Goodbye, Mary Daly

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.

Author: has written 5285 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
Return to: Homepage | Blog Index

50 Responses

  1. jayinchicago
    jayinchicago January 6, 2010 at 2:17 pm |

    Letting her off wayyyy too easy.

  2. ChrisJ
    ChrisJ January 6, 2010 at 3:00 pm |

    In the seventies, Daly’s feminist theology and unwavering challenges to the church were exactly what was needed. That she couldn’t move beyond her profoundly limited beliefs about humans is worse than unfortunate because of her influence. But without excusing her, we should take the positive and leave the rest behind as many other feminists of those time have.

  3. Marlene
    Marlene January 6, 2010 at 3:58 pm |

    Let’s not forget that she is probably the person most responsible for hijacking the term Radical Feminism and applying it to essentialist gender fundimentalism.

  4. little light
    little light January 6, 2010 at 4:16 pm |

    I appreciate your attempt at a balanced take, Jill. For better and for worse, Mary Daly mattered, especially in the feminist movement. She broke a lot of ground. Some of that ground–and being dissertation adviser for Janice Raymond and thus mentoring The Transsexual Empire is no small thing, nor is blowing off an extremely generous, gentle education from Audre Lorde because you won’t hear a woman of color–has done a great deal of harm, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t break ground, or that nothing she did was of worth. As a feminist theologian myself, I can hardly look away from that.
    I will admit that my first reaction to hearing the news was “and don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” but I won’t deny that Daly was part of creating the dialectic room to say so. She represented a great deal of what has historically been wrong with the feminist movement, certainly, but that is also due to her pioneering insistence as a woman–yes, a bigoted, transphobic, racist woman, but a woman–that she be heard, and that cannot be ignored.
    I’ve been upset by the uncritical, adoring eulogies as much as anyone–her work and influence have probably harmed me as a trans woman of color more than they’ve helped me as a queer woman in patriarchy–and was shocked at allegedly LGBTQ sites and sources fawning over what a great hero she was without acknowledging the oppression she practiced in her life and work. It’s nice to see a mainstream feminist site remembering her historical significance without papering over her bigotry, and acknowledging her achievements and innovations with honesty right alongside her failures.

  5. ThankGoddess
    ThankGoddess January 6, 2010 at 5:07 pm |

    She gave us all a bad name. Claiming to be a feminist while hating women and others, doesn’t make you a feminist. How was she ANY different from the Church? Fine she protested against it and then practiced the same kind of hate. She might as well have thumped the bibles for them.

    I for one will move on with my feminism happy that the controlling elements are [claimed] feminism are fewer and fewer.

  6. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin January 6, 2010 at 6:45 pm |

    In my opinion, Daly did more to contribute to second-wave feminist willful self-isolation than anyone, which is quite evident based on the fact that no one outside of women’s studies and gender studies circles knows or cares who she is.

    When Betty Friedan died, her death was reported everywhere. When Gloria Steinem dies, it will be heavily noted as well. When Mary Daly passed on, only those in a very narrow circle of interest had much of an opinion on her, for good or for bad. That might be the final eulogy of all final eulogies.

  7. Bill
    Bill January 6, 2010 at 8:29 pm |

    She spoke with power in different time and opened up ideological space that needed opening. But despite all the good she did, her message was deeply flawed. When her era called for a radical and unapologetic voice of challenge, her response was strong but often misguided. Her own lived reality was just too small and calloused, causing her to fall into transphobia, racism, and unsupported woo when she was reaching for paradigm shifting intransigence.

    It’s not enough to recognize something is fucked up and begin shooting. You need to aim your fire dead center into the heart of kyriarchy.

  8. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie January 6, 2010 at 9:10 pm |

    no one outside of women’s studies and gender studies circles knows or cares who she is.

    IOW, Mansplanation: “Nothing she said strikes me, a man, as being compatible with my comfortable and safe definition of feminism. Therefore she is utterly unimportant.”

    You’re an ass.

  9. SB
    SB January 6, 2010 at 9:28 pm |

    Thank you.

    S

  10. bellareve
    bellareve January 6, 2010 at 10:48 pm |

    tinfoil hattie: agreed.

  11. Joan Kelly
    Joan Kelly January 6, 2010 at 11:10 pm |

    I personally just got a kick out of someone claiming, on a blog, today, that no one knows or cares who Mary Daly was, one way or the other, when in fact it’s practically all I read about all day today on the internet! Way to nail it, dude!

  12. Joan Kelly
    Joan Kelly January 6, 2010 at 11:11 pm |

    Also, thank you for your comment, Little Light.

  13. ThankGoddess
    ThankGoddess January 7, 2010 at 12:22 am |

    “She spoke with power in different time and opened up ideological space that needed opening.”

    You mean opened up spaces that werent already opened? Like hate of another gender? Hate of Sex? Hate of transexuals? Sounds a LOT like the ideological spaces that were ALREADY opened by the Church to me.

    Whatever “contributions” she made are negated by the very controls we’ve been under for thousands of years, just the mirror image of them. Thanks but no thanks.

  14. A Guy In Denver
    A Guy In Denver January 7, 2010 at 12:39 am |

    An approach, Thank Goddess, that leaves you unable to appreciate the contributions of a single human being to any cause, since we are all flawed and none of us measure up. As you say, the things she did you disagreed with were not new; they were ideas prejudices already in existence, already strong. But the positive things she did were new – the world needed to hear it from her, because it hadn’t heard it before.

    Should we decide that Margaret Sanger did nothing of value because she also had some racist feelings? Should young single feminists who decide not to marry disregard everything Gloria Steinem ever taught, because she ended up marrying? Should we tear down the statues of abolitionists who tore down slavery, on the grounds that many of them were highly sexist?

    No. You look at people in their time and in their context, and if someone gets 60% of it right and 40% of it wrong – even if they get 20% of it right and 80% of it wrong – you celebrate the right and educate other people about the wrong. Otherwise, you end up surrounded by people who you can assess only in terms of how much they failed to live up to the perfect ideal – hardly constructive.

  15. Elly d'Yckgirl
    Elly d'Yckgirl January 7, 2010 at 5:10 am |

    A guy in denver: well, the thing is that there is sometimes a tiny line between acknowlegding the good things someone did, even if they were bigoted on some subjects, and contributing to make the people who were oppressed by this bigotry feel further marginalised, particularly when those issues (e.g., transphobia and racism) are unfortunately still present among current feminism movement.

    I think this post on feministe actually is pretty good acknowledging both aspects, in opposite to some others elsewhere which completely silence those issues and pretend they don’t exist.

  16. nedfl
    nedfl January 7, 2010 at 6:12 am |

    So her transphobia and racism were problematic, but her sexism and discrimination against men were ok?

  17. piny
    piny January 7, 2010 at 6:57 am |

    What Elly said.

    Melissa has said that she simply wasn’t aware of these problems, or any alternative understanding of Mary Daly’s life/work, but…quite. Transphobia passes without comment in a venue where trans people are silenced; racism passes without comment in a venue where people of color are silenced. Mary Daly contributed to that silence. Mary Daly was privileged to rehearse her own eulogy, and white cis women are privileged to receive it without the apocryphal appendices.

    I believe in the enormous value of her critiques of patriarchal religion and philosophy. I believe in the enormous value of her critiques of misogynistic violence. (Intimate abuse is actually illegal in my country nowadays; so is sanctuary abuse.) I don’t think it’s a balance sheet.

    Mary Daly worked to ensure that many women were shut out from this new understanding of women’s personhood: that violence against them and their words would still not be seen as properly misogynistic, entirely hateful. At a time when so many truths were being rewritten, she did not care to see them as women, as people, as real.

    From that angle, she occupies a place very similar to the church fathers she castigated. She did her part to maintain the boundaries they laid down. She was an iconoclast, but not in every history.

    Also, AGiD? Her context included a bunch of trans women who were very vocal about being hounded out of the movement, who were turned into sinners in the status-crime sense of being. We’re not talking about blissful ignorance here. And she didn’t just pull an old bad belief into the present–she did so at a time when a revolution was occurring. Her big fat fuck-you to a bunch of murderable women could hardly have come at a more damaging point in time.

  18. FW
    FW January 7, 2010 at 7:00 am |

    Daly was a part of the Liberation Theology movement, and the “Women’s Liberation Movement” was the feminist arm of liberation theology.

    The “liberation” here is basically how religion co-opted social progress, it comes from Catholicism … first there was outrage and unrest – and religion as always was right out in front of that, and it swooped in and decreed that liberation of the poor and downtrodden would be their new mission. Jesus wouldn’t come back if they didn’t do it – that was how the convinced the followers to start helping when they didn’t before. This was in the 60’s and 70’s…

    Consider how early christianity co-opted pagan holidays or observances, and turned them into christian holidays, and then the christian holiday became the status quo that few questioned, until recently anyway.

    Does anyone really think that organized religion, the Catholic church in particular was just standing by watching as women organized for rights?

    No, organized religion got in there on the ground floor, and you can see it anywhere a feminist argues that women deserve “dignity” more than they deserve “freedom”

    See the Co-opting in action on wikipedia, where “women’s liberation movement” has been merged with the “feminist movement” when only a few decades ago they were as different as radical feminism and liberal feminism.

  19. Ellid
    Ellid January 7, 2010 at 7:13 am |

    I found everything she wrote after “Beyond God the Father” all but unreadable. I wasn’t aware of her ttitude toward transwomen or women of color, but her hatred of men, to the point of deliberately flouting anti-discrimination laws by banning them from her classes, bothered me greatly. I also could not stand her theology and ultra-separatist attitudes.

    Frankly, my reaction when Boston College forcibly retired her (she was past their mandatory retirement age and had had several complaints filed against her) was “about time.” Her type of feminism wasn’t what women or religion needed to function in the world outside of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

  20. Gembird
    Gembird January 7, 2010 at 8:34 am |

    Jill, I think you found the balance here. You managed to be honest about Daly’s (pretty huge) flaws without just going on a rant about what a terrible person she was. Too many people go to one extreme or the other when talking or writing about somebody who died.

    As for Daly herself, more of us need to remember that an influential person is not necessarily the same thing as a good person.

  21. Unree
    Unree January 7, 2010 at 11:55 am |

    Jill, you wrote the perfect obituary for this complicated figure. And great comment, Tinfoil Hattie.
    I recommend Historiann’s blog post too.

  22. Dilan Esper
    Dilan Esper January 7, 2010 at 6:21 pm |

    It’s, I admit, somewhat self-serving for me to say this as a male, but it seems to me that Daly’s exclusion of men from her classes and very difference-centered feminism (especially her ecofeminism) is actually very much of a piece with the exclusion of trans- and minority women that Jill adverts to in this post.

    The question is whether feminism is, or should be, an inward-looking club or whether it should engage the world at large (and benefit all people, men as well as women, black as well as white, gay as well as straight, etc.). Nowadays, I think that argument’s basically been won by the engagers, but there was a time in which it was a really open question, and people like Daly represented a more exclusive, exclusionary vision of feminism.

    I should say as well that there are good sides to that vision as well as bad sides. Something like “Our Bodies, Ourselves” arose from the idea that women didn’t need men to explain their sexuality to them. (We just had a replay of that debate with the news about the g-spot study.) I don’t doubt, as a male who took feminist studies courses in law school, that Daly was absolutely right that the dynamic was different in female-only courses and that female students were able to open up and express things that they wouldn’t have felt comfortable expressing in front of men.

    But in the end, both for pragmatic reasons (because men hold so much power) and doctrinal ones (you can only get to true gender equality if men buy into the concept as well as women), Daly lost the argument. Outside of sex-segregated colleges, I don’t think there’s anyone out there insisting on segregated courses on feminist theory, and “difference feminism” in general had its moment with Carol Gilligan and has been taking a beating lately. But Daly’s still a huge figure in American feminist history and will be missed.

  23. Ginsu Shark
    Ginsu Shark January 7, 2010 at 8:23 pm |

    “So her transphobia and racism were problematic, but her sexism and discrimination against men were ok?”
    I second this. She advocated for the genocide of men at least once, and actively discriminated against them as well, but hardly anyone posting about her seems to be mentioning any of that…

  24. Mish's biggest fan
    Mish's biggest fan January 7, 2010 at 9:04 pm |

    How the fuck is Daly’s transphobia and racism equivalent to her exclusion of men – especially white men? White, able-bodied, straight men can enter any fucking classroom in the world. Give me a fucking break.

    Oh and Jill – nice obituary. Also am with little_light, Elly and piny.

  25. maevele
    maevele January 7, 2010 at 9:55 pm |

    and what needs to be considered, when people talk of her contributions to feminism vs her racism, transphobia, etc, is that those things were in fact her major contibution to feminism. very few feminists are still still muchly influenced by her thealogy work, but that thread of racism, transphobia etc is still mighty strong in modern feminists.

    thank you for this post

  26. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub January 7, 2010 at 10:11 pm |

    I had a hard time relating to her work–it was all a bit remote to me. I respected her parsing of words, was (at first) sympathetic to her anti-trans views until I stopped being an ignorant ass and learned more about trans issues. The Frankenstein references just creep me out now, and I do think there’s only so much good you can take from someone who propogated that kind of hate. I had zero sympathy (and have zero sympathy) for the cis d00ds who whine that she excluded them. Here’s a silver platter full of hankies, rack off and blow your nose.

  27. Bill
    Bill January 7, 2010 at 11:04 pm |

    ThankGoddess, if you’re going to deny that Mary Daly made ANY positive contributions to feminism, I will just have to disagree with you. Some of the challenges she presented to the patriarchy were revolutionary and very needed at the time.

  28. Dana
    Dana January 8, 2010 at 3:52 am |

    Yeah well, I must say I was somewhat disturbed that when I first looked at the comments there was no mention of how excluding men from her classes was pretty fucked up.

    I am no historian. I instinctively dislike this woman, but can appreciate she may have done some groundbreaking work. Good for her: good for us. But no tears here that the world has moved on.

    As for this:

    How the fuck is Daly’s transphobia and racism equivalent to her exclusion of men – especially white men? White, able-bodied, straight men can enter any fucking classroom in the world. Give me a fucking break.

    How the fuck do you see it as OK to be so goddamn aggressive? No one equivalated excluding men with transphobia or racism; and guess what? White, able-bodied, straight men are individual human beings who deserve to be treated like individuals just like I, as a mixed-race, queer, woman with a mental illness, deserve to.

    Besides which, I don’t know what the hell you think you’ll achieve by actively excluding any part of the population. It’s just ridiculous.

  29. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub January 8, 2010 at 11:06 am |

    Well, one thing you achieve is allowing a group that has been historically fucked over to have some space to themselves. I’ve seen this with the LGBT community, communities of color, and the poor, as well as women. I’m not offended or upset if say, African-Americans want space to themselves, and I’m not going to call them hateful or make a federal case about it. It’s not about excluding men (or whites, or straights, or cis people) as much as it is about having the space to talk more in-depth about our issues without constantly doing 101.

    It isn’t always about the feelings of the privileged.

  30. Andrea
    Andrea January 8, 2010 at 11:33 am |

    Sheelzebub, apparently she categorically excluded men from her *college classes*. If you want to avoid 101 discussions, you require a pre-rec, you know, an actual 101 class. The kind of class from which the term “101” derives. But excluding a group of people from certain classes at the university level based on who they are is wrong, wrong, wrong. Period. I understand marginalized groups wanting space for themselves, but the university curriculum is not the place to achieve that.

  31. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub January 8, 2010 at 11:55 am |

    Sure! And it would be nice if this standard was consistently decried. But I doubt you’ll see the press and the outrage that you did around Daly or anything that makes the privileged uncomfortable.

    BC told her it wasn’t cool, she left. As a private school, they can do whatever they like (including being male only, which they were as a college until recently and are as a high school even today). The Virginia Military Institute, a publicly funded military college, got away with excluding women for years until 13 years ago, and pointing out that THAT wasn’t cool generated all kinds of controversy. Legally, an institution can’t do that when it gets public money, but they got away with it for years. And we still get a lot of static over Title IX, but the same folks who freak out over the womenfolk invading sports and the military and who-knows-what-else are the first to be for inclusion when it comes to men at privately-funded institutions.

    I just find it telling that the privileged freak out when the less privileged don’t open their arms to them. Not even her classes, but her philosophy.

  32. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub January 8, 2010 at 12:01 pm |

    And having said that, just wanted to second what Little Light and Piny said. Much of her philosophy was problematic, but the butt-hurt fee-fees of cis men isn’t one of those problems.

    I think it’s really fucked up for people to yet again rank cis men as more important than anyone else–on a feminist blog to boot. She was exclusionary and hateful towards trans people, her rhetoric fed into a lot of anti-trans vitriol, yet some commenters here would rather focus on the hurt feelings of cis men, an inordinately privileged group. That’s pretty telling, and very messed up. Straight cis men being uncomfortable or trans people being the targets of very real hate crimes and violence, and Daly playing into the latter? No contest.

  33. Andrea
    Andrea January 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm |

    Rather than saying that the feeling of cis men are more important than the real threats faced by trans people, we can just add her exclusion of men to the long list of wrongs she committed, without taking anything away from the egregiousness of her transphobia. In this case, it seems we can have it both ways. My problem with her exclusion of men from her classes is that they need to be educated about feminism and equality perhaps more than most groups, and it is the responsibility of the university system to provide that education, to groom real allies for marginalized groups. Clearly Daly was incapable of doing that on many fronts, and perhaps its better that straight, cis men were spared her transphobia in the end, no reason to give them more fodder as a group. But I balk at the idea that exclusion is a model that should ever be used in the university setting, against anyone.

  34. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub January 8, 2010 at 1:06 pm |

    It is not my job or anyone else’s job to hold the hand of a privileged person and educate them. It is not the job of a gay man, a lesbian, a disabled person, a trans person, or a person of color to educate me. It is not the job of women to educate men. And as Jill pointed out, the 101 class was open to men.

    It’s quite telling that the outrage on the part of many commenters here isn’t on behalf of the trans community or communities of color (as Daly had some real issues with colonialism, as well). Nope, it’s about the fee-fees of cis men. What was outrageous to people was not Daly’s anti-trans views or her colonialism, nope! It was the fact that she was mean to cis men, an inordinately privileged group. That these folks are steering the conversation in this direction, and are basically erasing the issues of the trans community with all of this noise, is troubling to say the least.

  35. Andrea
    Andrea January 8, 2010 at 1:20 pm |

    Sheelzebub, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to come across as being overly concerned with the feelings of cis men as opposed to the trans community. As an Adjunct Professor and hopefully one day as a full professor, I was merely engaging in the facet of the argument with which I have more experience: the educational system. You wrote: “It is not my job or anyone else’s job to hold the hand of a privileged person and educate them. It is not the job of a gay man, a lesbian, a disabled person, a trans person, or a person of color to educate me. It is not the job of women to educate men.” I totally agree. However, it is the job of a professor, at any and all levels, not just in the 101 classes. I would not presume to speak on behalf of the trans community, not being a part of it myself, but I do feel that I can contribute on behalf of academia to an extent, which is why that was my focus.

  36. Andrea
    Andrea January 8, 2010 at 4:13 pm |

    Jill, I just saw your comment, and I feel I should respond. You wrote: “I also find it interesting that we’re focused on the exclusion of cis men” but at least for me, that wasn’t the main point. As an aspiring professor, I take the position seriously and I believe it comes with a lot of responsibility. I also think that her extremely flawed pedagogical methods deserve to be critiqued, and such an exercise doesn’t seem out of place on a thread dedicated to a critique of her feminism in general. Pedagogy is important to me, which is why I focused on it. NOT in order to erase “the issues of the trans community” as Sheelzebub said.

  37. Dilan Esper
    Dilan Esper January 8, 2010 at 4:33 pm |

    Sheez:

    I hope I wasn’t sounding like I was “defending the interests of cis men”. I thought I made clear that there were legitimate arguments in favor of Daly’s position with respect to her classes– specifically, that I suspect she was right that women can say things in an all-women feminist theory class that they may not be comfortable saying when men are present.

    The problem is that there are also benefits to obtaining the widest possible exposure for feminist arguments, and specifically for involving men in feminist discussions. And I think that despite the merits of her position, Daly ultimately lost the argument due to those benefits.

    It doesn’t make her wrong, or make her perspective invalid. She’s really a pretty big name in feminist thought and deservedly so. It’s just that a more inclusionary feminism than she believed in (whether it came to the transgendered or to men) is probably a more effective social movement.

    Note that none of this contradicts Jill’s point about creating women-only spaces. But it’s possible to create those spaces in other venues than upper division college classrooms.

  38. Ginsu Shark
    Ginsu Shark January 8, 2010 at 7:10 pm |

    There *is* a difference between pointing out her attitudes towards men and claiming that they were more important than (or even equivalent to) any of the other stuff (which other people more than adequately covered)…

  39. Elly d'Yckgirl
    Elly d'Yckgirl January 8, 2010 at 8:50 pm |

    Concerning the focus on the attitude towards men, what bothers me the most, as a trans dyke, is that it sometimes puts together trans women exclusion and cis men exclusion, as if it was the same categories (thus doing the same thing that the transphobe feminists do, except from the other side: saying “trans women=cis men”).

    I am not saying that it is that was done here, but I’ve had to dealt enough with supposed men allies explaining that “oh yeah, those dykes suck for not letting you enter their space… and they wouldn’t let me in either !” or, more insidiously, instrumentalising trans women in order to oppose all women/lesbians-only spaces, so that it ticles a bit when reading “oh, she should have been more inclusive, both to men and trans women”.

    I tend to agree that men exclusion from feminist spaces is not always the best route, but even when it’s doubtful that it’s the best tactic or that it’s relevant, it’s still the decision of an oppressed group on the privileged one. Which becomes completely different (more precisely, the reverse) when it’s cis women excluding trans women.

    Again, I’m not saying that I read “trans women = cis men” on this thread, just trying to explain why I find the criticism of a woman-only space just after the denoucing of trans women exclusion can be a sensitive matter :)

  40. Mish's biggest fan
    Mish's biggest fan January 9, 2010 at 11:09 am |

    How the fuck do you see it as OK to be so goddamn aggressive? No one equivalated excluding men with transphobia or racism; and guess what? White, able-bodied, straight men are individual human beings who deserve to be treated like individuals just like I, as a mixed-race, queer, woman with a mental illness, deserve to.

    Oh the irony.

    And I did see the exclusion of trans* and people of colour being equated with white, straight, cis men. In the following:

    Dilan Esper: “It’s, I admit, somewhat self-serving for me to say this as a male, but it seems to me that Daly’s exclusion of men from her classes and very difference-centered feminism (especially her ecofeminism) is actually very much of a piece with the exclusion of trans- and minority women that Jill adverts to in this post.”

    So yeah, try again.

    Moving right along – totally with Sheezlebub and Elly.

  41. Dilan Esper
    Dilan Esper January 9, 2010 at 8:52 pm |

    Mish’s

    To be clear, what I was saying is that I thought that Daly had a somewhat exclusionary approach to feminism that led her to both conclusions.

    That does not mean, however, that excluding men from classes imposes the same injury or to the same degree as excluding trans women.

    That said, I will say that this “oppressor” vs. “oppressed” business doesn’t get at why that is so. The problem isn’t “trans women are oppressed and cis men aren’t”, the problem is that trans women can add a perspective about living as a woman that is tremendously important to feminist theory, whereas cis men don’t really have anything like that to offer and (even worse) can chill the discussion.

    But I could imagine “oppressed groups”, like, say, disabled folks, African American males, and the like, who might be excluded from a hypothetical Daly class but who also wouldn’t be in a position to add to the discussion and understanding of gender issues like trans women.

  42. Martha
    Martha January 10, 2010 at 4:49 pm |

    I have to say what strikes me most about this discussion is how it reflects on where feminism could be today, and where it was then.

    Mary Daly seems to be hugely symbolic in a ‘gender wars’ sense.

    Who is more woman? Who is more human? Who is more privileged?

    Who is going to answer these questions?

    Anyway, I thought this was a good obituary.

  43. Kristin
    Kristin January 10, 2010 at 5:45 pm |

    Okay, seriously, people? I haven’t commented on feministe in a damned long time, but seriously??

    @Dilan Esper:
    “the problem is that trans women can add a perspective about living as a woman that is tremendously important to feminist theory, whereas cis men don’t really have anything like that to offer and (even worse) can chill the discussion. ”

    Uh, no. Just no. Trans women are not objects to be instrumentalized toward the end of feminist theory. You’ve got the problem all wrong. One of the *many* problems with Daly’s worldview is that, in point of fact, TRANS. WOMEN. ARE. WOMEN. Just women. Not “special women who are interesting for feminist theory a la Butler because they can help us with our theories.”

    And the language of…”something to offer” to a feminist class? Are you serious? So, trans women “owe” cis women in the context of a feminist class? That’s what “they’d” better have, then, to qualify for inclusion? “Something to” bloody “offer”?

    “But I could imagine “oppressed groups”, like, say, disabled folks, African American males, and the like, who might be excluded from a hypothetical Daly class but who also wouldn’t be in a position to add to the discussion and understanding of gender issues like trans women.”

    Oh, that’s beautiful, there. So, here’s me, a disabled woman… I guess *that’s* why I hated that women’s studies class I took so motherfucking much. I’m disabled. It hadn’t ever really clicked until now: I had nothing to *add*/*offer* to the class. Oh.

    Whatever, though. I don’t wanna derail. There’s enough trans fail there that I’m not gonna focus on the disability fail bonus. I don’t even wanna get into that beyond, you know what? Yeah, asshole, some of us have what we call intersecting identities. That actually goes for all of your fail here, frankly.

  44. Kristin
    Kristin January 10, 2010 at 5:50 pm |

    ETA: And, as has been pointed out multiple times, Mary Daly did not recognize that trans women are women. Her problem was *not* that she didn’t recognize how “useful trans women are for cis feminist theory.” She directed entire dissertations that instrumentalized trans women for cis feminist theory. That’s not the point.

    And also? People are just people. Not objects. Not there to further feminist theory. Just fucking people.

  45. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub January 11, 2010 at 8:27 am |

    Just posting a high-five to Elly, Mish’s biggest fan, and Kristin. And seconding everything they said.

  46. Dilan Esper
    Dilan Esper January 11, 2010 at 1:08 pm |

    Uh, no. Just no. Trans women are not objects to be instrumentalized toward the end of feminist theory.

    I’m not saying they are. But I am saying that if you excluded trans women from a feminist studies course, you would impoverish the discussion in a way that you wouldn’t if you excluded cis- men (including African Americans or disabled men).

    It isn’t that trans women are to be valued solely for instrumental reasons, but that because Daly was thinking in instrumental terms, her refusal to see trans women as women was counterproductive to her own goals of creating a good space for feminist discourse.

    Believe me, I think trans women are women and that feminism should be as inclusive as possible. Daly was a great figure but was wrong on these issues. I’m just trying to get at exactly why she was wrong (and why she was nonetheless great).

Comments are closed.

The commenting period has expired for this post. If you wish to re-open the discussion, please do so in the latest Open Thread.