Thursday, January 7, 2010

Now Let Us Praise Complicated Women, And Condemn Them While We're At It

So Mary Daly died.

(You might have heard about it.)

I don't have much to say about Mary Daly, really. I haven't read anything by her (because I am a bad feminist, or at least a lazy one, or at least somebody made very theory-adverse thanks to my graduate studies in English.) I'm not really sure if I'd heard her name before she died (because I am a bad...oh, you know.)

But I was utterly unsurprised to find out that she was a Second Wave radical feminist who, you know, hated me.

(Well, one thing surprised me: she was Janice Raymond's thesis adviser. Janice Raymond! And no, I'm not going to link to anything about her--if you're here, you should know about her; if you don't, use the bloody Google.)

As I said over at the ol' Tiger Beatdown today, it's clear that Mary Daly gave a lot of women a new way of looking at the world; that in a very real sense, she liberated them. And the glowing testimonials of people who knew her--about how generous she was with her time, how she helped other women writers and feminists, how she created, in the truest sense of the word, sisterhood with her fellow women.

But I just can't be all that happy about it, because she also wanted to deny me all those things; because to Mary Daly, I would never have been woman or even feminist enough.

And this doesn't even touch on the criticisms Audre Lorde leveled at her of ignoring the voices of women of color except as anecdotes, a bit of "color" for a chapter mostly about white women--something Daly never publicly cleared up, at least not while Lorde was alive--or her belief that the male of the species should be reverse decimated (leave one in ten alive) and those secluded in zoos.

And yet a lot of women I admire got their start in feminism with her.

And yet she thought I was a monster.

And yet she was dismissive towards women of color.

And....and what? There was a lot of good Mary Daly did. There was a lot of bad as well. How do we sort this out? How can you honor the legacy of people who were noble in some ways, and wicked in others?

How do you make sense of human lives?

Me, I dunno; like I said, I never read her. But her fame should not expunge her failings.

(And if you want a balanced, no-nonsense appraisal of her good and bad, Sady has it.)


  1. You should check the link through my name, on Raymond, and how in 2005 her books on prostitution were being recommended for college courses...

  2. I suspect you had in fact previously heard of her, C.: I know there have been posts on that forum you used to frequent, discussing her along with Raymond and Greer.

    I found it rather sickening that on a place like Feministing, there was a purely laudatory post about her death that didn't even mention that there were "problematic" issues about her views on trans women (not to mention the issues that she and Audre Lorde had with each other). And whoever wrote that post can't legitimately claim ignorance, because it linked to some other Internet appraisals of Daly that *did* mention her transphobia.

    Just another reason why, in my opinion, Feministing will never be considered a truly trans-friendly place.


  3. Oh, and Bilerico had a post by Kate Clinton entitled "Hail Mary," calling her a "hero."


    So much for being able to depend on "allies"!

    And I won't even mention what happened over at Shakesville. Except that somehow this ended up being all about the blogmistress and her hurt feelings, not about the fact that someone who perpetrated hate speech towards trans women finally died.

    Good riddance.