Mary Daly: Radical or just sexist?

Over the past few weeks, due to her recent passing, Dr. Mary Daly has made headlines once again. Across the web and on the airwaves, reactions about the controversial feminist have been as mixed as ever. The Women’s Center recently co-sponsored an event featuring “fumerist” Kate Clinton, whose tribute to Daly has also been posted in a Women’s Center blog, and as Clinton intimates, “the world truly is a better place having received Dr. Daly’s insights and teachings.”

 We need people like Dr. Daly to come into our lives and stand our most ingrained (and often backwards) beliefs on their heads. However, I feel that her position was perhaps not ultimately to gain equality between the sexes, but rather to reverse the patriarchal power structure, falling short of creating a landscape of equality by arguing for a matriarchal power structure. Through the years, I’ve also found her blanket comments and assumptions about men to be rather sexist as reported in a recent article.  While I do feel that she has legitimate concerns regarding the repression of females in the classroom when males are present, I fail to see what Dr. Daly thought she would ultimately achieve by excluding men from her teachings. Was she operating under the assumption that men are incapable of change, while women are capable of great change? Given that cognitive faculties between the sexes are equal, I doubt this was the case. Coming from her own mouth (refer to the article), it seems, at times, as if it was almost more out of spite.

I have only mentioned one of the controversies surrounding Dr. Daly. Some of the other accusations are even more extreme, and I won’t go into them here. Of course, before drawing too many conclusions about Dr. Daly, as I try to make sense of this complicated figure within the women’s movement, I always keep reminding myself that Dr. Daly was the product of a much different era, and within the historical context of her life, it’s difficult for me to pass any real judgment. I also can’t ignore the fact that, despite the many levels of disagreement – because she pushed limits (and buttons) – the women’s movement is in a much different place than it might have otherwise been. With that said, I think it’s important that we learn from Dr. Daly’s tactical errors as we push for gender equality.

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