Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly

So, Mary Daly died.


Now, if you know about me, even a little, you will know I have a complicated relationship with the works of Mary Daly. At first, they were everything I embraced about feminism; then, they were everything I tried to reject. It seems selfish, when talking about a dead woman, to talk exclusively about what she meant to you; it’s laying a claim on the woman that you do not actually have. I wasn’t in her life; I didn’t know her. But we are selfish, about the dead – particularly when their work is all we really have of them. It’s hard to keep from injecting yourself into the conversation.

So: I was raised Catholic. Strictly Catholic, in point of fact; my mother converted, and she went at the religion with the zeal that only newcomers have, before they get that complex ambivalent family relationship to the faith. My father was Catholic because he was Catholic; it was a cultural identity, not necessarily a religious one. My mom, on the other hand, was Catholic because she believed in Catholicism. And she’s the one who raised me.

The Church was the most important thing in my young life, the center of moral and ontological authority, the thing that made the rules that made the world. So, when I started asking Questions – you know, the sort that girls ask, if they are of a certain bent – it was the Church I asked about. Did Mary ever get to have any other babies with her husband? Why not? How come Jesus was a boy, and all the Apostles were boys? How come all the priests were boys? How come God was a boy? What was this stuff about how women shouldn’t teach, and how they should submit to their husbands? Did God just basically like boys better? Why? Did God like boys better because God was a boy? Was that it? If so, why was God good? These were the questions. Not insignificant ones. And note that I did not go to “is God real,” or even “is God appropriately represented by the Church,” for quite some time; it was “is God good” that worried me. My path was blasphemy, not rejection; when a metaphysical or cultural framework is that powerful, you rebel against it instead of just walking away, because escaping the framework is more or less inconceivable. It permeates your entire understanding of the world; there’s no doing without it. Yelling at or about it, on the other hand, is pretty easy.

So, at about twelve or thirteen years old, I found out about feminism, and started to research it at the library. Unsurprisingly, many of the books I found were seminal second-wave books. And I tried to care, but they somehow didn’t reach me as deeply as I needed them to. They were about work, money, motherhood, sex – none of which I had access to. The Beauty Myth started to get at certain things, for me, but I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup or provocative clothing or sexualize myself anyway, so I just ended up feeling superior to all those stupid slutty girls who did – a deeply misogynist reaction in the name of feminism, which it took me a good long while to get over.

And then there was Mary Daly. Beyond God the Father. BLAM. Right there, in the title, was the very particular revolution I needed. Daly argues, in that book, that to envision God as a man – and particularly a father – is to make men, and fathers, Gods on earth. I’d had some nasty experiences with fathers who thought they were Gods, and Gods of the wrathful, Old Testament variety at that, so I was deeply sympathetic to Daly’s argument. I kept the book secret, for a while, so that my mother wouldn’t take it away; then, I started carrying it around, daring her to try it, because wasn’t defiance what this was all about? She never did try; she’s a smart woman, and she knew better than to enable my particular need for martyrdom. And so, I read as much Daly as I could find.

Have you ever read Daly? I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t; even back then, her work was difficult to find. And it’s not an easy read, either. The quotes that are going around, in most of the remembrances, are some of her more conventionally phrased. A lot of her work actually looks like this:

Reflecting upon my travels in the First Spiral Galaxy I Re-Call the experience of being pushed/directed by a Great Wind. Traveling in that early Time involved sailing the surface of the Subliminal Sea, Sensing its depths, while not being overtly conscious of the contents of those depths, at least not to a sustained degree. Occasionally I had conscious glimpses, and these were enough to keep me on Course. I could feel through my Craft the swishings and swirlings that rocked the boat, so to speak. Some of these, I think, were the result of E-motions and psychic sensations that smolder in Undersea Volcanoes, just under the threshold of conscious awareness. These eruptions were my Moments of Prophecy and Promise.

If you have any idea what the fuck she is talking about, on the first reading, congratulations. Granted, this is from an introduction to Gyn/Ecology, written in her later style, after she had gone full William Blake on us, but the rest of the book isn’t any easier. Daly essentially invented her own language, re-purposing words based on often dubious etymology, anthropology, and her own whims. By the end of her career, she often didn’t even bother to explain what her new words meant; you had to have been around for the first explanation in order to get it. (Also? If you have Ever Wondered where I picked up my habit of Misusing Capitalization in the name of Emphasis, or Just for Fun, this might be Your Answer.) Look at the above passage: if it weren’t for the “so to speak,” you wouldn’t even know that she was using metaphor. And maybe she wasn’t. Daly answered her more practical sisters in the movement with an entirely new approach: feminism as visionary spiritual experience. She sounds like a saint describing her visions, like St. John with his Revelations, like a mystic detailing journeys in the Otherworld. She also sounds completely loopy. But all of this was, in fact, deeply intentional. Compare, for example, this other passage, from the same introduction, which I will quote at length:

One of the responses to Gyn/Ecology was a personal letter from Audre Lorde, which was sent to me in May 1979. For deep and complex personal reasons I was unable to respond to this lengthy letter immediately. However, when Lorde came to Boston to give a poetry reading that summer, I made a point of attending it and spoke to her briefly. I told her that I would like to discuss her letter in person… Our meeting did in fact take place at the Simone de Beauvoir conference in New York on September 29, 1979… I explained my positions clearly, or so I thought. I pointed out, for example, in answer to Audre Lorde’s objection that I failed to name Black goddesses, that Gyn/Ecology is not a compendium of goddesses. Rather, it focuses primarily on myths and symbols which were direct sources of christian myth. Apparently Lorde was not satisfied, although she did not indicate this at the time. She later published and republished slightly altered versions of her original personal letter to me.

Well! Nothing vague or mystical there! Dates, names, locations: it’s all there. Well, all of it except for Mary Daly’s accountability, or any admission that she might have been wrong. Audre Lorde’s letter to Mary Daly, which you can find in Sister Outsider, continues to be a powerful and relevant critique of white privilege in radical feminism, which Daly misrepresents here so profoundly that one wonders if she even understood it in the first place. For starters, Lorde never asked for a compendium of goddesses: she mentioned them as part of an argument that Daly included African and black female suffering, but not African or black female experiences of mutual care and resistance. If Daly had anything to say to this, other than “it was so mean to publish that about me,” we don’t know: she maintained that “public response in kind would not be a fruitful direction.” Other than the public response that casts Lorde in the most unfavorable light and misrepresents the nature of their dispute, apparently.

It wasn’t the end of the problems with Daly. For starters: Daly hated on trans people something fierce. This has been sort of lightly mentioned and hinted at elsewhere, but I have to tell you this in plain language: MARY. DALY. HATED. TRANS. PEOPLE. Particularly trans women. She intimated, at times, that they were part of a plot to eliminate “real” women, and to assign “men” all “authentic” female functions. She also said that they were like whites putting on blackface (yeah: Lorde might have been right, about the whole appropriating-other-people’s-oppression thing?) and implied that they should have bodily violence done to them, or at least should be physically intimidated, by “real” feminists, so that they could not enter the feminist movement or feminist space. Let’s not be coy, here: no matter whether she believed this for her entire life, no matter whether she privately got over it later, she published it, without apparently ever publishing a retraction, as far as I can tell. This is hate. This is privilege. This, right here, is the face of the oppressor.

And I’m not saying this to defile Mary Daly’s grave. I’m not saying it because I get a dirty little thrill out of tarnishing the legacy of a fallen feminist. I’m not saying it because I want to start a fight. I’m saying it because, for much of my young life, Mary Daly was my favorite feminist author, meaning that I believed this shit, too. There are still women who believe this, and these women often call themselves “radical feminists.” Because queer-bashing and misogyny are just so fucking threatening to the Patriarchy, apparently. I believed it, because Mary Daly published it, and I believed in her. And, let me tell you, I have worked like Hell Itself to get over that, and to get over the privilege that allowed me to place such emphasis on my own oppression that I could go around blithely oppressing other folks because clearly I had won the Whose Suffering Is Most Important game, and to be an actual functioning ally. Some encouragement from Mary Daly – some retraction, some statement of accountability – would have helped. It would have slapped me out of this unbelievably gross way of thinking with one blow, rather than making me go through life hurting people and being an asshole and having to receive many, many less powerful slaps until I got my shit straight.

Daly and I were both Catholics, at one point, so I know both of us understand the power of Confession – not the version handed out by the church, where you say it and apologize for it and have all your guilt magically wiped away by the hand of God, but the version that actually works in the real live world, where you admit to being wrong and you take your consequences like a grown woman and you do your acts of contrition and your assigned penance, for the rest of your life, by living with those consequences and not repeating the actions that caused them in the first place. People might forgive you; they might not. The point is to value doing the right thing, for the sake of the right thing, more than you value your own personal comfort. If you’re only apologizing so that people will forgive you, it’s not an apology; it’s an act of selfishness, an attempt to evade accountability. And if you never make Confession, and volunteer to be held accountable, you ultimately deprive yourself of any chance that you will be absolved.

And, unless a published retraction of her transphobia and other acts of privilege manages to surface, absolution will not come to the legacy of Mary Daly. None of this means that she was not important, or that she didn’t have anything to say: she was, she did, and it is a damn shame that her work is currently so obscure. She was important to me: I probably wouldn’t be a feminist without her influence. But I probably wouldn’t have been such a bad feminist without her influence, either. Like many people before her, she’s left the world as a human being, and remains with us now only as a legacy. It’s an important legacy – because of its accomplishment, because of its uniqueness, because of its tremendous potential to harm – that we cannot, and should not, ignore.

[Cross-posted at Tiger Beatdown.]


Okay. So, this post would appear to have gotten around a bit. And now, comments are going in the direction that I feared they would go when I wrote the post in the first place. We were able to avoid that for quite a while! And for that, I thank you! But, for the record, here is what we will be discussing in this here comment thread:

  • Mary Daly’s legacy, for better or worse, and specifically her legacy of privilege and transphobia, and the accountability she bears for spreading some very dangerous ideas that furthered the marginalization of an already very oppressed group of people.

Here is what we will NOT be discussing:

  • Whether transphobia is really sort of okay. Like, couldn’t it be acceptable because Daly considered trans women “men?” ANSWER: No, you stupid person, you. NO. It is very much NOT okay.
  • Whether it is acceptable or “nice” to hold a published, influential author accountable for her transphobic views, which she not only published, but taught, and mentored other authors with, thereby substantially creating a lineage of transphobic “feminism.” ANSWER: You bet your ass it’s okay to hold her accountable. It’s not okay to do OTHERWISE, in fact.
  • Whether antifeminist trans women exist. ANSWER: Probably some of them do! There are a lot of antifeminist women in the world, and some of them might be trans! However, that is not the point of this thread, which is peopled (if you haven’t noticed) by a whole lot of non-antifeminists, or “feminists,” trans and cis, thereby rendering your argument pretty damn invalid.
  • Whether or not the existence of some antifeminist trans women somewhere – hey, maybe you even met some once! I’m sure you’re eager to share your anecdotes! – is ultimately responsible for Mary Daly’s extreme transphobia, and therefore an excuse for it. ANSWER: Seriously? You’re reading a blog called “Feministe,” and you haven’t figured out that it’s wrong to engage in victim-blaming? That shit is just plain sad.

84 comments for “Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly

  1. ginasf
    January 7, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Sady, yours was my favorite essay I’ve read on the passing of Mary Daly. It’s also one of the few which really personalized both her liberating and hatful influence on most feminists. So many other eulogies for her mention her transphobia as some abstract conceptually wrong belief rather than how it actually affected their lives and permeated their behaviors and attitudes towards transpeople even now (especially towards transwomen). She was a powerful woman who fought battles with powerful messages and those messages aren’t soon expunged. As a transwoman in my 50s, I’m still dealing with my own sins of “attrition” including homophobia, sexism, ablism and racism in my own life and I know how hard they can be to banish. I wish Ms. Daly could have made more efforts to do so for herself. Needless to say, complex figures will deserve a very mixed send-off, and I don’t imagine Daly would have expected it any other way.

  2. ginasf
    January 7, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Oops, I wrote ‘attrition’ when I meant ‘contrition’!! Meh, I’m a Jew, what do I know?!

  3. January 7, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    I like this post.

  4. Katie
    January 7, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    This is really good. Greatly appreciated.

  5. January 7, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you for this, Sady–especially for explaining that it can both be true that Daly led you to feminism, and that she led you astray, that she could be a powerful force for getting many women thinking and fighting for themselves while injecting in their awakening the poison of re-enacting and perpetuating oppression on their sisters.

    Ginasf’s right–I keep seeing Daly’s transphobia–really, specifically, transmisogyny–and race issues listed as a sidenote of some kind of, well, she was of her time, we can’t be going on about intellectual purity, she held some false beliefs sort of level. But her harm to the trans community was concrete: she was specifically part of ejecting trans people from the feminist movement, and, like Robin Morgan and Janice Raymond, encouraged that it be done violently if necessary. She preached extermination of trans women and presented us as dangerous, duplicitous monsters who should be fought at every turn. She encouraged war on us, and midwifed ideas and actions that concretely not just cut us out of the project of liberation, but denied us medical services, legal protections, and more. She didn’t just sort of abstractly forget to include us in the march toward progress–she worked to harm us, and her notions of who trans people are are still in vigorous commerce with everyone from Julie Bindel and Sheila Jeffreys to the bloggers who show up on a regular basis to send me hate mail about how I want to attack cis women and steal their organs and anything they do to trans people is justified because they’re just fighting back their male oppressors damn it. Nearly every time a door has been slammed in my face in queer, feminist, or progressive community, it has been backed up by justification from the ideas of Daly’s protege, Janice Raymond, or of Mary Daly herself. I’ve gotten lucky and gotten by, but I believe that the negative impact of this school of thought, of this work, and of the actions inspired by it, has resulted in trans deaths. Period. And as far as Mary Daly was concerned, as far as her work stated, that was a positive outcome.

    I have seen justifications that, well, Mary Daly really changed her mind about trans people at the end, and just never managed to say so in public, or that she really had a for reals secret conference with Audre Lorde where Audre was just mean and hurt her feelings and didn’t understand anything, and she never responded in public to the Open Letter because she was just so hurt–and I’m sorry, I don’t buy it, and even if I did, it doesn’t mitigate the real harm she did on the record. As a feminist, stripping away my life as a person of color and a trans person, I can see her as a flawed but well-meaning and courageous ideological foremother who did some good and should be acknowledged for fighting the good fight, despite her mistakes. As a whole person, I can only see her and her followers as a weapon pointed straight at me. And asking women of color and trans women to ignore those oppressions and appreciate what Mary Daly did for cis white women is a matter of privilege, period. It’s like trickle-down economics of justice, and it doesn’t wash.

    So yeah, I will salute Mary Daly, Sady, for bringing people like you to feminism and giving you the chance to grow past her errors once you got there, and I will consider that valuable. I will salute her impact on feminist theology, though my heroes in that field run much more toward Amina Wadud and Farid Esack. And as a person of compassion looking at a human being with strengths and flaws, triumphs and crimes, I will hope that she rests, but I grit my teeth and choke on in peace.

  6. Willow
    January 7, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Love this post, Sady. Awesome.

    Her transphobia and racism/colonialism/cultural appropriation was and is appalling.

    She also seriously harmed–hopefully not irreparably–Christian women. The points she raised about the dangers of envisioning God as male and as Father, particularly as father was understood in New Testament times, is a lesson that needs to be addressed by the Church, not by saying, “Women who have the privilege/ability to leave it, leave. Don’t try to change things.” Because not all girls and women want this option or HAVE this option. (Christianity bashers out there, please take note of that.) I respect any individual’s right to leave the Church, let me be clear on that, but ANY call not to try to fight sexism in an institution that includes hundreds of millions of women and majorly influences wider culture is despicable.

    Adding onto little light’s conclusion: Mary Daly makes me wish I believed in purgatory.

  7. Samantha b.
    January 7, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    little light, I think yours is a really beautifully stated, dead-on comment. Thanks for cutting right to the core so effectively.

  8. January 7, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Sorry, but this is all I need to remember Mary Daly:

    Daly hated on trans people something fierce. This has been sort of lightly mentioned and hinted at elsewhere, but I have to tell you this in plain language: MARY. DALY. HATED. TRANS. PEOPLE. Particularly trans women. She intimated, at times, that they were part of a plot to eliminate “real” women, and to assign “men” all “authentic” female functions. She also said that they were like whites putting on blackface (yeah: Lorde might have been right, about the whole appropriating-other-people’s-oppression thing?) and implied that they should have bodily violence done to them, or at least should be physically intimidated, by “real” feminists, so that they could not enter the feminist movement or feminist space. Let’s not be coy, here: no matter whether she believed this for her entire life, no matter whether she privately got over it later, she published it, without apparently ever publishing a retraction, as far as I can tell. This is hate. This is privilege. This, right here, is the face of the oppressor.

    Women like me are ostracized, hated, and often dead because of women like her. To ignore that and frame her in any way but is a privilege I don’t have, and one I’m not about to pretend I don’t see my cis feminist “allies” engaging in a hell of a lot these past few days.

    If the details of this story involved anything but a white cis woman who published hate speech against trans women it wouldn’t be tolerated for a split second.

    • January 7, 2010 at 4:20 pm

      @gudbuytjane: You know what? Fair enough.

      @little light: Thank you so much for that! I have always really loved your work, so that’s an honor.

      @Everybody: Thank you all, so much, also. This has been a really great discussion thus far and I appreciate it.

  9. January 7, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Thank you, Sady. This is the best post on Daly’s passing that I’ve seen–a post that, it should be noted, is not afraid to speak the truth (no matter how disgusting and disturbing it may be).

  10. January 7, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    This is a superlative column, and one that does a nice job of balancing the good of Daly with the very bad. Which one weighs more is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. (I find her transmisogyny hard to get beyond, myself.) But it’s a good look at how we can find good in bad people, and bad in good people — and a bit of both in everyone.

  11. January 7, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Mary Daly sounded awesome. I’ve never heard of her until I read this. I’m gonna check her works out.

  12. Mandolin
    January 7, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    This is an amazing essay, Sady. Beautifully written and clear-eyed.

  13. January 7, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    Mary Daly was very liberating for me, when I was trying to break free from the Catholic church. Later on, when I came across her transphobia, and her non-response to Audre Lorde, I lost my admiration for her, and became deeply ambivalent about her as a feminist. If I am to see her as a whole person, then I can’t just focus on her magnificent work in The Church and the Second Sex; I have to see the privilege at work too.

    Thank you for this excellent post.

  14. January 7, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    I read this on Tiger Beatdown earlier today…and wow…this is the best Daly essay I have seen yet. I bookmarked it to share later. Thank you, because really, I knew very little about her, and you did such a great job. Thanks!

  15. January 7, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    This is a great post, and it resounds for me on two major levels. The two authors who made the biggest impression on me as a baby feminist were Mary Daly and Germaine Greer, two widely known feminists with seriously unapologetic transmisogyny issues. I was introduced to Daly by a friend’s mother, who urged me to read her works and leave the church altogether (I was a non-believer who held on to the church community for years after realizing my atheism) by adopting an intellectually feminist argument why it was actively harmful to me as a young woman to continue to engage with it. The second was Germaine Greer, who was probably the larger influence on me then. What is hard as a lapsed fan of much of their work is remembering the exhilaration I felt discovering that there are other ways to imagine oneself and one’s world to be and knowing that it was their work and scholarship that awakened me, alongside the knowledge that they advocated a gross, very literal violence towards trans people, and a particularly hateful violence toward trans women in particular.

    Greer is another post (could I have had worse taste in feminism then?). bell hooks, Derrick Jensen, Mary Daly, Germaine Greer, other bloggers — it’s hard because many of the people who have most influenced me are a mixed bag. Take what is useful and be openly critical of the rest.

  16. Bill
    January 7, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Yeah, Lauren, it’s hard to accept that that same person who made such revolutionary and good points could also hold such monstrous views. Seriously, if the Mary Dalyian utopia were realized, I would be deeply afraid. She claimed she wanted to bring about a paradigm shift where we wouldn’t have a hierarchy, but in her utopia, I struggle to see how anybody but white women would be on top.

  17. Bill
    January 7, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    Sorry, I should have specified, I meant white CIS-women. Darn privilege :(

  18. January 8, 2010 at 1:35 am

    Mary Daly was a huge influence on me too! I am glad to see that anyone had heard of her; she is so forgotten now. THanks for this!

    I never read/heard about her HATER problems; I only read one book by her, as a teen. I am glad I didn’t KNOW she was a HATER! It is so weird how a person can be so TRUTH-SEEING in one way and so blind in other ways. But it is a fact of humanity; no one is a paragon, not even Lincoln, not even MLK Jr.

    It must be possible to take the good from her work and leave the bad, just as it must be possible to do so with EVERY ONE ELSE.

  19. January 8, 2010 at 4:46 am

    @KMTBerry You never read about her “hater” problems because of privilege.

    “It must be possible to take the good from her work and leave the bad, just as it must be possible to do so with EVERY ONE ELSE.”

    Apologism is apologism. I don’t separate Roman Polanski’s film work from his history as a rapist. I don’t separate Mary Daly’s ‘good work’ from her part in perpetuating the culture of hatred and violence towards trans people and trans women in particular. She didn’t do it passively, rather she was a major influence on the work (like that of Janice Raymond’s) of those who would have trans people erased. That’s genocide, and that isn’t anything I can look over for the ‘good’ parts.

  20. January 8, 2010 at 11:06 am

    This is going to be an unpopular response.
    As a Pagan feminist theologian, the debt I owe Mary Daly is huge. As a feminist woman, that debt is also huge. As one with an intersexed/transsexed history I cannot and will not join the hate fest against her because my own experiences as a feminist woman taught me she wasn’t completely wrong. Please allow me to explain.

    Almost none of the transwomen trashing Daly even knew who she was prior to her death, I can practically guarantee most of them never read any of her books. No, if they know her name it is because she was Janice Raymond’s mentor and among transwomen, Raymond is Satan. Now most of them never actually read Transsexual Empire either, it is an article of trans-faith one must hate Raymond with the irony being I’d never met a feminist who even knew who Raymond was until some transwoman told them about her.

    Now was there ever any justification for the positions that Daly and Raymond held? Many years ago I used to argue with rad-fems on that and then a funny thing happened. Over and over I was personally exposed to exactly those same behaviours both complained about… those who claimed some sort of “sisterhood” with me by virtue of my having been surgically assigned male at birth (I was born intersexed) and transitioning as an adult. With one major difference to most of them beyond the intersexed thing, I had always been a lifelong feminist, always been aware of my own femaleness and hyper-aware of male privilege.

    I watched feminist after feminist do a mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa on trans people when I was beginning to experience something I had to coin a word for, neo-gynophobia, in the various “trans communities”. It’s out there in plain view but any mention is immediately shouted down as transphobia. Now that’s rich. My need to make my body match my soul/central nervous system/whatever was downplayed and even insulted and the rationale to do so was exactly the same as Raymond expressed! My, and other’s like me, post corrected bodies were insulted as faux vaginas, inverted penises, mutilated crotches and we were told we would never ever ever be “real” woman. Not by rad-fems, by transgender identified people! My participation in NOW was criticized by trans women because I did so as a woman without modifiers!

    And talk about hatred? I’ve been subjected to hate crimes, death threats, open attempts to destroy every aspect of my life, even turned in to Homeland Security as a terrorist and outed so I would lose my job. By evil rad-fems? By the Christo-fascist right?…….no, by transpeople because I named and talked about neo-gynophobia. I know first hand the hatred Julie Bindle has experienced.

    So will I repudiate all that I gained from Mary Daly’s life work because she had issues with trans women? Not on your life. In this respect she was wrong in many ways but also she was no worse than many that now demand her life be judged on this aspect. The only question is will this even be allowed to be expressed here?

    • January 9, 2010 at 1:06 pm

      @Cathryn: Okay, you’re up. You’re offensive – demanding that we somehow consider the existence of some nameless anti-feminist trans women who don’t like you, SOMEWHERE, as ultimately worse and more important than Daly’s extremely influential transphobia, accusing the people who have been intelligently discussing Daly’s and Raymond’s work in some detail of not having read it, strangely stereotyping trans women while positing yourself as the more “authentic,” “better” trans woman (and I may not have a place to say this, but let me tell you: it bugs) and otherwise derailing the thread and attempting to place the weight of the blame and the conversation on Very Bad Trans Women rather than on, say, transphobia and Mary Daly (otherwise known as, “the topic of the post”) – but you’re up.

      Positioning yourself as a martyr is kind of a narcissistic, obnoxious way to go, for the record, even leaving aside the offensive content of your comment. Will this even be published? I will write this comment, and include a statement about how it probably will not be published! Then I will write a blog post about how I wasn’t published! And another comment about how not-published I am! Even though I predicted I would not be published! Because I appear to have realized that I was engaging in an epic attack on other trans ladies and wanted to cause a massive derailing of an otherwise productive discussion! Yeah. Sorry. You are not Sweet Feminist Jesus, and no-one is plotting against you. I’ve been being really careful with the comments on this thread, checking in at least once every half hour to make sure it stays productive, responding more than usual, etc. But on this particular night – FRIDAY NIGHT – I went out with my best friend to celebrate a personal victory of hers, had some cheese fries and margaritas with her, stopped by LUSH to pick up some bath bombs, and then crashed on the couch with a bottle of wine watching “Starship Troopers.” Such was the nature of my massive plot to silence you. Meaning? I DIDN’T FUCKING CARE. Approving your comment was not the first thing on my priority list.

      Everyone else: the inflow of clueless comments is getting a bit high, so read the IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT in the post before you speak, please.

  21. January 8, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Thanks for this post. I devoured Beyond God The Father and read–I don’t remember if it was the whole thing–Gyn/Ecology in the early to mid 1980s. Both books were profoundly important to me more for what I understand now as their descriptive accuracy in terms of patriarchy rather than the solutions Daly proposed in them. I was back then completely ignorant of Daly’s transphobia–nothing even remotely resembling trans issues was anywhere close to being on my radar at the time–and only vaguely aware of the questions about race and racism in her work raised by Audre Lorde. Even though I have paid little or no attention to Daly’s work since I first read it, and have, frankly, left behind a lot of what I originally thought about it, it is good to have a more rounded picture of work that was as important to my development back then as Daly’s.

  22. ginasf
    January 8, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    While I totally understand people fondly remembering the powerful impact Daly’s words had on them in the 80s, it bothers me when people say, “I just didn’t even think about trans people then.” I suspect what you mean is, “I thought about them negatively or I considered them outcasts.” Moreover, I have a concern when, unlike Sady, they pretend they didn’t even know about Daly’s very obviously stated bigotry towards transwomen (especially when they read or had contact with the ideas from Gyn/Ecology, her second most famous work) and pretty much dismiss it with a cursory, “of course, her attitudes towards transpeople are wrong.” Sorry, but if she made that deep an impact on you in terms of religion or feminism, I would suggest she made an equally deep impact in terms of transphobia, specifically hatred/suspicion of transwomen. It might behoove you to reexamine her (unconscious??) influence on you on this very issue with greater depth and understanding. Sadly, I’ve heard far too many claim they read one part of her writing and spaced out on the transphobic parts, which sounds a bit like a denial of where that person really is on trans issues. Being in a place of denying the social acceptability of transphobia (specifically hatred and mistrust of transwomen) is not equivalent to a true self-examination of how you were influenced by the undercurrent of transphobia in much of second wave feminism (of which Daly was just a small part) and how those attitudes still manifest themselves in your daily political and social life.

  23. longviewer
    January 8, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    As someone quite involved in Second Wave feminism, I feel confident in saying that, hard as this may be to believe, trans concerns were, indeed, very seldom discussed or contemplated–as was true in the larger culture, as well. In fact, the Michigan Womyn’s Music festival was itself a small part of Second Wave feminism, significant as it was to radical lesbian feminists and, ultimately and differently, to trans women. I would also note that Mary Daly’s trans bias was widely shared among feminists and Americans in general at that time, and that to say that she bears any kind of significant responsibility for the trans bias of Second Wave feminism or the twentieth-century U.S. is deeply ahistoric. Trans bias was rampant and overwhelmingly unchallenged in the larger culture, and Second Wave feminism reflected that; Daly, unusually for her, was mirroring the attitudes of the larger culture. And that larger culture did (and continues to do) infinitely more to damage trans people than Daly’s writings, which, after “Beyond God the Father,” were given very limited attention outside radical feminist circles.

    • January 8, 2010 at 2:48 pm

      Longviewer, while it may be true that Daly’s anti-trans biases were reflective of the larger culture, I have a harder time believing that her specific anti-trans views were. Now, I am not as familiar with Daly’s works as I used to be and (a) have not read most of them, and (b) have not read anything of hers in many years, so take this with that caveat, but: Daly’s views on trans women in particular were that trans women are a threat to womanhood and feminism. The dominant cultural view, as I understand it, was that trans people were mentally ill, freaks and/or perverts. I’m sure Daly also accepted that dominant view, but she additionally put forth the (fairly new) idea that trans women threaten cis women’s empowerment. She wasn’t the only feminist to say that, but I do think that she does hold some responsibility for the anti-trans bias in second wave feminism. After all, a lot of second-wave feminists were able to accept lesbianism and lesbian separatism — two things that were decidedly not accepted by the culture at large. Second-wave feminism also had its homophobes (hi, Betty Friedan!), but Daly and many other influential feminits were able to buck incredibly strong and often unchallenged homophobic cultural biases when it came to lesbians. That she not only failed to do so with trans women but additionally went on the attack from a feminist perspective does make her more culpable, in my view.

      You’re right that the larger culture has done infinitely more damage than any one feminist’s writings — of course that’s true! That’s true of, well, almost anything. I don’t think anyone is arguing that Daly is The Worst Person For Trans Rights Ever. But I do think it’s fair to say that she helped to shape second-wave feminism’s treatment of trans people (and trans women in particular), and that such treatment carries over to feminism today.

  24. longviewer
    January 8, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Daly’s specific views of trans women were, I think, grounded in the utterly pervasive view of them as not, in fact, women. Consistent with this, Daly viewed them as men–and they thus became, like other men, targets of her imprecations and exhortations to resistance (including physical confrontation), particularly when they appeared to her to be laying claim to women’s space. I continue to view her thinking as grounded in that of the larger culture–and to believe that her views had little to do with Second Wave perspectives on trans women. Her influence on Second Wave feminists in general was mixed (beyond her critique of religious patriarchy); Second Wave feminists, like Americans in general, had unexamined and undiscussed trans bias quite apart from anything Mary Daly ever wrote. As an aside, I would note that those who did read her on trans women had a range of responses; while some ignored or endorsed her views, many dismissed or disagreed with them, as was true of much of her writing. I would again note, however, that there was little discussion of trans people in radical lesbian feminism, Second Wave feminism, or the larger culture.

  25. ginasf
    January 8, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    @Longviewer, Daly went far, far beyond mainstream society’s transphobia. As Jill said, she went far beyond labeling transwomen outcasts or nutjobs into identifying them as “the enemy”. There were second wave feminists who, while they didn’t have an especially enlightened or thoughtful view of transwomen, didn’t view them as some kind of monster or agent of patriarchy. Daly codified transphobia the way no one previously had, in much the same way William Shockley codified racism and eugenics in a way which was around in society but not made into some kind of modern academically-based science (in Daly’s case, a social science). Daly’s attitudes towards transwomen were initially read by small numbers of feminists, but were increasingly taken-up by other, better known feminists (including ones as mainstream as Gloria Steinem… in somewhat milder form). Eventually, these had a profound affect on concepts of women’s health, progressive agendas and ultimately, even into public health policy.

    If second-wave feminists knew what a transsexual was (and I think it’s safe to say they all did), then they likely did have an opinion. It was a dismissive, pathologizing opinion (which was similar to the general societal view) but the opinion was there, just not acknowledged. Which was the point of my post. Sadly, many feminists still HAVE that view (but let it out at in carefully monitored spurts), and when they talk about Daly that’s exactly the view they’re expressing (which is why I found Sady’s post so refreshing). They refuse to come to terms with the pathologization, and sense of cis entitlement through which they view transwomen. Your proposal of what “feminism’s real concerns were” ignores why feminism ignored issues that it did, supported mainstream societies’ racial entitlement and ramped up (not just acceded to) societies’ hatred of gender variant people especially those who had the temerity to identify themselves as women.

  26. ginasf
    January 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    @Longview… okay, let’s try it this way. Considering the miniscule part of the population transpeople encompass, and the very tiny part of the community of women transwomen actually represent, there were (and continue to be) an unusually large number of feminists (second wave and some of their offspring, like Bindel or Sheila Jeffreys who make highly negative comments both about transwomen. Do you need a list?

  27. longviewer
    January 8, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    I agree completely that many Second Wave feminists who opined about trans women had highly negative views–but my continuing point is that Mary Daly is likely not responsible for them, for all the reasons I’ve cited. I think that feminists opined somewhat more than the general population because they were concerned with gender and gender boundaries, and shared the larger cultural view that trans women were men–who became, in their view, men crashing women’s boundaries, which were sacred to them.

    I note this comment, and am dubious: “Daly’s attitudes towards transwomen were initially read by small numbers of feminists, but were increasingly taken-up by other, better known feminists (including ones as mainstream as Gloria Steinem… in somewhat milder form). Eventually, these had a profound affect on concepts of women’s health, progressive agendas and ultimately, even into public health policy.” I have been deeply engaged with trans health concerns, as well as women’s health and public health generally, and the trans bias in those areas, to me, quite clearly stems from larger cultural attitudes. I do not believe that transphobia in the health arena is related directly or indirectly to Mary Daly’s writings. She simply didn’t have that kind of influence, although, as a historian of the Second Wave and its effects, I would welcome evidence to the contrary.

  28. struckdown
    January 8, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    I’m “new” to feminism. I say that because, although I grew up surrounded by girl power and little exposure to male figures, and considered myself “sort of feminist?”, I’ve just begun to read about the waves and the people involved. I have to admit reading bits of Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto piqued my first interests in researching the movement. I hadn’t quite reached Mary Daly’s work, but I had heard of her. I enjoyed reading this (great writing :D) and I think I’d like to be like her. She didn’t apologize. She stuck to her guns. I admire that. Even if she was wrong, rude, not well-liked by all…she had conviction. Maybe my opinion and attraction arise from the fact that I have trouble with keeping one direction. I see all the sides after declaring my position on one, and it drives me nuts Also, I’ve been surrounded by people who say one thing, offend someone, and then retract. Your comment on Confession put me in mind of it. Do they really mean the retraction, or is it just for show? Anyhow, thank you for sharing this with the world. :D

    • January 8, 2010 at 4:50 pm

      @Struckdown: I think that you’re coming from a sincere place here (unlike some: and, for the record, if I get my hands on them, comments like “but why don’t you talk about how antifeminist/awful/’sexploitational’ trans women are” WILL BE TRASHED, as I – albeit only one of many moderators here – am specifically not providing a space for open transphobia or justifications and rationalizations of transphobia in this discussion; go to your own hateful corners of the Internet, if you can’t learn, but I’m not inviting you over here) but I really have to disagree with you. One, it’s great that you’re reading Solanas, and it’s great that you’re coming to feminism, but you really need to recognize how bad and hurtful transphobia is, and learn to identify it, so that you don’t repeat the serious mistakes of the past. While you’re starting out as a feminist, read “Whipping Girl” by Julia Serano; it’s a great place to start to question yourself. There are also a lot of blogs, like little light’s or Questioning Transphobia, or the Second Awakening, that deal with these issues; some of their authors have contributed to this thread, and you should read them respectfully, albeit you may not want to comment until you’ve educated yourself and can engage without being disruptive, asking for explanations of 101 points, or unconsciously enforcing privilege. That will help you to educate yourself, and is very important.

      Second, admitting when you’re wrong, and apologizing when your wrongness results in people being hurt, is NOT a negative quality. As I’ve tried to get across here, it’s about as far from being a negative quality as you can get.

  29. longviewer
    January 8, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Intriguingly, I think a case could be made that Second Wave feminism and lesbian feminism (Mary Daly, Jan Raymond, et al. aside, as they were for mainstream Second Wavers) have, in some respects, benefited trans advocacy in later years. For example, it could be argued that feminist championing of gender non-conformity has helped ease the way for trans advocacy in the health realm and more generally. And it has been my observation that the vast increase in women in health care and education settings (due to Second Wave feminism, indubitably) has resulted in more openness to trans concerns; as a trans advocate in those settings for over a decade, I have seen the influx of women create a much more hospitable atmosphere for trans women and men than the male-dominated environment of years past. I would say that Second Wave feminism and lesbian feminism have had a mixed impact on trans people and issues, as is so often the case in life.

    • January 8, 2010 at 4:54 pm

      @longviewer: I think that some pro-trans progress has been made from feminism entering medical perspectives, yes. However, I think you’d have to be pretty far off the mark to regard things like “The Transsexual Empire,” which Daly advised Raymond on, as having anything other than a disastrous effect. And I think that we deserve to give focus to the active, intentional harm done, not to favor the unintentional good, as if that makes the open bigotry somehow OK in retrospect.

  30. January 8, 2010 at 5:40 pm


    Intriguingly, I think a case could be made that Second Wave feminism and lesbian feminism (Mary Daly, Jan Raymond, et al. aside, as they were for mainstream Second Wavers) have, in some respects, benefited trans advocacy in later years.

    Really? Really actually? Really motherfucking actually?
    And you’re supposedly a trans advocate?

    Color me not intrigued.

  31. January 8, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    ginasf, you wrote:

    While I totally understand people fondly remembering the powerful impact Daly’s words had on them in the 80s, it bothers me when people say, “I just didn’t even think about trans people then.” I suspect what you mean is, “I thought about them negatively or I considered them outcasts.”

    Since this is, in part, a response to what I wrote about trans issues not even being on my radar when I was first reading Daly, I do want to acknowledge that what I wrote did not make explicit the privilege in being able to say such a thing, and it was not my intention in any way to cover that privilege up. What your comment made me think about, though–and I am not going to say more than this because I think it would stray a little too far from the topic–was my experience in the 1980s, in my late teens-early 20s, reading feminism, especially radical feminism, and perhaps especially Mary Daly’s work (of the work that I read) as a male outsider, not only because the work as often as not defined me that way, but also because that is how it felt to me at the time, and how the experience of reading as an outsider would have shaped how I made sense of what I read.

  32. piny
    January 8, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    @longviewer: I think that some pro-trans progress has been made from feminism entering medical perspectives, yes.

    Absolutely. Even if Mary Daly et al. did try to keep that logic from extending all the way to those people.

    But not according to longviewer’s own reasoning.

    You don’t get to disclaim responsibility for the terrible larger cultural currents and then take credit for the good stuff that eventually happened.

  33. Unree
    January 8, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    Very thoughtful post and comments.

    Although I don’t disagree with the criticisms of Daly, I hope that Daly is not being picked over more scrupulously because she was a woman rather than a man. Martin Luther King Jr. was an inspiring and effective leader–and also a patriarch who sought to be the master of women, no matter their race, rather than their equal. Cesar Chavez achieved great gains for workers of both sexes–and was also an advocate of forced childbearing.

    Someone could try to say that Daly was worse because she went out of her way to attack transwomen, while sexist men just happened to have an incidental flaw that wasn’t central to their message. But that wouldn’t be correct. Sexist male leaders don’t have to oppress women. They choose to, and they are responsible for their choices, just as Daly was.

  34. Willow
    January 9, 2010 at 12:49 am

    @ Unree, I think that’s a really interesting and important question. I do disagree to some extent. While what drives a lot of our gut-jerk *fury* at Daly is her transphobia and to a lesser extent racism, what seems to get under our skin is her hypocrisy and other people’s refusal to acknowledge that hypocrisy. In a sense, every word she wrote about women was a lie, b/c she was very specifically not including all women. On the other hand, it is rarely denied that statements like “All men are created equal” when written actually did mean all white men. There is at least slightly less hypocrisy there.

    I don’t know why, but hypocrisy seems to really bug a lot of people.

  35. ginasf
    January 9, 2010 at 1:18 am

    Longview, if you’re going to start talking about trans health (and from what you’re saying, it’s hard to believe you’ve had much experience or historical understanding of trans health issues) you’re going to need to go a little farther back than 2000, which is really when the very earliest examples of women’s health projects even acknowledged transwomen’s health issues were part of women’s health issues. Feminism has come very late to concerns about transpeople and I think this had far more to do with the increased visibility of transmen than anything which happened before (and also, sadly, how transmen are often still viewed as ‘wayward lesbians’). . Sorry, but gender variance as explored by second wave feminists had zero positive influence on transwomen who, if anything, were getting more care and attention to their issues prior to 1980 than for 20 years after. You’re making an erroneous assumption that whatever expressions of gender variance have been in feminism (like stone butches) somehow translate positively to how transwomen (especially transwomen of color) have been treated, which is still mostly not the case. Janice Raymond (who, remember, basically took Daly’s theories about transpeople and wrote her dissertation about them) actively aided conservative organizations in closing down trans-health facilities and worked on government studies which basically called SRS “mutilation”. Trans-activism was not pre-dated by second wave feminism. The only positive affect it had on the trans community was giving it a focused narrowly-defined enemy and one that proved more of a distraction to forward progress than an aid in clarifying how to deal with the larger transphobia within society. I don’t begrudge anyone valuing aspects of Daly’s message but, really, if this is your idea of being a “trans advocate” then no thank you.

  36. piny
    January 9, 2010 at 6:41 am

    What GinaSF said.

    There’s feminist thought as in the viewpoints promulgated by Daly and the people she considered colleagues, and then there’s feminist thought as in the decades of activism by trans patients, and trans women patients, themselves. If feminism is the revolutionary idea that women are people, this was feminism. The idea that doctors were not demigods to be propitiated, that people should have some say in what happened to their bodies, that chauvinism was deadly? That wasn’t wisdom trans people received. They were fighting battles, too, and suffering casualties. Daly was on the wrong side of that conflict, and proud to be manning the barricades. Her herstory disappeared it; we shouldn’t do the same in apology for her.

  37. Politicalguineapig
    January 9, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Unree: Martin Luther King Jr. was a religious man, and I think Cesar Chavez was too. On some level, one expects sexism from religious men, so I think that’s why they get a pass.
    However, Daly was raging against people who wanted to join the fight for women’s rights. A betrayal by one who is expected to be an ally cuts deeper than anything an enemy can say.

  38. Ergo
    January 9, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    You know what? Even NOT counting all of her transphobic bullshit that launched a thousand trans-women-hating ships, fuck Mary Daly. Honestly, I think that all the awful, overdramatic second wave mysticism that she was a part of has hurt feminism more than it’s helped it. That kind of thought has only resulted in essentialism about women and ridiculous irrational woo-woo that does nothing for the cause of liberation.

  39. January 9, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    You are not Sweet Feminist Jesus

    I pretty much took that title years ago anyway. Though Sweet Feminist St. Andrew’s not taken yet, or so I hear.

    Seriously, Mary Daly’s writing mostly makes my skin crawl. All things considered, I’m kinda glad I came to a crisis of faith with no aid from her work whatsoever. She makes me shudder. Not in the good kind of way.

  40. January 9, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    I think for many of us thinking in such terms is a point of instant catharsis, but ultimately a transitory and destructive one. I bashed Christianity for years, confusing the real meaning with the restrictive, Patriarchal, Paternalistic rendering that was used purely as a means of social control and buffer to actual reform.

    Now, nearly in my thirties, I have gone almost full circle in some ways, though in many other ways, I have found an understanding of it that I would have never been capable of beforehand.

  41. January 9, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Sady, Cathryn kind of does this everywhere, and it’s sort of her thing. Transphobia’s okay so long as it’s not directed toward her, because she’s special, she’s a real woman unlike all of those dirty mean trans folk, trans activism makes it harder for real women of trans history like herself to exist because damn it stop calling attention and creating transphobia by being visible, she’s special and has a church of her very own and the rest of us are bringing it on ourselves. It’s…not very useful to argue with; she has never shown much interest in listening and has a pretty solid narrative going by this point.

    So Cathryn: we are all very bad and you are better than we are. You are a silenced, persecuted hero and I salute you when I take time off from being a mean, vicious pervert. I am really sorry for provoking transphobia on us all, especially you, because you do not deserve it, unlike the rest of us. I am going to spend the next hour ostentatiously not using the word ‘trans’ anywhere near you, because it does not apply and it is not your identity and that is swell. Good luck with everything. Your realness is uplifted because the rest of us are all fakes. Cheers! Happy new year! Please, please be satisfied and go somewhere else this time.

  42. January 9, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Wow, little light. You’ve described Catherine’s MO down to the letter. Yes, I’m sure many of us are familiar with her words in several other venues, under several different names.

    Little light, I hope that you won’t mind if I kneel beside you and repent?

    Please look upon my wretched visage, Catherine, and bless me with Your divine audience. I am but a lowly peasant who hails from the unclean lands of trannydom and I realize that I am unworthy before Your boundless grace and wisdom. I tremble before You, in the knowledge that my grasp of womanhood shall always pale as a fraudulent imitation when placed before Your awesome feminine presence. I bow down to You and acknowledge that You are truly WOMAN and I am but a pale and sinful specter. I pray that my unclean nature does not bring woe upon Your chosen people: TRUE Transsexuals. Please, Blessed Lady, take Your TRUTH into other lands, for the world thirsts for Your divine knowledge.


  43. January 9, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    I wanted to say something, but after little light’s epic comment, I have nothing more to add.

  44. Martha
    January 9, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I relate to a lot of what you said. I also grew up in a Catholic household, and I also found it hard to reconcile my feelings about being a women with the “popular” ideas of what it was/is to be a feminist, and who feminists actually are/were.

    The first feminists I came across were hysterical, privileged women who didn’t say much, they just threw themselves under horses. The only ideas these women had must’ve occurred five seconds before they acted out. Or so you’d think, from the emphasis put on their actions. That’s basically how they appear in our history books. Irrational, and mysterious. Naturally, they aren’t here to defend themselves, and most probably, that is not how they want to be portrayed or remembered. But the thing about a legacy is that it happens when you are not there to defend yourself.

    I think this was a pretty courageous and sensitive discussion of Mary Daly’s legacy. And I think it’s great that she had a voice, and a significance that is worth remembering. I am glad we are discussing her ideas. It’s a serious discussion of serious ideas. It’s not trivial, or polite.

    And it’s an infinitely more serious discussion of legacy/significance than most feminists have received, historically. Maybe they did burn their bras, or jump under horses, but I’m sure they also had ideas.

    Thank you for pointing my attention to a woman I had never heard of, and to books I might one day read and decipher for myself.

  45. January 10, 2010 at 2:24 am

    Not to get off-topic, but,

    blindingly stupid



    Apologism is apologism. I don’t separate Roman Polanski’s film work from his history as a rapist. I don’t separate Mary Daly’s ‘good work’ from her part in perpetuating the culture of hatred and violence towards trans people and trans women in particular

    I dunno. That’s kind of like refusing to read Shakespear because he was alive during a time when women were more oppressed than we are now, so as a man, he must have been complicit.

    Everyone, of course, will be more sensitive to some things more than others, but I don’t think it makes sense to generalize like that with the expectation that that’s how everyone else should see it, too.

  46. January 10, 2010 at 5:01 am

    @cacophonies: OOP. Sorry. Editing now; thanks for the call-out.

  47. piny
    January 10, 2010 at 5:33 am

    I dunno. That’s kind of like refusing to read Shakespear because he was alive during a time when women were more oppressed than we are now, so as a man, he must have been complicit.

    No, it’s like refusing to see an analysis of Shakespeare’s work as valid if it excludes a critique of his (entirely contemporary) sexism. I don’t think Mary Daly would see that as unreasonable, somehow.

    I don’t know if the analogy works, so much, for different reasons. It’s not like Mary Daly made feminist books as a public figure and then had some abusive private relationship with a trans person, or a group of trans people. Her reaction to trans people wasn’t incidental to her work. She set herself up as a social critic, and considered her transphobia of a piece with her social criticism. Part of her recommendation for us was to hate on trans people, especially trans women, something fierce.

  48. January 10, 2010 at 5:51 am

    I admit to not actually knowing anything about Mary Daly (until I read this post) so I apologize for making these concessions without actually having anything to back it up with.

    I don’t think we should discount her work just because of her transphobia, but you’re right, Piny, it should always be acknowledged.

  49. January 10, 2010 at 6:08 am

    Also, @Piny: I think you make a really good point with your use of he word “contemporary.” It’s also important to acknowledge in this context.

  50. roses
    January 10, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    I dunno. That’s kind of like refusing to read Shakespear because he was alive during a time when women were more oppressed than we are now, so as a man, he must have been complicit.

    What? It’s not like that at all. It’s not that Mary Daly “must have been complicit” because she lived in a time where trans people were more oppressed. It was that she was complicit – more than complicit, according to what I’ve read, she was a pioneer in feminist trans hating – because she wrote very hateful things about trans women in her books. And advised a student who went on to write even more hateful things. And both she and her student are still cited to this day by feminists who hate trans people and get trans women excluded from domestic violence centres and rape crisis centres.

    And really, if you don’t know anything about Mary Daly, maybe you should educate yourself before commenting.

  51. Colin Day
    January 10, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    @piny #40

    Isn’t “manning” the barricades a bit sexist, especially of Mary Daly?

  52. January 11, 2010 at 2:59 am

    Reading Daly almost scared me away from organised feminism entirely. Well, scared isn’t the right word – I found her writing style irritating (I understood what she was trying to say, I just found it vexing that she chose a deliberately difficult way to say it, particularly in that I was always aware that her style would be extremely difficult to read for people who weren’t already academic and highly educated, which struck me as problematic in and of itself). I also found her writing about men horrifying. My initial reaction to Gyn/Ecology, age 18, was “this woman is a perfect caricature of what people think feminists are, and I want no part of it”. Deliberately difficult to read in a way that it’s really hard not to interpret as elitist, wierdly unable to acknowledge POC as anything other than secondary/supporting characters in her view of how the world works, blatantly prejudiced towards men, full of fantasies that are quite frankly homicidal in intent – um, why are we supposed to look up to this person? Maybe if I’d been religious, or in any way invested in Christianity on an emotional level, it might have resonated with me in that sense, but since I’m not there was nothing in there that called out to me at all.

    RE ginasf’s point about people not really picking up on or glossing over Daly’s transphobia back in the 80s, I can only speak for myself, but in all honesty, I noticed that it was there but then didn’t pay much attention towards it beyond “oh, more people who Daly hates for no good logical reason”. It seemed like an extension of her hatred of men, since she stated quite clearly that she believed transwomen to be men (note – I’m not agreeing with her), so initially I just sort of assumed that it was just another outgrowth of her general penis bad, vagina good sort of worldview. It took a while for it to sink in that no, actually, her transphobia wasn’t just an extension of her hatred of men, it was its own specific issue.

  53. January 11, 2010 at 3:08 am

    To clarify my comment to ginasf (hit submit too soon, sorry!) – I noticed that she hated transpeople, but at the time I assumed that this was just another sign of her general batshit insanity about certain issues. It never occurred to me that other people would read that stuff, agree with it, and base their feminism on it. To me it was so self-evident that certain parts of her work (not just what she wrote about transpeople, a lot of what she wrote about men too) were so completely ridiculous that I couldn’t imagine other feminists being inspired to embrace and expand upon those ideas. Finding out about Janice Raymond years later was a very unpleasant surprise, and finding out that a lot of people apparently see no problems of any kind in Daly’s outlook was an even nastier one. Realising that there are people who’ll actively defend both the way she wrote about transpeople and the way she wrote about men made me seriously wonder what the hell is wrong with those people. Not to mention her behavior towards Lorde not exactly saying good things about her character on a personal level.

    It still kind of blows my mind that a substantial number of people would go “oh, hatred and unthinking prejudice, that’s a great basis for a human rights movement”.

  54. struckdown
    January 11, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Oh goodness! I guess I didn’t quite catch it seemed I was advocating transphobia. People are people and we all deserve the right to choose our own path, as long as our path isn’t destroying someone else. I do understand apologizing when you’re wrong, but only if you believe you are wrong? Otherwise, it’s empty. Meh! As you can tell, I’m rather confused at this point in my life and I can’t decide which end is up and which is down. But thank you for your response, Sady. And I will keep an eye out for “Whipping Girl”. :]

  55. January 12, 2010 at 12:42 am

    May Daly was flawed. True. But this does not take away from the importance of her contribution.


  56. January 12, 2010 at 3:37 am

    Huh, advocating for the elimination of trans women is “flawed.” Good to know, and good to know who’s disposable when it comes time to acknowledge those flaws.

  57. January 12, 2010 at 5:28 am

    @ gudbuytjane

    Apologism is apologism. I don’t separate Roman Polanski’s film work from his history as a rapist. I don’t separate Mary Daly’s ‘good work’ from her part in perpetuating the culture of hatred and violence towards trans people and trans women in particular.

    This is the exact same thought I had when reading hater Daly tributes. One of my reactions to the rape apologist petition and it’s signatories was to go round my house collecting the works of the apologists and disposing of them. It made my skin crawl to have them in my house. I think if I had had an actual Polanski DVD I would have done very bad things to it. I will never watch the work of these disgusting people again.

    Before I knew that Daly was a hater I did begin to try reading one of her books, found it dull to the extreme and it went on the pile of books to be returned to when I had finished every other book in the world. It means nothing more to me than a source of opression and hatred.

    To those who are saying, Daly sounds cool and I’ll go check out her books – you completely miss the point of the OP.

    And yes, if anybody reads this comment, and then goes on to query whether I am equating rape apologists with Daly apologists, then yes that is exactly what I am saying. It is sick and it is wrong to excuse Daly and her apologists. Likewise Polanski and his apologists.

  58. January 12, 2010 at 5:30 am

    Argh – I tried using html tags and it’s all gone horribly wrong. Can anybody ammend my comment? The quote (first para) is presented as my words and my words (the rest) are presented as a quote.

  59. January 12, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Defending Daly as using the argument that she had good ideas, but hey, the bigotry was bad but she was a product of her times etc. is akin to arguing that Hitler had good ideas, but hey, the genocide was bad but he was a product of his times etc. It just doesn’t wash.

  60. January 12, 2010 at 7:49 am


    “The Dionysian solution for women, which is violation of our own Hag-ocratic boundaries, is The Final Solution.”

    “Dionysus sometimes assumed a girl-like form. The phenomenon of the drag queen dramatically demonstrates such boundary violation. Like whites playing “black face,” he incorporates the oppressed role without being incorporated in it. In the phenomenon of transsexualism, the incorporation/confusion is deeper. As ethicist Janice Raymond has pointed out, the majority of transsexuals are “male to female,” while transsexed females basically function as tokens, and are used by the rulers of the transsexual empire to hide the real nature of the game. In transsexualism, males put on “female” bodies (which are in fact pseudofemale).”


    “All great movements are popular movements. They are the volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotions, stirred into activity by the ruthless Goddess of Distress or by the torch of the spoken word cast into the midst of the people.”


    “Today the Frankenstein phenomenon is omnipresent not only in religious myth, but in its offspring, phallocratic technology. The insane desire for power, the madness of boundary violation, is the mark of necrophiliacs who sense the lack of soul/spirit/life-loving principle with themselves and therefore try to invade and kill off all spirit, substituting conglomerates of corpses. This necrophilic invasion/elimination takes a variety of forms. Transsexualism is an example of male surgical siring which invades the female world with substitutes.”


    “Was there any form of filth or profligacy, particularly in cultural life, without at least one Transsexual involved in it? If you cut even cautiously into such an abscess, you found, like a maggot in a rotting body, often dazzled by the sudden light – a Tranny!”

    “WIE: …The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately ten percent of the human race.” What do you think about this statement?

    MD: I think it’s not a bad idea at all. If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males. People are afraid to say that kind of stuff anymore.”

    Can you guess which of these are from Mary Daly, and which are quotes (with 1 or 2 words changed) from “My Struggle“?

    From Lynn Conway’s site:
    The book (The Transsexual Empire) is not the most damaging writing that Raymond has penned. Far worse is a United States federal government commissioned study in the early 1980’s on the topic of federal aid for transsexual people seeking rehabilitation and health services. This paper, not well publicized, effectively eliminated federal and some states aid for indigent and imprisoned transsexuals. It had a further impact on private health insurance which followed the federal government’s lead in disallowing services to transsexual patients for any treatment remotely related to being transsexual, including breast cancer or genital cancer, as that was deemed to be a consequence of treatment for transsexuality.

    Back-of-the-envelope conservative calculations suggest that at least 1700 Trans women have died per year from causes attributable to this report. That’s some 50,000 deaths.

    Words have consequences.

  61. piny
    January 12, 2010 at 8:29 am

    May Daly was flawed. True. But this does not take away from the importance of her contribution.

    She was a womon, take her for all in all,
    I shall not look upon her like again….

    I am sick and motherfucking tired of the implication that there are two sides to this answer, that you aren’t being fair unless you weigh one against the other. There’s no objective proportion set between the two perspectives. There’s an angle from which transphobia is negligible and an angle from which it is not.

  62. January 12, 2010 at 9:00 am

    That’s kind of like refusing to read Shakespear because he was alive during a time when women were more oppressed than we are now, so as a man, he must have been complicit.

    Well, as a man, he absolutely benefited (as did all English-language speakers for the rest of time) from the white male privilege that allowed one of the best writers in English of all time, to be able to make use of his talent. (I thought it was practically a feminist cliche by this time to point out what happened to Shakespeare’s sister, who also tried to run away to London to become an actor and playwright.)

    One does not therefore refuse to read Shakespeare, but Mary Daly was no Shakespeare: not even a Joanna Russ.

    Joanna Russ’s Female Man is a gem of a novel: it has deeply, hatefully transphobic elements in its closing section. I would still recommend Russ to friends, but I’d do so with the caveat that it’s transphobic at the ending, just as I’d still recommend Georgette Heyer, with the caveat that she’s got some pretty nasty bouts of anti-Semitism in there.

    Cisgendered feminists of the 1970s took transphobia for granted, much as Georgette Heyer’s kind of people took anti-Semitism for granted, much as everyone in Shakespeare’s time took royal supremacy for granted. We don’t need to agree with them or discard their work of that time entirely merely because they reflect the common attitudes of the time. But we do (at least, I do as a cisgendered gentile feminist of the 21st century!) need to recognise that these attitudes didn’t just suddenly become offensive and dangerous: they always were, it was just that our privilege used to allow us to ignore that.

    Plus, what roses says: this is not about still enjoying fiction for what it is despite it including offensive language and attiitudes: this is about an influential writer of feminist theory who was deeply bigoted against trans people and about black women.

  63. piny
    January 12, 2010 at 9:05 am

    One does not therefore refuse to read Shakespeare, but Mary Daly was no Shakespeare: not even a Joanna Russ.

    And Russ apologized, didn’t she?

  64. Sheelzebub
    January 12, 2010 at 9:21 am

    I just. . .I . . .ugh. These threads sorely test my New Year’s resolution to stop cussing. And I guess I’m going to come off as a real demon here, but I actually have read her books, and would ask all of those people who haven’t, who don’t know squat about Daly but still feel that trans people are being unfair, to shut up.

    If you read her work you’d know that the anti-trans rhetoric wasn’t just some incidental, throwaway line somewhere, it was part and parcel of her work. And while I can acknowledge some positive things she did bring to feminism, I will also say, without any hesitation, that they were overshadowed by this.

    Look, I am no one to claim a shiny halo when it comes to awareness of trans issues, and as I’ve said in another Daly thread, I even agreed with her transphobic rhetoric until I got a clue and realized I was being an ignorant jackass. Now the Frankenstein references make my skin crawl.

    And you know? Not for nothing, but this goes beyond “flawed.” It’s not something we should mention as a footnote, that we acknowledge and then go on to talk about her Very Important Work. She pushed some very hateful rhetoric, and trans people have every. right. in. the. world. to point that out, to hold her (and the movement) accountable. This did not happen in a vacuum–the world then, and the world now (yes, NOW) is extremely violent and hostile to trans people. It’s not like that was all in the past and that Daly was just a product of her time. So what? It’s still a very transphobic world. It’s still a misogynist world. It’s still a racist world. It’s still a classist world. It’s still an ableist world. Are we going to wait until everyone is perfectly aware before criticizing anyone for doing harm to oppressed groups? Because here’s the thing–that doesn’t happen without, you know, pointing this kind of stuff out. Which is uncomfortable, I know. Bring a few throw pillows if you must, but deal.

    If a progressive man does good work but is also a misogynist douche, feminists call that out without apology. And yes, we get angry, and rightfully so, when we are preached to about the important stuff and how it’s not faaaaaaiiiiiirrrr that we’re discounting the Very Good Work he’s done. I’m seeing the same dynamic here, and it’s almost identical to the reaction many White feminists had to the criticism from women of color.

    Not for nothing, but if the trans community isn’t that big of a deal to you (and it can’t be if Daly’s hateful rhetoric isn’t that bad in your view), then shrug off the call outs and go about your day. If you feel that there are more important battles to fight, no one is stopping you from fighting them. The defensiveness I’m seeing here is quite telling.

    I’m just waiting for a lecture about tone. Someone will have bingo then.

  65. January 12, 2010 at 9:52 am

    I’m just waiting for a lecture about tone. Someone will have bingo then.

    Sorry, I can’t help you out with the bingo… I’ve got nothing but applause and an “I wish you didn’t have to say this in the first fucking place” for you, piny, and definitely goodbuytjane, and anyone else I may have missed.

  66. A Guy In Denver
    January 12, 2010 at 10:54 am

    (I thought it was practically a feminist cliche by this time to point out what happened to Shakespeare’s sister, who also tried to run away to London to become an actor and playwright.)

    That seems doubtful, given that she was illiterate. She moved to London, married a hatmaker, had four kids, and died at the age of 77, and beyond that not much is known of her. I haven’t been able to find any source that discusses her wanting to be an actor. What am I missing?

  67. January 12, 2010 at 10:58 am

    That seems doubtful, given that she was illiterate.

    I don’t know whether Virginia Woolf was the originator of the Shakespeare’s sister story – the first mythmaker – but it is such a feminist cliche these days that you will even find blogs, pop groups, and wikipedia entries about it. RTFI, guy.

  68. A Guy In Denver
    January 12, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Ok, I guess I misunderstood you because of your phrasing when you said “we know what happened” (implying to me, knowing something that happened to an actual person, rather than something that would have happened to a hypothetical person.)

  69. ginasf
    January 12, 2010 at 1:25 pm


    Beautifully and passionately stated. Thank you.


    Yup the ‘Shakespeare’s sister’ story has had a long run and was used to by some feminist writers to remove the male identities from transmen like jazz musician Billy Tipton, pioneering doctor Alan Hart and even Brandon Teena who were recast as women seeking freedom from repressive gender roles (and I personally know a second wave feminist mom who believes the same thing of her obviously trans ftm son… that he’s ‘doing it’ only to gain privilege). It’s trying to support discussio of a very important issue (highly repressive gender roles for women) by appropriating trans issues and erasing trans male identities. Daly, of course, would approve heartily while, no doubt, tossing in a heaping helping of terms like “mutilated”, “agents of the patriarchy” and “maggots”.

  70. January 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Forgive me for wanting to protect you, forgive me for being a gentleman and opening the door for your, forgive me for allowing you to make me “weaker,” forgive me for holding you to a higher standard you sometimes view as “oppression.”

    She sounded like the writer of bad horror screenplays, half the time. Only more frightening, because bad horror screenplays tend not to be so prescriptive.

  71. January 12, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Wait, how the hell did I copy and paste something from an ONTD post into here? Oh internet… Here, trying again:

    Daly, of course, would approve heartily while, no doubt, tossing in a heaping helping of terms like “mutilated”, “agents of the patriarchy” and “maggots”.

    She sounded like the writer of bad horror screenplays, half the time. Only more frightening, because bad horror screenplays tend not to be so prescriptive.


  72. Andrea
    January 12, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Sheelzebub, that was perfectly put. Why don’t you have a blog? I would read it.

  73. Sheelzebub
    January 12, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks, that’s nice to hear! I used to have one, but deleted it for many reasons (not flouncey or goodbye cruel internets, I swear).

  74. Carpenter
    January 12, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    I first picked up pure lust in an anarchist bookstore., I had no idea what it was or what Mary Daly was, and it barley seemed to be written in English. This was only a few years ago and I was in gradschool and looking for ways to procrastinate. Once I got the idea Daly wasn’t completely nuts(Pure Lust is in Daly-ese not English) I broke offin the middle and read Beyond God the Father and Gyn/Ecology.

    I was quite impressed by Beyond God the Father, I thought it was the most compelling critique of patriarchal religion I ever read, and from a completely different angle than others.

    Daly’s transphobia seemed pretty apparent from the get go to me. It flowed directly from her whole hearted belief in essentialism, which didn’t really exist in BGTF but was cemented by the time she wrote Pure Lust. This is why essentialism is such a dangerous belief-once you accept it you must either lead yourself naturally to transphobia(trans women are still men and men need gendercide) or face an obvious contradiction.

    She addressed the Open Letter in Amazon Grace. It seems she didn’t try to right her philosophy until it was far too late.

    It seems to me one must do with Day what Daly herself did with Aquinas. That is first admit that she was just a person and a very flawed one and not a saint and not ‘enlightened’ and doesn’t have all the answers. Then admit she was very smart and had some very very good ideas, ones that lead to other ideas. As with all philosphy, read Daly and extract the good from the bad and especially spending time dissecting and criticising the bad. This is something bell hooks is really good in cult crit. Some of Daly’s bad deserves serious academic critique while some of it is so hateful and frankly dumb and mean one shouldn’t bother;not that you can ignore it but there you just have to say “this is just fucked up and I cant even say anything valuable about it”.

  75. Politicalguineapig
    January 12, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Z.B.: I’m guessing 3 and 5 are changed quotes from mein kampf.

  76. January 13, 2010 at 8:33 am

    5 is changed from Jew to Transsexual, Yid to Tranny, 3 is used verbatim.

    Well spotted, most people don’t notice. Then again, how many have actually *read* “My Struggle”? Yet it’s one of the more influential Utopian political philosophy books of the 20th century.

    Not in a good way.

  77. Politicalguineapig
    January 13, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Thank you. Both of them were guesses. I know we have Mein Kampf around here somewhere, but I’ve never read it. I’d require a massive amount of brain bleach afterwards. I suspect that’s part of the reason it goes unread.

  78. Jenn
    January 14, 2010 at 7:32 am

    “If you read her work you’d know that the anti-trans rhetoric wasn’t just some incidental, throwaway line somewhere, it was part and parcel of her work.”

    Absolutely, even had she never mentioned any of her anti-trans theories, you can logically deduce them from more or less any part of her work. If you call yourself a quintessentialist, then yes, I would have thought you’d consider most groups of people to be inherently flawed or even diseased in some way. In fact, the only group of people she claimed not to have any strong feelings about are men, where she says she doesn’t really care about them, almost like patriarchy is something disembodied and separate from men, generated by women. Her reaction to Audre Lorde, also, makes it seem like she thought Lorde was attacking her for some irrational, arbitrary reason.

    I think, also, that if she was a man, people would not immediately assume she believed all she wrote. I mean, the little I’ve seen reads like a Fox News conspiracy theorist. And I don’t know about you, but whenever I see one of those, I tend to think either that they’re very cynical and providing some kind of theatre, or that their strings are being pulled by someone very cynical and providing theatre – if you’ve seen Sidney Lumet’s 1976 movie Network you’ll know what I mean. Yet, someone like Daly comes along with a bunch of conspiracy theories, and we automatically assume she must be really sincere about it. I mean, she’s a woman, of course she writes mystical quasi-fascist ravings, since that’s the quintessence of women, to do that.

    And she might be. She might also be a peerless theologian for all I know. But the few extracts of her work I’ve seen reflect a grasp of theory equal of Richard Dawkins (i.e. someone who doesn’t know or care about it), or a frightened teenager (i.e., the intended audience). Then there’s her response to Lorde, again:

    “Gyn/Ecology is not a compendium of goddesses. Rather, it focuses primarily on myths and symbols which were direct sources of christian myth.”

    You know, Christianity, that religion that originated in Ethiopia, most of whose holy book records the writings of various Middle-Eastern tribes and which involved a guy from Bethlehem getting nailed to a plank of wood up Mount Sinai.

    As the recipient of a PhD in theology, she would have known better, so it’s unconscionable for her to write that nonsense. In fact, that whole branch of women’s studies is incredibly exploitative and I’d say even misogynistic. University is a place you go for education in a subject which is chosen according to various criteria, either it’s your best subject, or you’re planning a career in it… what that branch of women’s studies does is offer degrees in being quintessentially a woman. It’s exploitative of young women who have been abused or live in fear of abuse, whether real or abstract. Without that kind of pseudo-academic crap, they might become exposed to actual academic writers and get a degree in something that’s not intellectually and morally bankrupt.

    It also weakens the feminist cause considerably, especially if we’re going up against people with degrees in actual academic subjects – philosophy, science, literature, sociology, psychology… – who have detailed knowledge of their field as well as a set of well-developped intellectual skills.

    On these grounds alone, I’m not willing to get even remotely warm and fuzzy about Daly’s ‘contributions to feminism’, how interesting her writings are in a fringe kind of way, or how sincere she was about it. For a start, I don’t even believe a grown women with several PhDs could possibly honestly believe all the stuff she spouted. I think her main benefit to the feminist cause is as a cautionary example, and that’s before you even start to feel any solidarity towards any of the groups of people she preached hatred of.

    It’s way too easy, and way too tempting to forgive a lot of unforgivable stuff when someone dies – even though countless less well-known female academics in all kinds of fields will have made a greater contribution and will die unknown. That’s because most academic work isn’t sensational, and doesn’t make for a good fight on the internet. It’s slow, detailed, and tedious to anyone not in the field.

    That whole groups of people with women’s studies degrees and presumably wide knowledge of the subject were shocked to find out she was a little transphobic after reading a whole lot of her work illustrates a great deal of what I’ve said here, either there’s an initial set of beliefs that’s a little flawed – and that’s okay, no one’s going to scream at an eighteen-year-old for being wrong – or there’s something a little fascist about the mainstream feminist establishment that allows Mary Daly to seem like a loveable crank with a lot of good points to make. Or else we’re unwilling to grant a woman that essential part of the academic process, criticism. Or we’re willing to believe that she was, you know, a little hormonal (quintessentially speaking).

    Whichever it is, I’d call Daly a symptom before I’d call her anything else.

  79. Jenn
    January 14, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Gah! In this bit:

    ‘And she might be. She might also be a peerless theologian for all I know. But the few extracts of her work I’ve seen reflect a grasp of theory’

    I mean theology, not theory

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