In Tribute to a Troublemaking Role Model

When Mary Daly died on January 3, 2010, I was inspired to write a brief account of why she was important to me. The following was first posted on my TROUBLE blog on January 4th, 2010.

I was formally introduced to feminism through a research project on feminist theology in college. One of the first authors that I read was Mary Daly–I can’t remember whether it was Gyn/ecology or Beyond the God the Father or both. What I do remember is that reading Mary Daly changed my life. Up to that point (I was a junior in college), I was a double major in religion and Japanese studies. I imagined that I would do my senior thesis project on a topic that incorporated both of those areas and then go onto graduate school in religion. But after I read Daly (and Rosemary Ruether and Carol Christ, among others), I became increasingly interested in feminist theology and theory. The next year I wrote my undergraduate thesis on women’s experience as a category for theological reflection. I graduated with a major in religion and a minor in Japanese Studies and then attended Claremont School of Theology where I tried to take as many classes in feminist theology and theory as I could. Eventually I ended up in a PhD program in Women’s Studies at Emory University. And then taught in a Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies Department.

While I can’t remember many specific details of Daly’s work, what I do remember is the troublemaking spirit that infused her work. I was instantly drawn to this theologian who, while exposing the limits of Catholicism/Christianity, remained dedicated to not wholly rejecting religion, but transforming it. She was a playful writer and a visionary, aiming to not only provoke her reader but have fun with them too. This playfulness (sense of humor, emphasis on joy, witty wordplay) is evident in many of her books–especially their titles: Gyn/Ecology, Pure Lust, Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language Conjured in Cahoots with Jane Caputi, and Outercourse: The Bedazzling Voyage, to name a few. Her troublemaking spirit was not limited to her writing; it was also present in her teaching. I recall her getting into a lot of trouble at Boston College for creating women-only classrooms (men were welcome to take her classes, but only as tutorials). If you want to know more about Daly (and get a sense of her as a troublemaker), I recommend checking out her blog, Mary Daly: Radical Elemental Feminist. I love her opening line:

Mary Daly is a Positively Revolting Hag who holds doctorates in theology and philosophy from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

In my dissertation, Feminist Ethics and the Project of Democracy, I argue that we urgently need feminist role models who aren’t saints, but are moral exemplars of the resisting spirit and who don’t necessarily show us how best to resist, but that resistance is always possible. These role models inspire us, providing us with the hope that we can transform oppressive institutions and live better lives. Their specific methods may not always be effective but, through their writing/teaching/activism/daily experiences, they encourage us to keep working and fighting and questioning. Mary Daly was one such feminist role model.