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R.I.P. Mary Daly
January 4, 2010 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Self-described Radical Elemental Feminist Mary Daly has died.

Though perhaps best known for her 1998 refusal to allow male students into her Women's Studies Class, Daly has long been a controversial philosopher, theologian, and linguist.

"No Man's Land" is a 1999 interview with her. KDVS also has a 2006 audio interview with Daly.
posted by lunit (68 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by barrett caulk at 12:14 PM on January 4, 2010


Ohhhhh! She was hugely influential on an earlier version of my feminist self.

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posted by susanbeeswax at 12:16 PM on January 4, 2010


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posted by R. Mutt at 12:18 PM on January 4, 2010


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posted by kalessin at 12:18 PM on January 4, 2010


She certainly lived a long and influential life. I am sure she will be greatly missed by her family and friends, and by those who found her work enlightening and inspiring.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:18 PM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Throughout the dispute the University has maintained that Dr. Daly agreed to retire and relinquish her position as a tenured faculty member of Boston College rather than to admit male students into her classes."

Daly's refusal to admit male students to some of her classes at Boston College also resulted in disciplinary action. While Daly argued that their presence inhibited class discussion, Boston College took the view that her actions were in violation of title IX of federal law requiring the College to ensure that no person was excluded from an education program on the basis of sex, and of the University's own non-discrimination policy insisting that all courses be open to both male and female students.

She labeled these two areas Foreground and Background respectively. Daly considered the Foreground the realm of patriarchy and the Background the realm of Woman. She argued that the Background is under and behind the surface of the false reality of the Foreground. The Foreground, for Daly, was a distortion of true being, the paternalistic society in which she said most people live. It has no real energy, but drains the “life energy” of women residing in the Background. In her view, the Foreground creates a world of poisons that contaminate natural life. She called the male-centered world of the Foreground necrophilic, hating all living things. In contrast, she conceived of the Background as a place where all living things connect

Also in Gyn/Ecology, Daly asserted her negative view of transsexual people, whom she referred to as "Frankensteinian." She labels transsexualism a "male problem" and claimed that post-operative transsexuals exist in a "contrived and artifactual condition."[13] Daly was also the dissertation advisor to Janice Raymond, whose dissertation, published in 1979 as The Transsexual Empire, is critical of "transsexualism." Transsexual activist Riki Wilchins has accused Daly of being transphobic.

In an interview with What Is Enlightenment? magazine, Daly said, "If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males."


Okay, so she's basically a female version of Dave Sim. Awesome.
posted by Avenger at 12:19 PM on January 4, 2010 [16 favorites]


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posted by box at 12:22 PM on January 4, 2010


Don't know a lot about her work, which has seemed to me (from what little I've skimmed/seen/heard) rather plagued by essentialist notions of "the female" vs. "the male," somewhat transphobic, and simplistic in its ignorance of issues of race/class (those more familiar with her work can feel free to correct me on this), but, she generally fought the good fight, it seems, (though I think refusing to allow men into a WS class is the exact opposite of my brand of "feminism.") So .
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:23 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:27 PM on January 4, 2010


...and the old guard lays down in wake of the new ideas...

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posted by Theta States at 12:35 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


From reading the linked articles, I form an impression of Mary Daly as a feminist that I had previously believed was a rhetorical construction of male chauvinists. To find her famous and respected (?) is very odd. To find myself sharing her surname only intensifies this effect.

She was clearly incredibly intelligent, and deeply engaged in her work.
posted by Richard Daly at 12:39 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I met Mary Daly when she came and spoke at my church, presenting her (then new) book Wickedary. I must have been like 11 at the time, and I'll admit that a lot of it flew right over my head. I do remember my mom taking the time to explain to me, then, what a "radical" feminist was.

What I have always found most fascinating about Mary Daly, however, was Audre Lorde's scathing "Open Letter to Mary Daly" in her book Sister Outsider, where Lorde basically criticized Gyn/Ecology for portraying African, Chinese, and Indian women solely as victims and augmenting the oppression of black women. It's definitely worth the read.
posted by lunit at 12:42 PM on January 4, 2010


In The Next Whole Earth Catalog, Gyn/Ecology was introduced this way:

It is an anti-male book. In an anti-female world, this is a refreshing perspective.

posted by Joe Beese at 12:47 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Audre Lorde's "Open Letter to Mary Daly" is part of why I qualified my statement as 'earlier version of my feminist self'. That was a much needed conversation (among others) that needed to take place.
posted by susanbeeswax at 12:55 PM on January 4, 2010


Never subscribed to Daly's essentialist views of men and women, but always felt a kind of guilty attraction for the idea of a class, one class, that was for women only. Have lived long enough now to know that it's a mistake to make men the enemy or regard them in some way contaminating, regardless of the history of patriarchy/a desire for revenge, because it's wrong and inaccurate, but also because there is no future down that path.

Interestingly, I can see many similarities between Daly and some sci-fi authors, Suzy McKee Charnas, Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr., and to a slightly lesser extent Octavia Butler. Namely, a bitterly grim belief that no true reconciliation between men and women is possible, that violence is inevitable and that women have had and probably always will have the worst of it.
posted by emjaybee at 12:56 PM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I saw Daly speak in the early 90's. I was still sorting out my gender politics and socio-political beliefs, but she was an amazing voice to have in the mix.
posted by kimdog at 1:00 PM on January 4, 2010


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posted by Lobster Garden at 1:02 PM on January 4, 2010


but always felt a kind of guilty attraction for the idea of a class, one class, that was for women only.

There's definitely a strong argument to be made for single-sex education, but presumably Daly was aware that Boston College was co-educational, as were the young women who enrolled there. It's not as if there aren't single-sex, female-only colleges, though they are certainly fewer in number.
posted by mpbx at 1:03 PM on January 4, 2010


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posted by rtha at 1:15 PM on January 4, 2010


>: Though perhaps best known for her 1998 refusal to allow male students into her Women's Studies Class

Sounds like she was kind of missing the point of Women's Studies- although honestly, the male:female ratio in my class was 2 to 19. Was she trying to make feminism look bad?

The more people you can get on board, the better, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:16 PM on January 4, 2010


I'm male. I read Gyn/Ecology in college. I had never encountered such radical thought before. I rather liked it.
posted by Ratio at 1:20 PM on January 4, 2010


From reading the linked articles, I form an impression of Mary Daly as a feminist that I had previously believed was a rhetorical construction of male chauvinists. To find her famous and respected (?) is very odd.

All of the various allegations people liked to falsely attribute to Andrea Dworkin actually seemed to be true of Mary Daly, but her stuff was such impenetrable woo, I like to think that nobody could ever bring themselves to read it to get to the awful truth.

I remember trying to read Gyn/Ecology in the early 80's and thinking -- wtf? Is it possible anyone could take this stuff seriously? But female friends active in the womens movement in those days tell me that not only did they take it seriously, but some groups buckled under the strain of trying to embrace this stuff.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:24 PM on January 4, 2010


but always felt a kind of guilty attraction for the idea of a class, one class, that was for women only.

There is something to be said for forbiddance as a stimulus to curiosity. The history of feminism itself has a strong element of this in it: women who took "you can't do/be/know this, because you are a girl" as a challenge. I suspect lots of men and boys, over the years, have been introduced to feminist philosophy by way of a thrill from the idea that they shouldn't be reading it, that by reading it they are learning womens' secrets; and having read it, quite a lot of us have thought that it made sense.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:35 PM on January 4, 2010


Sounds like a grade A crackpot.

She's like the embodiment of the crackpot "liberal" that people like Rush Limbaugh refer to when they criticize "liberalism". The one they build up to make people afraid of "liberals" and liberal policies. It really does sound like her views are a mirror image of Dave Sim's, nearly isomorphic.
posted by delmoi at 1:36 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by Tesseractive at 1:37 PM on January 4, 2010


She was a proponent of the Prehistoric Matriarchy Myth. I can't abide that, sorry.

I am a feminist and believe that women deserve equal treatment and that patriarchal society as a whole is a flawed and needs to be taken down a peg or two, but pushing this bull crap about a matriarchal society being "the norm" and patriarchal society being an aberration just doesn't sit well with me or any of the feminist that can hold a candle in a conversation without going completely woowoo on you.

Still, sad to see an adversary go.

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posted by daq at 1:45 PM on January 4, 2010


Brave people like Mary Daly are necessary to move things forward, even when they're incorrect or "not even wrong" with regard to their specific positions. You don't see oxidation until you get through some phlogiston.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:45 PM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


She refused to take my question, explicitly because I was a man, when I went to see her speak when I was in college. I was offended and walked out; feeling like I wasn't wanted and was wasting my time by being there. I can't say that I have a personal fondness for her due to that; it was quite alienating at the time, but it certainly sparked an awareness about ways to use rhetoric to promote a cause that wasn't there before, and led to some productive dialogues about feminism in the context of my experience with some of my favorite professors. I like to make myself think that she'd be pretty happy with that result; but I can't shake the feeling that she'd rather that I hadn't shown up.

Nevertheless,

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posted by Kwine at 1:46 PM on January 4, 2010


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posted by fook at 1:47 PM on January 4, 2010


I read Beyond God the Father because I was interested in Tillich and Buber at the time, which were influences. But she really started going off the rails later on, with made up statistics and whatnot.
posted by Falconetti at 2:06 PM on January 4, 2010


I think that a generation gap may make it hard for younger people, male and female, to understand what Mary Daly was fighting against. Women students were not valued on most campuses.

Back in the early 1960s, I majored in economics at San Francsco State College. On the first day of a required course, the fiftyish male instructor said that women shouldn't study econ and that he wouldn't be calling on the two of us who were enrolled. I knew he was wrong, but in that era, protesting just didn't occur to me. I ducked my head and kept quiet.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:11 PM on January 4, 2010 [14 favorites]


Kwine: "She refused to take my question, explicitly because I was a man, when I went to see her speak when I was in college. I was offended and walked out; feeling like I wasn't wanted and was wasting my time by being there."

I'm told that this is what many women experience in academia. So perhaps she was offering you a feminist lesson right there.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:15 PM on January 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


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posted by generalist at 2:15 PM on January 4, 2010


Making up stories about the past is not a useful thing when trying to build a better future. Daly allowed her wishes about reality to overcome her reason and poison her ability to influence it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:15 PM on January 4, 2010


she was sometimes right, and sometimes wrong, but she definitely pushed an envelope that needed pushing back then, and i think, on the whole, she was an important voice at the right time.

"Courage to be is the key to the revelatory power of the feminist revolution."

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posted by rmd1023 at 2:33 PM on January 4, 2010


Y'know, I can only imagine what a nightmare that was for the college's administration, and how frustrating it was for the men who tried to get into her class and were denied, and for the women who were able to take the class and completely disagreed with her policies. But, also, I'm really glad there was someone out there who was extreme enough to pull a stunt like that. Because now we can reflect on it, and agree with each other about how extreme she was, and be all "... and just because they were men! What a crackpot!" And then maybe, hopefully, via that very neat illustration, a few folks get their eyes opened to how much crackpottery women have to put up with their entire lives.

I suppose that probably wasn't quite her intent, but I think it works nicely.


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posted by hegemone at 2:38 PM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm told that this is what many women experience in academia. So perhaps she was offering you a feminist lesson right there.

Yes, and we've learned over the years that imposing discriminatory practices on individuals who've done nothing wrong is a great way to advance the cause of equal treatment. It's why we're so eager to make sure that white people are denied admission to college under the Affirmative Action program, and why the world would have been much better if Jews were encouraged to imprison and beat Germans after World War II.

Cliche alert: Two wrongs still don't add up to a right, at least not in my moral calculus.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:48 PM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, an important bit of balance is that Daly was willing to spend her time teaching male students in a separate section as independent study. Her interview with What is Enlightenment? struck me as half taking the piss on a magazine that she didn't take seriously.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:49 PM on January 4, 2010


> There's definitely a strong argument to be made for single-sex education, but presumably Daly was aware that Boston College was co-educational, as were the young women who enrolled there. It's not as if there aren't single-sex, female-only colleges, though they are certainly fewer in number.

Boston College did not become formally co-educational until 1970. This isn't meant to challenge your point, mpbx, but rather that it's worth noting that for her first three years there, Mary Daly taught at an all-male college.
posted by ardgedee at 3:24 PM on January 4, 2010


On my high school debate team, we loved throwing out radical feminist arguments because our opponents, in general, weren't ready for their extremity, and tended to fumble their responses. So we had a (frequently consulted) copy of Gyn/Ecology on the shelf, along with pretty much the complete run of Kick It Over.

It was a wealthy Catholic all-boys school. I think the exposure to stuff like Daly's work really helped nudge some of us out of our incipient Republicanism and towards more broadly considered political philosophies.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:34 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


From her biography: "[I]n the 1950s there were no American universities that allowed women to enter their graduate programs in theology." (She did her doctorates in theology in Europe, instead.)

I'd say that she was a product of her times, in both her academic frustration and her passionate engagement with the feminism she helped to invent in the 70s (and of which I have my own very mixed memories).

She was an original, and a fighter. Her moment may have passed, but it was an important one.

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posted by jokeefe at 3:36 PM on January 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Kwine: She refused to take my question, explicitly because I was a man, when I went to see her speak when I was in college. I was offended and walked out; feeling like I wasn't wanted and was wasting my time by being there.

I've always thought that was a weird attitude. Few people take offense at the existence of nuns and cloisters were men are restricted. There's nothing wrong with staying silent at events like that. Heaven knows that all the patriarchy needs to maintain itself is for men not to shut up.

On the topic of Mary Daly... I'm glad she was out there, extending the bounds of discourse. I don't agree with her on very much but I don't have to agree with people to value their contributions.
posted by Kattullus at 3:58 PM on January 4, 2010


For everyone pointing out how hard it is for women in academia, I feel the need to provide this statistic: In 2009, for every 100 women in college in the United States, there are only 77 men. For every 100 women to graduate college, only 73 men graduate. (source)

Interpret this statistic however you like - I'd imagine it might make an interesting Rorschach test, actually.
posted by deadmessenger at 4:38 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This quote from her obituary in the National Catholic Reporter is pretty sweet:
“Ever since childhood, I have been honing my skills for living the life of a radical feminist pirate and cultivating the courage to win."
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:27 PM on January 4, 2010


For everyone pointing out how hard it is for women in academia, I feel the need to provide this statistic: In 2009, for every 100 women in college in the United States, there are only 77 men. For every 100 women to graduate college, only 73 men graduate.

Undergraduates aren't academia.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:29 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interpret this statistic however you like

That sucks. We should probably take a good, hard look at why such a gender gap exists so that it can be closed up, because ideally both sexes would be equally represented at university and have the same opportunities to achieve success there.

That's not what you were looking for, was it?
posted by hegemone at 5:36 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


For everyone pointing out how hard it is for women in academia, I feel the need to provide this statistic: In 2009, for every 100 women in college in the United States, there are only 77 men. For every 100 women to graduate college, only 73 men graduate. (source)

The Leaky Pipeline.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:50 PM on January 4, 2010


Boston College did not become formally co-educational until 1970. This isn't meant to challenge your point, mpbx, but rather that it's worth noting that for her first three years there, Mary Daly taught at an all-male college.

You're correct, and in 1970, she was vocal about her support for coeducation:

"Assistant professor Mary Daly supported coeducation in the College of Arts and Sciences... She criticized a culture that erects "artificial barriers" for certain people while congratulating those who have managed to overcome those same barriers, giving the appearance of liberalism but in reality perpetuating oppression. She hoped the university would embrace coeducation, which would promote the understanding between the sexes and move beyond a "dehumanizing biologism and toward the recognition of personalist values, not in words and images only, but also in fact.""

Apparently, she changed her mind.
posted by mpbx at 7:08 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because now we can reflect on it, and agree with each other about how extreme she was, and be all "... and just because they were men! What a crackpot!" And then maybe, hopefully, via that very neat illustration, a few folks get their eyes opened to how much crackpottery women have to put up with their entire lives.

The problem, though, is that those most affected by the stunt were those who least needed it: men who were interested in taking her class. Assuming they knew something about her when they wanted to take it, they probably represented the men in the world with the least need for such an experience (even many feminist men would have second thoughts about taking a class from a teacher who is so outwardly hostile to men).

And of course those who _most_ need it instead got fed various "intellectuals are anti-male commie blah blah blah" from various talk show hosts, 99% or more of who likely never had the awareness to register this.

(assuming she even meant any of that)
posted by wildcrdj at 7:11 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read her early in my philosophy education. Her ideas sparked many of my own. It was a crack in an otherwise almost completely patriarchal field of study. Reading her led me to women like Simone de Beauvoir and thus to writers which appeared in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy

I don't think anyone not born before the 70's can understand what a radical struggle it was to get women acknowledged in academia, especially in fields like philosophy. It wasn't until 73 that the Philosopher's Index even acknowledged feminist thought or writers...and then it was only 3 articles.

Did Ms. Daly go in directions I wouldn't have chosen, given the benefits of having been born into a world that was already changing? Yes. But the world was changing *because* of the courage of the women who were willing to go as far outside the boundaries as possible.

So, Rest in Peace Ms. Daly. Thank you for everything you did, and thank you for all the actions you enabled by being willing to be the firebrand that showed the shadows.
posted by dejah420 at 7:31 PM on January 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


The problem, though, is that those most affected by the stunt were those who least needed it: men who were interested in taking her class.

Assuming they weren't the argumentative dicks who like to sign up for women's studies courses in order to dominate the class discussion. It's my guess that this may be one of the reasons why Daly wanted gender-separated classes.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:40 PM on January 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


I understand what an awful struggle a woman trying to build a career, especially in academia, faced then, and respect anybody that worked through that and made the way easier for women now.

But seriously, all that lost matriarchic utopia stuff, and claiming that 9 million people died in the European witch hunts; that's not being an academic at all. It's being a crackpot, like those people that think that the English are the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel.

Also, any kind of thinking that runs towards "Our lives would be perfect if we didn't have these hated Others, by whom all bad things are caused," scares the hell out of me. Not too much less so even in cases where the Others actually are a privileged and even exploitative class.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:04 PM on January 4, 2010


:-)
posted by w0mbat at 9:49 PM on January 4, 2010


the firebrand that showed the shadows.

That's lovely, dejah, thank you.
posted by jokeefe at 10:20 PM on January 4, 2010


Assuming they weren't the argumentative dicks who like to sign up for women's studies courses in order to dominate the class discussion. It's my guess that this may be one of the reasons why Daly wanted gender-separated classes.


The Wikipedia article says that her reason for wanting gender-separated classes is that men would inhibit the discussion in a mixed class. Which seems a potentially valid argument, at the least. (We know that males tend to dominate the discussion in mixed classes, right?). So I think you're right.

I wonder if it might be useful to look at her actions as directed at improving the experience for her female students, rather than necessarily teaching a lesson or demonstrating a point to her potential male students.

And thanks for this post, I didn't really know about Mary Daly until now, I'm ashamed to say. Seems like she had some interesting and inspiring ideas.

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posted by Infinite Jest at 12:15 AM on January 5, 2010


I am one of those blithe 90s/ 00s era feminists who has only an outline awareness of what my foremothers went through in academe (and who is profoundly grateful for their efforts) but Ms Daly's death brings it all into sharp relief. I am very grateful for people who are sharing their own experiences of academe at that time in this thread.

For all that I saw wrong in her work, for the reliance on that prehistoric matriarchy myth, for all her blind spots, she still gets this from me:

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posted by psychostorm at 2:52 AM on January 5, 2010


A difference between a feminist extremist like Mary Daly and a Patriarchal extremist like -- well, take your pick -- is that Daly's extreme vision will never happen, so it's possible to examine it cooly and look at its structure and arguments and rationales dispassionately (with luck learning something in the process), without the gnawing fear that you could wake up and find it voted into reality. Or accepted as "normal" for thousands of years.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:11 AM on January 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


always felt a kind of guilty attraction for the idea of a class, one class, that was for women only.

her reason for wanting gender-separated classes is that men would inhibit the discussion in a mixed class. Which seems a potentially valid argument, at the least.

A couple weeks ago, I was talking with a co-worker (we're both college students with part-time jobs) and the topic of feminism came up. He related to me, with obvious pride, that his fraternity actually dispatches brothers to Gender Studies classes on campus to troll the discussions. He was dead serious--it just left me speechless. On a couple of occasions my girlfriend, who enjoys taking Gender Studies classes, has complained to me that in a 30 person class, there would be only a couple guys, but that they would almost always ruin the discussion; I thought it was just a coincidence or bias on her part. Talking to this douchebag was definitely an "ohhh shit" moment for me.

So yeah, I'm a man, but I don't have any problem with Professor Daly closing her class to men--though I can see how doing so could cause a shitstorm worse than the original problem. Some of her other ideas about "life energy" and such seem a little kooky, and that makes her an easy target for ridicule, but I don't find fault with the rationale behind her decision to close her classes to men.
posted by notswedish at 6:25 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Assuming they weren't the argumentative dicks who like to sign up for women's studies courses in order to dominate the class discussion. It's my guess that this may be one of the reasons why Daly wanted gender-separated classes.

If a man causes a disruption in a Women's Studies class, by all means have him ejected from the class. This is within the power of the professor and the dean, and entirely appropriate. But prejudging any male student who enrolls in a class as an "argumentative dick" or forbidding them from enrolling solely based on the assumption that their gender predisposes them to disruption, seems antithetical to the egalitarian ideals of feminism.
posted by mpbx at 6:27 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


mpbx: It's more complex than that. There is a substantial body of research that even in classrooms where instructors are watching their bias, male students tend to get called more and speak more during class (as a statistical tendency.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:43 AM on January 5, 2010


mpbx: It's more complex than that. There is a substantial body of research that even in classrooms where instructors are watching their bias, male students tend to get called more and speak more during class (as a statistical tendency.)

No, I'm aware of that, and it's definitely an important issue to be aware of, but do you really believe that Mary Daly would've succumbed to such a thing?

In any case, it seems like a really horrible paradox. Feminists, including Professor Daly, fought hard to get women the right to sit in a classroom along side male students. Once achieved, it became apparent that bias in favor of males still existed in the way classroom discussions were run. It seems to me that the answer would be to continue to level the playing field through by reforming the way classes are conducted and how professors run them. I don't see how re-segregating classes achieves anything. It's tantamount to admitting that women can't hack it alongside men, which is absolutely not the truth.

I went to a single-sex high school, and it was definitely a very positive experience for me. It was a very harmonious, welcoming, and non-competitive atmosphere because of its gender uniformity. So I definitely see the value in such an environment. But at the university level, I think it's time to come to terms with the reality of the world: that you can't isolate yourself from others, even those who might disturb or challenge you, and that you have to learn how to deal with such challenges in order to be able to excel.
posted by mpbx at 7:13 AM on January 5, 2010


mpbx: No, I'm aware of that, and it's definitely an important issue to be aware of, but do you really believe that Mary Daly would've succumbed to such a thing?

In her writings about the whole Boston College snafu, she admits that as an instructor, she's only in control of one side of the dynamic. Which I'm not particularly interested in engaging in a detailed pro/con discussion regarding single-sex higher education. The entire issue is thorny, complicated, and neither side should be dismissed out of hand.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:34 AM on January 5, 2010


Jesus fucking christ, this thread is starting to feel like a replay of what she was trying to avoid in her classes.

From a Salon interview in 1999:
Daly didn't flinch. She had told Naquin in September what she's been telling male students for the last 30 years: that she would teach him separately. Daly had been through similar flare-ups before, most recently in 1989, when she opted for a semester's leave rather than teach two male students. The flames eventually died down.

But this time Daly wasn't merely engaged in a tête-à-tête with her employer, Boston College. Dietrich informed Daly that this time she had no choice but to accept the male student. Daly also says it was during this call that she first learned that this student was being represented by the Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm in Washington. In an Oct. 16 letter sent to Boston College President William P. Leahy, the center threatened to sue the Jesuit college for violating Title IX, the federal statute banning discrimination in higher education on the basis of sex. Boston College ordered Daly to accept Naquin into her class.

"You can't just see Boston College here in isolation. It's what's motivating them," says Daly, who has since taken a leave of absence. "It's the CIR which is against radical feminism and particularly against women. Boston College is getting rid of the CIR by getting rid of me."
...
In a Nov. 24 fund-raising letter, Michael S. Greve, the center's (CIR) executive director, set out the goals for 1999. Under a section titled "Against Radical Feminism," Greve explains that the center's "most important cases are attacks on two of feminism's sacred cows -- the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments."

posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:34 AM on January 5, 2010 [4 favorites]



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Yes, her methods and opinions were extreme, and they served their purpose to stretch the discourse well beyond what its imagined capacity was at the time, and even now. Being exposed to challenging ideas teaches you how to think, which is why every 20-year-old sensitive poet is a Marxist. Our beliefs only exist in contrast to those views which we don't hold.

One professor in my undergraduate Women's Studies program worked very closely with Mary Daly on one of her major works. Being exposed to this type of work early on informed my studies in a big way. I quickly realized that I would never be able to follow a Mary Daly type dogmatically, but much like Andrea Dworkin, I think her work is and will always be deeply misunderstood by those who haven't read it. It's horribly threatening to your Limbaugh types and a lot of regular people too. But so is anything you break down into cartoonish oversimplifications.

As for men in women's studies classes, I have been in all-female (/identified) classes and mixed gender (/presentation) classes. I can say that I agree there is a marked difference when male identified people are present. My program included a lot of nursing students, who could take Women's Studies credits towards their social work segment. These women were less frequently willing to hold forth in class in the presence of male students, perhaps because they hadn't had enough time engaging with the material, or with academic discussions of privilege in general. Oftentimes with an all-female class stories would be shared which were deeply personal. I have seen more than one feminist blossom before my eyes - the process of discovery in sharing and learning can be beautiful. The men in these classes for the most part were not behaving in a manner that was threatening or judging - however, there is no way to discuss the forces of patriarchal oppression without the one male in the room personalizing it, or for the other classmates to read it as such, or to leap to defend "men" in a need to placate or please an imagined patriarchal influence in the room. This is how oppression works - it can just as easily be reinforced by its victims as its perpetrators. Eliminating that subliminal desire to moderate, smooth over or ease gendered tensions makes productive classworkeasier. That said, I'm not sure that it's realistic or fair to deny entry to male identified students, I just can see the value of a female-only class environment.

I will also add that the "dick who takes WS courses" is a real thing. They were usually angry guys frustrated by the very notion of feminism and actively trying to disrupt the class (not in a manner that would warrant being thrown out, but more like arguing every point into the ground so that progress is completely halted). Several were also older white men, which is why many of the classes couldn't be 'audited' by non-degree-seeking students. Someone could argue that this too is discriminatory, but there's something deeply troubling about a 60-year-old Promise Keeper being able to come into a classroom of mostly young women and eyeball everyone creepily and talk about Jesus every single class. Or some dweeb from the Philosophy department whose entire purpose in the class is to push the agenda that the Women's Studies program should be folded so that their department can receive the funding that the "big" (read: male) thinkers deserve.

While I agree without question that Mary Daly's work is problematic with regards to gender essentialism, transphobia, inclusivity and matters of systemic racial oppression, I think throwing out terms like "crackpot" is not productive, especially considering that this is an obit post. Mary Daly's work, along with that of her (rare) radical contemporaries, is important even if only to stretch and test our notions of feminism and patriarchy.

On preview - mandymanwasregistered: ugh!
posted by SassHat at 9:44 AM on January 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I took a class that included Mary Daly just last semester. Much of her writing after Beyond God the Father was alienating, but that book is a masterwork of modern theology: positivist, liberating, and one with the world rather than segregated from it. It's a shame that she is dismissed as the exemplary "kooky liberal" rather than being recognized for who she was: a fiercely independent feminist mystic in an age of pseudo-academic patriarchy, or, in her own carefully chosen words, a Positively Revolting Hag.

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posted by shii at 10:59 AM on January 5, 2010


What I have always found most fascinating about Mary Daly, however, was Audre Lorde's scathing "Open Letter to Mary Daly" in her book Sister Outsider, where Lorde basically criticized Gyn/Ecology for portraying African, Chinese, and Indian women solely as victims and augmenting the oppression of black women. It's definitely worth the read.

Yes, thank you. What a beautiful letter. I actually thought it was more heartbreakingly hopeful than scathing. Lorde doesn't mince words and outlines her concerns and objections thoroughly, yet it felt like an attempt at discourse between equals, and not one person trying to put down another.
posted by Danila at 11:59 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's a fantastic piece about her: Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly.
posted by lunit at 11:53 AM on January 8, 2010


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posted by klausness at 5:57 AM on January 13, 2010


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