Alice von Hildebrand promoted genuine pro-woman feminism

Feminism puts women in boxes. There are budding CEOs breaking the glass ceiling. There are activists in T-shirts with placards, shouting at the protests. There are sultry, seductive women who end up as #MeToo activists. There are conservative and pro-life housewives.

Alice Von Hildebrand, who died on January 14 at the age of 98, could be described as one of the world’s greatest feminists, but she doesn’t fit into any of those boxes. For most of her life, she used her extraordinary intellect to redefine these stereotypical notions of femininity.

Alice Marie Jourdain was born in Brussels in 1923 and grew up speaking French. When the Nazis invaded Belgium in May 1940, his family fled to Bordeaux. She managed to find a place on the last passenger ship to leave France during the war. While at sea, the ship was intercepted by a German submarine. Surprisingly, the captain persuaded the commander of the submarine that he was transporting refugees and all the passengers arrived safely in New York.

However, on the bridge, facing the prospect of death, Alice had a life-changing experience. Looking at “the mysterious Atlantic, covered in fog, … with clarity and precision that borders on the supernatural, suddenly, in a single flash, I relived everything I had done, failed, thought, imagined, felt. . The experience was overwhelming and convinced me of God’s goodness. Could I not suppose that at the very moment of death, God would grant this experience to everyone, so that everyone would have the opportunity to say, “Have mercy on me, my Lord”?

During the war, she lived with relatives at the Waldorf Astoria. These were difficult years. She was deemed unsuitable for further education and attended secretarial school for a time.

Eventually she enrolled at Manhattanville College, where in 1942 she met the eminent Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand. He was also a refugee from Nazi Germany, where he founded an anti-Nazi newspaper. His ideas about the Christian life had a powerful impact on her. “He showed me that what we call Christian philosophy is not an abstraction, it is simply reason baptized by faith,” she said in 2014.

Alice attends Dietrich’s classes and becomes part of his circle of friends, growing closer to his wife Margarete. Eventually she became von Hildebrand’s secretary and after his wife’s death in 1957 they were married. “Together they have formed an extraordinary partnership in bearing witness to Christian culture and Christian life,” says John Crobya scholar specializing in their work, in his obituary on the Hildebrand Project website.

During this time, Alice has become a philosopher in her own right. Catholic colleges at the time were reluctant to hire women, so she found a position at Hunter College, a top-notch public college in Manhattan. She taught there for 37 years. Even then, she was countercultural in her defense of the objectivity of truth against relativism. Some of his students came to share his Catholic faith. “If anyone finds the truth,” she said, “he automatically finds God, because God is the truth.

After retiring in 1984, she developed her understanding of femininity – informed by her husband’s thinking on love, but distinctly her own. This was expressed mainly in his books The privilege of being a woman and The man and the woman: a divine invention. His book By refined sorrow recounted her experience of being widowed with Dietrich’s death in 1977. A website is dedicated to his work, with articles and videos showcasing his simple yet profound philosophical and theological explanation.

One of the central themes of her thinking and writing was engagement with contemporary feminism. “I wouldn’t call myself a Christian feminist but a champion of femininity,” she said. said in 2014. “The sublime beauty of the feminine mission as virgin, wife or mother has been so degraded that I felt a call to shed light on ‘the privilege of being a woman'”, the title of one of her most popular books.

The error of feminism was to promote the idea that “femininity meant weakness”, she often said. Feminists say that “to be a woman is to be inferior, to be a woman is to be a means of pleasure for men. But they are not respected and understood for who they are,” she said in an interview with Crisis magazine.

Instead of trying to be like men, or better than men, Von Hildebrand suggested that women cultivate their innate talents and abilities. For many, this means being a wife and a mother. Others like her could be childless and work tirelessly for the betterment of society. Every woman has her own mission, and that’s what will eventually satisfy the pain that many women are unable to name.

The Bible has been called misogynistic for claiming that Eve was made from Adam’s rib. But Von Hildebrand pointed out that Eve was created last in the whole hierarchy of matter. First there is “inanimate matter, then animate matter, the lower animals, the higher animals, man, then comes woman. It was created last.

Who is then in the highest place?

Discussing the differences between men and women, Von Hildebrand said, “I think a man should thank God for being a man because he has given himself a very clear mission of protection. A woman should thank God for being a woman because her very special mission is to give life, to corroborate with God. I love it! And the older I get, the more I like being a woman. Which isn’t to denigrate what manhood is, just to say that’s what he wanted me to do.

The ability to cultivate life in the womb and in society is a radical sign of a woman’s dignity. Men have a role to play in fertilizing the egg, but women play the key role in sustaining the most vulnerable life. “Remember that all the achievements of men will be destroyed at the end of time, everything will be burned, [except for] every woman who has given birth to a child,” she said.

She often spoke of spiritual motherhood.

In an article by Plow magazine, she said, “If you don’t have kids, for God’s sake, don’t think you have to give up motherhood. Motherhood is not just a biological motherhood. It is spiritual motherhood. There are hundreds of people everywhere desperately looking for a mother. Several people came to see me to tell me about their problems. I listen to them. And I love them. And I say very little. But they know I care about them. In this sense, I have become their mother.

To women she said, “Your task is to love those who are weak, unhappy, helpless and unloved. Sometimes you can do this just by saying a word. At other times, you just have to listen. In every life there is suffering; most people keep it indoors. When they feel loved, they will open up and tell you about their pain. Then you will find that by bearing the suffering of others, your own suffering becomes lighter.

What was the most important message Von Hildebrand wanted to share with young people today? The beauty of Christianity.

“When you compare different cultures, in none of them does the dignity or beauty of being a human person come across so brightly. Its magnificent.”

And how do we know our mission in life? Von Hildebrand replied, “By getting down on your knees and saying, ‘Show me, Lord, what you want me to do now. And you will know His answer. Ask him.”

Ida Gazzola is a mother of 6 girls and a boy and lives in British Columbia, Canada. Before embarking on the adventure of parenthood, she studied and worked in the financial industry. Team Baby: Create… More by Ida Gazzola

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