A theological and philosophical giant died on January 3 with little more than a responding murmur. In a way, this may be appropriate. Mary Daly didn't make many friends in her long academic career. Her early books, The Church and the Second Sex (1968) and Beyond God the Father (1973) were veritable feminist bombs on an androcentric theological landscape. And, her later volumes, which include Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978), Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (1984), and Webster’s First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (1987) further undermined the "religion" of patriarchy (her term) by playfully altering language, thought-patterns, and practices in such a way that women and women's flourishing are prioritized and empowered.
As you can imagine, Daly was no friend of men. In an interview with What is Enlightenment? magazine, she said, "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. Not that they've disappeared, but they've been made subliminal. I'm concerned with women enlarging our capacities, actualizing them. So that takes all my energy." Needless to say, her brand of radical lesbian feminism turned many away, even sympathetic feminist theologians who see her as an important influence. Eventually, she was forced to resign from Boston College, the Catholic Jesuit school where she taught for 32 years, when she refused to allow men in her upper level women's studies classes.
Despite the controversy and despite the many, many ways in which I am at odds with Mary Daly's theology, philosophy, and methodology, I think its important to acknowledge the passing of a great thinker and exceedingly important feminist scholar. Indeed, Beyond God the Father remains a foundational work in feminist theology. And, even though Daly would have a serious problem with my aspiration to be a Christian feminist theologian (like my conservative evangelical friends, she would reject the premise that one can be a feminist and a Christian), I am grateful for her trailblazing in the field. So, this short blog is my inadequate offering in memory of Mary Daly. She passed on alone and left behind no children. But, I trust the truth that can be mined from her work will continue to influence thoughtful women and men for years to come.
(You can listen to an NPR broadcast remembering Mary Daly here, a Boston Globe article remembering her here and view her official website here.)