A feminist icon, “thealogist” Mary Daly died Jan. 3 at the age of 81. Almost unknown outside the academy, Daly was a militant influence on feminist approaches to religion.
If her name is faintly familiar, you’re likely recalling a brief late-‘90s media surge around a lawsuit against Jesuit-run Boston College, Daly’s longtime academic home, initiated by a male student barred from Daly’s women-only classes. Effectively fired as a result, Daly “retired” from academic life in 2001.
Daly’s academic ascendancy coincided with the rise of dissident Catholic theology in the 1960s and ‘70s after the Second Vatican Council, when radicalized Catholics worked vociferously (and unsuccessfully) to liberalize normative Catholicism’s approaches to contraception, homosexuality and abortion.
In 1968 Daly published The Church and the Second Sex, her seminal “j’accuse” work indicting the Catholic Church for its humiliation of women by a patriarchal hierarchy. This was followed in 1973 by an even more inflammatory anti-male book, Beyond God the Father.
Daly found her true calling as an ayatollah figure for a ludicrous religion she helped to invent. “Goddess spirituality” is based on an anticipatory Garden of Eden myth cut from whole imaginary cloth. Initially a strictly ivory-tower phenomenon, Goddess spirituality was later vulgarized through two hugely popular books, The Chalice and the Blade (1989) by Riane Eisler and The Da Vinci Code (2003) by Dan Brown.
In Daly’s utopian narrative, the first human cultures worshipped a Great Mother Goddess and lived as peacefully, collaboratively and ecologically responsibly as the movie Avatar’s blue-skinned aliens, the Na’vi, who worship a goddess Daly would have loved, and whose creation she may have inspired.
Humans inhabited this paleo-Eden under the benevolent spiritual tutelage of the Goddess. She nurtured allegedly female values of peace and harmony and environmental sensitivity. From 40,000-5000 BCE all was harmony; men and women rejoiced in their benign collaboration for the common good.
Then barbarian male hordes marauded their way across the pacifist Goddess’s domains. These “phallocratic” savages introduced the evils of racism, social hierarchies, war-mongering and eco-rape. Subsequent human history is the tragic tale of a violent, controlling patriarchy, aligned with ruthless capitalism, environmental despoliation and unrelieved misogyny.
According to Professor Katherine Young and researcher Paul Nathanson of McGill University’s religious studies department, and fully elaborated in their just-published book on Goddess spirituality, Sanctifying Misandry: Goddess ideology and the fall of man, it’s all nonsense: ideology gussied up as religious myth. Their methodical exposure of Goddess spirituality’s perversion of Christian tropes reveals the misandric obsession at its core. Taking Daly’s scapegoating revisionism as a reliable clue, they site Goddess spirituality—and for other persuasive reasons feminism in general—under the rubric of conspiracy theorism.
Exploiting to the hilt the exceptionalism with regard to group intolerance Women’s Studies takes for granted within the academy, Mary Daly got away with shocking gratuitous sexism. Her lesbianism doesn’t explain her hatred of men, but may account for her belief that in the messianic return to the pre-lapsarian golden age of female hegemony Goddess spirituality subscribes to, men will be superfluous.
Interestingly, in their respectful obituaries the mainstream media scanted Daly’s extreme misandry. Typically, the New York Times discretely allowed that her work “explored [men’s] misogyny in religion in general.” Which is the academic equivalent of saying the 9/11 jihadis “explored” anti-Westernism in their actions.
None cut to the chase on this horrible woman: her exterminationist loathing for men, as evidenced in statements like: “If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accomplished by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males [by 90%]. People are afraid to say that kind of stuff anymore.”
There’s a reason we don’t “say that kind of stuff anymore.” It’s hate speech. Call for a “drastic reduction” of any other identifiable group in society and see if your books get published or appear on your department’s recommended reading list.
Lest you assume Daly was perceived by peers as a nutbar akin to a Raëlian or a Scientologist, the Encyclopedia of World Biography pronounced her “the foremost feminist theoretician and philosopher in the United States.” She was feted at the mainstream 1998 American Academy of Religion conference, where an adoring throng chanted her name in mantra-like perseveration, and one representative sycophant, Carter Heyword, the first female Anglican priest, burbled: “[Clerics] like myself […] because of you, Mary, knew very early in our professional sojournings that God the Father was a necrophilic overseer of nothing but lies.”
Feminism’s media spinmeisters insist feminism is not misandric. But Daly’s toxic works cannot be “spun.” If a hate-based dualism of female sanctitude and male original sin is acceptable to Women’s Studies, then Women’s Studies should not be acceptable to us.