Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Remembering Mary Daly

The first time Mary Daly came for dinner – it was the fall of 1974 – she brought a wine whose symbol was a black cat. A small plastic black cat hung from around the wine bottle’s neck. That night I put it on my dresser top, and it is still there this morning, 35 and 1/2 years later.

Of course she brought a black cat. Mary Daly recognized the negation that traditionally happened to women and anyone associated with them (black cats and their association with women witches). Mary considered this a reversal and her writings expose many examples of such reversals. What Mary didn’t know as she handed me the wine but she was fascinated to learn was that two of my ancestors had been killed as witches at Salem in the seventeenth century.

Of course Mary would join one of her feminist students for a vegetarian dinner. She was interested in what we thought, what we read, how we lived.  In Beyond God the Father, she rocked that formerly secure world of patriarchal religion with insights that spill out on every page. After it came out in 1973, it became a book I read over and over again because I didn’t really get it all the first time through. So many things were being shaken up! In that book, she says, “Feminism is not merely an issue but rather a new mode of being.” Together with other feminists, in her classes, or over dinners, or planning a grand protest at Boston College when she was denied full professorship, we explored this new mode of being.

Mary Daly introduced the word “ecofeminism” to me that same fall of 1974 in her Feminist Ethics class. This morning I also looked over notes from one of her classes, where she has been taking the ideas in Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineasand making them her own. She was identifying the deadly sins of the fathers: processions – reification of the process, stunting of female becoming. Daughters are not divine. Male pride twists female pride into vanity, shame. Life-giving blood dirty  [i.e.., menstruation and when giving birth]; death-blood from war, fights, games, worshipful.

Mary knew the art of discourse. She would begin an article with a statement like “I don’t need to tell you that one hundred percent of the priests and bishops who oppose abortion are men and one hundred percent of the people getting abortions are women.” And so she did tell us, and we still need to be reminded of that.

Mary exposed the reversals that had become accepted as “truths” or givens in our society. In the Wickedary, she provides these examples of reversals or inversions: “a: the absurd story of Eve’s birth from Adam b: the belief that man is superior to animals c: the worship of male divinity d: the belief that the Radical Feminist world view is ‘narrow’ and/or ‘dated.’" In celebrating the black cat, as in many things she did and wrote, Mary was reversing the reversals.

When I proposed writing my paper in her feminist ethics class on the connection between “feminism and vegetarianism,” she encouraged me. The roots of all my work on The Sexual Politics of Meat began then, 35 years ago. Why is meat, which is dead, associated with men and so highly valued? Why are vegetables, associated with the feminine, as well as a “vegetative state,” always being put down? And so I began my own work at reversing the reversal.

She gave me the intellectual space to explore these wild ideas. To her, nothing was too “wild.” She let us discover what is there when we have removed the layers of lies and distortions that the reversals have created. She was a visionary, a brilliant thinker and writer, and she was also generous.

She provided a model for critiquing dominant culture. Here’s my journal entry from Mary 4, 1976: “For my frustration about not finding readiliy accessible information about fem[insists] who were veg. in the past—write an article on Veg. and Fem Historiography use Mary’s analyses from B[eyond] G[od] t[he] F[ather]: how people don’t take seriously thru trivialization, erasure.”

Mary Daly was a radical feminist philosopher (theologian couldn’t encompass all that she was accomplishing); she was proud and modeled pride; why should women be deferential? In one of her Feminist Ethics classes, Mary said “Women’s anger is creative.”

Has the world changed as much as we would like to think since the thunderous insights of Beyond God the Father? With right wing religious leaders and Catholic priests dictating the abortion policy of health care, we have a Taliban-like influence stalking our land. Read Mary Daly to understand our world.

“Feminism is not merely an issue but rather a new mode of being.” Mary, courageous and imaginative and resolute and visionary, showed us this.


  1. I believe the "Black Cat" wine you describe is the deliciously dry German Reisling SchwarzeKatz. Let's raise a glass (or two) in grateful memory of Mary Daly.

    1. Kênh thông tin mua bán nhà đất tại Việt Nam , nếu bạn muốn mua hay bán nhà đất thì chỉ cần vào đây , chúng tôi sẽ cho mọi người biết về tin của bạn, nhà đất tphcm, nhà đất gò vấp, nhà đất thủ đức, nhà đất tân phú, nhà đất quận 9 . Còn chần chờ gì nữa , hãy đăng tin mua bán nhà đất nhanh nhanh . Bạn đang phân vân không biết phải chúc đám cưới bạn mình như thế nào thì bạn có thể tham khảo lời chúc đám cưới, in thiep cuoi, lời chúc đám cưới hay o day .

  2. Apropos your quote beginning "I don't need to tell you that..." I in fact did not need Mary to tell me that pregnancy is a condition that men create but do not experience and cite the same point in my essay "Stop Abortion? Fix Men" ( which discusses restrictions on abortion as, along with prostitution and pornography, primary forms of sex discrimination against women protected by the United States constitution. I continue to be baffled by feminists' failure to confront men on this point.
    I appreciated Mary's wit* and the inspiration she provided to so many. I still think that she was dead wrong on principle, evidence and strategy in thinking that single sex education was an act of feminist rebellion rather than one of abject capitulation.
    *E.g. her reference to the "kitty-litter approach to re-covering women's history."

  3. Thanks Medusa and Twiss -- yes, as we toast Mary, we can acknowledge there were times when we disagreed with her; but what was wonderful is how she opened up the space to have such lively disagreements! Twiss, your work sounds valuable! thanks for your comment.

  4. I suspect the wine was a Chilean one called Gato Negro. It used to be sold with the litle black cat on a red string around the neck. In any case, Carol has captured Mary Daly with verve and brought to readers a sense of just what a great soul she was. Cheers, Mary E. Hunt

  5. It's good your memories of her are so positive. I am not sure that her good qualities are so clear from her writings. I was looking through my copy of "Gyn/Ecology" the other day. On the one hand, I was thinking that she was very perceptive. On the other, I was thinking, "Since she realises the importance of threats to the environment, why is she creating disunity by taking pot shots at transsexuals?"

    It is reassuring to hear that she was a supportive person in real life.

  6. PS I hope my previous comment did not cause offense. That was not my intention, but at the same time I had a lot of curiosity.

  7. Thanks so much for this story Carol. I guess the time for storytelling and sharing has begun, celebrating the life of our courageous sister Mary Daly. --Audrey

  8. i am looking forward to exploring mary daly's work!! jen

  9. It sounds like a crazy story of cheating or something else... i wonder why but when i read stuff like this is like to read a creepy story or murders or some kind of fantasy story of an epic hero...

  10. off be teyze. bir turlu yolumuzu bulamadik. Lazer Epilasyon

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