MARY DALY: OBITUARY
“Radical lesbian feminist theologian Mary Daly died at age 81 on January 3rd. .. She held separate doctorate degrees in English, philosophy, and religion and was widely published. Her books include The Church and the Second Sex, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation, and Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy…
Mary E. Hunt, co-founder and co-director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), announced Daly’s death in a bulletin from the Feminist Studies in Religion bulletin and said, “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.”
According to the National Catholic Reporter, 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.” (read the full obituary here)
In honour of her passing I’m sharing a section from my PhD (below) which charts the evolution of her feminist theology:
Mary Daly : Reweaving the Journey
Mary Daly began her scholarly exploration in the discourse of classical Catholic theology. Her experience as a woman within the confines of this tradition provoked her to launch a fervent, feminist post-Christian attack on sexism in the Church and society at large in her books The Church and The Second Sex (1968) and Beyond God the Father (1973) (Stuckey 1998, 77). She wrote that “if God in ‘his’ heaven is a father ruling his people, then it is the ‘nature’ of things and according to divine plan … that society be male dominated. Within this context, a mystification of roles takes place: The husband dominating his wife represents God ‘himself’” (Daly in Christ 1979, 275). While her work recognised the women’s movement as ontological, her early impulses were to revolutionise the Church. While recognising that He needed to be rethought and re-worded in this early phase Daly still felt the need to ‘save’ God, as the ground of being and core spiritual essence (Daly 1992, 222: also Campbell 2000, 175). Her response was ‘God the Verb’. In the process of “leaving the patriarchal space-time of God the Father” women might participate in God the Verb a “form-destroying, form-creating, transforming power that makes all things new” (Daly in Stuckey 1998, 77).
Daly’s early work was significantly responsive to the progressive theology of Paul Tillich. Tillich posed ‘Being-itself’ (a metaphor for God) as a response to the “universal ‘human’ existential dilemma” of non-being (Scheider 2000, 59). For Tillich, ‘New Being’ appeared in the figure of Jesus Christ as the reality and possibility of “reconciliation and reunion, of creativity, meaning and hope” (Schneider 2000, 59-60). Daly recapitulated ‘Being-itself’ to the specifics of woman’s confrontation with the dilemma of patriarchy: ‘Women’s Be-ing’, ‘New Be-ing’ and ultimately ‘Metabeing’ were infused with “an evolutionary understanding of the nature of the immanent and the transcendent” (Schneider 2000, 68). ‘Women’s Be-ing’ was manifest in the “unfolding of woman-consciousness”. This consciousness was created through the confrontation with, and journey beyond, patriarchal space, and as such Daly recognised the feminist journey itself as “an intimation of the endless unfolding of God” (Daly in Campbell 2000, 175).
In Beyond God the Father Daly identified women’s marginalisation from the power of symbols and naming as the root of their oppression. Women, she boldly declared have “had the power of naming stolen from us” (Daly 1973, 8). Gyn/Ecology marked Daly’s philosophic movement into radical feminist separatism. Performing a classic rejectionist inversion, Daly completely rejected men and all male imagery for God, “reversing its reversals” (Daly 1993, 326) and heralded female-only imagery as life affirming for women (Stuckey 1998, 77). She set out to reclaim the power of naming by re-“spinning” language (Daly 1992, 322).
Mary Daly’s work has been one of the most significant demonstrations of the ethic of feminist mythopoesis. Mythopoesis (the artistic reimagining or revision of mythology) has been one of the most significant strategic responses to the constraints of the male symbolic. One frequently used mythopoetic strategy has been to deconstruct a myth in which woman has been excluded and to reconstruct it in a way that gives voice to a female figure from the corpus who was previously “silent, objectified or inaudible”(Purkiss 1992, 445: see also, Ostriker 1986, 316). Daly’s mythopoetic strategy has been to consciously deconstruct the barriers between philosophy, theology and the mythic, and to redefine symbolic spiritual language with woman positioned as the primary subject (Daly 1992, 323-4).
With “phallocentric reality” maintained by the western religious construct Daly proposed that a reversal of the religious symbolic contained the potential to create an upheaval that would shift the very base of Western thought (Caputi in Larrington 1992, 425), causing “the world to ‘split open’” (Caputi 2001, 20). Through the “restoration and reinvention” of language, women might “once more name and own their elemental, magical powers”(Raphael 1996, 60).
Daly’s practice of symbolic transformation was purposefully designed to “open up levels of reality otherwise closed”, to “unlock dimensions and elements of our souls” (Caputi in Larrington 1992, 428). In this she utilises what Campbell described as the “energy-evoking and –directing” principle of symbolic affect (Campbell 1972, 219). Symbolic affect is defined as coming into being and existing independently of language, speaking directly to the feeling system and manifesting itself “with a viscerally felt integrity” that is “not addressed first to the brain” “(Cates 1995, 1). Campbell writes that an affective symbol “hits one where it counts …[and] immediately elicits a response … There is some kind of throb of resonance within … like the answer of a musical string to another equally tuned … when the vital symbols of any given social group evoke in all its members responses of this kind, a sort of magical accord unites them as one spiritual organism” (Campbell 1972, 89). This is Daly’s desire, to affectively unite women and evoke transformative change: “not only [in] the self, but also [in] the world” (Caputi in Larrington 1992, 428).
It is not an easy task. Daly names herself a Pirate on a mission to reclaim “the Treasure Trove of symbols and myths that have been stolen and reversed by the theological thieves” (Daly 1992, 325). The negotiation of this complex maze of symbol and imagery is itself “the journey of women becoming” (Daly in Morris 1998, 27).
The Journey has been described as a “central axis” of Daly’s philosophy (Campbell 2000, 174). In ‘Women’s Be-Dazzling Journey’ the call is for women to awaken from their stuckness in patriarchal space. It is the patriarchal threshold of gender roles and rules that she must cross and her journey is an ongoing process of questioning this conventional cultural space in which she finds herself (Campbell 2000, 166). This enquiry and her bold response enables her ‘Be/Leaving’, her increasing realisation and her ‘Be-coming’; all of which deepens her ability to participate in “ever Unfolding Be-ing” (Daly 1992, 3).