The leading feminist philosopher and theorist died January 3. Here, her
friend and former student explains the extraordinary reach of Mary Daly.s
fierce intelligence and strong will.
In the seventies some of Mary Daly.s graduate students began calling her
Doctors Daly because she had three doctorates, one from Notre Dame, and
two, in theology and in philosophy, from the University of Fribourg in
Switzerland. At the uber-catholic and overwhelmingly male Fribourg, she
was treated like a pariah. In the library she would put her things down on
a table, and the male seminarians sitting there would move en masse to
another table. No one sat next to her in the classroom. But she stayed,
standing up to that misogynist treatment to get the training she wanted.
Those who loved her knew the steel in Daly that enabled her to withstand
anything in order to hone her towering intelligence to a fine edge, which
would soon dissect the patriarchal infrastructure that had blighted
women.s (and children.s, men.s and the biosphere.s) lives for millennia.
Coming to Boston College in 1966, Daly began a teaching, speaking and
writing career that would literally help to change the world. She produced
ten books, among them The Church and the Second Sex, Beyond God the
Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women.s Liberation, Gyn/Ecology: the
Metaethics of Radical Feminism, Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy,
Websters. New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (in cahoots
with Jane Caputi), Outercourse, Quintessence, and Amazon Grace. Her work
changed religious, spiritual and philosophical thought and language. Her
activism, fueled by what she called .the courage to see. beyond
patriarchal assumptions and institutional constructs, shook the
foundations sufficiently to require two separate fights to keep her job.
(Academic freedom is not so championed when one is saying that the emperor
has no clothes.)
In Beyond God the Father, she wrote that a male god functions to support
male domination, but she did not simply revert to a goddess model because
she held that dualisms support structures of oppression. Rather, she
created a philosophical approach, seeing the divine as an active,
intransitive verb, Be-ing. In Gyn/Ecology Daly documented world-wide, past
and present atrocities against women, calling them .sado-ritual
syndromes,. and exposing deep ethical structures that support domination
and oppression. These ideas were expanded in Pure Lust and Quintessence.
The Wickedary was written in response to requests for a unified location
for the new language Daly was creating to describe her ground-breaking
insights, since they could not be expressed in traditional philosophical
language. The book shows her deep playfulness and Irish wit. Outercourse
is a philosophical autobiography.
Her former students say they have a freedom of thought and imagination
that began with her ideas, books and lectures. She taught us not only to
think outside the box but then to ask, who put this box here and why? A
great many became lifelong feminist activists in the fields they work in.
Most began their careers in conditions little better than those Daly
faced, but the new-found freedom of their lives and imaginations
challenged stereotypes and traditions.
Equally important is the power of her fiery call to freedom in the lives
of women she reached in her worldwide readership. After Beyond God the
Father came out, thousands of women wrote Daly to say they saw more
clearly now and had found the courage, as Daly loved to say, to .take
their lives and throw them as far as they would go.. Roseanne Barr said
Gyn/Ecology helped her find her voice as a comedian.
Mary Daly was a real person in addition to a fierce feminist. She loved a
good laugh. She wrote, .There is nothing like the sound of women really
laughing.. She was a voracious reader, loved her cat, swam in the lake
behind her apartment, and made great fudge. She loved the beach, often
sitting there reading a book she simply could not put down. She loved a
good film, good Italian food, a good joke. Always up for a lively debate
of ideas, she was sometimes hurt by personal attacks from people who
disagreed with or misunderstood her work. But she never let attacks or
ridicule shake her absolute belief that she was on her path, doing her
work and that no one could stop her. She was not easy or uncomplicated.
But she was fall down on the ground brilliant, an honest to goddess
genius. It must have been difficult to channel the power of that much
intelligence. She was always impatient to think more, to write more, to
A group of her old grad students and friends collaborated to help her
manage things in the last few years. Another group of women, current grad
students in the Boston area who had read Daly.s work, met to learn from
her after her retirement in an informal group modeled on the hedge schools
of Ireland, illegal schools created to preserve the Irish language and
culture during the British occupation. When Daly.s health began to fail,
all these women worked tirelessly to help her. In Daly.s last weeks she
had visitors from many generations of feminists and constant companionship
from devoted friends and colleagues. When she passed away, one such
friend, Nancy O.Mealey, was reading aloud to her from the Wickedary. These
women will tell you they were there for Mary for a lot of reasons, not the
least of which was gratitude for her life and work.
It was Mary Daly.s request that people who wish to remember her gather in
their home communities to read and discuss her work. For more information,
and to post a remembrance, visit this site.
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