Mary Daly: Radical US theologian who challenged Catholicism & patriarchy 16 Oct 1928 - 3 Jan 2010 Print E-mail
 US ~ January 13, 2010

For Mary Daly: in memory of courage walking

By Sister Joan Chittister

I did not know Mary Daly personally. I never met her professionally. I never heard even one of her public speeches. My concern for women's issues did not come from Daly. I got that from my mother.

My sense of Daly's impact on history comes from every discussion of women's issues in which I ever participated. The impact Daly's ideas and courage was having on other women was palpable. In those living situations, then, I learned a lot from Daly. Most of all, I learned how to look newly at things I'd looked at for so long that I was no longer really seeing any of them.

Recently I heard a commentator remark on her role in the development of thought in our time that "when the theological history of the period is written, Mary Daly will, at most, be only a small footnote in the study." That depends, I would argue, on who is doing the history. Women, I think, will have a great deal more to say about Daly than any amount of footnotes can possibly hold.

Remote as my own associations had been, for instance, when the word of her death came I realized instantly that women in general, whether they knew it or not, had a great deal for which to thank her.

Women need to thank Daly for raising two of the most important theological questions of our time: one, whether the question of a male God was consistent with the teaching that God was pure spirit, and two, whether a church that is more patriarchal system than authentic church could possibly survive in its present form. These two questions have yet to be resolved and are yet rankling both thinkers and institutions.

Women need to thank Daly for bearing the rejection that too often comes to those who say a new insight first and say it consistently and say it in the face of the very system in which they themselves have been raised.

For example, in later years, Daly refused to accept men in some of her classes, forcing men to experience the exclusion that women had endured for centuries. As a result, she lost her tenured position at a Catholic college for allegedly failing to offer equal service to all students, both men and women. But at the same time, no one else in Catholic colleges ­ or elsewhere ­ lost their jobs for excluding women from access to theology degrees or various medical specialties, among others, on the grounds that women, as women, were unfit for such programs.

Nor did anyone ­ now that men had finally experienced what it felt like to be made invisible in the public arena ­ officially apologize to women for having kept them out of schools, offices, work, leadership positions, discussions and decision-making in both church and state for two millennia. However much theology claimed we were all equal.

Women need to thank Daly for modeling the adulthood, the psychological maturity, the strength it takes to accept the social isolation and loneliness that comes with refusing to agree that just because we have never questioned a thing that it is, therefore, unquestionable. Thanks to her relentless questioning of women's social circumstances and theological exclusions everywhere, the woman's question became a major and profound theological question. It is thanks to Daly and the myriad of women theologians after her that "Because we say so" is no longer either a logical or an acceptable explanation for the exclusion of women anywhere.

Women need to thank Daly for exposing to us a whole new way of being alive. She freshened thought about the role and place of women by using language to show us what we could not see. She dug into history to trace the original meanings of words like hag and witch ­ once terms of reverence for the spiritual qualities and feminine wisdom of women, but now used to reduce them to the level of the malevolent.

She forced us to think newly, to think creatively. She called on women to Re-member themselves, to put themselves together differently than they had been taught was right for a woman. She talked about Gyn/nocide to make us understand that the infamous centuries of witch burnings were really the genocide of women practiced long before this century's Holocaust and under the guise of holiness.

Indeed, Daly's work is an icon to women. She was a groundbreaking thinker, a threat to any patriarchal institution, a creator of an entire new way of seeing life, of being alive, of celebrating life. She touched a culture deeply. Indeed, we owe her thanks.

From where I stand, a person's influence is measured, not so much by virtue of their effect on the institutions that bred them, but by their influence on those who never knew them at all. It is the women who never knew Daly but now know the things she knew that are the real evidence of her legacy, her impact, her meaning not only to this generation but to generations to come. As in "all generations shall call her blessed."
 London ~ Thursday, January 28, 2010, page 33

Mary Daly obituary

Radical US theologian and the world's first feminist philosopher

By Julie Bindel

Mary Daly's greatest talent was inspiring others to become involved in feminism (Sean Smith)

Mary Daly, who has died aged 81, was the world's first feminist philosopher, made famous by her inventive use of language, wit and passion to challenge patriarchy and religion. One of the key feminist writers of the 20th century, she referred to herself as a positively revolting hag (haggard is a word associated with witchcraft) and a pirate ("almost everything has been stolen from us by the patriarchy, and we need to steal it back"). Daly asked why men have so much power in the world, and challenged the idea of God as a man.

Her best-known work is the groundbreaking Gyn/Ecology, first published in 1978, which was one of the first books to highlight sexual and cultural violence towards women, such as female genital mutilation, foot binding and witchhunts.

In Gyn/Ecology, she playfully deconstructs what she calls patriarchal language, renaming therapist as "the-rapist". The author of eight books, including Webster's First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, written with Jane Caputi in 1987, she believed the written word to be a powerful tool against oppression.

The only child of working-class Irish Catholic parents, Daly grew up in Schenectady, New York. Encouraged into higher education, in particular by her mother, she found herself drawn to theology, despite claiming to hate the Bible. She was awarded her first PhD in religious studies in 1953 at St Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana, and continued her studies after moving to Switzerland (at the time, no American universities allowed women to enter their graduate programmes in theology), acquiring further doctorates in theology and philosophy.

In 1966 Daly joined the theology faculty of the Jesuit-run Boston College, Massachusetts. Three years later she became embroiled in a battle with the rather conservative college administration following the publication of her first book, The Church and the Second Sex, which exposed misogyny in the Catholic church. Following attempts to sack her, a four-month dispute ensued, during which 1,500 male students demonstrated on her behalf, resulting in Daly being granted tenure. She later labelled a number of her colleagues "bore-ocrats" and accused them of suffering from "academentia".

Controversy struck again in 1998 over her refusal to admit male students on her feminist ethics course. In one case, the college was threatened with legal action for violating anti-discriminatory laws. A settlement was reached two years later, claiming that both parties had reached an amicable agreement, but Daly insisted she was forced out.

In 1999 she said of the controversy: "I don't think about men. I really don't care about them. I'm concerned with women's capacities, which have been infinitely diminished under patriarchy." She formally retired in 2001.

Those who knew her say that Daly's greatest talent was her brilliance at inspiring generations of university students as well as those she with whom came into contact on the lecture circuit to become involved in feminism. The writer Janice Raymond, who worked with Daly at Boston, says she inspired "through charisma and example, and that wicked sense of humour".

In her later years Daly campaigned against closures of independent women's bookstores and became concerned about books by radical feminists disappearing out of print. When urged by one friend to write a blog for her website, she responded: "I've already told women everything they need to know. It's in my books."

The first time I heard her give a talk – in Boston in the late 1980s – I was struck by the way she captivated her audience. Daly could, however, be highly critical of those she considered sell-outs, and dismissed female academics working on postmodernist theory as "puppets of dead white males like Michel Foucault". Never one to bow to convention, she would turn up to teach in hiking clothes rather than suits.

The phrase that sums Daly up most succinctly is probably this, written by her in 1995: "There are and will be those who think I have gone overboard. Let them rest assured that this assessment is correct, probably beyond their wildest imagination, and that I will continue to do so."

• Mary Daly, feminist theologian, born 16 October 1928; died 3 January 2010
 Thursday January 7, 2010, page B20

Mary Daly, a Leader in Feminist Theology, Dies at 81

Mary Daly, a prominent feminist theologian who made worldwide headlines a decade ago after she retired from Boston College rather than admit men to some of her classes, died on Sunday in Gardner, Mass. She was 81 and had lived for many years in Newton Centre, Mass.

Mary Daly in 1999, shortly before she left Boston College (Christopher Pfuhl/Associated Press)

A friend, Linda Barufaldi, confirmed the death, saying Professor Daly had been in declining health recently.

A self-described “radical lesbian feminist,” Professor Daly maintained a long, often uneasy relationship with Boston College, the Jesuit institution where she had taught theology since the 1960s.

In 1999, Professor Daly left the college after a male student threatened suit when he was denied a place in her class on feminist ethics. She had long limited enrollment in some advanced women’s studies classes to women only, maintaining that the presence of men there would inhibit frank discussion.

Professor Daly did let men enroll in her introductory feminism courses and offered to tutor them privately in the advanced subjects.

Among the first American women to train as a Roman Catholic theologian, Professor Daly challenged orthodoxies from the start. She came to wide attention in 1968 with the publication of “The Church and the Second Sex” (Harper & Row), in which she argued that the Catholic Church had systematically oppressed women for centuries.

Her next book, “Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation” (Beacon, 1973), explored misogyny in religion in general.

“She is a central figure in 20th-century feminism,” Robin Morgan, the feminist writer and former editor of Ms. magazine, said in a telephone interview on Monday.

Professor Daly’s work was the subject of a critical anthology, “Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly” ( Pennsylvania State University, 2000), edited by Sarah Lucia Hoagland and Marilyn Frye.

If Professor Daly’s ideology placed her outside mainstream academic and religious life, then that, by her own account, was where she was glad to be. Formerly a practicing Catholic, she came to regard organized religion as irreparably patriarchal, in later years calling herself “post-Christian.” Where her scholarly concerns had once been largely theological, she gradually came to regard them as spiritual in the broadest sense of the word.

Mary Daly was born in Schenectady, N.Y., on Oct. 16, 1928. By the time she was an adolescent, the natural world seemed to resonate for her in a way it did for few others.

“Especially important was a startling communication from a clover blossom one summer day when I was about 14,” she wrote in an essay in The New Yorker in 1996. “It said, with utmost simplicity, ‘I am.’ ”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in English and Latin from the College of Saint Rose in Albany in 1950, she earned a master’s in English from the Catholic University of America and a Ph.D. in theology from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She later earned two more doctorates, in philosophy and theology, from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.

Professor Daly joined the Boston College faculty in 1966. In 1969, in a widely reported case, she was denied tenure, a development interpreted by many as a response to “The Church and the Second Sex.” After more than 1,500 students signed a petition supporting her ­ most were men, for the college did not admit women to its liberal arts division until 1970 ­ she was reinstated with tenure.

In 1999, when Professor Daly and Boston College parted company, a spokesman for the college said she had agreed to retire. She maintained she was forced to retire.

Critics alternately praised and condemned Professor Daly for her pyrotechnic, bitingly witty, eccentrically capitalized and punctuated style.

Most were enchanted by “Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language” (Beacon, 1987; with Jane Caputi). A lexicon of new, nonsexist English, the book contains original coinages, like “Mister-ectomy” (“a guaranteed solution to The Contraception Problem”), plus familiar pejoratives like “crone” and “hag,” rehabilitated as emblems of pride.

But some reviewers seemed discomforted by Professor Daly’s later prose, which appeared to dovetail ever more snugly with New Age rhetoric:

“Although I was not in a ‘trance’ when writing ‘Gyn/Ecology,’ I was in a special mode of creative consciousness, which stemmed, in part, from a will to overcome all phallocratically imposed fears and Move on the Journey of Gynocentric Creation,” she wrote in the 1990 edition of “Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism” (Beacon), originally published in 1978.

Professor Daly leaves no immediate survivors.

Her other books include “Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy” (Beacon, 1984) and “Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage: Containing Recollections From My Logbook of a Radical Feminist Philosopher (Be-ing an Account of My Time/Space Travels and Ideas ­ Then, Again, Now, and How)” (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992).

Reviewing “Pure Lust” in The New York Times Book Review in 1984, the religious-studies scholar Demaris Wehr wrote: “Mary Daly is an extraordinary woman and this is an extraordinary work, demanding unusual spiritual and intellectual effort from its readers. The effort is worth it.”

Ms. Wehr added, “Her powerful mind, her creative genius and her uncanny ability to put her finger on deep emotional, psychological and spiritual problems are ignored at our peril.”

 Faith Panelists Blog ~ January 5, 2010

Mary Daly's 'courage to sin big'

By Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

If there ever were a big sinner in the eyes of patriarchal religion, the honor of that title goes to Mary Daly. Mary Daly, "elemental feminist philosopher" and ground-breaking early feminist theologian, has died, but her ability to give women courage to name their experience will continue.
When I was a graduate student in religion the 1970's, I bought a copy of Daly's Beyond God the Father (1973) and I wrapped it in brown paper so nobody at Duke Divinity School could see what I was reading. In those days, Daly's work was considered very radical, and even dangerous; several of my professors roundly condemned Daly's work. Reading Beyond God the Father in secret helped give me the courage to invent myself as a feminist theologian; I had no help in that from my all-male teachers at Duke.

More than three decades ago, Daly wrote, "If God is male, then male is God." She was right then, and she is right now. Religions that will not recognize the full equality of women simply substitute maleness for divinity.

I used to talk with Mary Daly in Boston as we lived in the same neighborhood and had our cars repaired at the same garage. She once said to me, in a critical tone, "they'll punish you just as much for being a little bit of a feminist as going all the way."

Daly knew what it was to be punished for speaking her mind. She was attacked often for her writings, and for her teaching at Boston College. She finally was forced to retire as part of the settlement of a lawsuit over her practice of teaching only women. She documented her account of that struggle in the 2006 book, "Amazon Grace: Recalling the Courage to Sin Big."

Daly held six graduate degrees, including three doctorates in religion, theology and philosophy.

Beyond God the Father was her last book in which she attempted to re-take "God-talk" for feminists; but even in early work, Daly creatively reimagines the term God as a verb rather than a noun. In this she was influenced by both the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, and the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber. She soon abandoned theology altogether for an existenialist philosophical exploration of women's experience as she came to define it.

Controversy followed Daly's work not only in regard to her critiques of patriarchal religion and her teaching, but also within the women's movement. Audre Lorde, a Caribbean-American poet, writer and activist, wrote a personal letter to Daly in the 1980's. While expressing appreciation for Daly's work, Lorde questioned Daly's failure to acknowledge the "herstory" of women of color. After four months with no reply, Lorde published the letter. The debate that resulted illustrates the difficulties many white feminists theorists have had (and continue to have) in deeply engaging issues of race as well as gender. Daly was also later criticized for her rejection of transexuals.

There is no universal category of "women"--that is where I part company with Daly. Racial dominance can blind us to the real differences of other women's experience. The experience of transgendered people may mess up your theory, but in my view it's the theory that has to change, not the other way around.

But Daly's experience was different from my own, and my critique of her single-minded focus on her understanding of gender does not blind me to the incredible gift of her work to feminist theory.

Above all, in works like Gyn/Ecology, Pure Lust, and Webster's First New Intergalactic Wickedary she helped me to laugh at the pretensions of patriarchal views of women, reclaiming terms such as "hag," "witch," and "crone" and illuminating their origin in the fear of women.

Not long ago, I had occasion to re-read Beyond God the Father. Not only did I find I agreed with all of it, these days I would go beyond the Mary Daly of 1973 in my critique of patriarchal theology, as would most progressive women in religion I know. That is the gift of really big sinners like Mary Daly--they give others of us courage to go farther than we ever dreamed possible in treasuring the lives of women.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Professor, Chicago Theological Seminary
Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

January 6, 2010

Mary Daly, 81; feminist writer challenged church, patriarchy

By Bryan Marquard / Globe Staff

Fiercely and playfully, often at the same time, Mary Daly used words to challenge the basic precepts of the Catholic Church and Boston College, where she taught for more than 30 years.

Dr. Daly emerged as a major voice in the women’s movement with her first book, “The Church and the Second Sex,’’ published in 1968, and “Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation,’’ which appeared five years later. That accomplishment was viewed, then and now, as all the more significant because she wrote and taught at a Jesuit university.

“She was a great trained philosopher, theologian, and poet, and she used all of those tools to demolish patriarchy - or any idea that domination is natural - in its most defended place, which is religion,’’ said Gloria Steinem.

Dr. Daly, whose relationship with Boston College grew tempestuous as she insisted that only women could take her classes, died Sunday in Wachusett Manor nursing home in Gardner. She was 81, and her health had failed in the past few years, including recent paralysis due to a neurological condition.

‘The Church and the Second Sex’ was every bit as important in the Catholic world as Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique,’ ’’ said James Carroll, an author and columnist for the Globe’s opinion pages who formerly was a Catholic priest.

Sister Joan Chittister, feminist author and member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pa., said Dr. Daly turned standard theological concepts upside down.

“Mary played with language in such a way that you simply had to stop and think,’’ Chittister said. “You couldn’t use old words in the old ways.’’

Coining words with an Irish wit that could slip from sly to savage, Dr. Daly dismissed college officials as “bore-ocrats’’ who suffered from “academentia’’ and “predictably reacted with ‘misterical’ behavior’’ - all in a 1996 autobiographical article for The New Yorker magazine. Beyond her choices to capitalize certain words and remold others like clay, she was deeply serious about language and the way it shapes a sense of self.

“Ever since childhood, I have been honing my skills for living the life of a Radical Feminist Pirate and cultivating the Courage to Sin,’’ she wrote in the opening of “Sin Big,’’ her New Yorker piece. “The word ‘sin’ is derived from the Indo-European root ‘es-,’ meaning ‘to be.’ When I discovered this etymology, I intuitively understood that for a woman trapped in patriarchy, which is the religion of the entire planet, ‘to be’ in the fullest sense is ‘to sin.’ ’’

Dr. Daly’s career at BC, where she joined the theology faculty in 1966, ultimately ended over what administrators, and many public commentators, saw as her sin of exclusivity. After the college went co-ed in the early 1970s, she only allowed women to take her classes, teaching a few men privately over the years.

She said that the presence of men clouded the learning environment and that a women-only classroom fell within the bounds of academic freedom.

The dispute spilled into the courts in the late 1990s when a male student hired a lawyer after Dr. Daly barred him from her class. The college tried to force her into retirement, and she sued, citing breach of contract.

In previous years, Dr. Daly had successfully fought BC’s attempt to deny her tenure. This time, she and the college reached a settlement in 2001 and, at 72, she agreed to retire.

Those who knew Dr. Daly and her work say the dispute did not diminish her contributions.

“I think she was a central figure for the feminist movement in the 20th century and hopefully beyond,’’ said Robin Morgan, who edited “Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writing from the Women’s Liberation Movement.’’ “She had a fierce intellect and an uncompromising soul that sometimes gave even her most loving friends indigestion, but it was worth it. She redefined the parameters of philosophy.’’

Dr. Daly grew up in Schenectady, N.Y. Her father was a traveling salesman. She wrote in The New Yorker that her mother, who “had been ‘yanked out’ of high school during her sophomore year,’’ encouraged her to find a life beyond housework.

Though she found academia generally inhospitable to a woman who wanted to study theology in the 1950s, she graduated from the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., with a bachelor’s degree, received a master’s in English at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a doctorate in religion from St. Mary’s College, sister college of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Teaching a few years left her unfulfilled, so she went to the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where she studied philosophy and theology and “accumulated four degrees,’’ she wrote.

Her other books included “Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language,’’ which she called “a dictionary for Wicked women’’ that she wrote with Jane Caputi in 1987.

An only child, Dr. Daly had no immediate survivors. Friends are planning a memorial service.

“It was Mary’s wish that if women or people want to memorialize her in any way, they should stay in their own locality and have a get-together where they read or discuss her work,’’ said Linda Barufaldi of San Diego, one of several former students of Dr. Daly’s who cared for her as her health declined.

© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.