Mary Daly: R.I.P.

MaryDalyMary Daly, who died Sunday Jan. 3 at age 81, was "a Positively Revolting Hag." At least that's what she called herself on the back cover of her 1987 book, Webster's First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, which defined "hag" as: "a Witch, Fury, Harpy who haunts the Hedges/Boundaries of patriarchy, frightening fools and summoning Weird Wandering Women into the Wild." Daly, who earned three doctorates in theology and philosophy, also referred to herself as a "radical lesbian feminist," and her radicalism was revealed in both her ideas and her actions, as we can see in the contrasting openings of obituaries that appeared in The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

The Globe began with Daly's ideas:

Fiercely and playfully -- often at the same time -- Mary Daly used words to challenge the basic precepts of the Catholic Church and Boston College, where she was on the faculty for more than 30 years.

Dr. Daly emerged as a major voice in the burgeoning women's movement with her first book, "The Church and the Second Sex," published in 1968, and "Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation," which appeared five years later. That accomplishment was viewed, then and now, as all the more significant because she wrote and taught at a Jesuit college.

"She was a great trained philosopher, theologian, and poet, and she used all of those tools to demolish patriarchy -- or any idea that domination is natural -- in its most defended place, which is religion," said Gloria Steinem.

The Times began with one of her most controversial actions:

Mary Daly, a prominent feminist theologian who made worldwide headlines a decade ago after she retired from Boston College rather than admit men to some of her classes, died on Sunday in Gardner, Mass.

Both obits did a good job of placing Daly's writing in the context of contemporary feminism (both quoted Robin Morgan, a former editor of Ms. Magazine). And both praised her unique approach to language.

Only The Globe quoted theologians, but these experts don't really help readers grasp Daly's theology, which evolved throughout her life. The theologians' comments have that vague, eulogistic quality that obscures as they summarize.

Daly's journey took her from being a practicing Catholic to describing herself as "postchristian" (she didn't capitalize the "C") to embracing a more non-doctrinal spirituality that, to some, sounded increasingly New Age.

She clearly rejected anything that might be labeled the "faith of our fathers" (all fathers were assumed to be fixtures of the "Cockocratic State"). And she boldly embodied the "Courage to Leave" ("virtue enabling women to depart from all patriarchal religions and other hopeless institutions").

But readers of these obituaries don't know precisely what she believed at the end?

In life Daly was a restless thinker and agitator. Now, may she rest in peace as she seeks to journey to the "Otherworld" ("Realms of Metamorphosis, true Homeland of all Hags, Crones, Furies, Furries, and their Friends...the Real World.")

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