Date of Award

Spring 4-8-2015

Document Type

Distinction Paper

Degree Name

Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies - BA


Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


Dr. Amy Johnson

First Committee Member

Dr. Amy Johnson

Second Committee Member

Dr. James Bates

Third Committee Member

Dr. Robin Grote


Hildegard of Bingen, Feminism, Music, Gender, Nun

Subject Categories

Musicology | Women's Studies


This paper will discuss the life of Hildegard of Bingen and how her musical and lifestyle choices can be defined as that of a feminist. Hildegard was a nun during the mid 1100's who was given the gift of visions. These visions, sent from God, told her about how she should be living her life and the lessons she should be teaching her followers. However, as a woman during this time, Hildegard had no power or any opportunities to share these ideas with others without being shunned as stepping outside of her "gender role." It was not until she gained power as an abbess in her own nunnery that Hildegard was able to express these visions through her compositions. Even though the other nuns in her convent believed her visions as being from God, Hildegard still had to convince her male colleagues of her validity. In order to do this, Hildegard claimed frailty in order to gain access to a male-dominated profession. Only when the patriarchal societal structures were confirmed and gender roles were established was Hildegard accepted as a prophet and a gift from God who created compositions that spoke the lessons of God himself. This idea of frailty and gender roles and how Hildegard used them to gain respect within her society will be explained more in depth in my paper.

Throughout this essay, I will explore how Hildegard was able to subvert the power structures that she lived in and rebel against the patriarchy while still conforming to her gender roles. I will explore how she opposed the traditional styles of composition, how she opposed some of the teachings of the church, and how she opposed how women were viewed in her society. I will also look at how her gender was both an advantage and disadvantage in this society and how she turned her disadvantages into an advantage. Through these many examples, I will show how Hildegard's thoughts and actions can be seen and defined as feminist.