Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Mary Daly, professor of theology and philosophy, was motivated by anger at what she and other feminists call the patriarchal oppression of women, reinforced by the Judeo-Christian tradition that views God as male and thus denies women their humanity and spirituality. (The word “patriarchy” comes from the Greek meaning “rule of the father” and refers to a system of unequal social, economic, and sexual relations which creates and reinforces men’s authority and power over women.) Daly hoped that her radical approach to theology and philosophy in Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation would make a difference by inspiring women with the courage of “Be-ing,” her verb describing “an Other way of understanding ultimate/intimate reality.” In a sequel to her work The Church and the Second Sex (1968), Daly here introduces her departure from “reformist” feminism (that which tries to work within a patriarchal system such as the Christian church) to a “post-Christian radical feminism” (that which calls for the destruction of the male power structure in its spiritual institutions).

Daly acknowledges her debt to twentieth century British writer Virginia Woolf, whose essays in A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938) have inspired countless feminists. Woolf was one of the first to analyze British society as a patriarchy and the first to introduce the idea of woman used as a scapegoat for all humankind’s ills. These concepts are keys to Daly’s thought as well.

Daly uses references to books and journal articles as the basis for her discussion of the “sexual caste” system that she believes exploits women. Her purpose...

(The entire section is 708 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Daly’s visionary work is a cornerstone of radical feminist philosophies, some of which demand separation from patriarchal rule. According to Daly, Beyond God the Father was written in an atmosphere of what Linda Barufaldi describes as “communal inspiration,” a representation of Daly’s new word “Be-Friending” introduced in Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (1984). Be-Friending means “the creation of a context/atmosphere in which leaps of Metamorphosis can take place.” In her “Original Reintroduction” to the 1985 reissue of Beyond God the Father, Daly compares herself and other feminists to Cassandra, the true prophetess in Greek mythology who was never believed. Too often, life in the 1980’s was disheartening for Daly, who deplored the escalation of rape, spouse battering, pornography, poverty, and the sexual and incestuous abuse of females.

Although reviewed well by feminists, Beyond God the Father had little impact on the patriarchal institutions that Daly denounces. Yet it was a necessary second step on her “spiraling journey” into radical feminism, opening the way for Pure Lust and Gyn/Ecology: the Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978), in which Daly rejects Christian theology. Gyn/Ecology examines evidence of the worldwide physical oppression of women, using examples of Indian suttee (the practice of forcing wives to throw themselves on their...

(The entire section is 502 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Bal, Mieke. Lethal Love: Feminist Literary Readings of Biblical Love Stories. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Using tools from language study and psychoanalysis, Bal examines five familiar love stories, from Adam and Eve to David and Bathsheba, to suggest powerful and exciting new meanings that enable readers to focus on the true import of these tales.

Berry, Wanda Warren. “Feminist Theology: The ’Verbing’ of Ultimate/Intimate Reality in Mary Daly.” In Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly, edited by Sarah Lucia Hoagland and Marilyn Frye. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000. Emphasizes Beyond God the Father, the concept of Be-ing, and the critique of Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be (1952).

Chernin, Kim. Reinventing Eve: Modern Woman in Search of Herself. New York: Times Books, 1987. A reexamination of Eve as the first rebel challenging the subjugation of women. Delves into religion, psychology, mythology, and literature in a search for the Goddess Myth to free modern women.

De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Translated and edited by H. M. Parshley. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953. Written by the woman who developed the philosophy of existentialism (which deals with humanity’s essence and...

(The entire section is 583 words.)