Daly, Mary 1928-

views updated

Daly, Mary 1928-


Born October 16, 1928, in Schenectady, NY; daughter of Frank X. and Anna Catherine Daly. Education: College of St. Rose, B.A., 1950; Catholic University of America, M.A., 1952; St. Mary's College, Notre Dame, IN, Ph.D., 1954; University of Fribourg, Dr. Theol., 1963, Ph.D., 1965.


E-mail—[email protected]


Cardinal Cushing College, Brookline, MA, teacher of philosophy and theology, 1954-59; Junior Year Abroad programs, Fribourg, Switzerland, teacher of philosophy and theology, 1959-66; Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, assistant professor, 1966-69, associate professor of theology, 1969-2001. Visiting lecturer in English, St. Mary's College, 1952-54.


American Academy of Religion, American Association of University Professors, American Association of University Women, National Organization for Women.


Natural Knowledge of God in the Philosophy of Jacques Maritain, Catholic Book Agency (Rome, Italy), 1966.

The Church and the Second Sex, Harper (New York, NY), 1968, with a new Feminist Postchristian introduction by the author, 1975, revised edition, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1985.

Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1973, 2nd revised edition, 1985.

Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1978, revised edition, 1990.

Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1984, revised edition, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

(With Jane Caputi) Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1987.

Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage: Containing Recollections from My Logbook of a Radical Feminist Philosopher, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1992.

Quintessence: Realizing the Outrageous, Contagious Courage of Women, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1998.

Amazing Grace: Re-calling the Courage to Sin Big, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to numerous anthologies, including Sisterhood Is Powerful, edited by Robin Morgan, Random House (New York, NY), 1970, and A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers, edited by Lee A. Jacobus, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994. Contributor to Dictionary of the History of Ideas; contributor of articles and reviews to Commonweal, New Yorker, Woman of Power, National Catholic Reporter, Quest, Social Policy, and other journals.


Philosopher and theologian Mary Daly's work has evolved from criticism of the anti-feminist stance of the Catholic Church—in The Church and theSecond Sex—to later books of more universal scope, centering on the misogynistic tendencies of society and how to deal with them. Religion is a cornerstone of society, however, and remains the starting point for Daly's theories. She maintains that all religions are patriarchal and thus they legitimize the patriarchal attitudes of the modern world. "All [religions] …," she writes in Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, "are erected as parts of the male's shelter against anomie. And the symbolic message of all the sects of the religion which is patriarchy is this: Women are the dreaded anomie. Consequently, women are the objects of male terror, the projected personifications of ‘The Enemy.’"

As the scope of Daly's books widens from a religious to a societal focus, so does her interest in what New York Times Book Review contributor Demaris Wehr described as "the role of language in the transformation of consciousness," a theme which Wehr found throughout Daly's work. In Wehr's review of Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy the critic noted that, while in The Church and the Second Sex Daly focuses on "antifeminism in language" and in Beyond God the Father suggests that new non-sexist words need to be created, in Gyn/Ecology and Pure Lust, Daly offers the reader a new feminist vocabulary. In both of the later books Daly takes derogatory terms for women, such as shrew, hag, or crone, and uses them as words of praise, capitalizing them to emphasize the importance of the women to which they refer. Her Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, a collaborative effort with Jane Caputi, is a glossary of these old words with new definitions, as well as the many new words created by Daly. Commenting on the feminist's vocabulary, Wehr noted: "Whether it is invigorating or arduous to read [these new words] (they are all Very Big) depends on varying factors, such as how alert the reader is at the time. But the point is, new words challenge us to think different thoughts in different ways. This is exciting."

In his Spectator review of Pure Lust, David Sexton elaborated more fully on Daly's unique use of language to express her beliefs. "Daly herself," he observed, "attempts to write a language that is free of unwanted associations—a form of alliterative thought chant, decorated with typographical freaks. Words are given arbitrary new histories—(‘we are not surprised to hear that dream is said to be etymologically related to the Latvian word (dunduris) meaning gadfly, wasp. For Metamorphosing women sting and provoke each other to Change’)…. Daly's prose is in fact thrillingly horrid; it reads like Carlyle under the influence of Finnegans Wake." In Sara Maitland's New Statesman review of the same volume, the critic expressed some doubts about Daly's style but also praised her work: "Daly is probably the most important Radical Feminist thinker around; she is also a writer of flamboyant brilliance—despite the fact that her addiction to alliteration is wearing, she has an unmatched depth of passion, imagination and pure verbal wit."

In addition to receiving both criticism and acclaim for her use of and emphasis on language, Daly has been widely celebrated for her attacks on what she considers patriarchal philosophies. In a review of Beyond God the Father for the Washington Post Book World, Adrienne Rich explained that "the major and most original portion of the book lies in its delineation of a feminist metaphysics and its closely argued affirmation of feminism as the radical source of vision—and liberation—in this century…. [Daly] sees the spiritual revolution of women as requiring not only self-transformation but a conscious resistance to patriarchy which involves collective activism in the world as much as inner travail. She insists upon the process, individual and communal, by which each woman must confront her own nonbeing under patriarchy." Alix Kates Shulman offered further praise in her Village Voice review: "Daly is the ultimate Christian feminist. What other radical feminists have revealed by analyzing patriarchal society's political, economic, social, and sexual institutions, Daly does for the spiritual institution on which Western civilization is founded."

In Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage: Containing Recollections From My Logbook as a Radical Feminist Philosopher, Daly offers an autobiographical account of the development of her philosophy. The book is divided into four sections, or "Spiral Galaxies." The first galaxy covers her childhood; her collegiate years, during which she earned seven higher degrees; the publication of her landmark book, The Church and the Second Sex; and the events surrounding Boston College's refusal to grant her tenure in 1969 (she began teaching there in 1966). The second galaxy covers the writing of Beyond God the Father, while the third galaxy includes the writing of her subsequent books, including Gyn/Ecology and Pure Lust. The fourth galaxy covers the present at the time Daly was writing the book, which was published in 1992.

"Through the medium of one woman's life—her own—Mary Daly invites us into the process of radical feminist philosophy," remarked Carol J. Adams in the Women's Review of Books. Adams, however, noted that Outercourse is far from being a straightforward autobiography: "Daly is not so much reading her life as an example of her theory or writing in her own voice for the first time … but placing herself philosophically within the ontological framework that her books provide in order to help elucidate those books." Mary Jo Weaver, writing in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that "Daly presents herself as inhabiting a universe of her own making. Most of her references are to her own work; her reflections on language and wordplay acknowledge neither context nor content beyond herself." Nonetheless, Weaver admitted that Outercourse "is alive with creative energy, impelled by an urgency of vision and infused with the ‘outlandish reality that is present in everyday occurrences.’" Commenting on Daly's legendary forthrightness and startlingly direct language, Adams stated that "Daly reminds us that it does none of us any good to mince words, to be humble or hold back speaking the truth." Adams added: "Outercourse will satisfy anyone curious about Mary Daly's life and her writings."

In Quintessence: Realizing the Outrageous, Contagious Courage of Women, Daly offers the concluding volume of her trilogy that includes Pure Lust and Gyn/Ecology. Daly projects forward fifty years, imagining a future reader contacting her on the fiftieth anniversary of the book from a society that has achieved a state of utopia. This serves as a backdrop for the evils of the world that Daly wishes to eradicate, including pornography, the abuse of animals and so-called bioethics; she also hypothesizes that at one point women reproduced on their own, and suggests this might again be possible. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that "Daly illuminates connections among mythology, religion and sociopolitical events with a piercing gaze and a pointing finger." Carol Anne Douglas, writing for off our backs, commented: "Daly's faith in the future bespeaks her isolation, and the isolation of many radical feminists, in the present. She is rightly angry that some radical feminist books are no longer in print and numerous women's bookstores have gone out of business. But when Daly is angry, she is never simply angry. Always she finds joy as well as rage in radical feminist knowledge; always she leads beyond the anger to the joy."

Summarizing her views for CA, Daly once wrote: "My fundamental interest is the women's revolution, which I see as the radical source of possibility for other forms of liberation from oppressive structures. I am interested precisely in the spiritual dimension of women's liberation, in its transforming potential in relation to religious consciousness and the forms in which this consciousness expresses itself. This is not ‘one area’ of theology; rather, it challenges the whole patriarchal religion."

Daly continued to challenge the patriarchal structure, even beyond the confines of religion. As a professor at Boston College, she steadfastly refused to admit men to her feminist ethics classes, stating that women learned better and participated more freely when they were allowed to take class without men. Instead, Daly would teach any interested male students privately. The College issued five separate warnings regarding her policy, but only in 1999, when she refused admittance to senior student Duane Naquin, did the issue finally come to a head. Naquin took his case to the Center for Individual Rights, a public interests and civil rights law firm in Washington, DC, and sued Boston College for discriminatory policies in violation of the 1972 legislation that bans any such discrimination by gender at an institution that receives federal funding. Daly was dismissed and her courses removed from the curriculum, but claiming Boston College was violating her tenure agreement, Daly fought back. Ultimately she settled out of court shortly before they were scheduled to go to trial. The result of her experiences is another book: Amazing Grace: Re-calling the Courage to Sin Big.

Well known for her feminist critiques, Daly uses Amazing Grace as a sort of feminist battle cry, encouraging women to stand up against the oppression of females in favor of the continued patriarchal society that surrounds them. She stresses the importance of making not only little changes, but big ones as well, and provides readers with a strident take on the feminine status in the modern world. In particular, she focuses on post-9/11 issues, such as the rise of technology, and the election of politicians firmly entrenched in patriarchal beliefs, and the effect of these changes on a woman's place in society. June Sawyers, in a review for Booklist, called the Daly's effort "a feminist manifesto, enjoining women to combat their oppressors." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews called the book "a sharp-tongued assessment of today's political landscape," concluding that it "requires a lot of work and yields little reward."



Contemporary Issues Criticism, Volume 1, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.

Daly, Mary, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1990.

Daly, Mary, Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage: Containing Recollections From My Logbook of a Radical Feminist Philosopher, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1992.

Ratcliffe, Krista, Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions: Virginia Woolf, Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1996.


Booklist, February 1, 2006, June Sawyers, review of Amazing Grace: Re-calling the Courage to Sin Big, p. 9.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2006, review of Amazing Grace, p. 25.

New Statesman, January 18, 1985, Sara Maitland, review of Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy, p. 28.

New York Times Book Review, July 22, 1984, Demaris Wehr, review of Pure Lust, p. 14; January 24, 1993, Mary Jo Weaver, review of Outercourse, p. 15.

off our backs, December, 1998, Carol Anne Douglas, review of Quintessence: Realizing the Outrageous, Contagious Courage of Women, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, August 17, 1998, review of Quintessence, p. 56.

Spectator, February 23, 1985, David Sexton, review of Pure Lust, p. 23.

Village Voice, January 31, 1974, Alix Kates Shulman, review of Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation.

Washington Post Book World, November 11, 1973, Adrienne Rich, review of Beyond God the Father, p. 2.

Women's Review of Books, March, 1993, Carol J. Adams, review of Outercourse, p. 1.


Mary Daly Home Page,http://www.marydaly.net (May 22, 2007).