Mary Daly – Theologian, Boston College Pirate,
Mary Daly, radical feminist theologian and a mother of modern feminist theology, died Jan. 3 at the age of 81. She was one of the most influential voices of the radical feminist movement through the later 20th century.
Daly taught courses in theology, feminist ethics and patriarchy at Boston College for 33 years. Her first book, “The Church and the Second Sex,” published in 1968, got her fired, briefly, from her teaching position there, but as a result of support from the (then all-male) student body and the general public, she was ultimately granted tenure.
A prolific writer, Daly holds three doctorates and has authored seven books, most recently “Quintessence … Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto.” She’s been called the first modern feminist philosopher and counts among her friends anti-pornography “spinster” Andrea Dworkin and actress Roseanne.
She has also indulged in a brand of academic wordplay that has made her notorious even among less radical feminist circles, coining such phrases as “stag/nation” and “the/rapist,” not to mention the title of her cross-cultural survey of brutality against women’s bodies: “Gyn/ecology.
***She took great delight in castigating the “eight deadly sins of the fathers”: processions, professions, possession, aggression, obsession, assimilation, elimination and fragmentation. “Laugh out loud,” she urged, “at their pompous penile processions.”
As for God, there’s simply no way to rid the language of allusion, she wrote, so, “if you must be anthropomorphic,” she preferred “Goddess.”
Daly most often contemplated the divine essence as a verb, Be-ing itself, so that worship is “not kneeling in front of a so-and-so but swirling in energy.” Her language echoed quantum physics, and she was flattered if you said so: “I do think about space-time a great deal,” she admitted. “It’s a kind of mysticism which is also political.”
These attitudes toward life and religion were reflected in the Feb. 26, 1996 issue of The New Yorker in which she wrote:
“Ever since childhood, I have been honing my skills for living the life of a radical feminist pirate and cultivating the courage to win. 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.’”
“Women who are pirates in a phallocratic society are involved in a complex operation. First, it is necessary to plunder–that is, righteously rip off gems of knowledge that the patriarchs have stolen from us. Second, we must smuggle back to other women our plundered treasures. In order to invent strategies that will be big and bold enough for the next millennium, it is crucial that women share our experiences: the chances we have taken and the choices that have kept us alive. They are my pirate’s battle cry and wake-up call for women who want to hear.”
According to a 2000 Cross Currents profile, “Much of her work since that time has consisted in blowing exuberant raspberries at the Vatican, Boston College, and the keepers of the patriarchal flame generally — who may have expected no better outcome from educating a woman, and must feel betrayed and vindicated by turns.”
Mary E. Hunt, co-founder and co-director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), announced the death Jan. 3 online in “The Feminist Studies in Religion” bulletin:
“With a heavy heart, yet grateful beyond words for her life and work, I report that Mary Daly died this morning, January 3, 2010 in Massachusetts. She had been in poor health for the last two years.
Her contributions to feminist theology, philosophy, and theory were many, unique, and if I may say so, world-changing. She created intellectual space; she set the bar high. Even those who disagreed with her are in her debt for the challenges she offered. … She always advised women to throw our lives as far as they would go. I can say without fear of exaggeration that she lived that way herself.”
Daly once wrote: “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.”
I hear words like ‘separate’ and ‘equal.’ I don’t care about those words,” she says. “I want there to be women’s space, where there can be explosions of thought.”
“That’s what Mary Daly’s classes offer. A place and a time to make the connections with each other, to generate the strength and the willingness to go out and reach out to other people,” says senior Christine Safriet. “We don’t have a lot of places to do that for women.”