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Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly

So, Mary Daly died.


Now, if you know about me, even a little, you will know I have a complicated relationship with the works of Mary Daly. At first, they were everything I embraced about feminism; then, they were everything I tried to reject. It seems selfish, when talking about a dead woman, to talk exclusively about what she meant to you; it’s laying a claim on the woman that you do not actually have. I wasn’t in her life; I didn’t know her. But we are selfish, about the dead – particularly when their work is all we really have of them. It’s hard to keep from injecting yourself into the conversation.

So: I was raised Catholic. Strictly Catholic, in point of fact; my mother converted, and she went at the religion with the zeal that only newcomers have, before they get that complex ambivalent family relationship to the faith. My father was Catholic because he was Catholic; it was a cultural identity, not necessarily a religious one. My mom, on the other hand, was Catholic because she believed in Catholicism. And she’s the one who raised me.

The Church was the most important thing in my young life, the center of moral  and ontological authority, the thing that made the rules that made the world. So, when I started asking Questions – you know, the sort that girls ask, if they are of a certain bent – it was the Church I asked about. Did Mary ever get to have any other babies with her husband? Why not? How come Jesus was a boy, and all the Apostles were boys? How come all the priests were boys? How come God was a boy? What was this stuff about how women shouldn’t teach, and how they should submit to their husbands? Did God just basically like boys better? Why? Did God like boys better because God was a boy? Was that it? If so, why was God good? These were the questions. Not insignificant ones. And note that I did not go to “is God real,” or even “is God appropriately represented by the Church,” for quite some time; it was “is God good” that worried me. My path was blasphemy, not rejection; when a metaphysical or cultural framework is that powerful, you rebel against it instead of just walking away, because escaping the framework is more or less inconceivable. It permeates your entire understanding of the world; there’s no doing without it. Yelling at or about it, on the other hand, is pretty easy.

So, at about twelve or thirteen years old, I found out about feminism, and started to research it at the library. Unsurprisingly, many of the books I found were seminal second-wave books. And I tried to care, but they somehow didn’t reach me as deeply as I needed them to. They were about work, money, motherhood, sex – none of which I had access to. The Beauty Myth started to get at certain things, for me, but I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup or provocative clothing or sexualize myself anyway, so I just ended up feeling superior to all those stupid slutty girls who did – a deeply misogynist reaction in the name of feminism, which it took me a good long while to get over.

And then there was Mary Daly. Beyond God the Father. BLAM. Right there, in the title, was the very particular revolution I needed. Daly argues, in that book, that to envision God as a man – and particularly a father – is to make men, and fathers, Gods on earth. I’d had some nasty experiences with fathers who thought they were Gods, and Gods of the wrathful, Old Testament variety at that, so I was deeply sympathetic to Daly’s argument. I kept the book secret, for a while, so that my mother wouldn’t take it away; then, I started carrying it around, daring her to try it, because wasn’t defiance what this was all about? She never did try; she’s a smart woman, and she knew better than to enable my particular need for martyrdom. And so, I read as much Daly as I could find.

Have you ever read Daly? I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t; even back then, her work was difficult to find. And it’s not an easy read, either. The quotes that are going around, in most of the remembrances, are some of her more conventionally phrased. A lot of her work actually looks like this:

Reflecting upon my travels in the First Spiral Galaxy I Re-Call the experience of being pushed/directed by a Great Wind. Traveling in that early Time involved sailing the surface of the Subliminal Sea, Sensing its depths, while not being overtly conscious of the contents of those depths, at least not to a sustained degree. Occasionally I had conscious glimpses, and these were enough to keep me on Course. I could feel through my Craft the swishings and swirlings that rocked the boat, so to speak. Some of these, I think, were the result of E-motions and psychic sensations that smolder in Undersea Volcanoes, just under the threshold of conscious awareness. These eruptions were my Moments of Prophecy and Promise.

If you have any idea what the fuck she is talking about, on the first reading, congratulations. Granted, this is from an introduction to Gyn/Ecology, written in her later style, after she had gone full William Blake on us, but the rest of the book isn’t any easier. Daly essentially invented her own language, re-purposing words based on often dubious etymology, anthropology, and her own whims. By the end of her career, she often didn’t even bother to explain what her new words meant; you had to have been around for the first explanation in order to get it. (Also? If you have Ever Wondered where I picked up my habit of Misusing Capitalization in the name of Emphasis, or Just for Fun, this might be Your Answer.) Look at the above passage: if it weren’t for the “so to speak,” you wouldn’t even know that she was using metaphor. And maybe she wasn’t. Daly answered her more practical sisters in the movement with an entirely new approach: feminism as visionary spiritual experience. She sounds like a saint describing her visions, like St. John with his Revelations, like a mystic detailing journeys in the Otherworld. She also sounds completely loopy. But all of this was, in fact, deeply intentional. Compare, for example, this other passage, from the same introduction, which I will quote at length:

One of the responses to Gyn/Ecology was a personal letter from Audre Lorde, which was sent to me in May 1979. For deep and complex personal reasons I was unable to respond to this lengthy letter immediately. However, when Lorde came to Boston to give a poetry reading that summer, I made a point of attending it and spoke to her briefly. I told her that I would like to discuss her letter in person… Our meeting did in fact take place at the Simone de Beauvoir conference in New York on September 29, 1979… I explained my positions clearly, or so I thought. I pointed out, for example, in answer to Audre Lorde’s objection that I failed to name Black goddesses, that Gyn/Ecology is not a compendium of goddesses. Rather, it focuses primarily on myths and symbols which were direct sources of christian myth. Apparently Lorde was not satisfied, although she did not indicate this at the time. She later published and republished slightly altered versions of her original personal letter to me.

Well! Nothing vague or mystical there! Dates, names, locations: it’s all there. Well, all of it except for Mary Daly’s accountability, or any admission that she might have been wrong. Audre Lorde’s letter to Mary Daly, which you can find in Sister Outsider, continues to be a powerful and relevant critique of white privilege in radical feminism, which Daly misrepresents here so profoundly that one wonders if she even understood it in the first place. For starters, Lorde never asked for a compendium of goddesses: she mentioned them as part of an argument that Daly included African and black female suffering, but not African or black female experiences of mutual care and resistance. If Daly had anything to say to this, other than “it was so mean to publish that about me,” we don’t know: she maintained that “public response in kind would not be a fruitful direction.” Other than the public response that casts Lorde in the most unfavorable light and misrepresents the nature of their dispute, apparently.

It wasn’t the end of the problems with Daly. For starters: Daly hated on trans people something fierce. This has been sort of lightly mentioned and hinted at elsewhere, but I have to tell you this in plain language: MARY. DALY. HATED. TRANS. PEOPLE. Particularly trans women. She intimated, at times, that they were part of a plot to eliminate “real” women, and to assign “men” all “authentic” female functions. She also said that they were like whites putting on blackface (yeah: Lorde might have been right, about the whole appropriating-other-people’s-oppression thing?) and implied that they should have bodily violence done to them, or at least should be physically intimidated, by “real” feminists, so that they could not enter the feminist movement or feminist space. Let’s not be coy, here: no matter whether she believed this for her entire life, no matter whether she privately got over it later, she published it, without apparently ever publishing a retraction, as far as I can tell. This is hate. This is privilege. This, right here, is the face of the oppressor.

And I’m not saying this to defile Mary Daly’s grave. I’m not saying it because I get a dirty little thrill out of tarnishing the legacy of a fallen feminist. I’m not saying it because I want to start a fight. I’m saying it because, for much of my young life, Mary Daly was my favorite feminist author, meaning that I believed this shit, too. There are still women who believe this, and these women often call themselves “radical feminists.” Because queer-bashing and misogyny are just so fucking threatening to the Patriarchy, apparently. I believed it, because Mary Daly published it, and I believed in her. And, let me tell you, I have worked like Hell Itself to get over that, and to get over the privilege that allowed me to place such emphasis on my own oppression that I could go around blithely oppressing other folks because clearly I had won the Whose Suffering Is Most Important game, and to be an actual functioning ally. Some encouragement from Mary Daly – some retraction, some statement of accountability – would have helped. It would have slapped me out of this unbelievably gross way of thinking with one blow, rather than making me go through life hurting people and being an asshole and having to receive many, many less powerful slaps until I got my shit straight.

Daly and I were both Catholics, at one point, so I know both of us understand the power of Confession – not the version handed out by the church, where you say it and apologize for it and have all your guilt magically wiped away by the hand of God, but the version that actually works in the real live world, where you admit to being wrong and you take your consequences like a grown woman and you do your acts of contrition and your assigned penance, for the rest of your life, by living with those consequences and not repeating the actions that caused them in the first place. People might forgive you; they might not. The point is to value doing the right thing, for the sake of the right thing, more than you value your own personal comfort. If you’re only apologizing so that people will forgive you, it’s not an apology; it’s an act of selfishness, an attempt to evade accountability. And if you never make Confession, and volunteer to be held accountable, you ultimately deprive yourself of any chance that you will be absolved.

And, unless a published retraction of her transphobia and other acts of privilege manages to surface, absolution will not come to the legacy of Mary Daly. None of this means that she was not important, or that she didn’t have anything to say: she was, she did, and it is a damn shame that her work is currently so obscure. She was important to me: I probably wouldn’t be a feminist without her influence. But I probably wouldn’t have been such a bad feminist without her influence, either. Like many people before her, she’s left the world as a human being, and remains with us now only as a legacy. It’s an important legacy – because of its accomplishment, because of its uniqueness, because of its tremendous potential to harm – that we cannot, and should not, ignore.


  1. Hmmm. I have to say, as a newcomer to feminism, I’ve never read (or heard of) Mary Daly until, well, she died, but I now feel like I should read something of hers to hear the “radical feminist” part of the continuum, and because I’m also a lapsed Catholic. What should I start with? Any recommendations?

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  2. Sady wrote:

    Well, “Beyond God the Father” is maybe a more accessible work, because she hasn’t developed the Dalyesque language yet, but she also disavowed it a bit later on. “Gyn/Ecology” is a fun – if occasionally gruesome – read, if you keep an eye out for some of the aforementioned problems.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  3. Stephanie wrote:

    Wonderful post. My first WS class was Liberation Theology taught by a prof who had her PhD from the Harvard Divinity School. So, Mary Daly was also one of my firsts and since I was raised by a “recovering Catholic” it definitely hit home.

    The prof who introduced her work did a great job of weighing the pros and cons of her influence, but the bit that stuck with me the most was that she also introduced it to her 70 year old mother in Wisconsin who from that point on always said “God, THE MOTHER” just a little too loudly in church.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  4. belledame222 wrote:

    Thank you for this post that addresses the real problems with Daly, and for making it personal and entertaining as you always do.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink
  5. RLC wrote:

    Thank you for this post. It’s a topic to which I can certainly relate. I’ve felt screwed over by the Patriarchy, of course. Because I am a lady. But I am also white, upper-middle class, Christian, heterosexual and cissexual. Like everyone else, I like to believe that my mind is as open as it can possibly be, but as a 20-year-old who grew up in a neighbourhood where practically *everybody* was white, upper-middle class, Christian, heterosexual and cissexual, I can say almost for a fact that I still hold prejudices which I’ve not yet identified and banished. They are part of how I think, a product of both my upbringing and of trusted opinions I’ve gathered and never thought to question. It’s an icky feeling when you realize that a belief you’ve spent two decades taking for granted, or that you share with somebody you greatly admire and respect, is actually really, really horribly bigoted. But the ickiness, I guess, has at least been a shock to the system and has kept me on the lookout for my own prejudice. It’s still there, I’m sure. But I am getting better at beating it down.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink
  6. sophiefair wrote:

    thanks sady. i am a recovering catholic who also found daly early in my feminist journey. and, between her and germaine greer, who also had/has a lot of learning, apologising, growing, penance and contrition to do.

    this was one of the best “obituaries” (so to speak!) that i have read — the other one in this vein was melissa at shakesville’s about teddy kennedy. thank you.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  7. Kelly wrote:

    This is a great piece! I also love that you were reading Mary Daly when I was reading Nancy Drew.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  8. This is the first I’d seen about Mary Daly dying (my internet hadn’t been working until just now), and it’s a great post. I remember trying to read something that full of Dalyisms and not understanding it, probably Gyn/Ecology; it was before I knew anything about trans issues and that went right over my head. Thank you for laying out the issues clearly.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  9. DBN wrote:

    I’ve been struggling with this general issue for a long while now: How do you reconcile the good and the bad of a person of influence?

    I feel that the problem lies in wanting a person to be good *or* bad, a hero *or* a villain. It’s a desire that I think is present at a cultural level in many places, and in contemporary North American culture it’s pretty pervasive.

    It can be really hard to take a nuanced approach to people and things that have both good and bad (as we as individuals or as groups define good and bad), to live with that sometimes violent ambivalence without dismissing the parts that are difficult, frustrating, uncomfortable, at times infuriating.

    That’s what I’m trying to do: recognize the good acts and positive accomplishments of a person while acknowledging thoroughly the shitty parts. I realize that if I have to agree with everything that a person, group, political party, etc., says or believes in order to accept the good they have done or might do, I’ll go through life dismissing everyone as an asshole or as a useless fuck. But ignoring the bad parts to focus solely on the good to make myself more comfortable isn’t tenable, either.

    I’ve never read Mary Daly, but I can see how she can simultaneously have an incredibly important positive effect on society while also creating serious damage. So, at this time, I see the value in celebrating her achievements while also remembering her faults and failures. I think that you’ve done so very well, and I appreciate your refusal to take a Good vs. Evil approach, your recognition of the simultaneous existence of both ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  10. The blog you link to includes this comment from on of Daly’s graduate students:

    “I got to know Mary in the last few years of her life – and of course I had to speak up for my trans friends – I’ll gladly report that Mary no longer held the same trans-phobic views that Jan Raymond expressed in her dissertation decades ago. I cannot report changes about Raymond’s thoughts only because I have not followed up on how her ideas developed. But I can attest that Mary’s own thoughts and perspective on this definitely changed – which only makes sense considering that for her to live is to change and move and grow with the movement of Ultimate Intimate Reality – Goddess is Verb for Mary Daly – there is no way she would have maintained static ideas.

    One day I will write more on this – I do not want future generations of feminists, trans friends included, thinking of Mary Daly as their enemy.

    She really is an ally. Of course this is not to diminish the harm and effect that any trans-phobic expressions will continue to have. That’s the risk any of us take when we put something in writing – it seems so permanently true. But in reality, all texts simply capture one moment – it is only a reflection of that one moment in ones developing thoughts and theories…”

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  11. Sady wrote:

    @Knitting Clio: That really doesn’t contradict my argument, does it? There’s some vague idea about “changing” in there, but her transphobic views were openly and publicly held, and published, and her later acknowledgement that they were wrong was not as public. With the amount of hate she expressed, she was accountable to publish a public retraction of that hate, not just to say “oh well, I was wrong” to people who knew her personally and trust that the transphobic content she published early in her career was No Biggie. That stuff still has the power to harm. And she didn’t take appropriate responsibility for that.

    EDIT: I mean, ESPECIALLY if we’re claiming her as an ally, as the person you’ve quoted seems to do. Not giving the same public expression of accountability for trans hate, or being openly, publicly, committedly allied to trans people, is just NOT. WHAT. ALLIES. DO. Ever. If I were to become a fucking MRA or anti-choice blogger, retire, privately change my mind about ladies being so horrible, and let a few people know about that, without ever logging on to the Internet again to say, “you know that MRA/abortions-are-evil blog I had? Don’t listen to that blog. It was awful, here is why, and I’ll be acting and publishing as a feminist now to try to amend the extreme sexism I perpetuated,” nobody would give a shit. Nobody would have any CAUSE to give a shit. All they’d have reason to care about was my shitty hurtful MRA blog. And that would be perfectly just. The effort you put into doing harm has to be outweighed by the effort you put into fixing the harm you’ve done.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  12. Audrey wrote:

    I always found Daly’s use of language brilliant and amazing to read. Actually it is truly powerful as poetry. Since most Americans today don’t have much background at all in poetry or complex linguistic structures or even a common useage of puns, Daly would be challenging.
    I’m sure people complained about James Joyce when he died.
    Was Daly transphobic or merely very suspicious of medical operations and the medical establishment? Will trans people of the future condemn all the focus on transitioning when the drugs run out, when the money to keep up the drug treatments run out, or when trans people start dying of cancer because of dubious medical practice today. Women are still getting breast implants and it’s still a legal operation. Daly the visionary could be right, we’ll see.
    As for her disagreements with Audre Lorde, I think if you read the current biography of Audre Lorde, you’ll find out a lot more that is interesting. You’ll also find out that she didn’t treat the women in her life particularly well, took advantage of a long term partner, and had her problems with drugs. A black woman wrote the biography, by the way.
    A pioneer is always liable to historical afterthefactism. Daly will always be central to radical lesbian feminist theory, she was the first in so many ways.
    A woman born in 1928 saw a different world, and no wonder the power house feminists were not baby boomers at all, but women born in the 30s and 40s.
    For those of us who loved her wit, her playful use of language, and her incredible ability to invent ever more powerful insults to patriarchy… what snools they be, Daly is unique. For those women who wanted freedom from a rigid catholic faith, Daly was the leader in going after white dead males like Acquinas, Tillich and other church fathers. She also uncovered radical foresisters ignored later like Matilda Joselyn Gage. Gage wrote about pedofile priests through the ages, and her book “Woman, Church and State” was source material for Daly later on. Daly is practical as well as visionary… reversal, erasure… the very tactics being used against Daly now are key concepts in getting beyond male supremacy and male control of philosophical tradition. And, unlike Ted Kennedy, who was worshipped for days on TV, Daly never killed a woman in her life.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  13. Audrey wrote:

    I was referring to Lorde in mentioning her rather rocky relationships with women in her life. And I also want to include powerful women born in the 1920s as key feminists. For all the women today who can get PhDs in theology, you have Mary Daly to thank. Ah, the ingratitude of generations born in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink
  14. Sady wrote:

    @Audrey: In answer to your question, namely “Was Daly transphobic or merely very suspicious of medical operations and the medical establishment,” allow me to present you with a quote, from one of her visions of feminist triumph:

    “Among this faction there are some who appear to be eunuchs. One is carrying a placard which reads: “I am a lesbian-feminist male-to-female transsexual. Take me in.” As they begin to file off the platform two Harpies swoop down into their midst, causing them to stumble and stagger in all directions.”

    So, my question is: in what universe do you have to live in order to read this as anything other than a slur-employing, approving, gleeful description of queer-bashing, violence (or, at the very least, intimidation) against women, and extreme transphobia?

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  15. Meechiru wrote:

    Thank you for this post. I was unfamiliar with Daly or her work before she died, so it’s really insightful to read about both her terrible trans hate and racism, her furthering of feminist thought, and the impact both have had.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  16. Sady wrote:

    @Audrey: Also, your point that Daly must somehow be vindicated because Lorde was an imperfect person herself is nasty, down-low, intellectually dishonest, and not welcomed here. I don’t care what else Lorde did in her life: we are referring, very specifically, to the dispute two writers had over one writer’s book, both sides of which were published. If you can’t prove your case by referring to the widely-known and publicly accessible documents in question, you don’t have a fucking case. And the fact that you need to bring in other information about Lorde, or paint her as somehow a Very Bad Girl, in order to make your point or vindicate the white lady in a dispute about white privilege, that should be a sign to you that you really don’t have a solid argument. This is harsh, but your behavior here has been really gross, and you should know that as blog-runner I’m not going to let you participate in it here.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  17. smadin wrote:

    Was Daly transphobic or merely very suspicious of medical operations and the medical establishment?

    I haven’t read Gyn/Ecology, or any Daly, but conveniently Sady, who is a very smart person and probably pretty good at figuring out the difference between hatred and skepticism-of-the-medical-establishment, has! And she seems pretty clear on this point:


    I’m sure people complained about James Joyce when he died.

    And before, and after too!

    You’ll also find out that [Lorde] didn’t treat the women in her life particularly well, took advantage of a long term partner, and had her problems with drugs. A black woman wrote the biography, by the way.

    It’s not really clear to me what any of that has to do with the substance of Lorde’s criticisms of Daly.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  18. smadin wrote:

    Or, what Sady said while I was typing :-)

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  19. Audrey wrote:

    I’m just saying that all feminists are human beings. It is simply more fashionable to trash Mary Daly, but very little is written about the real Audre Lorde. It apparently is not well known that Audre Lorde actually “shock” lied about Mary Daly NEVER answering her letter. Mary Daly’s supposedly non-existant personal response in writing to Lorde was later discovered by the author of “Warrior Poet”– the first biography written about Lorde by a black woman’s studies profession.

    So attacks of Daly’s racism fly around the Internet, and her non-response to the letter, and everyone just took Audre Lorde at her word when she denied that Mary had ever written her. It’s a small thing, but worth noting I think.
    It’s hard to face the fact that someone born in 1928 doesn’t have the same historical experience of someone born in post civil rights era America. So everyone from 1928 who writes about Europe is going to be called a racist.
    Margaret Sanger is often accused of a quote supporting eugenics and advocating birth control for poor black people, and she did do this. But one of the very horrific racist quotes attributed to her was actually from W.E.B. Dubois, who thought poor black people inferior. Does this excuse racism, no it never does. But to not take Daly’s feminist and lesbian feminist contributions seriously, and trash her on the Internet with falsehoods taken off Wikipedia is well…intellectually lazy. A bit off topic here. Daly is not for the intellectually lazy, and maybe that’s her charm.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink
  20. Sady wrote:

    @Audrey: Your quote right here is kind of intellectually lazy. Your comments above are intellectually lazy. And they’re intellectually lazy in the precise manner written about in the original post: the errors in your statements have been pointed out to you, more than once and by more than one person, and you respond only to justify yourself, with no real attempt to engage or assume accountability. Audre Lorde’s troubled relationships or drug use have NO RELATION to whether or not she was right about white privilege in Gyn/Ecology. It’s just an attempt to smear a woman because she dared to disagree with someone you like. Or, to frame it another way: we’re discussing Mary Daly’s flaws as a writer and theorist. You’re discussing Audre Lorde’s flaws as person. Not the same thing. AND, as this post kind of went to extraordinary pains to point out, someone can be both in the right AND in the wrong at different points of her life. And as to whether she had the right to publish her own letter, which is and continues to be an extremely powerful tool for understanding both the problems with Daly and the history of women of color engaging with white privilege in the feminist movement… yeah.

    Your comments from will be moderated from here on. I want to create a space for discussion from all sides, and thus far we’ve pretty much had it, but if you can’t engage in that discussion honestly, without attempting to block or silence any critique of Daly (and this is NOT the same as engaging in an honest, respectful debate of that critique, mind you), I don’t want you derailing the thread. Heads up.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  21. Erin wrote:

    You are my favorite.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  22. Kiri wrote:

    I add to my thanks for unflinchingly dealing with Daly’s transphobia and racism while discussing her work.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  23. Kiri wrote:

    I meant, “I add my thanks.” Grammar fail.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  24. Audrey wrote:


    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  25. eastsidekate wrote:

    It’s a free country after all… I think.

    No. Just no. I’m not going to derail this thread dissecting the virulent transphobia in your initial post. However, I’m really tired of the tenor of recent discussions about the passing of Mary Daly. Implying that people are infringing on your rights by disagreeing with your analysis of Daly’s work is an unproductive and horribly unoriginal tactic.

    You disagreement with Sady (and I). Duly noted.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink
  26. C.L. Minou wrote:

    ok, I’m the first to confess I don’t really know any more of Dr. Daly’s work than what I’ve read in the last few days.

    And I think Sady, and Jill at Feministe, have done a good job being pretty balanced about things.

    I think, though, that I’m going to have similar reactions to the future passings of some of the leaders of the Second Wave: appreciation for the real things they did for women, and resignation that they would never include me in that group.

    I think it’s great that Dr. Daly did so much for women, gave them a sense of inclusion and power and purpose. That kind of sisterhood is remarkable. But it’s awful hard for me to get excited about it, since Dr. Daly publicly and often said that I wasn’t eligible for that kind of sisterhood: that I would never, ever, be either woman or feminist enough for her.

    If you’re not trans, it’s easy, I suppose, to forget that point: just like as a (resigned) Catholic, the anti-semitism of Eliot doesn’t hit me the same way it does a Jewish reader. But by the same token, I don’t forget the existence of his anti-semitism (and misogyny), and I try not to celebrate any virtues in his work (I’m not a huge fan, but the Four Quartets are good) in a way that diminishes the feelings of people who are stung by Eliot’s negative qualities.

    I know the Dalyites are upset about how the news of Daly’s passing has been treated in the blogosphere. I sympathize. But I notice few of them, and Dr. Daly herself, never worried about the ways she hurt people like me while she was alive.

    PS Hey, Audrey? Speculation about the medical needs of my body (besides being uniformed) is about as welcome as men overmedicalizing women’s bodies, mmmmkay?

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  27. belledame222 wrote:

    wow, that’s a whole lot of tu quoqueing, and…other…faillacies. (Oo, look!! New word! WITNESS MY NAFF BRILLIANCE Y’ALL)

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Permalink
  28. Lisa Harney wrote:

    Thanks for writing this – you addressed the stuff that I think is being glossed over or not mentioned at all.

    When I mentioned these things on Feministing, it’s not that I think Mary Daly was uniquely transphobic or racist, but that there was simply a smoothing over of the problematic aspects of her work.

    Audrey’s comments about transition-related medical care causing cancer and other horrors? Do you even know what transition-related medical care is?

    Seriously, if it were that dangerous, we’d know about it now, sitting here some 50+ years after medical transition became a reality for many. Your argument is a straw man.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  29. belledame222 wrote:

    “Really transphobic” is a pretty disingenuous way to try to frame things, I feel.

    “Is Judd Apatow really sexist, or does he just make a whole bunch of movies depicting scary ladies sucking all the fun out of life for hapless man-children, and also slut-bashing and hinting that their bodily fluids are icky? After all he never says ‘Women shouldn’t exist’ *per se*”

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink
  30. As is always the case when I land here at Tiger Beatdown, I loved this post. With one caveat: I hate, HATE, the word ‘seminal,’ and I hate it even more emphatically when it’s used to describe works by feminist authors. So I find myself hoping the word is used ironically when you write “So, at about twelve or thirteen years old, I found out about feminism, and started to research it at the library. Unsurprisingly, many of the books I found were seminal second-wave books…”

    I don’t know if I’m the only person who has this problem with this word. Probably I am.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Permalink
  31. Sady wrote:

    @Jenna: Oh, yeah! I always forget that we are comparing things to the all-powerful, life-giving Goo of Man when we use that word. You would think, having read approximately 9 billion deconstructions of words via Mary Daly, I would remember that one.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink
  32. whatsername wrote:

    This is very nice work, and the first really good eulogy I’ve seen for Daly. I appreciate it, truly. Props, and stuff.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink
  33. Ginsu Shark wrote:

    She also advocated genocide of men, don’t forget that part.

    Eliminationist language isn’t acceptable no matter how it’s directed…

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink
  34. Alexander wrote:

    Insightful analysis here. For my part, I’ve read Daly only recently in the past semester in the context of short articles by an array of feminist thinkers (so for instance an excert from Gyn/Ecology was assigned along with Lodre’s open letter). This blog offers a wider overview on her contributions, good and bad, as well as understanding some of the personal details on how she was influential in your own life. Combined, I think this does a lot to make her come alive to me, certainly more than blanket praise would.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Permalink
  35. Excellent post.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Permalink
  36. Adrianna wrote:

    attended Catholic school for much of my primary education…whats up with Catholic girls finding feminism?

    As always Sady, I cherish your thoughtful, respectful disagreement with feminist authors across the globe and through time.

    You are, with out a solid doubt, MY most favorite feminist author.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 12:54 am | Permalink
  37. Gnatalby wrote:

    I think this post is great. It acknowledges the good work and acknowledges the problems. Good job.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 5:51 am | Permalink
  38. emjaybee wrote:

    I was attracted to Daly-like approaches early on as a very angry young feminist (now I think of myself more of as a sarcastically angry middle-aged feminist). But a feminism based on exclusion is a dead-end; I do not want to use my energies fortifying boundaries and deciding Who is Worthy; I can decide who is an ally without reference to their gender/orientation/expression, after all. Some of the first people to tell me I was an equal were men; how could I not acknowledge what that did for me?

    And of course, having male friends who were by and large the losers in male hierarchy competitions illuminated for me how patriarchy hurts men in no uncertain terms. And how a binary-only approach to humanity is a critical mistake, even if a feminist makes it.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  39. William wrote:

    Thanks for this. I love these personal, inward-facing posts of yours. Your thoughtful, frank reflection on your feminism inspires me to similar introspection on mine. That’s hugely valuable to me.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 10:26 am | Permalink
  40. Just Some Trans Guy wrote:

    Sady, thanks for writing this–I’ve seen way too many glowing, uncomplicated obits for Daly these last few days, and it’s so enraging.

    Also, Audrey, your fake-ass concern for me dropping dead from cancer is noted. I shall endeavor to persist in living despite being a dupe of The Medical Establishment. Perhaps you should go find some message boards for cis men with low testosterone levels, as they take THE EXACT SAME HORMONES that I do. Surely you don’t want them dying of cancer too?

    To answer your question,

    “Was Daly transphobic or merely very suspicious of medical operations and the medical establishment?”

    She was transphobic. Viciously transphobic.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  41. octopod wrote:

    FWIW, “semen” just means “seed” — it doesn’t have to mean “dude goo”. I’m not even sure that was the sense in which the word was coined, since it’s been going since back when people routinely used Latin.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  42. gina wrote:

    While I totally understand people fondly remembering the powerful impact Daly’s words had on them in the 80s, it bothers me when people say, “I just didn’t even think about trans people then.” I suspect what you mean is, “I thought about them negatively or I considered them outcasts.” Moreover, I have a concern when, unlike Sady, they pretend they didn’t even know about Daly’s very obviously stated bigotry towards transwomen (especially when they read or had contact with the ideas from Gyn/Ecology, her second most famous work) and pretty much dismiss it with a cursory, “of course, her attitudes towards transpeople are wrong.” Sorry, but if she made that deep an impact on you in terms of religion or feminism, I would suggest she made an equally deep impact in terms of transphobia, specifically hatred/suspicion of transwomen. It might behoove you to reexamine her (unconscious??) influence on you on this very issue with greater depth and understanding. Sadly, I’ve heard far too many claim they read one part of her writing and spaced out on the transphobic parts, which sounds a bit like a denial of where that person really is on trans issues. Being in a place of denying the social acceptability of transphobia (specifically hatred and mistrust of transwomen) is not equivalent to a true self-examination of how you were influenced by the undercurrent of transphobia in much of second wave feminism (of which Daly was just a small part) and how those attitudes still manifest themselves in your daily political and social life.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  43. Curmudgeonly wrote:

    Thanks for writing this-and for making it so personal. We live, we learn, right? I wish things were totally better today, as in the feminists inclusion stuff, but sadly, we have a long way to go.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  44. TheDeviantE wrote:

    I don’t know Gina, I think that when the background noise is so horribly transphobic (and sexist, which I’ll use for my personal example) it’s pretty easy to just really not even notice things. For instance, I love the Tamora Pierce “Alanna” Series (many a feminist does, yes?) but there are scenes in it that I, as a budding feminist kiddo never noticed were sort of problematic, and in fact didn’t notice until someone pointed them out to me in adulthood (I’m talking about some scenes with non-consensual kissing, for instance). But I don’t think by any stretch that Tamora Pierce was someone who taught me to believe in the Rape Culture. And I think that I generally do a good job these days of noticing the ways that the Rape Culture permeates everything.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink
  45. Sady wrote:

    @Folks: About “not noticing” the transphobia… well, I (like probably most people) grew up in an openly, extremely transphobic environment. If people thought someone “used to be a man,” or if a “transvestite” went shopping in my stepdad’s grocery store, there were appalled stories and ugly jokes about it. (Trans men, on the other hand, were invisible: our only acknowledgment of the existence of trans folks was the idea of “deviant” “gay” “men” who dressed up in women’s clothing to get their kicks, and trans women were sort of not regarded as separate from gay men, nor gay men – excluding of course, the “good,” celibate or “straight-acting” ones – from trans women. For some reason I ditched the homophobia, vehemently, years before I could even see the transmisogyny as a form of oppression and discrimination.) So I can verify that Daly’s transmisogyny didn’t stand out to me as new or different or even as a political stance at all, EXCEPT INSOFAR as she provided a specific, virulent, pseudo-intellectual justification for it. Maybe that’s what’s happening for folks who claim they “didn’t notice,” but as Gina points out, that “failure to notice” is based in a pre-existing transphobia.

    @Everyone, about the exterminating/excluding/positing essential difference from men thing: Honestly, that stuff just doesn’t register for me as offensive on the same level as providing a justification for excluding or committing violence and discrimination against an actually marginalized population. Obviously, Daly’s POV erases the existence of oppressed MEN – men of color, queer men, poor men, etc. – and that’s a huge problem. I also recall some weird, specifically gay-dude-focused homophobia in her work, which was also a part of the second wave we have yet to come to terms with. I mean, you can even find traces of it in Adrienne Rich, of all people! Though Rich did, in fact, get over it, around the same time she stopped quoting MacKinnon as an authority.

    But if it’s about being nicer to white, straight, cis men: sorry, I know them and I love them, but I’m of the “let them come to you” school when it comes to accommodating them in the feminist movement. If they can’t deal with the challenges, that’s their problem. It’s a form of hazing, sure, but it also makes sure that anyone who actually makes it in is committed and knows what the deal is, and it’s a damn sight better than changing the basic principles of the movement to make the privileged folk more comfortable with us, or giving them the impression that we require their participation and approval in order to be legitimate. As an ally, I have to deal with challenges too, and I’d never ask people of color to start saying nicer things about us white people, or queer folks to say nicer things about straights, or trans folk to just calm down and start reaching out more to cis folk already.

    And, here’s the thing: even if you ARE a separatist, and you believe that feminism and feminist communities should be peopled ONLY by women because men CANNOT be allies, in what whacked-out alternate future does a radical lesbian feminist actually have the power to enforce this without getting fired (as Daly was), let alone create her own country or New World Order? Obviously the “kill all mens” thing is an example of how Daly internalized the language and means of the oppressor. OBVIOUSLY. And that is fucked up and makes her a hypocrite. But for me, the problem is more about the ridiculousness of some of the radical Utopian thinking of that time, the way certain radfems resorted to creating imaginary “prepatriarchal” pasts to revive (Daly being, obvs, a huge offender in that category) or literally impossible, unworkable future goals (Daly’s girl-only parthenogenetic post-male world, Andrea Dworkin’s “female Israel”). One good way feminism has evolved, I think, is that we don’t require myths or science fiction any more: we may not think that big, but we tend to have very concrete, workable goals, and to see those goals as achievable within the near future, rather than in some post-Revolution fairyland.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  46. Isabel wrote:

    Thanks for this post, and also your comments in it.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  47. belledame222 wrote:

    I don’t *worry* about her eliminationist language toward (cis) men in the same way I do her language toward trans women, sex workers, and everyone else who’s marginalized and vulnerable to elimination campaigns already. That said, it doesn’t exactly make me really eager to have her run the world any time soon.

    and cynically, I sometimes think that’s exactly the appeal: sure, we can be as fancifully horrible as we want to be because (tacitly) not only do we not have the power to carry it out, *we never will.* Screw nuance and responsibility, full speed ahead! REVOLUTION AHOY!!


    I mean, I enjoy Hothead Paisan, but that’s because she’s a) funny b) *supposed* to be a cartoon who is also deeply fucked up even by cartoon standards

    Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 2:18 am | Permalink
  48. belledame222 wrote:

    also, it now appears Daly is more or less directly responsible for some of the loopier shit I have run across in online wadfemism, from “yer raping the moon with yer space rockets ZOMG let us all pray for our wounded Mother” to “no, really, human partheogenesis is totes real and men will become an evolutionary relic any day now because Mama Gaia is coming and *is she pissed*”

    Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 2:20 am | Permalink
  49. belledame222 wrote:

    there is also the charming woman running around one of the more obscure corners of Internet Wadfem who posits that widespread male infanticide is an idea that really hasn’t been credited enough, and even widespread female infanticide would be preferable to the current situation. Not that she’s going to DO anything about it, sheesh, she’s *just saying.*

    and of course virulently transphobic to boot etc etc

    Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 2:25 am | Permalink
  50. Sarah Brown wrote:

    “Will trans people of the future condemn all the focus on transitioning when the drugs run out”

    I’m a trans woman, I take daily HRT. In some post-apocolyptic scenario when HRT is no-longer available I will spend the rest of my life as a menopausal woman.

    Of course, that might not be a very long life because I also have asthma, for which I also take daily medication. I wonder, will the asthmatics of the future condemn the focus on steroid treatment and bronchodilator drugs when they too run out?

    No? Thought not.

    Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 9:59 am | Permalink
  51. Sady wrote:

    @belledame22: Oh, yeah. I don’t think there’s any argument that Daly WON’T warp you and make you a deeply ineffectual, or countereffectual, feminist: SHE WILL, as I can readily attest. I think her cartoonish extremes and fire-the-torpedos rhetoric are part of what makes her so powerful for young folk (like Valerie Solanas, in a way) who already feel powerless and drawn to fantasies of ultimate power. (It’s like X-Men comics! But, you know, for politics!) But if you don’t grow out of it and start actually thinking about how you CAN use whatever power you actually DO have to make things better, you end up acting like an idiot. And once she got onto the New-Age “ecofeminist” trip… hoo boy.

    I sometimes think that’s exactly the appeal: sure, we can be as fancifully horrible as we want to be because (tacitly) not only do we not have the power to carry it out, *we never will.* Screw nuance and responsibility, full speed ahead!

    Yes. Exactly. Not to make this a forum for my disgruntled whines, but I think there’s this tendency, in certain radfem circles, to actually assume your own complete powerlessness and victimhood as a badge of honor, and play that card whenever people point out that you’re being hurtful or gross or just plain wrong. Like, “but how could MY WORDS have ANY EFFECT on YOU OR THE WORLD! I am but an oppressed woman! The cards of the patriarchy, they are stacked against me!” It’s the tack that let Daly not notice how monstrous her genocidal fantasy world was – she was THE VICTIM, how could she have ANY RESPONSIBILITY in a world where she had zero power? – but it also comes up in debates with radfems, where they’ll all suddenly start paraphrasing a writer that I actually like, and will refer to for the sake of disgruntled-whining only as Fwisty of Fi Flame fe Fatriarchy, going, “well! I did not know that I, a FEMINIST, had ANY POWER here in PATRIARCHY! I SO APOLOGIZE for [shaming, offending, making incorrect assertions, etc.] since CLEARLY my actions have SO MUCH EFFECT on the world around me and I should TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEM.” Like, saying this as sarcasm. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever encountered, and it happens a lot, and I think it’s this specific radfem construction of Woman (no matter how straight, white, class-privileged or cisgender she be) as The Most Oppressed Person In The World, and Patriarchy as something so powerful and all-pervasive that any effective action against it is framed as literally impossible. I mean, enjoy your self-defined doomed rebellion against the Evil Empire, but I’m going to go with the assumption that I’m actually a person and my actions can matter, for better or worse.

    Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  52. Lisa Harney wrote:

    As an even more specific example of that, Sady, I have several times had anti-trans radical feminists say that transphobia and trans misogyny from cis women doesn’t count because it’s cis men who are committing violence, not cis women.

    And yet, and yet, the virulent transphobia and transmisogyny – the blatant hatred is part of the larger culture’s embrace of this trans hatred, it’s the same stuff dressed up in feminist theory that Peter LaBarbera and Focus on the Family says about trans people. And how does promoting an environment of trans hatred, of exclusion of trans women from DV and rape shelters, from other women-directed services, not contribute to the cultural violence directed at trans people?

    I find it rather comparable to the way rape jokes and misogyny contribute to rape culture. Being on the receiving end of both, I don’t see much of a difference.

    Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink
  53. Ika wrote:

    Thanks for this – it was the first I heard that Mary Daly had died, and actually it’s exactly the way I would have liked to hear about it.

    Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  54. falguni wrote:

    yup, it’s true that mary daly held – and wrote about – beliefs that many of us today find abhorrent. in 1980, i questioned daly’s exclusionism in a discussion with my lesbian nun women’s studies professor (who studied with daly as an undergraduate and was a big fan). my professor said to me: “you don’t have to agree with everything she says. your task is to become a critical thinker. read, question, think, and develop your own opinions.”

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink
  55. Ginsu Shark wrote:

    @Everyone, about the exterminating/excluding/positing essential difference from men thing: Honestly, that stuff just doesn’t register for me as offensive on the same level as providing a justification for excluding or committing violence and discrimination against an actually marginalized population
    In this particular case, her hatred of men is extremely relevant to her transphobia, because the latter seemed to be directly derived from the former. Far as I can tell, she hated trans wome because she considered them to be men (more specifically, some sort of elite male strike force trying to infiltrate Woman and destroy it from the inside… so yeah)…

    Monday, January 18, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Permalink
  56. Like many people, apparently, I’d never heard of Mary Daly till the obituaries started appearing on the internet; I was intrigued so I bought one of her books. I’ve never wanted to throw a book across the room so hard in my whole life, only because the writing is so shockingly bad. If it was a deliberate attempt to throw off the chains of Patriarchal English, to show how Patriarchy pervades everything and shapes convention–well, fine. I’d rather have those five hours of my life back.
    As for the other issues brought up in this post, there’s still an awful lot of anger that needs to be processed, worked through before we can all settle down to reasoned discourse. Catharsis is never pretty, or tidy.

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 12:15 am | Permalink
  57. Goodday
    awesome post – i’m creating video about it and i will post it to youtube !
    if you wana to help or just need a link send me email !

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 1:52 am | Permalink

13 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. uberVU - social comments on Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by belledame222: Probably the best post from big feminist bloggers I’ve read wrt #marydaly:

  2. Thursday Link Love: Mary Daly edition « The Feminist Texican on Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    [...] Beatdown: Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly This has been sort of lightly mentioned and hinted at elsewhere, but I have to tell you this in [...]

  3. Friday Feminist – Mary Daly (3) « In a strange land on Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    [...] An excellent obituary on Mary Daly, who died on 3 January 2009 – Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly, by Sady, cross-posted at Feministe -34.925770 [...]

  4. Friday Feminist – Mary Daly « In a strange land on Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    [...] An excellent obituary on Mary Daly, who died on 3 January 2009 – Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly, by Sady, cross-posted at Feministe -34.925770 [...]

  5. Friday Feminist – Mary Daly (2) « In a strange land on Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    [...] An excellent obituary on Mary Daly, who died on 3 January 2009 – Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly, by Sady, cross-posted at Feministe -34.925770 [...]

  6. R.I.P. Mary Daly (1928 – 2010) « In a strange land on Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    [...] has an excellent post about Daly at Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly, cross-posted at Feministe. -34.925770 [...]

  7. I am thinking big thoughts « Raising My Boychick on Friday, January 8, 2010 at 5:43 am

    [...] though it’s about so many things: Mary Daly — feminist, transmisogynist — is dead. Margaret Cho — comedian, “fag hag” — is a chaser (or fetishist, or [...]

  8. Janice Raymond – Continues Living « Feminist Whore on Friday, January 8, 2010 at 7:10 am

    [...] – Continues Living 01/08/2010 Leave a comment Go to comments If you’ve been following things you may have been hearing about Janice Raymond, and that Mary Daly was Raymond’s advisor when [...]

  9. [...] and more angry at the various defences marshaled in her defence (of the decent posts, I recommend Sady’s one at Tiger Beatdown).  And it’s not that these have necessary been uncritical (though some have), but that what I [...]

  10. [...] None the less. I feel a need to link you all to this handy article (from Tiger Beatdown) re: Mary Daly and Feminism’s Continuing Transphobia. [...]

  11. Random Linkspam… « random babble… on Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 6:34 am

    [...] Sady at Tiger Beatdown: Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly [...]

  12. Article on Mary Daly « An und für sich on Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    [...] January 13, 2010 This article on Mary Daly is well worth your time. Posted by Adam Kotsko Filed in feminism Leave a Comment [...]

  13. The Wild Hunt » Goddess Religion and Misandry? on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:44 am

    [...] anti-goddess hate-fest is married to a pseudo-obituary of Mary Daly. I realize that Daly had said and advocated many problematic (even hateful) things during her life, but spitting on the dead is usually frowned on in civil society. You can expect that Kay’s [...]