Mary Daly

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Mary Daly, Feminist TheologianMary Daly (October 16, 1928 – January 3, 2010[1][2]) was an American radical feminist philosopher, academic, and theologian. Daly, who described herself as a “radical lesbian feminist”,[1] taught at Boston College, a Jesuit-run institution, for 33 years. Daly retired in 1999, after violating university policy by refusing to allow male students in her advanced women’s studies classes. She allowed male students in her introductory class and privately tutored those who wanted to take advanced classes.[1][3][4]

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The Church and the Second Sex — Mary Daly — (1968)

Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation — Mary Daly –(1973)

Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism — Mary Daly –(1978)

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Before obtaining her two doctorates in sacred theology and philosophy from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, she received her B.A. in English from The College of Saint Rose, her M.A. in English from The Catholic University of America, and a doctorate in religion from Saint Mary’s College.


Daly taught classes at Boston College from 1967 to 1999, including courses in theology, feminist ethics, and patriarchy.

Daly was first threatened with dismissal when, following the publication of her first book, The Church and the Second Sex (1968), she was issued a terminal contract. As a result of support from the (then all-male) student body and the general public, however, Daly was ultimately granted tenure.

Daly’s refusal to admit male students to some of her classes at Boston College also resulted in disciplinary action. While Daly argued that their presence inhibited class discussion, Boston College took the view that her actions were in violation of title IX of federal law requiring the College to ensure that no person was excluded from an education program on the basis of sex, and of the University’s own non-discrimination policy insisting that all courses be open to both male and female students.

In 1998, a discrimination claim against the college by two male students was backed by the Center for Individual Rights, a conservative advocacy group. Following further reprimand, Daly absented herself from classes rather than admit the male students.[5] Boston College removed her tenure rights, citing a verbal agreement by Daly to retire. She brought suit against the college disputing violation of her tenure rights and claimed she was forced out against her will, but her request for an injunction was denied by Middlesex Superior Court Judge Martha Sosman.[6]

A confidential out-of-court settlement was reached. The college maintains that Daly had agreed to retire from her faculty position,[7] while others assert she was forced out.[8][9] Daly maintained that Boston College wronged her students by depriving her of her right to teach freely to only female students.[10] She documented her account of the events in the 2006 book, Amazon Grace: Recalling the Courage to Sin Big.

Daly protested the commencement speech of Condoleezza Rice at Boston College, and she spoke on campuses around the United States as well as internationally.[11]


Daly published a number of works, and is perhaps best known for her second book, Beyond God the Father (1973). Beyond God the Father is the last book in which Daly really considers God a substantive subject. She laid out her systematic theology, following Paul Tillich’s example.[12] Often regarded as a foundational work in feminist theology, Beyond God the Father is her attempt to explain and overcome androcentrism in Western religion, and it is notable for its playful writing style and its attempt to rehabilitate “God-talk” for the women’s liberation movement by critically building on the writing of existentialist theologians such as Paul Tillich and Martin Buber. While the former increasingly characterized her writing, she soon abandoned the latter.

In Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978), Daly argues that men throughout history have sought to oppress women. In this book she moves beyond her previous thoughts on the history of patriarchy to the focus on the actual practices that, in her view, perpetuate patriarchy, which she calls a religion.[12]

Daly’s Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (1984) and Webster’s First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (1987) introduce and explore an alternative language to explain the process of exorcism and ecstasy. In Wickedary Daly provides definitions as well as chants that she says can be used by women to free themselves from patriarchal oppression. She also explores the labels that she says patriarchal society places on women to prolong what she sees as male domination of society. Daly said it is the role of women to unveil the liberatory nature of labels such as “Hag”, “Witch”, and “Lunatic”.[13]

Daly’s work continues to influence feminism and feminist theology, as well as the developing concept of biophilia as an alternative and challenge to social necrophilia. She was an ethical vegetarian and animal rights activist. Gyn/Ecology, Pure Lust, and Webster’s First New Intergalactic Wickedary all endorse anti-vivisection and anti-fur positions. Daly was a member of the advisory board of Feminists For Animal Rights, a group which is now defunct.

Daly created her own theological anthropology based around the context of what it means to be a woman. She created a dualistic thought-praxis that separates the world into the world of false images that create oppression and the world of communion in true being. She labeled these two areas Foreground and Background respectively. Daly considered the Foreground the realm of patriarchy and the Background the realm of Woman. She argued that the Background is under and behind the surface of the false reality of the Foreground. The Foreground, for Daly, was a distortion of true being, the paternalistic society in which she said most people live. It has no real energy, but drains the “life energy” of women residing in the Background. In her view, the Foreground creates a world of poisons that contaminate natural life. She called the male-centered world of the Foreground necrophilic, hating all living things. In contrast, she conceived of the Background as a place where all living things connect.[13][14]


Audre Lorde expressed concern over Gyn/Ecology, citing homogenizing tendencies, and a refusal to acknowledge the “herstory and myth” of women of color.[15] The letter,[16] and Daly’s apparent decision not to publicly respond, greatly affected the reception of Daly’s work among other feminist theorists, and has been described as a “paradigmatic example of challenges to white feminist theory by feminists of color in the 1980s.”[14]

Daly’s reply letter to Lorde,[17] dated 4½ months later, was found in 2003 in Lorde’s files after she died.[18] Daly’s reply was followed in a week by a meeting with Lorde at which Ms. Daly said, among other things, that Gyn/Ecology was not a compendium of goddesses but limited to “those goddess myths and symbols that were direct sources of Christian myth,” but whether this was accepted by Ms. Lorde was unknown at the time.[19]

Views on men

She argued against sexual equality,[20] believing that women ought to govern men;[21] Daly advocated a reversal of sociopolitical power between the sexes.[22]

In an interview with What Is Enlightenment? magazine, Daly said, “I don’t think about men. I really don’t care about them. I’m concerned with women’s capacities, which have been infinitely diminished under patriarchy. Not that they’ve disappeared, but they’ve been made subliminal. I’m concerned with women enlarging our capacities, actualizing them. So that takes all my energy.”[23]

Later in the interview, she said, “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.”[23]

Views on transsexualism

In Gyn/Ecology, Daly asserted her negative view of transsexualism, writing, “Today the Frankenstein phenomenon is omnipresent . . . in . . . phallocratic technology. . . . Transsexualism is an example of male surgical siring which invades the female world with substitutes.”[24] “Transsexualism, which Janice Raymond has shown to be essentially a male problem, is an attempt to change males into females, whereas in fact no male can assume female chromosomes and life history/experience.”[25] “The surgeons and hormone therapists of the transsexual kingdom . . . can be said to produce feminine persons. They cannot produce women.”[26]

Daly was also the dissertation advisor to Janice Raymond, whose dissertation, published in 1979 as The Transsexual Empire, is critical of transsexualism.

Brittany Shoot criticized Daly as transphobia for these views.[2]

Cultural references





  • The Church and the Second Sex. Harper & Row, 1968. OCLC 1218746
  • Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation. Beacon Press, 1973. ISBN 0-8070-2768-5
  • Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Beacon Press, 1978. ISBN 0-8070-1510-5
  • Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy. Beacon Press, 1984. ISBN 0-8070-1504-0
  • Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, Conjured in Cahoots with Jane Caputi (with Jane Caputi and Sudie Rakusin). Beacon Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8070-6706-7
  • Outercourse: The Bedazzling Voyage, Containing Recollections from My Logbook of a Radical Feminist Philosopher. HarperSanFrancisco, 1992. ISBN 0-06-250194-1
  • Quintessence… Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto. Beacon Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8070-6790-3
  • Amazon Grace: Re-Calling the Courage to Sin Big. Palgrave Macmillan, 1st ed. Jan. 2006. ISBN 1-4039-6853-5

Selected articles

  • The Spiritual Dimension of Women’s Liberation. In Notes From The Third Year: Women’s Liberation, 1971.[28]
  • A Call for the Castration of Sexist Religion. In The Unitarian Universalist Christian 27 (Autumn/Winter 1972), pp. 23–37.
  • God Is A Verb. In Ms., (Dec., 1974), pp. 58–62, 96-98.
  • Prelude to the First Passage. In Feminist Studies, vol. 4, no. 3 (Oct., 1978), pp. 81–86. Text is from Gyn/Ecology (book), at the time not yet published.
  • Sin Big. In The New Yorker (Feb 26 & Mar 4, 1996), pp. 76–84.


  • Natural Knowledge of God in the Philosophy of Jacques Maritain. Officium Libri Catholici, 1966. OCLC 2219525
  • The Problem of Speculative Theology. Thomist Press. 1965. OCLC (4 records)



  1. ^ a b c Fox, Margalit (January 6, 2010). “Mary Daly, a Leader in Feminist Theology, Dies at 81”. The New York Times. Retrieved January 7, 2010.
  2. ^ Fox, Thomas C. (January 4, 2010). “Mary Daly, radical feminist theologian, dead at 81”. National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  3. ^ “Feminist BC theology professor Mary Daly dies”. Associated Press. 6 January 2010. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  4. ^ Madsen, Catherine (Fall 2000). “The Thin Thread of Conversation: An Interview with Mary Daly”. Cross Currents. Retrieved January 13, 2010.
  5. ^ Seele, Michael (March 4, 1999). “Daly’s Absence Prompts Cancellations”. The Boston College Chronicle.
  6. ^ Sullivan, Mark (May 28, 1999). “Judge Denies Daly’s Bid for Injunction”. The Boston College Chronicle.
  7. ^ “Mary Daly Ends Suit, Agrees to Retire”. The Boston College Chronicle. February 15, 2001.
  8. ^ Pippin, Tina (2009). “Mary Daley”. In Queen II, Edward L.; Prothero, Stephen R.; Shattuck, Jr., Gardiner H.. Encyclopedia of American Religious History. 3 (3d ed.). New York: Facts on File. p. 326. ISBN 978-0-8160-6660-5. Retrieved August 25, 2011.
  9. ^ Thistlethwaite, Susan Brooks (January 5, 2010). “Mary Daly’s ‘Courage to Sin Big'”. The Washington Post. Retrieved August 25, 2011.
  10. ^ Kettle, Martin (February 27, 1999). “Unholy row as feminist lecturer bars men”. The Guardian.
  11. ^ Elton, Catherine (May 9, 2006). “Efforts mount against BC’s Rice invitation”. The Boston Globe.
  12. ^ a b Riswold, Caryn D. (2007). Two Reformers. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. pp. 33. ISBN 1-59752-826-9.
  13. ^ a b Ruether, Rosemary Radford (1998). Women and Redemption: A Theological History. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. pp. 218–9. ISBN 0-8006-2947-7.
  14. ^ a b Hoagland, Sarah Lucia; Frye, Marilyn (2000), Feminist interpretations of Mary Daly, Penn State Press, pp. 60, 267, ISBN 0-271-02019-9
  15. ^ Audre, Lorde (1984). An Open Letter to Mary Daly. Berkeley: Crossing Press. pp. 66–71.
  16. ^ Audre Lorde’s letter is discussed in Dr. Daly’s book, Outercourse.
  17. ^ Amazon Grace (N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 1st ed. [1st printing?] Jan. 2006), pp. 25–26 (reply text).
  18. ^ Amazon Grace, supra, pp. 22–26, esp. pp. 24–26 & nn. 15–16, citing Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde, by Alexis De Veaux (N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1st ed. 2004) (ISBN 0393019543 or ISBN 0-393-32935-6).
  19. ^ See Amazon Grace, supra, p. 23 (“week” per pp. 24 & 23).
  20. ^ Daly, Mary, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1978 & 1990), pp. 384 & 375–376 (fnn. omitted) (prob. all content except New Intergalactic Introduction 1978 & prob. New Intergalactic Introduction 1990) (ISBN 0-8070-1413-3)) (New Intergalactic Introduction is separate from Introduction: The Metapatriarchal Journey of Exorcism and Ecstasy).
  21. ^ Daly, Mary, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, pp. 15 & xxvi (p. xxvi in New Intergalactic Introduction (prob. 1990)).
  22. ^ Daly, Mary, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, p. xxvi (New Intergalactic Introduction (prob. 1990)).
  23. ^ a b Bridle, Susan (Fall/Winter 1999). “No Man’s Land”. EnlightenNext Magazine.
  24. ^ Daly, Mary, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, pbk. [1st printing? printing of [19]90?] 1978 & 1990 (prob. all content except New Intergalactic Introduction 1978 & prob. New Intergalactic Introduction 1990) (ISBN 0-8070-1413-3)), pp. 70–71 (page break within ellipsis between sentences) (New Intergalactic Introduction is separate from Introduction: The Metapatriarchal Journey of Exorcism and Ecstasy).
  25. ^ Daly, Mary, Gyn/Ecology, op. cit., p. 238 n.
  26. ^ Daly, Mary, Gyn/Ecology, op. cit., p. 68 (n. 60 (at end) omitted).
  27. ^ Shoot, Brittany. “The Biotic Woman: Talking About Transphobia and Ecofeminism With Ida Hammer”.
  28. ^ In Notes From The Third Year: Women’s Liberation (N.Y.: Notes From the Second Year, Inc., 1971), pp. 75–79.

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