlook on life looking at everything sub specie aeternitatis (under the aspect of eternity).
“Feminists forget that ‘under the aspect of eternity’ to be a wife and mother, to create a ‘home, to be there’, to give love, and to listen to the woes of little ones (and not-so-little ones) who crave for tenderness and affection is like being the sun illuminating a dark world.” (4)
Through a secular lens a mother’s role seems lowly, but through a heavenly gaze her vocation is as radiant as the sun.
The Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whom Dr. von Hildebrand frequently quotes, in his short story Matryona’s House, depicts the life of a “nobody”: a poor old woman, looked down upon by everyone but who turns out to be the heroine. Her Christian heart illuminates the squalor in which she lives. Solzhenitsyn writes, “none of us who lived close to her perceived that she was the one righteous person without whom, as the saying goes, no city can stand. Neither can the whole world.” (5)
Solzhenitsyn’s portrayal of a humble and holy woman profoundly expresses the importance of femininity to humanity.
Whereas the Father is the head of the family, the Mother is the heart. Thereby, she plays a crucial role; for “under the aspect of eternity” what matters most is not material accomplishments, the size of our companies or our paychecks, but the warmth of our hearts, and the heart is her domain.
The privileged occupation of motherhood is a gift which is bestowed upon each woman, whether she has given life from her own womb, is in the religious life, or even if she is unable to bear children. Motherhood extends above and beyond the realm of her home; a woman living out this vocation is the manifestation of “the tenderness of God on earth.” She is a gift to all around her, to her family, her co-workers, her neighbors, the church, and to society.
This is why it is so important to defend motherhood, it’s ability to give life, to foster supernatural virtues, and influence the hearts of mankind. This is why it is important to combat all those who attack it. Alice von Hildebrand warns us: “If you want to kill a person, aim at his heart. If you want to destroy marriage, the family, the Church, and society in general, wage war on femininity.” (6)
But the war has not been won. Dr. von Hildebrand’s husband, Dietrich, would encouragingly remind us, that “the greatest apostolate" is the apostolate of being. It’s not what you say or do, but who you are.” (7)
Therefore, I implore my fellow women to joyfully be who we are.
- Hildebrand, Man and Woman: A Divine Invention, p. 5.
- Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World, p. 225
- Hildebrand, Man and Woman: A Divine Invention, p. 39, 40.
- Hildebrand, Man and Woman: A Divine Invention, p. 33.
- Hildebrand, Man and Woman: A Divine Invention, p. 25, 26.
- Hildebrand, Man and Woman: A Divine Invention, p. 19.
- Unpublished remark often mentioned in his talks.
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