Book Review: The Privilege of Being a Woman by Alice von Hildebrand

Not found on Oprah’s Book List and probably not on the New York Times bestseller list, The Privilege of Being a Woman effectively dismantles the post-modern ideal of womanhood, femaleness and the so-called feminist creed. This book could really irritate Gloria Steinem because it extols humility.

Using her extensive knowledge of theology and philosophy, Dr. von Hildebrand builds her argument on the role of women and God’s plan for them. She gives a view that transcends the shallow, one-sided and sometimes bombastic writings of our culture regarding women. She doesn’t flinch and covers all of her bases – the bad, the good and the Divine.

With more than a few quotes from great minds, thinkers and writers that will bring a wry smile to faces, Dr. von Hildebrand is quite specific. Shakespeare intones, “Frailty, thy name is woman.” Nietzsche, on the other hand believes that “when you go to a women, do not forget your whip.” LaBruyère believes that “Women are all in extremes, either better or worse than men.” (Better attitude than Nietzsche.)

In the arguments for the privilege of being a woman Dr. von Hildebrand claims that “in order to understand the greatness of a women’s mission, we must open our minds and hearts to the message of the supernatural.” In other words, we must understand the role of Mary’s humility and the Incarnation. With Mary’s humble assent to be the Mother of God, she rose above all. Clearly, this flies in the face of today’s culture and its infatuation with feminism. And while she emphasizes a variety of evidence supporting all of women’s privileges, she is careful to point out that in a woman’s weaknesses there is risk of using her “sensitivity, receptiveness and beauty” to fall into sins of “emotionalism, illusions and self-centeredness.”

Dr. von Hildebrand’s thesis? Women must be wrapped in the humility of the Incarnation to be effectively female. Women cannot be men – no matter how hard they try! The understanding of woman’s place in creation and God’s work is crucial in disproving the credo of feminism. St. Teresa of Avila writes that “more women than men receive extraordinary graces, that they are more receptive to God’s voice and particularly capable of heroic donation when their heart is purified.” Is virginity important? Indeed it is. And maternity raises women above men in their ability to nourish and maintain a soul and body within herself. Our Blessed Mother nourished the body of Christ with great humility and followed him to the cross – her gift given freely.

While Dr. von Hildebrand relies on a multitude of sources and quotes to support her argument, her thesis remains solid. She writes in an intellectual, informed style that is easy to read. She doesn’t stray into academic dryness which makes this short book (108 pages) well worth the read. In our current culture this book could well be considered ‘offensive.’ It is only offensive if you do not or will not embrace God’s plan for His creation.

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand received her master’s degree and doctorate in philosophy from Fordham Univ. in N.Y. She has taught at Hunter College, the Catechetical Institute in New York and at the Catechetical Institute in Dunwoodie, New York, Thomas More College in Rome, Italy, Franciscan Univ. in Steubenville, Ohio and Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, MI. She lectures worldwide.    

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About the Author

Mary Hartwell is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana. She spent thirteen years in Catholic elementary and secondary schools taught by the Dominicans and Sisters of the Most Holy Sacrament. A graduate of University of North Texas, she holds a B.A. in English and Communications. She has studied theology at the College of St. Thomas More in Ft. Worth, Texas and studied in Rome, Italy with the College. She and her husband, Jim, have been married forty-six years and are the parents of two sons. They are also loving Mimi and Grandad to Charlotte and Madeleine. In her faith life Mary participated and facilitated in Little Rock Scripture Study for five years, followed by an additional five years in Catholic Scripture Study. For six years she also participated in a Faith and Reason book study. She is currently enjoying her participation in EPIC Church History study. Mary and her husband are members of St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church in Roswell, Georgia.

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  1. I agree. We need more obedience to learn God’s plan for us as women of Christ. We can excel using our gifts, if we realize we are unique in God’s eyes and not try to be something that we are not created to be.

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