The Mary Daly Reader

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Mary Daly
Jennifer Rycenga, Linda Barufaldi
  • New York, NY: 
    New York University Press
    , January
     464 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This book is an absolute must-read. Its forty-five essays and excerpts from Mary Daly’s many writings offer exactly the kind of immersion into the renowned feminist thinker’s thought process to fortify feminist resistance to the relentless heteropatriarchal status quo. Covering Daly’s feminist work before 1971, from 1972 to 1974, and from 1985 to 2010, the three chronologically-organized sections ensure that readers see in Daly’s scholarship the increasing feminist outrage and quest for women’s freedom in religion and society. The introductory summaries from the editors offer valuable and vital context for each essay. Knowing that Daly participated in this project—until her death in 2010—gives additional confidence about the whole work. Daly wanted to make her feminist philosophical growth visible in one volume that includes essays about some of the more painful moments in her life.

Two of those moments stand out to me. One moment has to do with the institutional challenges Daly faced as a feminist professor teaching at Boston College, a Roman Catholic institution. In 1975 she was denied promotion to full professor because, according to the department’s report, “she has made no significant contribution to the field” (330). Reading this statement in 2017 sounds as theologically foolish as it must have forty-two years ago. Daly earned two doctorates, published four books and many articles, and was a popular speaker. She had received “favorable” student evaluations and “favorable” outside peer-reviewed letters (331), but her department’s report was negative. The latter illustrates the shameless institutional arrogance that denigrates feminist scholarship, against all evidence and reason, by asserting arbitrary and capricious power. The financial implications of the refusal must have been considerable. Yet the rejection also gave Daly the certainty about her intellectual path. She acknowledged it stating, “I was now liberated into the possibility of qualitatively Other Daring Deeds” (332). She understood that “my scholarship and originality would never be adequately rewarded within the ‘system,’ and that my Rewards would be utterly Other, chiefly in the work itself and in what this communicated to other women” (333).

Pushbacks and the lack of rewards are well-known experiences for many feminists, even to this very day, and are important reasons for the enduring feminist commitment to resist institutional and personal cooptation, collaboration, and acquiescence. The inclusion of Daly’s biographical reflections demonstrates that feminist sisterhood and analysis do not come cheaply. Daly’s words encourage us to persist. How much do we compromise until we lose our feminist integrity? Daly’s essays, written with her characteristic forcefulness and constructive anger, challenge readers to be suspicious of calls to “lean in” as ready-made solutions for women’s liberation.

The last essay, excerpted from Daly’s 2006 book Amazon Grace: Re-calling the Courage to Sin Big (Palgrave Macmillan), demonstrates that she always fought against women’s acceptance of the phallocratic order. She chastised feminist scholarly cooptation into patriarchy when, filled with sarcasm, she observed, “[T]he erudite professors and sophisticated graduate students of feminist theory” propose to bury “the Wicked Old Word patriarchy” (368) as a thing of the past. She urged her readers to resist such an idea, shouting out in all capital letters, “I, MARY DALY, AM THE SORT OF EMBARRASSING AND POSITIVELY REVOLTING HAG WHO WOULD DO SUCH AN INAPPROPRIATE ARCHEOLOGICAL DIG, AND I AM DOING IT HERE” (369). She ordered “FURIOUS FEMALE BONDING” (370) as it challenges “the maze of lies, distortions, and silences” and moves us “into a truly Archaic Present and Future” (370).

This brings me to the other moment in Daly’s life that must have been painful to her. To Daly, sexism is the essence and sole foundation of women’s oppression throughout the ages. This is a disputed idea, and the public conflict between Daly and Audre Lorde brought it to every feminist’s attention, especially after Lorde published an “Open Letter to Mary Daly” in Sister Outsider in 1984. Importantly, though not always known even today, Daly responded to Lorde a few months after Lorde had sent her original letter to Daly in 1979. Lorde’s original letter challenged Daly that sexism is not the only reason for women’s oppression, and criticized Daly for ignoring the issue of race in the discussion on female genital mutilation. That the anthology includes Daly’s 1979 letter to Lorde (355-59) is significant because it indicates Daly’s openness and willingness to engage with Lorde on this important issue. During her lifetime, Lorde denied ever having received Daly’s letter—but it was found posthumously, among Lorde’s personal papers. As the editors of The Mary Daly Reader put it, “When this evidence emerged, affecting the major controversy that had surrounded Daly’s name in feminist circles for the better part of twenty-five years, Daly was quite hopeful. However, the existence of this letter, as significant as its rediscovery was, never repaired Daly’s public image, as much as Lorde’s denial of its existence had damaged it” (355). The inclusion of Daly’s response letter invites feminists to revisit the substance of this conflict. It also suggests that rereading Daly’s essay on female genital mutilation (167-89) triggered Lorde’s response at the time. It encourages feminists to reevaluate the status of sexism in its intersectional manifestations in contemporary feminist theorizing.

In sum, this anthology is an intellectual gift to feminists everywhere. It reminds us to be fearlessly feminist, to uphold our diverse feminist intellectual traditions, and to collaborate with each other in ways that encourage feminist resistance to the technocratic, necrophilic, and neo-fascist threats, laws, and practices harming those performing as women. In other words, Daly’s essays remind us over and over again that patriarchal oppression is hardly a thing of the past. They urge us to keep re-calling, be-friending, be-speaking, and be-ing, as well as to maintain our feminist raging and growling.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Susanne Scholz is professor of Old Testament at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.

Date of Review: 
July 5, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Mary Daly (1928-2010) was an American radical feminist philosopher, academic, and theologian.  She taught at Boston College for 33 years.

Jennifer Rycenga is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies at San José State University.  She has co-edited two books: Frontline Feminisms: Women, War, and Resistance, with Marguerite Waller; and Queering the Popular Pitchwith Sheila Whiteley.

Linda Barufaldi is a lifelong radical feminist activist who has worked in the peace, civil rights, women’s, LGBT and environmental movements.  


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