I think if I had read this book back then I would not have appreciated it like I did reading it now. But maybe that's not totally true, it's possible it would have opened my eyes to the beauty of real femininity much earlier than it actually took.
This book is of a more scholarly nature than many of the spiritual books I tend to read. So this was a good fit for me, since I've always enjoyed a good scholarly argument. Just a warning to anyone out there who might want to read it, this is not light reading.
It took me a while to get into the book, but I don't blame that on the author, I blame it on myself. I read most of this book during my early morning adoration hour, thus giving it only about 20-30 minutes once a week. Not a great way to approach this book, small chunks didn't cut it.
You need time with this book. Time to really let it speak to you; time to really mull over the ideas; time to read the end notes and look up the Biblical passages she references (not that I did, but I should have); and time to reflect on what being a woman really means to you (or, for any men reading this, what you learn about the women in your life).
Mrs. von Hildebrand approaches this topic by first tackling the feminist view of women throughout history. Namely, that women have been denigrated and made to be the "weak" sex. But is this really true? As she says, "To plead their cause, feminist scholars have been efficient at unearthing nasty things that men have said or written about women" (p. 3). That's how you make your case, you pull out the things that support your argument and leave out the rest. Right? No, that's poor scholarship. She goes on to say, "Yet feminists carefully refrain from mentioning the beautiful statements that men have made throughout history such as ... Theodor Haecker claims that nature made woman more perfect than man because she is more inclined to love and to give herself" (p. 5-6). She also quotes the Bible, Chesterton, Dante, Kierkegaard, and others.
From this starting point of the feminist viewpoint, she moves into the realm of the supernatural and paganism. Very slowly throughout her discussion, she starts introducing the idea of woman as the life-bearer. It wasn't very obvious to me at first, it seemed to be subtle and grew as the book moved on. Especially as she moves from the realm of paganism into the spiritual and Christian world. Another passage I especially liked was this:
One this is certain: When the time has come, nothing which is man-made will subsist. One day, all human accomplishments will be reduced to a pile of ashes. but every single child to whom a woman has given birth will live forever, for he has been given an immortal soul made to God's image and likeness. In this light, the assertion of de Beauvoir that "women produce nothing" becomes particularly ludicrous. (p. 33)
Weakness is the next topic of discussion. She makes a very clear case for the idea of women being part of the "weak" sex as completely false. Talking about women as the "privileged" sex, she delves more deeply into Christian thought. But also, the "mystery" of womanhood. By the time I got to this part of the book, I wanted my husband to read it!! I already shared this Chesterton quote with him: "'Women speak to each other; men speak to the subject they are speaking about'" (p. 47).
I found the last several chapters of the book particularly good. Completely in the Christian world at this point the link between the high regard women hold in the Catholic Church because of the very nature of our beings is made very clear. She does this with an exploration of what feminine "feelings" really are and the mystery of the female body. This second part reminded me very much of Theology of the Body discussions, but in a completely new and incredible way. Speaking about God becoming man (the Incarnation) in Mary's womb she says, "That this event was wrapped in a deafening silence ... is profoundly meaningful. The world was forever changed, and no one knew about it except a humble Virgin. Secular events take place with a bang; God's mysteries are secret and hidden. This is why it was proper that this overwhelming event was buried in holy silence" (p. 83).
I found that last concept particularly profound: "holy silence". Have you ever thought about those nine months when Jesus was in Mary's womb? How she knew that she carried a very special gift, and no one else knew it (Joseph eventually did, but at first it was just her). How incredible! I can't even imagine!
Another great, thought-provoking statement: "During pregnancy, the mother-to-be actually carries two souls within herself: her own and the one of her baby" (p. 87).
This Theology of the Body type discussion leads seamlessly right into the final chapter about Mary. Mary is powerful in our world and a model for all women. Her fiat changed the world. As a result she holds a special place with God. She's the Queen Mother, the Mother of all the people of the Earth, the Mother of God. She holds such a high place that the Church recognizes her and her special role in a prayer said every day, millions of times, throughout the world. In this prayer we say "Blessed is the fruit of thy Womb, Jesus."
Does that Roman Catholic Church look down on women as the "weak" sex. No, absolutely not. I knew that before I started reading this book. This book confirmed that for me a hundred fold. I highly recommend checking it out. It is full of so many wonderful images and words, quotes from famous people, and an overall thesis, argument, and conclusion that is hard to beat! All packed into just over a hundred pages.