I first came across the writings of Mary Daly when I was a senior in college. Interested in finding out more about this radical feminist, I did a quick “Google” image search of her name. Suffice it to say I was a bit shocked when the photo of Daly wielding an axe-like weapon popped onto the screen. “Great,” I thought to myself, “and they wonder why people are afraid of feminists.” No castration anxieties here. Anyway, I read some excerpts from The Church and the Second Sex, quoted Daly in my senior thesis, and filed her away in my mind alongside the pre-calculus I’ve never used since high school.
A year or so later, I found myself in a graduate class on feminist theologies in which Daly was definitely featured on the syllabus. We read Beyond God the Father and Gyn/Ecology. I can still remember giggling as I read her “New Intergalactic Introduction” over the phone to my husband. “Only Daly can get away with this,” I said to him. Indeed, at that moment it seemed to me that Daly’s writings were far too flamboyant for a feminist scholar who wanted to be taken seriously. I had no desire to imitate her.
Imagine, then, my own amazement when I found myself defending Daly during an in-class discussion in which several female students critiqued her for being “too angry.” They claimed that she was abrasive, out-of-line, and even crazy. And the more I heard them, the more I wondered if this great axe-wielding Hag was really crazy or whether we were actually the crazy ones for not realizing that she was fighting for us. Suddenly, I found myself speaking in class – something I hadn’t yet done all semester and it was already November. I began by reminding my colleagues that Daly had in fact studied Patristics and that she would probably be familiar with Augustine’s notion that “anger is the daughter of hope.” I invited them to ponder how this connection between anger and hope might change our image of Daly from an angry, man-hating feminist to a woman whose hope for a world without patriarchy enabled her to rage against the confines it placed upon her body, spirit, and mind. What could we learn from her example? Most of my colleagues remained quiet, some looked at me with suspicion, some smiled, and I think the professor eventually said something along the generic lines of, “you make a good point.” Then, we talked about something else and the clock ticked away.
Ever since that class I have had much respect for Daly. Of course, I do not agree with everything she wrote, but I do admire her willingness to confront patriarchy with a terrifying strength and even a bit of humor. I love the way she took patriarchal slurs against women – “hag,” “witch,” etc. – and turned them into something powerful, something capable of grace. I’m not sure that I would have followed Daly out of the Church that memorable day when she invited all women who were tired of patriarchal religion to leave its cement walls (literally and figuratively). No, I probably would have stayed in the pew. Indeed, I have done so. But I have done so out of choice and out of hope and even with a bit of that anger that arises from experiencing injustice. And I continue to do so, smiling and giggling at times as I picture myself wielding an axe and chopping through all of the false boundaries that Catholicism has placed around women, sexuality, and even God. May you rest in peace, Mary Daly. Amen.
Pearl Maria Barros received her BA in English and Religious Studies from Santa Clara University and her MTS from Harvard Divinity School where she continues to pursue her doctorate in Theology. When not studying, she enjoys spending time with friends and family who remind her what theology and life are ultimately all about.