Mary Daly, an influential feminist theologian, passed away on January 3 at the age of 81. She was a controversial figure, penning incredible works on feminism and religion and refusing to allow male students into her class; she also fell out of favor with many feminists (myself included) who read and enjoyed her early works but were appalled when we discovered her transphobia in later writings, and when we learned that she refused to publicly engage the criticisms of women of color, including Audre Lorde’s generous Open Letter.
Mary Daly’s life, in a lot of ways, is a microcosm of the public face of late 20th century second-wave feminism — a woman-centered radical movement that had (refreshingly, for some) little place for men, but that later found itself tripping over its narrowly-imposed definition of “woman.” She was a foremother, but one who eventually revealed herself unprepared (or unwilling) to embrace all of her children — especially the ones who failed to look or think like her. Her writings on religion were powerful and original and her thoughts and academic contributions certainly shaped the face of feminism today (in good ways and bad), but her particular brand of feminism has been, for good reason, rejected by many women, myself included. May her family and loved ones be at peace, and may the rest of us learn from her good works and leave her bad ones to dust.