Friday, January 8, 2010

On the Death of Mary Daly

On Historiann's blog post, she mentioned that Mary Daly died, and talked about the discussion of Daly that spiraled down into feminist bashing on several other blogs: lots of people talking about her transphobia, which I don't really remember being a major part of her writing--it was the late 1970's, and there weren't that many transgendered people running around--who could afford that surgery? Of course, I was a kid and a pre-teen in the 70's, so I might be remembering wrong.

Notorious, Ph.D. did a lovely blog posting about Mary Daly, and I enjoyed reading it and the comments. I haven't read any Mary Daly in years, so once I got home, I pulled her books off the shelves, and was transported back to a time when I was a more fiery feminist. She also shaped my views on theology (for my views on her theology and how it shaped me, go to this post on my theology blog).

I remember reading Gyn/Ecology and both devouring it and having to take it slowly at the same time. I read her work and felt like the top of my head might come right off as my brain expanded.

Now I read it, and though it seems somewhat dated, I remember how it expressed all kinds of angry ideas that I didn't feel permitted to say. I remember thinking that we were all supposed to be liberated with all kinds of opportunities, but it still seemed like a man's world to me, especially when I got to graduate school.

Yet if you could strip away some of the angry, feminist language, you'd see that her ideas are still true today. For example, she quotes Valerie Solanis' view that males love death and get sexually aroused by death. Daly says, "The statement would seem to be adequately substantiated/documented by the state of this male-controlled planet. If patriarchal males loved life, the planet would be different" (p. 352). I find it hard to argue with that thought. Males still run the show on the planet, especially in developing nations. And they enact so many policies which do not enhance life on the planet, and in fact, endanger it.

I wish I could say that the status of women has improved since Daly's books first appeared, but it really hasn't. In many places, it's even more precarious to be a female (like the Congo, for one horrifying example). And we still haven't made the kind of progress that I'd like to see. During the State of the Union address this year, count the females in the room. It will be easy; they'll be the ones wearing colors. There will be about 30 of them in a sea of serious suits.

I also flipped through Pure Lust yesterday, which I don't think I ever read, in the same way that I read Gyn/Ecology or Beyond God the Father. Pure Lust doesn't have underlinings and passionately written notes in the margin. It does have linguistic leaps and leaps of logic. I read chunks of the book yesterday and recognized the graduate school writer that I was, the writer who drove my serious academic mentors crazy.

I'm old enough now to understand why I irritated them. I'm old enough to realize that my linguistic tendencies really belong to the world of poetry, not literary criticism. It's good to arrive at mid-life, having figured some things out.

I will always feel a fondness for those feminists of the 70's and 80's who blazed a trail for me and my compatriots. I've said before that Our Bodies, Ourselves changed my life in so many ways, and other feminist thinking worked the same magic. I miss that fierce anger that my younger self had, that fierce, transformative anger that so many earlier feminists had. At the same time, I'm aware of how much energy that level of anger takes, energy that won't be there to spend on other things, like creative pursuits or raising children.

Back to that question of balance, where I so often end up. Do I want to spend my time storming the barricades, demanding changes in the world? Do I want to write poems? Was I wrong to have decided not to have children? Is it a sign of moral weakness that so often these days, what I really crave is a nap?

I feel like Mary Daly would have judged me and found me lacking. My inner 19 year old certainly does. Yet my inner wise older crone (to use Daly's language) reminds me that there is a time for righteous anger, and a time for art, and a time for a meal shared with friends. There is even time for a nap. My wise crone self reminds me that all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well (yes, I am aware that my wise older crone is actually Julian of Norwich; I'm cool with that).


Jan said...

Thank you for this well-reasoned piece about Mary Daly's contribution to philosophy. How unfortunate that Mary Daly's colorful use of language the way a trial lawyer might has incorrectly labeled her a "hater" on recent blogs. It is difficult, for anybody who has not read the entire body of her philosophical work, to understand the scope of her outrage that we live in a gender-role stratified global culture in which woman-born women, man-born men and trans folk engage with patriarchal medicine's help in the suffering of surgical bodily mutilation (i.e., the suffering that a colorful user of language might call Frankenstenian, as a label also about cosmetic surgery undertaken by anybody in order to comply with gender role stereotyping).

Labeling Dr. Daly a “hater” of individuals when to my knowledge she never took the first violent action against anybody is unfair. She instead hated these things: dominant-submissive cultural patterns, gender-based social trends, and human suffering (including elective surgery done for gender-role compliance). To label her a “hater” is a misguided reversal of truth born of misunderstanding the philosophical core of Dr. Daly’s work. Much as Catholics generally hate the sin but not the sinner, I surmise that Dr. Daly hated the transgender movement (for its focus on artificial gender roles and related bodily mutilation to fulfill those roles) but not individual trans folk. (And please, I'd say to those who want to disparage Dr. Daly, let’s not quibble about politically correct language; the “p.c.” terminology changes so often in any political movement, who could keep up, and Dr. Daly as Well as Dr. Janice Raymond did most of their writing in this area many years ago.)

Were I to indulge the language of hatred, I could as easily write about seeing, in blogs following Dr. Daly’s death, an unreasoning hatred of Dr. Daly as well as a hatred of woman-born radical feminist women as Beings, of which Dr. Daly was one. This hatred of Dr. Daly, I could opine, is a hypocritical brand of hatred, pretending to be progressive politically, by which others demonize and distort any feminist who clearly opposes gender roles.

Dr. Daly wrote as a philosopher, not as a social scientist and not as a politician. She took extreme positions to make a philosophical point --- mainly because she believed so passionately that gender roles are artificial constructs that distort all relations to the destruction of Life itself as embodied in individuals who ought to be free simply to Be, not woman or man, simply Being.

With the epidemic of gang-raping men who terrorize and impregnate women in a pornified global culture on every continent (you correctly mentioned the Congo as an example, and then there's every American campus), I for one wish we had more attention paid to Dr. Mary Daly’s philosophy and a little less to the “GLBT” political movement dominated mainly by individuals born as xy-chromosomal males.

Kristin said...

Thanks to both of you for coming by and commenting!

Dale said...

Sometimes I become aware that I slip into thinking everyone has had a more intensely radical past, and that we've all just moved on a bit together. Then something happens to make me realize that no -- lots of my friends (especially now) just never went there.

It's difficult because the time of anger for me was a time of deep spiritual sickness. I don't want to go back to that. But I don't want to to be seen as ratifying the way things are, either. I'm still not sure how to deal with this.