DR. ALICE von HILDEBRAND
On the Privilege of Being a Woman
January 14, 1997
New York Catholic Forum Lecture
- Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, wrote that women hate their bodies. Women are physically weaker, less clever, have less power and prestige. For men, procreation is a moment of physical ecstasy, whereas women suffer the discomfort of pregnancy and the agony of childbirth.
- Feminism is a metaphysical revolt against the characteristics of women. Men seem to have all the advantages, and so feminists try to become a caricature of men.
- Historically, women have been looked down on. Aristotle considered women deficient men. Church fathers (St. John Crysostom), poets (Milton), novelists (Hugo) psychoanalysts (Freud) have all denigrated women.
- Beauvoir wrote, "A man is a human being. A woman is just a female." She charged that the bible and the Church bear a heavy share of responsibility for the subjugation of women.
- History is the history of great men. There is no female Shakespeare or Beethoven. Even in areas thought to be women's domains, such as cooking and sewing, the greatest chefs and tailors have been men. In the biblical creation story, women seem to have been created as an afterthought.
- Although men are glad that there are women in the world, probably few men would want to be a woman.
- However, let us look at the same situation with the eyes of faith (feminist eyes are myopic).
Since the order of Creation was from the lowest animals to the highest, Eve's having been created last cannot be said to be an afterthought. Moreover, I prefer being created from flesh to being formed, as Adam was, from dust. Also, "helpmate" means self-giving and love, not servitude.
At the Annunciation, Joseph is not present. He is not even informed what has happened until after Mary's pregnancy is discovered.
Consider Calvary: Jesus is betrayed by a man, and all the strong male disciples flee. On His way to the cross, Jesus is accompanied by women.
At the Resurrection, Christ appeared first to Mary Magdalene.
The Apocalyptic symbol of the Church is a woman.
- In the supernatural world, women are very much in the foreground.
- Abuse of women is due to original sin. Original sin causes the following:
1. Men take advantage of their superior strength.
2. We all overemphasize physical strength and achievements (i.e. exaggerated importance of sports).
3. We gage people by what they do. We value accomplishments that have no eternal significance.
- I recently watched a TV program on anorexia. Anorexia is spreading like wildfire on college campuses. This illness fundamentally has nothing to do with food. It is a psychological problem stemming from our society's overemphasis on performance. Girls become unhappy when they realize they cannot be the best, the most accomplished persons. Self-starvation is a death wish.
- Why are men and women different?
God, in creating human beings, did not do the same thing twice.
According to Blessed (soon to be Saint) Edith Stein, the main function of woman is to protect, preserve, shelter, guard, help, bring warmth in a cold universe. i.e. to be maternal.
Woman cares more for people than for things. If there were 50 men and 50 women in a room that held a baby and a state-of-the-art computer, the women would gravitate toward the baby. The men would glance at the baby, then head for the computer.
Men desperately need women in order to keep their sanity. Without the feminine touch, the world would be cold and impersonal.
I recall that when my brother and I were children, he would promptly destroy the toys he was given in order to find out how they worked. I thought that was stupid. I took care of my toys.
Women are not specialists. Men tend to specialize and often, in the process, become narrow. Male computer specialists, for example, are often very narrow and may be socially maladept.
- The particular characteristic of women is receptivity. This is not the same thing as being passive. Receptivity is a generous opening of oneself to another, allowing the possibility of fecundity. This is expressed in the sexual act, in which a woman allows a man into her intimate interior, thereby generating new life.
This is also a simple formulation of holiness: total receptiveness to God's grace.
- Now, it is clear that living things are superior to non-living, the personal to the impersonal, the concrete to the abstract. Women, by instinct, choose the better part, and it will not be taken from them.
- St. Teresa of Avila said that many more women than men receive extraordinary mystical graces.
- In any given church at any given Mass, the women will greatly outnumber the men. I would not say that women are more religious than men, but they are more spiritually able to be receptive.
- Women have one great advantage over men: they know that they are weak. (At least, they did until feminists decided that women were just as tough as men.) Women are less exposed than men to the dangers of self-reliance.
- Feminism is a recent phenomenon. It is one of the greatest dangers facing the Church today. Feminism goes hand-in-hand with a loss of the sense of the supernatural, both in the Church and in society. One social consequence of this is that we value even bad people on account of their wealth and prestige. We have elected a President who is as blind as a bat when it comes to moral values, witness his commitment to protecting partial-birth abortions.
- God, on the other hand, is always choosing the weak, the helpless, the defective. For example, He send Moses, a stammerer, to a Pharoah who was at the time probably the most powerful man in the world. I would have sent somebody eloquent, but God wanted it to be clear that it was His work and not a human work.
Likewise, Peter, rather than the superior John, is chosen to be Pope. The Pope may be weak, hopelessly mediocre, even evil. It is God, not the Pope, who maintains the Church.
- The world today is dehumanized. This is the root of much of the violence and perversion we see. Chesterton said that he who abandons the supernatural is going to fall into the unnatural.
The world is very masculine today in that it is technology-driven. Technology is not a bad thing, but the human must take priority. In hospitals, for example, there is far less contact between doctors and patients than in the past. Patients are often cared for by machines. The importance of human contact and love in the healing process is being forgotten.
Just at the time when the feminine element is desperately needed, feminists goad women to imitate masculine characteristics.
- The changes in the world are mind-boggling, but we must bear in mind that in the end the world will be destroyed by fire. None of our ingenious technology will remain. What will be left? Every soul born of woman. No man can produce something immortal.
What matters in the end is not what you produce but who you are: your love, humility, self-sacrifice, compassion. The mad busyness of today's society accomplishes nothing of importance.
- Women, then, must live up their charism: an awareness of what matters in God's eyes.
In Russia, it is the babushkas who have kept the faith alive. St. Teresa stated that many more women than men love God. Chesterton stated that men have a tendency to be pleasure-seeking. This is the cause of much fornication today: women give themselves, believing that they will be loved, but instead they are abandoned.
- Mary is the most blessed vessel of receptivity. By her "fiat", she came to carry in her womb Whom the entire universe cannot contain.
When a woman gives birth, the pain is followed by joy.
When one meditates on this frightful privilege, one cannot quite believe in the equality of the sexes.
Mary also shows the amazing fecundity of virginity. Mother Teresa, a virgin, is the mother of thousands.
- The instinct of maternity that is put in women is being sytematically destroyed by feminism. Abortion, to which feminists insist they are entitled, kills not only the child but also the soul of the mother. Today it is legal, and therefore considered respectable.
- However, the maternal instinct must be baptized. Otherwise, it becomes a fierce double selfishness.
- Woe to the woman who dies without giving birth physically or spiritually.
- The charisms of maternity and priesthood do not go together. Mary, the only human being worthy to be a priest, was not made a priest.
- It is good to spend much time in meditation on the virginal womb of Mary. In it, we find the greatness of femininity.
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RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE
- Men must also be spiritually receptive, although this is easier for women.
- Much modern art is ugly. Part of the reason may be the modern rejection of authority. In the past, artists learned from Nature and imitated the beautiful forms found in her. Modern artists, on the other hand, wish to be independent and "creative". Rather than follow Nature, they will, say, put a woman's nose on her back.
- Men and women need each other for completion. Some things, such as mercy and justice, cannot be combined except on a supernatural level.
- As regards male leadership in the Church and at home, good men have used this authority lovingly but bad men have used it abominably. Nevertheless, authority itself is legitimate and submission to it is right. We have as a model Jesus Himself. As a child He submitted to His parents althought they were inferior to Him. Joseph had original sin, and Mary was a created being, yet God placed Himself under their authority.
Authority is obviously not the same thing as moral superiority. We learn humility by respecting the authority of those over us. Morality is a matter of individual response, not sex. Feminists make the stupid mistake of supposing that women's being subject to men implies that they are inferior to men.
- The Church does not need to conform to this age. It is this age that should conform to the Church. Of course, many churchmen are stupid and wicked. And many priests seem to have not "gratia infusa" but "gratia confusa". Who is doing the Church more good today, Mother Teresa or the U.S. Conference of Bishops?
Notes of Sara Frear
A book of interest: The Catholic Woman, published by Ignatius Press