To be or not to be: Feminist
People often discuss the question, “If you could have a dinner party with 8 people, living or dead, that you want to talk to, who would you invite”? Among my list would be some of my favourite authors and activists (e.g. Shakespeare, Harvey Milk, etc. – definitely NOT Plato), and after reading some of the selected writings of Hildegard of Bingen, I would consider adding her to my guest list. Not necessarily to stay for dinner, but perhaps just to stop by or take a polygraph test on the truthfulness of her visions.
Our discussion in seminar today really got me thinking: Was Hildegard an early Feminist? Were her constant references to her gender identity a mere projection of women in society at the time, or were they being used to gain the respect and support of her male counterparts in the church? In my opinion, the truth must lie somewhere in the middle. As people, we are often conditioned and shaped by the societal norms we see around us as we age. During this period of history, women played relatively no substantial roles in the church: This may have influenced Hildegard’s self-deprecating remarks and beliefs about her gender identity, claiming to be “timid” and “miserable and more than miserable in my womanly existence” (Hildegard 3-4). Nevertheless, Hildegard could also have been using her gender identity to her advantage. By presenting herself as meek or somewhat uneducated, her claim that her visions were bestowed upon her by G-d is strengthened: Male heads of the church that questioned the validity of her visions would not be challenging Hildegard as a woman, but rather G-d himself. What could be more powerful than that?
I guess we’ll just have to invite her to dinner to see.