Feminist Theologian Mary Daly, Author of Gyn/Ecology, Dies at 81

Feminist and out “radical lesbian” Mary Daly died Sunday at the age of 81. A philosopher and known mostly for of her controversial work in theology, she shaped many of the arguments held today about women and their relation to religion.

Daly jumped on the feminist scene as a major voice with her first book, The Church and the Second Sex, published in 1968, which is considered on par with The Feminine Mystique as far as influence on the women’s movement. Daly followed up with Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation in 1973.

Daly was on the theology faculty at Boston College for more than 30 years, though the university tried to fire her after her first book. Student outrage helped her keep her job. Her practices were certainly not without critics, though. She ruffled a few feathers when she protested Condoleezza Rice’s commencement speech at Boston College. And her refusal to allow men to attend her classes outraged many for sexism. That policy eventually led to her retirement as part of a legal settlement.


Daly once wrote in The New Yorker: “Ever since childhood, I have been honing my skills for living the life of a Radical Feminist Pirate and cultivating the Courage to Sin,” she wrote in the opening of “Sin Big.” …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.’ “

She was known to have a wry, wicked sense of humor and a way with words, which means she left behind many “colorful” quotes:

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The fact is that we live in a profoundly anti-female society, a misogynistic “civilization” in which men collectively victimize women, attacking us as personifications of their own paranoid fears, as The Enemy. Within this society it is men who rape, who sap women’s energy, who deny women economic and political power.

The Boston Globe‘s tribute to Daly quotes Sister Joan Chittister, a feminist author and a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pa., as saying: “Her legacy is a cloud of women witnesses and male theologians, too, who have now been released into whole new understandings of what the tradition really holds and really means for all of us, male and female. She was a great thinker, she was a great icon. She will be maligned by some, but history will see her very differently.”

The National Catholic Reporter goes into more detail about her specific theological theories.

NPR has an audio story on her life.


We don’t agree with all or most of her philosophies; her ideas about transgender identity were particularly regressive. But by pushing the envelope in so many areas, Daly broke important ground for the women’s movement. Her concentration on theology helped attack one of the greatest bastions of patriarchy: religion.

As she once said: “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.” We hope her work — and discourse around the weaknesses of her work — inspires many to “continue to do so.”

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45 Comments

  1. It’s interesting how easy it is to push aside the horrific transphobia of radical feminists. Something tells me we wouldn’t be honoring her at all if she had been lesbophobic but contributed to theological feminism.

    • yes, it’s true that much of second wave feminism was racist, classist, transphobic and transmisogynistic — but that doesn’t mean we should close the conversation on it. Looking at those ideas and the impact they did have on our society and the movement is part of changing the direction of the discourse.

      • Having a conversation is one thing but saying things like “Yeah she was transphobic and racist BUT LOOK AT THIS STUFF INSTEAD” and not taking it as an opportunity to further discuss those things isn’t exactly “evolving.”

        (Not that this is the only blog reporting her death in this way, most are)

          • Or, my comment was deleted actually. I did point out that I’m not attacking autostraddle in specific for hugely ignoring Mary Daly’s racism/transphobia.

          • it wasn’t deleted — that’s a bug on the website where it looks like a comment disappeared but it actually didn’t, which we have been attempting to fix for like three months. nothing was deleted!

            but yeah, good point.

        • OKAY I HAVE HAD THOUGHTS – when someone dies, isn’t that when we focus on the positive things they did instead of igniting debate? I may be contradicting myself here, w/r/t my previous comment… I guess i feel like when Andrea Dworkin died, it seemed like everyone paid her a tribute even though I would say MOST of what she did I think was regressive. But she still contributed to the conversation and deserved recognition.

          I mean if we held old white men to these standards, I can’t imagine very many would deserve a tribute upon their deaths.

        • dude, the lady died. yes she wrote problematic things, and she was harshly critiqued for them during her lifetime. VERY harshly critiqued. and she even recanted some of the more extreme stuff. second wave liberal and radical feminism had major issues with homophobia, racism, and classism, and mary daly wasn’t the only guilty party. but her writings, among others by her second wave counterparts, provided a framework for discussion and at the very LEAST provided a springboard for more nuanced and inclusive understandings of feminism to emerge. she’s fucking dead man, give her a break.

    • This was addressed in the article.

      “We don’t agree with all or most of her philosophies; her ideas about transgender identity were particularly regressive.”

      2nd wave/rad fem stuff generally makes me break out in hives and reach for Claritin (and earplugs) but you’ll have to admit, people like daly made an impact.

      (Oh and on another note… based on this quote alone: “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 really don’t think she would mind if the commenters keep sniping back and forth after her death. I’d imagine she’d be quite pleased.)

  2. I don’t believe in idealism.
    I believe in people who push the envelope.
    I recognize Daly because I believe theologists like her give us a jumping off point to be better as a society.

  3. I find it amusing that those who preach tolerance are the same ones who will deny it to white, Christian, heterosexual males. In the case of Mary Daly, mind you, even males who were non-white were forbidden to attend her classes. Anyone who claims that the female experience has been more arduous than the black experience should have their head examined, but that is another story. Moreover, as someone whose grandfather immigrated to America from Greece with virtually nothing in his pockets, and had to endure the prejudices of both male AND female Anglophones, go take your feminist victimization stories and tell them on a mountain. I am a hardworking white Christian male who struggles to pay his bills while I see privileged women all over Long Island (where I reside) driving in their $70,000 SUVs and carting their children off to private schools. Women do not seem to have a problem with male achievements so long as those achievements are attributed to their husbands or fathers. If they want the equality they feel is still denied them, then work for it as so many other groups with the same or worse disadvantages have done. Finger pointing does not a success story make. I also would like to see how many women would turn down the chance of snaring a better looking and wealthier man in favor of a plainer looking and less affluent one? Finally, if Ms. Daly was so committed to female education, then why did she not teach at an all women’s college?

    • Your white, Christian, heterosexual male privilege is showing. Put it away, man.

      The fact that non-white men weren’t allowed to attend her classes becomes a bit of a non-point when you follow it up with a comparison of “the female experience” and “the black experience”, doesn’t it? You’re right, they were different experiences, even when so grossly generalised. You obviously haven’t given this topic very much thought, otherwise you wouldn’t dismiss the collective “experience” of women on the basis of your observation of wealthy Long Islanders (who, by the way, may well have worked extremely hard to gain the privileges they have, without the assistance of fathers or husbands). That’s more an issue of class, anyway, so I don’t really see how this fits into your argument regarding your white, Christian, heterosexual male oppression.

      I understand that you’ve experienced hardship. I’m a first-generation immigrant, I get it. However, I think you need to realise that the prejudice you have faced as the grandson of an immigrant and the misogynistic discrimination faced by women/female persons – and classist, racist, homo/bi/transphobic, disabilist, etc. prejudice – are all connected, and that indeed, “finger pointing does not a success story make.” Until you understand this and stop trolling about how your experience of discrimination rates next to other people’s – beneath obituaries of liberation activists, no less – you are officially part of the problem, not the solution.

      • This still does not answer the question about barring men from the classroom which, by the way, is sex discrimination no matter how you look at it. Four blacks who beat up on a white guy and using racial epithets would not be a hate crime according to you, correct? Sweetheart, do not ever even attempt to go to law school or seek a graduate degree in political science or public policy. Your debating skills are in the toilet.

          • Game, set, match, I win. What a pathetic response, and you evidently still support the reverse discrimination that this fossil promoted. You probably believe in a one party system for liberal Democrats only as well, since you would define that as a “good” dictatorship.

  4. Mary Daly was a big part of my feminist education at my fancy liberal arts college. Was she perfect? No. Was she an inspiration to many women? Yes. Did she push people to consider new perspectives? Yes. She should be recognized for that and for the fact that she claimed a radical lesbian feminist identity which was very threatening to a lot of people. It still is or she wouldn’t be seen as such a controversial figure. Gloria Steinem has said some problematic things about transgendered individuals in the past but I bet people wouldn’t say the hateful things about her that they have said about Mary Daly. Maybe we should ask “why”?

    I have mixed feelings about Mary Daly. I have a great deal of respect for her writing and the way that she lived her life. But, I also blame her and Andrea Dworkin for the endless processing about sex and the patriarchy that I had to go through with my first girlfriend before we finally bought a dildo.

  5. I am so pleased that the Women’s Studies Department at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, agreed to my recommendation that Mary Daly be brought to Utah to be the Keynote Speaker at their 10th anniversary celebration 10 years ago. We didn’t know how she’d be received in conservative Utah, so I was delighted that there was Standing Room Only at her provocative talk.

    I recall having read that Mary attended a Catholic school as a child and was very bright and was influenced by a nun who taught her, who also loved word play. The students were taught to “Sing praises to Mary, daily,” but the nun playfully wrote atop Mary Daly’s excellent papers, “Sing Praises to Mary Daly!”

    I know many fundamentalist churches do not allow women pastors and probably never will! But Mary Daly knew she could do far more good teaching in a college, opening minds, and exposing both men and women to her ideas (whether they were actually in her classes or not), and she did just that!

    I read her books in Boston shortly after majoring in philosophy and religion in a Midwestern state university (where I never once heard of her!), and her writing was life-changing and empowering. I am going to give copies of her amusing WICKEDARY to all my friends, in her memory.

    I will miss you, Mary. I am proud to call you my friend. And thank you for telling me that I reminded you a lot of Hecate, the Witch of the Crossroads! I was so flattered by that high compliment!!! Rest in Peace. You deserve it!!!

  6. There is not one person alive who is in the mental position to dream of the day where they will be worthy of critiquing Mary Daly’s work, thank you very much. She changed the face of the world for women and influenced an entire MOVEMENT who changed the planet.

    The misogynist bile and hatred coming from many of my trans brothers and sisters is quite telling. It’s no better than any bile spewing woman hating from the patriarchy. You do so at your peril.

    I love my trans brothers and sisters and respect their struggle but YOU BETTER LEARN TO RESPECT MINE! Removing a penis, getting breast implants and receiving synthetic estrogen does not make ANY-ONE a woman born female who could possibly EVER understand what it is to grow up in a female childs body and live woman born. Any un-numbed woman knows this. It’s preposterous.
    For ANY-ONE to ever say that is all it takes to be a woman is not only degrading my body, but you are desecrating my spirit, and minimizing my woman-ness and I will not NEVER EVER stand there and let ANYONE tell me what I am or take that away from me. IT IS NOT YOURS TO TAKE.

    I would like to urge my trans brothers and sisters to tread with caution and some RESPECT before you continue to alienate yourself from the ONLY people who could most further your cause – WOMEN! Gay men aren’t in any rush to help you do anything on this planet. But DON’T YOU DARE EVER DEGRADE MY BODY suggesting it can be created by a man.

    • One of the things I’ve come to love about autostraddle is how every time some asshole starts spewing bile in the comments they are swiftly met by a thoughtful, measured and devastatingly eloquent reply. This probably won’t be one of those replies because I am not particularly eloquent or patient with bigots, but I will resist my instinct to keep my mouth shut in order to point out that:
      1. Putting any theorist beyond critique is obviously ridiculous no matter how much you may admire them. You ought to be ably to realize this yourself.
      2. A transwomans experience may not be the same as that of a biological female, but this doesn’t make her perspective any less valid or useful. Not all women are the same.
      3. It is quite clear from what you say that you don’t respect your trans brothers and sisters very much but consider them inferior to you, a “real” woman.
      (Full disclosure: I am male and so I really don’t know a lot about the female experience but consider myself a feminist nonetheless)

      • Thank you Niklas! This probably won’t be one of those replies either; but I’ll give it a go, to um @MaryDalyisG-d —
        .
        To be honest I don’t know very much about Mary Daly. I do know that the second wave feminist movement left a lot of people out while claiming to speak for all women. I think that’s the biggest issue — not acknowledging that for many black women and working class women in the 70’s, much of what the feminist movement addressed were luxury values; the fear of being a Stepford Wife was the farthest thing from a working-class single mother’s mind when more pressing, practical concerns were faced. I think Mary Daly wasn’t qualified to speak for Audre Lorde, but yes, she did have an obligation to acknowledge that privileged white women’s concerns were NOT the concerns of all women, and to use whatever power she had to get the more marginalized voices heard. She did have an obligation to listen. We all have an obligation to listen — furthermore, we should WANT to listen.
        .
        it’s not woman-born-woman’s place to criticize or ostracize transpeople.
        .
        Our experiences are DIFFERENT, is what I’m saying. Trying to qualify the strife of one identity vs. another is A MASSIVE WASTE OF TIME. We’ll never get anywhere if we’re fighting over “my struggle is worse than your struggle.” It’s not a hardship contest. It’s an opportunity to listen and identify and find common ground where there is some — for any transperson and for any woman, we all experience second-class citizenry for deviating from the white straight male template, and maybe that’s one of only a handful of things we all have in common.
        .
        I think what any social justice movement aims for is a world where these structures of class & race & gender are not so determined from the get-go that our growing up experiences are so vastly different based on these pre-determined (by society) identities. If we ever want to get there, name-calling and spitting on graves isn’t going to help us along.
        .
        Listen. is all I’m saying. We just need to LISTEN to each other. Which means obstaining from aggressive or ostracizing speech, or ever claiming one person’s struggle is inherently more relevant than another’s. We all live with privileges here that many women in developing countries would consider luxury issues. It’s all relative. We just have our experiences to speak through, and the best thing we can do for one another is listen, and do what we can, if we can, to help.

        • I don’t have time to sit here and read this book that you wrote but I will say this… you can continue to take your direction from men, I will take mine from brilliant philosophers like Mary.

          Martin Luther King was a notorious misogynist. Coretta King is on record for noting that he had serious issues with women. Many of the male philosophers are raging woman haters and flat out racists. Why don’t you use your energy “critiquing” them?

          No, you instead choose to splatter on women.

          No one said “real” woman.

          No on said trans don’t have their struggle.

          No one is trying to take anything away from my trans brothers and sisters.

          So DO NOT try to take MY struggle away from ME is all I am saying.

          The truth hurts. Yes, it does.

          You will NEVER get me or any un-numbed woman to ever say that removing your penis, getting breast implants and synthetic estrogen will EVER mean that you understand MY struggle.

          No one is buying that trash.

          No one will, except for mindless lesbos who are too afraid to say anything because they will be trampled on by the rest of their community INCLUDING their trans brothers and sisters. So keep letting everyone drain your energy women. Keep it up. This is precisely why we don’t have equality because women cannot simply own their own bodies, I as a lesbian am expected to say yah… a male doctor can recreate my entire being in his doctors office.

          Please. No one is scared of being bullied over here. Maybe some uneducated lesbos are but no one is afraid of you. You can call me every name in the book. I simply do not care. You do not own me or my struggle. It is not yours or anyone’s to take away from me.

          • I’m going to log out as a member and start choosing my user name to sum up each separate post from now on.

            So, recently I could have been known as:

            FuckYouNewJersey(OMGPUPPIES!)
            WTFiswrongwithpeople
            NOREALLY.WTFisWRONGwithpeople
            LiveCamels!
            and
            HunterValentinewillyouhavemygaybies?

            Or in the case of this post
            “Don’tfuckingreplytocommentsyoudidn’treadinthefirstplace”. But that’s probably too many characters.

          • Jesus fuck, no one HERE is trying to take your struggle away from you. So why are you being all dramatic towards others when you aren’t even taking the time to read what they have to say?

            And the thing is, we know we are LEARNING when we are actively conversing, debating, CRITIQUING, and engaging with one another. And we fucking better be taking the time to LEARN from and with women. If we start hollering that certain women should be free of critique, it is safe to say that we’ve stopped taking the time to learn FROM and WITH those women. Right? Right.

    • M.D.ISGOD:

      What Niklas said, and also: thank you for that, I think you’ve shown once and for all that women like you are the precisely the kind of allies trans people need. Where does a narrow-minded bigot like you get off demanding respect after a rant like that?

  7. Why are we mourning this woman? She was horribly sexist (yes, I have read her work …) and an embarrassment to feminism. If a man wrote of women the same way she wrote of men we would rightly condemn him as a misogynist. Yes she’s dead – so what? Ted Bundy is dead too, and we have nothing but contempt for him.

    Good riddance.

  8. I can’t admit to having as much life experience as, I think, the majority of people, but we generally do the best we can with what’s been given to us.
    I don’t personally agree with the things she’s said and done, but I respect the way she said them and did them.
    The living should be kinder to the dead anyway. Not only out of respect for their humanity, but also because insulting people who can’t defend themselves is something small people do.
    I guess what I mean, all together, is that I’m glad she gave us something to debate, which is what a good philosopher is supposed to do.

  9. Mary Daly was nothing more than another vivious psychotic man hating cunt who was out to destroy the entire male race along with Gloria Steinem, Andrea Dworkin and a host of other haters. “If life on this planet is to survive it needs to decontaminate itself with a reduction of the male population” – is just one of her many hate fuelled quotes. Smack of Nazi Germany? I am thrilled this vile bitter disgusting piece of filth is dead. May she rot in hell forever along with Adolf Hitler and Sadam Hussein!!

    • Thank you Janet for being honest and frank. Mary Daly, clearly another feminist bully, in her demented teachings has once again shown feminism exploits the legitimate claims of equal rights as a cloak to usher in it’s divisive, hateful and neurotic interests. Interests that are plainly antimale and not at all about equal rights.

  10. I am a 67 years old (heterosexual) Woman, born in the west of continental Europe, in a family with open minded parents and 5 untameable brothers of whom only one brother (free lance foreign correspondent) married and divorced twice, yet later in life got lucky because my wild friend-Sister gave him a chance.

    I have managed to avoid getting married. The idea of being chained to somebody didn’t appeal to me, nor did
    I want to put precious children into
    a world where most people hated their jobs, where school & university were
    a boring nightmare, where all governments participated in genocide, constantly had their priorities wrong, never listened to The People, where the MSM and best News Papers lied through their teeth, where the authorities poisoned our food & water,
    forced poisonous medical warfare upon
    the people, etc.

    It was clear that oceans of men were ruling and terrorizing Humanity, but it was not clear that all Central Banks were fraudulent, that political systems were designed to be impotent, were scams to distract people from the planned fascist colonization of Humanity.

    Little did I know that All seemingly not connected heinous crimes were part & parcel of the fascist Agenda 21 of the UN leadership and the rest of the Global Elite Mafia.

    I only discovered Mary Daly’s books a few month ago. So far I have bought 3 of her books.

    I have met highly intelligent people in my life, have read known and hardly known philosophical works,
    searching for solutions to solve the desperate, soul destroying problems of Humanity, the animal realm & Mother Nature.

    Like a bee who indiscriminately gathers nourishing nectar from small & big flowers, so did I gather small & big pieces of valid wisdom & knowledge,
    bit by bit piecing the puzzle together
    of, “Why the millennia of misery?”

    I have never met, or read a woman or man who has x-rayed the fundamental nature and motivations of the Patriarchal regime so brilliantly.

    No matter what people say about
    Mary Daly, she has perfectly diagnosed
    the Root Cause of all man-made mental and physical human suffering.

    She has laid bare the inherent, deep seated hate and murderous jealously of the patriarchal mind set whose creators and agents were, and are bend on destroying the original creative essence, nature and energy of Women.

    Religious & secular racist, fascist
    men are sitting behind their sterile desks inside their sinister mega-tombs,
    busy with ordering their huge armies
    of trained rapers & murderers to drag huge arsenals of phallic, radioactive DNA mutating lethal weapons all around the world, to rape, maim, massacre all that lives and breathes, busy with the extermination of 95% of Humanity.

    Patriarchy means mega-deceit, brutal oppression, torture, fraud, rape,
    Super Genocide.

    Mary Daly was a Super Amazone fighting for the liberation of Women & Humanity from Patriarchal Fascism.

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