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Mary Daly, RIP

I was going to post this last week, but got distracted . I didn't know Daly, but I certainly admired her courage. The Times obit can be found here.

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There was a post on Vox Nova noting that she had died. I went in search of something by or about her, and I found this interview. It's perfectly appalling. Here's the interviewer's question followed by Daly's answer:

WIE: Which brings us to another question I wanted to ask you. Sally Miller Gearhart, in her article "The FutureIf There Is OneIs Female" writes: "At least three further requirements supplement the strategies of environmentalists if we were to create and preserve a less violent world. 1) Every culture must begin to affirm the female future. 2) Species responsibility must be returned to women in every culture. 3) The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately ten percent of the human race." What do you think about this statement?M[ary] D[aly]: I think it's not a bad idea at all. If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males. People are afraid to say that kind of stuff anymore.

Or then we have this:

This is like a christian woman being upset over something that Paul said, instead of seeing that of course he's an a--hole. He's one more very macho a--hole described as a saint and as enlightened, and once you get over that, you get over it. You see it for what it is and you don't worry about why he would say such a thing. Of course he would say such a thing. That's what he is. It's really extremely simple. Stop wrestling with it; it's not interesting. Get out of it. That would be my approach to it. Misogynists! Hateful! All of them! I studied them. And finally I just didn't try to reason with it anymore. Boston College was most enlightening to me. The experience of being fired for writing The Church and the Second Sex introduced me to the idea that it's not going to change. That's the way it isleave it. [Expurgated by me.]

I've read a little about her in different posts since she died (one by Fr. Martin) and I wasn't sure what to make of her. She taught at Boston College and was well respected, but from the little I've read of her she also seemed pretty angry. I think of myself as a feminist, so I can understand her anger, but ideally I'd like to hope that such anger is just a pit stop on the road to an understanding of men and women as equally worthy.

I must admit I am not very familiar with her works, especially the early work on Catholicism and women that made her career before she wrote Gyn/Ecology, The Wickedary, and other works celebrating a feminine pagan spirituality. Undoubtedly she was brilliant as her many fans have testified all over the internet in the last week. Its extremely unfortunate, though, that she chose to leave the Church and mock it at very turn whilst collecting her salary and enjoying superstar treatment from BC. She certainly was free to abandon her faith - but why stick around at BC, then, and enjoy pampering unimaginable for 99% of faculty (like excluding one entire sex from classes?) No wonder that she thought the BC administrators were a bunch of idiots. She trashed Catholicism on their dime.

I am wondering how "celebrating a feminine pagan spirituality" makes one "brilliant".

Wow - she was really "out there". I didn't know anything about her except what I had learned from news reports when she was let go from BC.If I were a parent paying Catholic university tuition for my children, I wouldn't want my money to go for such classes or scholarship. If tenure rules blocked BC from doing the right thing by ending their relationship with her, then those rules should be revised. The university should be able to balance its responsiblity for faculty and their dependents with the responsibility for the formation of its students and wise stewardship of the parents' money.

Her anger was rage and it was real and to a great part justified. She was very creative. Much of what she said was intolerable from a Christian point of view, but on the other hand, people breaking out of marginalization are likely to move in all sorts of strange directions, some destructive and some constructive.

We really must be careful about marginalizing her. Again! She had some very important things to say and she made marvelous contributions to the advancement of women in the church. The misunderstanding of Paul is due more to interpolations of his work than what he actually wrote. There was also an attempt to marginalize Mary Kubler Ross for her new age forays in later life. That cannot overcome so much good. Very few, condemn, Pius XII with his strange behavior at the end of his life. Same is true of other churchmen. Like the present pope for example. Mary Daley is an important person in the history of the church. Look at the whole picture first.

Unagidon and Bill,It is kind of you to defend here, because from what I have seen, she would have had nothing but contempt for you (as men). If you think she would have accepted you as feminists or men who were sympathetic to feminism, you are surely wrong. What I can't understand is what the 10% of men would be for after the planet was "decontaminated." She did not just hate Paul. She hated "all of them." As a radical lesbian feminist pagan she rejected the Church and Jesus. It might make more sense to honor her early work and acknowledge she went off the deep end.

Oh, I don't care whether she would have hated me or not. I think one still has to listen to other people's positions whether one likes them or not, especially if they are well developed (which of course does not mean by any means that they are correct), if they have a following, and they are resonating in some way with other segments of society.

"but on the other hand, people breaking out of marginalization are likely to move in all sorts of strange directions, some destructive and some constructive."I'm sure she suffered her full share of the slights and indignities to which all women and homosexuals (and, for all I know, pagans) are subject. On the other hand she was a tenured professor who achieved fame at a fine university in a civilized city that is disproportionately populated by educated elites who don't marginalize women, lesbians or ex-Christians. Marginalized? Or cosseted?

People who aspire to and achieve leadership are often less marginalized personally than the people they are leading. And it could mean something. But not necessarily.

Nancy,Sorry for the confusion. I would hazard that some people could be brilliant intellectuals - as I would believe Daly was - and hold ideas I utterly reject, like Daly's paganism and generalized disdain for men. Being a pagan does not make one intelligent. As a Catholic, I'm living proof that Catholicism does not make one intelligent, either...

The feminist movement needed Mary Daly. It seems Mary knew that people needed to work out things and that her extremism helped people find ways to change for the better where what is necessary becomes acceptable as a compromise. Religion needed her willingness to do without so its leaders will recognize that they must veer more to service than domination. The marginalization of women in a church whose founder made women a priority is an incredible scandal. It is hard for people like Mary to equal that extremism.The question is did her "hatred" toward men come close to the male hatred of women, explicit or implicit?

Bill: Since the feminist movement has largely rejected (or ignored) religion of any sort, I am curious exactly what you think Mary Daly's contribution to the movement was.

Peggy, Joan Chittister is a strong feminist who stays within. At the same time one can see women's disenchantment with the patriarchs who would not let a woman study theology. Today the majority of those studying theology are women. They have Mary to thank for that which is just one example. The analysis of the feminist women is wrought with non sequitors with many stating that the modern women does not relate to the feminist movement which is so untrue. Especially when we start counting the number of women ceos.

Bill: I'd bet that Joan Chittister did not derive her outlook from Mary Daly.The comments overlook one reason that BC may have kept her on, despite her discriminatory behavior. They were observing the rules of tenure and academic freedom.

Here is what Chittister said about Daly;"She shocked us into seeing old things in a new way. She made us understand that we were blind to have (half) our world. "http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122258110Also from Chittister:"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."Here is the rest of Chittister's exultant article. http://ncronline.org/blogs/where-i-stand/mary-daly-memory-courage-walking

Mary Daly kind of reminded me of James Joyce: Irish Catholics in revolt against the church but whose language was redolent of Thomism. They also shared this in common: they were intoxicated by words, masters and mistresses of puns, and could be very funny. However, as I pointed out in an interview with NPR she will be a very minor footnote in terms of Cahtolic theology but will get her pararaph in the history of radical feminism.RIP.

Bill: Joan Chittister's lead on Jan. 13, 2010. "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. "I think Larry Cunningham has it about right. The rest is obituary fodder.

Peggy, seems you are fishing for straws with that quote which I saw as well. I am amazed that you choose to discount Mary Daly. Very few have had her courage and tenacity. You will have to search far and wide, hard and long, to find an obituary as outstanding as Chittister's is on Daly. It is truly beyond superlative. So is Mary Daly. Very few men and women come close to her stature. Here is Chittister's entire article, followed by Cunningham's curious concession. " 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."HAGERTY: And Cunningham says the female students he teaches today are the prime beneficiaries of Daly's radical life.

Chittiser: "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 centurys Holocaust and under the guise of holiness."As a historian, I've only come into contact with these claims by Daly and others. I don't know her theology. But, these claims are false. Daly claimed that 3 million women were killed, when in fact the total number of "witches" killed, including men and women was probably between 50K and 100K. I don't know what this "holiness" thing is about, but about 80% of witch executions were by secular courts. The Roman and Spanish inquisition did not exectute a single witch. Certainly, prejudice ideas about women played a part in these accusations, and more women than men were killed, however, women also accused other women and share the guilt for these executions. (I have a citation at home, if you don't beleive me, let me know.)If Daly's theology is like her history, than I can't imagine how it can be regarded as academic work.