Rosemary Radford Ruether (review date 10 November 1973)

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SOURCE: Ruether, Rosemary Radford. “Theology by Sex.” New Republic 169, no. 19 (10 November 1973): 24-6.

[In the following review of Beyond God the Father, Ruether finds flaws in Daly's conception of women and her notion of castrating “phallic morality.”]

Mary Daly's new book [Beyond God the Father] is a bold effort to found a theology for the women's movement. Many will find this book startling and even repugnant. Mary Daly has little respect for orthodoxies, either Protestant or Catholic. She strives to break not only with orthodox theology, but also with the traditional logic and meaning of language, in order to reveal a new meaning over against the “insane sanity” of conventional rationality. For Dr. Daly, women are the ultimate outcasts of history, the submerged sexual caste within every class, nation and race. The liberation of women must break with established structures in a more radical way than any other movement.

How can such a theology call itself Christian? Dr. Daly maintains no pretense of continuity with the Judaeo-Christian tradition. For women, in her thought, there can be only one regula fidei—those forms of thought that vindicate the full personhood of women. By this standard the traditions of Judaism and Christianity are found wanting. This also means that feminist theology is open to the suppressed and forbidden traditions; the ancient mother and nature religions suppressed by patriarchy; the witches and heretics burned by Christians. Pre-patriarchal and anti-patriarchal traditions reveal themselves to be places of suppressed female autonomy and power and so gain authority as sources for feminist theology. Nevertheless Dr. Daly does not cut herself off from all traditional Christian theology. Indeed she chooses to vindicate, through a reinterpretation, the classical ontological theology of her Catholic heritage in Aquinas and Maritain.

Women should not imitate the inadequate liberation models of contemporary theology, including the apocalyptic model favored by black theology. Here liberation is seen as the victory of the oppressed over the oppressors. The women's movement is the one movement that cannot make murder the answer to oppression. Women and men are too closely bound to each other's survival to imagine that liberation for one can come about through the overthrow of the other. Rather, for Dr. Daly, the liberation model for women must be one of transformation and rebirth, the dissolution of both sides of a false antithesis to reveal a new androgynous humanity.

The male God must be rejected because “He” is not the true God, but an idol. He does the traditional work of idols: creating false consciousness, setting up false polarities, validating unjust rules of an oppressive society, making us look in the wrong places and ask the wrong questions about redemption. The true God is not “out there,” nor even the God “who is not yet” so dear to theologians of hope. The true God is the power of Be-ing buried underneath our self-alienation, which is revealed in and through our reborn selves when we break the bonds of false consciousness and oppression. God is not “over against” humanity or even “nature,” but the Be-ing through whom we come to be and which is manifest in our power to be when we open ourselves to It in joyful selfhood. The God of patriarchy is based on objective or “I-It” thinking, which found its basic model in the reduction of woman to the status of a “thing.” Only the advent of woman as person can reveal that Be-ing which can found loving “I-Thou” relations between persons.

The death of God the Father also spells the repudiation of Christ. Christ was...

(This entire section contains 1273 words.)

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the symbol of the male as “God.” At the same time Christ buttressed a slave ethic for those subjugated by patriarchy. Christ was the scapegoat who could be represented by the creators of the scapegoat, men. Women must be anti-Christ, not only to liberate themselves from slave ethics, but also to liberate the memory of Jesus “from enchainment to the role of ‘mankind's most illustrious scapegoat’ … so that Jesus can be recognizable as a free man.”

Christology cannot be a redemptive model for women. But Dr. Daly does find prophetic dimensions in Mariology. In the doctrines of Mary's virginity, immaculate conception and assumption, Mariology pointed beyond Christolatry to the messianic concepts of the autonomy of women, the original unfallen nature of women, liberated from the male myth of the “curse of Eve,” and the reintegration of the flesh and spirit in transcendent unity.

The women's movement is anti-church; it reveals the advent of a new androgynous humanity, a new liberated community of women with each other, men and women together, and finally as new cosmic covenant between humanity and nature. Nature itself must be liberated from its bondage to the phallic morality of rape and death.

This vision of the theological meaning of the women's movement is important and may well merit the identity that Dr. Daly gives it as being the “final cause.” Yet there are disturbing contradictions in her analysis, certain oversimplifications that could subvert her best intentions.

First, it is questionable whether women should speak of themselves simply as an outcaste group. A more complex sociological analysis is needed about the meaning of women as a sexual caste within every class. This means that women of the élite classes, races and nations share the spoils of the masters. To call women of oppressed groups to negate their solidarity within their races and classes because these are patriarchal is to make an abstract analysis of woman's situation. Rather, women must integrate their struggle as women with their struggle as oppressed people, or with all other oppressed people. The abstract analysis of the women's movement that separates rather than unites women with all other struggles against oppression is precisely what is likely to lead the women's movement to remain unconsciously upper-class, Western and racist in its operations.

Secondly, to oppose “castration” to phallic morality is unfortunate. This “liberation symbol” contains that hidden violence that desires to “do unto others that which they have done unto you” which Dr. Daly at one point deplores. It seems that, in this language, she has been led astray by phallic consciousness. What she is reaching for is not well said by a word like “castration,” but rather by a word that would symbolize our liberation from a morality that not only castrates women, but alienates men from their own potency. What we should seek is the “re-potentializing of everyone,” in a dealienated way, so our creativity can become a reciprocal enhancement.

Thirdly, Dr. Daly's Mariology seems to have betrayed her into a notion of woman as the “innocent one” who has never been responsible for evil, except insofar as she has cooperated with male evil. Maleness becomes the sinful, broken world, while women contain the essence of the unfallen Eden which can be restored instantly by joining the women's movement. There is a docenticism about such salvation through change of consciousness that lacks a socioeconomic understanding of the structuring of women into the world of oppression that is necessary to give her liberation vision a “body.” There is also a moral naiveté that essentializes woman's situation as the victim into a doctrine of woman as natura pura. If women are to grow up, they must learn not only to take power and act autonomously, but also that in so doing they too are capable of oppressing others. The liberation they seek cannot spring from the dreaming innocence of the premoral person, but the mature struggle for love, justice and peace by men and women who both know that they are capable of being divided against themselves and of destroying each other and the world.

Mary Jean Irion (review date 16 January 1974)

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SOURCE: Irion, Mary Jean. “Wrenching Free of the Patriarchal Past.” Christian Century 91 (16 January 1974): 46-7.

[In the following review, Irion offers a positive assessment of Beyond God the Father, though notes shortcomings in Daly's lack of historical perspective.]

The most searing and searching book yet to relate the movement for women's liberation to religion in America was published in autumn by Beacon. The author, Mary Daly, has been a leader in the movement for some time. Hers is truly a radical book, one with staying power that should outlast that of death-of-God-type radicalisms. Since her argument moves beyond church and Christianity, she will lose one set of friends as she picks up a new set of allies. Mary Jean Irion gives her a good hearing.

Beyond God the Father is a theological event growing out of the women's liberation movement. Like most revolutionary documents, it is honed on rage and cuts where it must—yet not without reason and faith in healing. If now and then a sharp edge sings with electric revenge, it also works toward finer patterns in religion and human relationships. The author holds that male interpretations of the universe have been untrue to reality and destructive of human potential, female and male; that creative eschatology can come only from the disenfranchised sex; and that the women's revolution “is an ontological, spiritual revolution, pointing beyond the idolatries of sexist society and sparking creative action in and toward transcendence.” Thus she firmly grounds a mystical yet activist theology in the feminist movement.

This is certainly one of the most promising theological statements of our time, written in straightforward prose, strongly argued and copiously supported. Mary Daly, taking the scholarly route with doctorates in theology and philosophy, has come through a negation that male theologians (with the possible exception of Richard Rubenstein) have consistently refused, one way or another. She takes all the implications of radical theology seriously and begins the book free of God, Jesus, the Bible, the church, theological language, the Christian symbol system, the Omega Point and the theology of hope; she ends the book having done no sleight of hand to get any of it back. What miracle is reason! Free of fear, deceit, habit, guilt and confinement, free of all the hazards that institutional anxiety and scriptural pseudo-security have put in the way of fully creative humanism, theology stands here as did mathematics at the invention of zero: with a range of possibilities opening on infinity. The philosophical zero is not new, certainly, but it is new to theology; and now that this most conservative of all disciplines has acknowledged it, perhaps religion's moving day, long awaited, has arrived.

The author creates even as she destroys, experimenting with reversals and transformations on some traditional set pieces (Eve, Mary, Joan of Arc); but the result is the rescue of woman, not of the past. For the patriarchal past is inherently destructive of human values, threatening to undo us; we must wrench ourselves free. The method of liberation involves “a castrating of language and images that reflect and perpetuate the structures of a sexist world” and a renaming of self and world or God. This task requires great existential strength, for one must actualize the self in spite of the ever-presence of nothingness. Daly, like Tillich, calls people to courage, for in the willingness to see and to be is revelatory power. What will be revealed? “[The] becoming of the image of God,” “the God beyond and beneath the gods who have stolen our identity.” The new God is Be-ing: not noun, but verb. The future is absolutely open, and by participation in being, one affirms and goes beyond absence to presence—“not the presence of a super-reified something, but of a power of being which both is, and is not yet.”

Not only theology but also women's liberation is considerably enriched by this book. Like the best of her revolutionary sisters, Dr. Daly holds that “the becoming of women implies universal human becoming”; she does not make woman-power the end but the means to a shared power that redeems man-the-master as well. Rejecting unisex, rejecting matriarchy in favor of a diarchal society, holding out the possibility of the psychologically androgynous person, the author avoids wild excess. Her position is defensible; “the sisterhood of man” is finally fair. Daly sees that sisterhood as, presently, “the final cause which draws life into its vision of human wholeness and significance,” assuring the end of “phallic morality.” She deepens the significance of women's liberation by giving it a religious dimension—something it has badly needed.

The usual muddles remain muddy. Where and what is evil? If oppression occasions such adventurous faith, why work to get rid of it? Is perfection desirable or not? But these are respectable mysteries.

There is, however, a serious historical weakness in the book: nowhere is significant account taken of classical humanism and the author's dependence upon it. She writes as if we have had a single-minded patriarchal system, when in fact humanism and Judeo-Christianity have been separate and contradictory strands in our heritage, even within the church. The disenfranchised Greek value system, dominated by Christian supernaturalism, has throughout the years formed an underground for human freedom. Its emphasis on the dignity and beauty of the human spirit, partially realized in Athens and later remembered in the Renaissance, is perhaps now being felt again, able to lift those early heights even higher.

For as Beyond God the Father runs away into the future with reason and passion at the full, leaving one symbol system behind, it is curving around back into a more ancient source, living out another symbol system. Mary Daly is Penelope and Odysseus; she is Telemachus and his bride-to-be. Homer, our civilization's original androgynous male, knew all about existential courage, the holy zero, and the true religion that any defunct supernaturalism struggles to reach. There is more importance in symbolic language, more of the past and the future in now than Dr. Daly accounts for. Her linear, end-oriented, social perspective can be freed to the curved space of the cosmos, where all is now, and now is all. Humanism is both means and end, inclusive; whereas feminism, I must believe, penned as it is in Judeo-Christian experience, has limited this book to a penultimate vision.

But the fact of inequality does require special attention to the disadvantaged part. Beyond God the Father should be widely read and discussed. Whether the church requires a further development of “women's theology” and whether society requires an increasing militancy in women depend upon the existential courage, the honesty and the clear speaking and acting of men. Let us see it in the church.

Doris Donnelly (review date 19 January 1974)

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SOURCE: Donnelly, Doris. Review of Beyond God the Father, by Mary Daly. America 130 (19 January 1974): 39-41.

[In the following review, Donnelly evaluates the strengths and weaknesses in Beyond God the Father.]

Mary Daly usually does not tease. Coy she is not. Nor playful. Nor shy.

In fact, if ever there were a showdown at the O.K. Corral with those insecure, clerical, hierarchic types, nothing less than The Church and the Second Sex—her vastly knowledgeable and impeccably researched book detailing the history of ecclesial suppression of the feminine—would have qualified her as the one and only straight-from-the-hip champion of women-in-the-Church causes. And the odds on Professor Daly's mastery over her opposition would have been as secure as a Joe Frazier victory over Mortimer Snerd.

Something of a wonder, then, and a disappointment, that the bristling, forthright tone that so suited the expository style of her first book is too weak and anemic for her second women's lib book, Beyond God the Father. Like her first book, Mary Daly's newest is tough and punchy, but times and turf have changed so that rabid aficionados of books, articles and every New York Times Op-Ed piece on women's lib like me, who seethe with fury at sexist injustice or who revel in the occasional triumphs of our sisters' struggles toward becoming human, are now looking to other women, not for fighters, but for leaders; not for muscle, but for body; not for aggression, but for passion. And passion with a flesh-and-blood body is precisely what is missing from Mary Daly's book.

More than that, Daly teases us with insights that she hints at, toys with, but does not deliver on. Certainly, a patriarchal symbol system is inadequate, but what precisely is it that women can add to our understanding of the Deity that a one-sided masculine imagery lacks? Surely, a God who created both men and women should expect both men and women to tell us something about their Creator, but what, precisely, is reflected in God by women? In other words, the discussion has advanced, and we are no longer interested in repeating truisms; now comes the strenuous and creative encounter with the feminine force in creation. And Mary Daly tells us nothing new about the feminine, nothing new about who woman is—her sexuality—how woman is different so that the complementarity of an androgynous symbol system would make sense.

And more. “Why indeed must ‘God’ be a noun?” Daly asks. “Why not a verb—the most active and dynamic of all?” I suppose this may help some in their personal experience of God, in their prayer, in their moments of confusion at their own and God's identity when all seems hidden, but my own juices are left unstirred by God as either noun or verb, since God makes sense and gives meaning to both only as Person. And the connections that I would have to make to confront process theology and a static metaphysic juxtaposed with noun and verb imagery is simply an unnecessary and antiseptic cerebral exercise to me.

Similarly, I find Daly's strident position for abortion lacking in credibility. After continually evaluating and frequently repudiating a celibate, male-dominated ethical system, I am not about to canonize the optic of a woman who does not put her own womanhood in the experiences of marriage and childbirth on the line. Like Daly, I am appalled at the simple fact that a woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy virtually has only the choice of abortion or of giving birth and raising the child. Unlike Daly, however, and awed by medical doubts concerning the potential and rights of organisms that cannot support themselves, I would opt for the energies and monies of civilized people to be directed toward the discovery and implementation of other alternatives—not only toward more refined birth control education, but, more importantly, toward a healthy psychological acceptance of unwanted pregnancies, more freedom in the adoption process and a fundamental loving posture towards life.

Mary Daly has looked forward and backward with unabashed anger, an anger which has grown more apocalyptic with the passing of time. Time has not made anger irrelevant, just insufficient. We still do not have the feminist philosophy-theology book which looks inward with secure self-respect and outward with competent love. The tragedy is that anger held onto too long nurtures nothing but itself.

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels (review date 1 February 1974)

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SOURCE: Steinfels, Margaret O'Brien. “Earthly Utopia or Armageddon?” Commonweal 99, no. 17 (1 February 1974): 442-43.

[In the following review, Steinfels criticizes Beyond God the Father, noting Daly's “effort to decimate patriarchal religion, language, and ideas.”]

Earthly utopias, in books or in Vermont, are works of the imagination that allow us to fantasize alternative ways of living our lives and organizing the world. You are interested in a society of abundance, restraint, and civility, based on a credit card economy? See Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. You are “into” common property, communal life, and connubial freedom? Check out John Humphrey Noyes' Oneida Community. You want a house without a kitchen? Read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Women and Economics. But we need not dally in the 19th century; most radical writings of the last decade were excursions into the better way in a different world. And Mary Daly's Beyond God the Father is of this genre—Christianity without its stumbling blocks: God, Christ, sin, and salvation. It is a theological fantasy about religion freed from the patriarchal mentality.

Q. The patriarchal mentality—what is it? A. It is the outlook that sees all relationships as submissive, ultimately to an authoritarian God the father, and immediately to those dim shades of Him—men.

Q. What does the patriarchal mentality do? A. It makes women cringe. It idealizes women in the role of the victim, offering Jesus as a model of the sacrificial scapegoat, and makes of masochistic vices like “sacrificial love, passive acceptance of suffering, humility, meekness etc.” virtuous behavior.

Q. What can we do about the patriarchal mentality? A. Destroy it. Since the image of God the father is merely the human attempt to describe “ultimate reality” or the divine, the destruction of that image is a legitimate point from which to begin a fantasy that would take us beyond God the father, a fantasy that would enlarge the place of the feminine in religion.

Fantasies liberate the imagination; what emerges often gives a new vision, a new way of seeing and understanding. Not unexpectedly fantasies about our highly imperfect world also liberate feelings of hostility, loathing and the desire to attack not just the immediate object of one's ire, in this case, the patriarchal mentality, but all that it has formed in the past, and touches in the present.

Beyond God the Father, which promises to be a fantasy about liberated men and women toward a truer understanding of the “ultimate reality,” intermittently becomes a blind and ignorant assault on the sins and sinners of the past. The earthly utopia is frequently submerged, along with most of our already tenuous religious beliefs and symbols, in a wash of dubious arguments and spurious history. Beyond God the Father is, in fact, an unreadable book. Having read it, I find much of it unthinkable, and having thought about it, conclude that many of its positions are untenable. Those able to forage their way through the densest and darkest of prose, with as open a mind as possible and shield and buckler in place, will find themselves confronted by an enraged and furious theologian: Yahweh hath no fury like Mary Daly.

Many readers who make the journey will find a good deal that they agree with and, indeed, have read in other places. Women are oppressed. Mere human efforts to name God, be it God the father or the ground of being, are a kind of blasphemy. The use and abuse of Jesus as a carbon copy model has had its bizarre effects on women—and men. Yet it is not for these familiar complaints that Mary Daly's book was written, will be read, and should be criticized; it is for the distinctive and sweeping claims she makes. She is not a whimpering liberal interested in the reform of Christianity and the integration of women into its power structure. She is a militant feminist in the process of “calling forth” a new religion whose marching song will certainly be “Go Down, Moses.” The new religion is to be informed and inspired by the liberating experience of radical feminism; its faith-experience grows out of living in “new time” and “new space” on the margins of patriarchal society; its mission is to call forth “new Be-ing.” Liberated women having transcended the basic form of oppression in our society—sexism—are physically and emotionally better prepared than men to rid society of, among other things, its burdensome patriarchal religious system which “oppresses women and corrupts men.” This mantle of charismatic leadership is of the same cut and design as that worn by the prophets of other liberation theologies except that instead of capitalism, racism, militarism, etc., sexism is the enemy.

The effort to decimate patriarchal religion, language, and ideas proceeds from fantasy to fantasy—that is, from utopia to absurdity—amid talk of “ovarian insights,” “scapegoat syndromes,” “sisterhood as antichurch and cosmic covenant,” “nonsaint,” “methodicide,” “Christocide,” “bibliolatry,” “phallic morality,” and “the final cause: the cause of causes,” feminism. Man alone does not live by words.

Nor should we, male or female, live by the Word. The big enemy in Beyond God the Father is, like father, like son, the former second person of the Blessed Trinity, the little man from Prague, that nefarious scapegoat, Jesus Christ. “The idea of a unique male savior may be seen as one more legitimation of male superiority. … To put it rather bluntly, I propose that Christianity itself should be castrated by cutting away the products of supermale arrogance: the myths of sin and salvation. …”

An earthly utopia or Armageddon? Beyond God the Father is a symptom of the madness which comes from resolutely following fantasies and ideas to their final and absurd ends. Ends, in this case, which embody the imperialistic notion that liberation from oppression, of whatever kind, is an experience that must be shared by anyone who wants to maintain their membership in the human race. It leads to those boyish games of whose is bigger, my oppression or yours. It builds a system which categorizes people according to the “saved” and the “damned,” the “in” and the “out,” the “worthy” and the “unworthy,” the “liberated” and the “unliberated.” It is as absurd as it is arbitrary. It is patriarchal.

Oppression is a relative condition. While it is right to rejoice with those who are liberated from oppression (even if, as is rarely admitted these days, it is self-oppression) it does not follow that they should become our political, religious, or cultural mentors—radical feminists, ultramontanes, reformed dope addicts and third world revolutionaries, included. It has never been clear why all the twitches one acquires in any liberation process fit one for anything but verdant, green pastures; or, why having found that ‘I am as good as anyone else,’ I must, therefore, be better than anyone else. Mark Twain once demonstrated how a belief in radical equality could be combined with an abiding skepticism when he snapped back to the anti-Semites of his day, “Jews are members of the human race; worse than that I cannot say of them.” We victims of oppression (women, blacks, chicanos, children and, yes, men) can do nothing better than engrave on our pulsating egos the same statement for our own category.

And if the choice between religious leaders becomes a choice between a feminist, theology professor from Boston College and a carpenter's son from Galilee, I say stick with the working class.

Marie Augusta Neal (review date July 1976)

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SOURCE: Neal, Marie Augusta. Review of Beyond God the Father, by Mary Daly. Contemporary Sociology 5, no. 4 (July 1976): 441-42.

[In the following review, Neal compliments Daly's central argument in Beyond God the Father.]

Attempting a radical critique of patriarchy, Mary Daly addresses the symbol system of liberation theologies and challenges male theologians to re-examine their language to see if they can say anything religious about transcendent being without relying on the unexamined assumptions of the holiness of patriarchy.

The book [Beyond God the Father], which was severely criticized by theologians and which cost the author her appointment to a full professorship at her university, appears regularly on the reading lists of major theologians who can handle the problem of God but cannot handle the challenge of Mary Daly. The serious theological reading that the book has received in the field of religion in the past two years makes it now a major datum for sociologists of religion who are examining the social construction of reality in cultural perspective and the linguistic legitimation of a given social order in societal perspective. To date, no one has been able to provide even the beginnings of a new language in which to talk about transcendence in a theologically satisfying way, even though many theologians acknowledge the substantive problems Mary Daly raises, namely that current language usage about God legitimates the oppression of women in modern society.

The central point of the book, the consideration of the error of the hypostatization of transcendence, seems alien to sociologists until Daly indicates that this process functions to legitimate the existing social, economic, and political status quo, in which women are victims along with other subordinate groups. It is at this point that the sociologist has reason to be interested, since much of what we write and observe does not demonstrate this legitimation, observable though it be. In this work, I think that she does put her finger on how the idols embedded in myths become “facts,” and function as unexamined assumptions which victimize women.

Although the latter part of the book does not do as well in providing models for social change as the first part, sociologists of religion and of women will find the book informative. Anyone interested in seeing how the idea of transcendence can be elaborated, while traditional language and ideas of transcendence are ridiculed, will find the book interesting.

Virginia R. Mollenkott (review date 11 April 1979)

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SOURCE: Mollenkott, Virginia R. “Against Patriarchy.” Christian Century 96 (11 April 1979): 417-18.

[In the following review of Gyn/Ecology, Mollenkott commends Daly's critique of patriarchal oppression, but objects to her judgmental and intolerant perspective.]

Mary Daly, associate professor of theology at Boston College and leading philosopher-theologian of the radical feminist movement, proposed in her second book that feminists speak of God-as-a-Verb (Beyond God the Father, 1973). In Gyn/Ecology, she repudiates the term “God” altogether, as representing “the necrophilia of patriarchy,” and speaks only of the Goddess who “affirms the life-loving be-ing of women and nature.” Because she says they reductionistically include and really exclude “gynocentric being/Lesbianism,” she also rejects terms like “androgyny,” “homosexuality,” “humanism” and “human liberation.”

Daly makes clear that she regards all Christian or Jewish feminists as mere reformists, “roboticized tokens” whose ineffectual efforts have been “actively promoted by the patriarchs.” Asserting that orthodoxy's agenda is “toward the absolute elimination of all vestiges of real female presence,” she considers Protestantism to be even more phallocentric than Catholicism:

Having eliminated Mary, the Ghost of the Goddess, it sets up a unisex model, whose sex is male. Jesus … is male femininity incarnate. … He is the Supreme Swinging Single. … This christian demolition of the Goddess and mythic establishment of male divinity has paved the way for the technical elimination of women through the application of modern medicine, transsexualism, cloning, and other forms of genetic engineering.

The title, Gyn/Ecology, refers to the cleansing and depolluting of the female Self which is necessary in order to escape from “the religious, technological, and medical Mafia” which substitutes a mask-like “femininity” for the real presence of real women. Mary Daly's thesis is that the “normal mode of existence of the patriarchal male” (by her definition, every male) is a sadomasochistic, split consciousness which is totally unable to relate to the inner mystery or integrity of the Other, and which has for centuries sapped women of their native strength. Daly underplays the role of male socialization and therefore denies the possibility of male transcendence of negative conditioning. Women can transcend theirs by becoming “Revolting Hags,” but men are no concern of hers. She implies throughout that men are irrevocably inferior to women and therefore irrevocably intent on destroying women. Because she assumes that for men, biology is destiny, Daly is deeply sexist.

The real burden of Gyn/Ecology is to call all women to burn away “the false selves encasing the Self,” and to spin cosmic tapestries out of the Goddess within. To do so, she says, it is necessary to pare away all myths, names, ideologies and social structures which cut off the flow of the Self's original movement.

Since obviously Christianity is in the forefront of what must be “pared away,” it would be only too easy for Christian readers to conclude that Gyn/Ecology is simply a diatribe unworthy of their attention. Not so. Everyone concerned with social justice, male or female, ought to read at least the central portion of the book, “The Second Passage.” In it Dr. Daly drops some of her maddening wordplay and supplies evidence for her conviction that recorded history is one long re-enactment of Goddess-murder through atrocities against women. There are harrowing chapters on Indian suttee, Chinese footbinding, African genital mutilation, European witchburnings, and American gynecology, concluding with a devastating cross-cultural comparison between Nazi medicine and American gynecological practices. Daly's analysis of the cool, dehumanizing “objectivity” of most scholars when they describe brutality to women is worth the price of the book.

Unfortunately, Daly herself is rather brutal in her contempt for male-to-female transsexuals, male homosexuals, lesbians who are not sufficiently “woman-identified,” and more or less everybody who is not a radical/Lesbian feminist. Although her anger is fully justified when she is describing atrocities against women, she frequently manifests, even when describing people of goodwill, the judgmentalism and divisiveness that characterize human nature when we have forgotten our oneness with God's Spirit and therefore with all other beings. Because its author does not adequately distinguish between mere egocentricity and healthy self-affirmation in harmony with God as the inner and transcendent fountain of being, Gyn/Ecology fails to get to the heart of the matter. Nevertheless, Dr. Daly is voicing the most passionate challenge Christianity is likely to receive in many a year. Theologians, take note!

Marilyn Frye (review date August 1984)

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SOURCE: Frye, Marilyn. “Famous Lust Words.” Women's Review of Books 1, no. 11 (August 1984): 3-4.

[In the following review of Pure Lust, Frye commends Daly's “exemplary iconoclasm,” though expresses reservations concerning her treatment of race and her optimistic notion of natural harmony.]

With Pure Lust, Mary Daly takes on once again that central and challenging project of a movement by women to liberate women: the work of creating new meaning. The project is challenging partly because it is “impossible”—as Alice told the rebel egg Humpty Dumpty, you can't just make words mean what you want them to mean. It is necessary because patriarchal meanings lock out the thought of woman as autonomous, yet women must be able to think themselves capable of surviving independence if they are to commit themselves to escape from servitude.

Much of Daly's work in Pure Lust is a scavenging through the systems of patriarchal meanings, picking up rags for a bag of semantic resources from which she and the rest of us Others can piece our new architextures of meaning. One mistake a reader can make is to reject or scorn the project if she finds Daly's own unfinished constructions displeasing to her taste or inadequate to her experience. The new meaning form, like a new art form, will arise in the different works of many creators, not by the fiat of one. Already in this book, Daly's own fabrications draw much more on the works of many different women from many different places and times than does the inventing in Gyn/Ecology (Beacon Press, 1978); the work is thoroughly literate and for the most part very subtly responsive to criticisms and reactions feminists have brought to her earlier work. But no one thinker or artist can invent for all of us, and I find, reading Pure Lust, that I want it to be received as an ordinary extraordinary work. It requires and deserves our ordinary thoughtful criticism; it needs to be appreciated within a context of many women's participation in other fundamentally similar projects of meaning-making. Though they are in some cases awesome and in some cases admirable, the new pictures Daly builds in Pure Lust do not entirely suit me. They do inspire and encourage me to rejoin the larger project with renewed vigor, and make more pictures of my own. As for the skills of rag-picking, Daly is certainly one of the craftiest among us. There is much to learn from her methods.

Alice was right: one cannot just make words mean whatever one might want them to mean. Words, taken singly and in isolation, are meaningless; so is any sort of symbol, image, or even narrative. What has meaning means something to someone, and to find something meaningful is to relate it to other things and other meanings—in fact, to all other things and other meanings within one's experience. If I choose to introduce a new word, I have to define it, explicitly or implicitly, in terms of words or concepts my interlocutors already know. Novel utterances can be interpreted because they fit the patterns, the regularities, in a semantic system. (The vast majority of utterances people make are novel: exactly that sequence of words with exactly that intonation has never before been produced.) The freshest new metaphor works only because it, reverberates through the existing net of meanings, “Novelty,” understood as the creation of a symbol in-a-moment, out-of-nothing, never occurs. It is their connection with already-existing meanings that gives power to novel combinations.

The impossibility of arbitrary or “absolute” novelty in a culture and a symbol system underlies the meaning-making in Gyn/Ecology and in Pure Lust.

First, the Webster (one of Daly's most felicitous terms for women engaged in this enterprise) works with the elements of an existing language, in this case English, and an existing system of imagery and myth, in this case that of Euro-American christian-capitalist-commercial-scientific culture. The “new” vocabulary is made up of reassembled bits of the old; it has a certain familiar ring even as it sounds quite odd to the English-speaking ear of the woman cultured in that culture. (The “spinning voyagers” of Gyn/Ecology have many new names in Pure Lust, such as “Prudes,” “Shrewds,” and “Weirds.”) The book is thick with dictionary definitions. Daly does not use the dictionary as an authority, but as a cultural artifact: a fairly comprehensive standard dictionary is a fairly comprehensive depository of the semantic resources for the inventions that are underway. (I have been known to complain that poets, who work with these same resources, do not have to work as hard as philosophers do because poets do not have to make everything explicit and philosophers do. My finding Daly's constant spelling out of explicit definitions somewhat tiresome is probably my punishment for such a cloddish complaint.)

Built into the project of making new meanings out of old is a political problem. For instance, some women have hoped to break through the barriers of meaning by connecting male-marked words like “judge,” “officer” or “professor” with words like “woman,” imagining we might generate new meanings by speaking in androgynous paradoxes. But this has yielded (in all but a few odd cases) just some not-very-new additions to the ranks of male-defined postures for women. Men have defined what positions a woman supreme court judge supports, what special value a female police officer has (she is especially good at handling domestic dispute calls and rape cases, of course), and lately, the special talent women professors have for teaching men how to “include” women in their “mainstream” curricula. Or, another example: naming God “She” or “The Great Mother.” If nothing else changes, this does nothing at all but disguise the masculinity of God or heighten the pedestal on which the romanticized and hence degraded mother is confined. If the old meanings are still invoked, how can the new be radically new? Throughout this book, one of Daly's primary projects is to expose, analyze and immunize against such traps of assimilation and tokenism, against conversion to “male-ordered” “plastic feminism.”

Second, patriarchal signs, symbols, images and myths were not invented out of nothing. They were constructed of the materials of an existing system. In the case of the “Western” culture which is the territory Daly is mainly working in, those earlier systems and symbols were woman-centered. The “new” patriarchal terms originally drew meaning and power from the interconnection of those symbols, which still vibrate and reverberate in, among and beneath them, even if very faintly or in layered disguise. To avoid being recaptured by phallocratic structures when we set out to make meaning, the “existing sources” we should draw on are those “original” symbols, images and myths out of which and upon which phallocratic systems have been constructed by processes of accretion, objectification, reversal, ossification, subtraction and attenuation.

If Daly's strategy can be summed up in any one word, that word is Remember. Her point is not that we should try to replicate some ancient matriarchy; it is that to avoid being captured in patriarchal male meanings, we should go back into their sources and backgrounds for our materials. Pure Lust is full of lessons in how to spot and read out the underlying or “original” semantics masked by the devices of patriarchal language, myth, image and theory. (And in the process of digging into the works of such characters as Aristotle, Aquinas, St. Paul, the popes Paul and Paul Tillich, as well as Freud and other towering figures of phallocracy, Daly provides a valuable education in “Western intellectual history” for any reader who has managed, in or out of the academy, to avoid the standard indoctrination.)

Pure Lust has three major sections which Daly calls Realms: Archespheres, Pyrospheres and Metamorphospheres. In the first of the three, she elaborates on the idea that patriarchal archetypes (she focuses especially on the Virgin Mary as the archetypical woman) are distorted and ossified constructions out of original images, those living, moving centers of meaning which she calls “Archimages” (rhymes with “rages”). One of the questions for radical feminism is this. How, if women are naturally powerful and patriarchal males are “impotent” (as Daly often says they are), could the latter ever have defeated the former? Part of the answer is given in this section, in discussions of how women are made self-defeating, self-annihilating when we buy in to the phallocratic archetypes. It is our own power that is turned against us, and this in turn helps explain why ideology, mythology and/or psychology are such large factors in the oppression of women, larger perhaps than in other sorts of oppression.

This first section ends with what was for me the single most suggestive and energizing statement in the book: “Womankind must once again discover Fire.” The fire in question is passion. “Pyrospheres,” the second section and for me the most accessible and the most powerful, is about passion and virtue.

Systems of meaning are not abstract independent “mental” constructions. They arise with and cannot exist apart from experience. To make meaning necessarily involves new construction of the speakers and thinkers as agents; for women who have been molded in patriarchy this means getting back into motion.

On Daly's account (she draws on Aristotle and the medievals here), true passions are motions. They are natural movements toward a perceived good or away from a perceived evil. They may be “potted”—dwarfed, contained, distorted, shallow-rooted. They may also simply be replaced, by “plastic” patriarchal passions or emotions which are “freefloating feelings resulting in more and more disconnectedness/fragmentation. Since they are characterized by the lack of specific and nameable causes, or ‘objects’ [what the emotion is about], they must be ‘dealt with’ endlessly in an acontextual way …”

The plastic passions she names are guilt, anxiety, depression, hostility, bitterness, resentment, frustration, boredom, resignation and fulfillment. As she says, plastic passions are endlessly preoccupying. They stiffen us into an oddly vague fixation on themselves and they fail to connect our process, as real passions would, with other people and the real world beyond themselves. They are “unnatural knots—snarls—of the spirit. Just as the fathers' lies are mind-bindings these feelings are will-bindings that twist the movements of women's appetites in upon themselves. Instead of spiraling outward, these snap backward, strangling the victim.”

Daly's list and her descriptions of the plastic passions write several chapters of my own life, including some recent paragraphs on the defeats and future of radical feminism. Most particularly and vividly, she contributes to my understanding of the experience of white feminists who are caught up in an endless pseudo-struggle against racism—or rather, as we say, “around” racism.

When white feminists are blocked or “fixed” against subtle and clearheaded analysis of white “woman's place” in racism and of the racial elements of the ties that bind white women to men, we seethe with these poisonous feelings (all of Daly's list at once, except perhaps for fulfillment, with the addition of despair and panic). That these feelings do not connect any process with any reality beyond themselves and are not really passions or e-motions at all, is recognized immediately by many feminist women of color who ask us, “Where is your rage?” White women are indeed victims of implanted auto-destructive mechanisms; race works in white women's lives as a kind of “biological determinism,” constantly reinforcing our assimilation to white men; the fixation which keeps white women from touching all of this is designed to separate each of us from all other women. To name it all might release our rage. And the rage might liberate our “potted passions” too, thus liberating feminist women of color from the siege of white feminists' misdirected anger, distorted ambition and shallow righteousness.

In Daly's complex account of the “ultimate Taboo against Women-Touching women,” she warns against thinking this has only to do with sexual touching, and argues that the taboo separates women in all ways from touching ourselves and each other. It enforces what she calls the “State of Separation” from which radical lesbian feminists mean to separate ourselves. I suspect that one reason white women shrink from naming and touching racism directly is that such naming and touching is part of what the Great Taboo forbids; it effectively precipitates white feminists into the morass of plastic passions. The taboo against touch may also explain why the folded-in attitude of confession which Daly deplores has seemed to be the only possible response to criticism of racist thinking or acting.

Daly tries to abscond with the word “race,” punning it into a characterization of the running, spilling, rushing motion of the metamorphosis of the “Race of Women.” I imagine she thought that grabbing the word and carrying it off like that would work as a way of breaking its negatively charged taboo power. I like the boldness of the move, but I do not think it works. As she says, it is only by touching the taboo object that we can break the spell. Her handling of the word “race” is not the taboo-breaking touch she wants; it seems to me to further remove the concrete problem of race and racism—and, in another sense, women of color themselves—from the range of white women's touch and capacity to be touched. When in The Politics of Reality I tried to recast the word “white,” many of my friends thought that what I presented as a breakout was really only a flight. After much more work I think it is turning out that they were wrong about that. I am quite willing to be shown by Daly's further work that I am just as wrong to see her move with “race” as misdirected. For now, I am not buying it.

Where other women have spoken vaguely and timidly of “society,” Daly speaks of the Phallic State, the State of Atrocity, the State of Separation, the State of Lechery, the State of Boredom, the dismembered state, and the sadostate. The political state she would see as a logical and noxious product of the more generic state named by these phrases. The word “state” is associated always in this work with the concept of stasis, the stationary, that which is not moving; all that is natural to women is characterized in terms of motion. The verb “to be” is taken as an active verb; Daly's conception of woman's being is developed entirely in terms of activities, processes, motions and movements and the qualities and modifications of motion and that which moves.

Motion may be traveling from one point to another in space, it may be change of attitude or shift of perception, it may be activity such as knitting, writing, or digging a hole. It may also be a thing's changing in such a way that it becomes a different thing than it was—a change of identity, a transformation. At the level of identity, motion is metamorphosis, the theme of the Third Realm, “Metamorphospheres.” On Daly's account this “ontological movement” is what essentially characterizes everything that is alive, and for conscious and creative living things like us, the metamorphosis is conscious and creative.1 But it can take place wholly or rightly only in the environmental condition of “statelessness.” The enemies of women are individual patriots; the Enemy of Womankind and of life generally is that which impedes or stops motion. To be ourselves and not sick or dying, we must not be in a State.

Daly is consistently and wantonly anarchist. (She begins to convince me that radical feminism is essentially anarchistic.) To the believer in the state, there can be order, harmony and peace only if there is “social control,” that is, force and coercion, somebody has to be in charge and that somebody has to have the power to make his decisions stick. For this belief to sound right, one has to make certain background assumptions about human and other nature (the sorts of assumptions made historically by Plato or by Hobbes). Daly does not make those assumptions; which is why her writing can seem both off-the-wall and highly impractical to some readers. Consistently with her anarchism, her worldview is both animistic and optimistic.

The universe being sounded in Pure Lust is conceived wholly in organic metaphors. The natural harmony Daly believes in—among women, in nature generally, and between any organism and the rest of nature—is like the harmony of the parts and functions of a healthy plant or animal. It is “natural” in the sense that it is not a result of art or management—it does not require anything like our familiar, mundane and desperate striving and struggling or human-like conscious preconception and planning. It just happens; that's the way plants and animals are. So also, on a cosmic scale, harmony happens. Her world is in every way alive and active, and originally, essentially, naturally happy. Some of Daly's readers have thought her pessimistic or “negative,” because of her unexpurgated analysis of the malevolence and ugliness of patriarchy, its agents and their machinations. Not so. It is the contrast between the world women experience in patriarchy and the world as she believes it might be (and in some sense is … patriarchy is “unreal”) that gives her hope and makes imagination possible. She knows in her crone's bones the possibility of happiness. If it were not for that, she would not write raging and funny books but collapse in the horror of what she knows. (For the record, her analyses of the motives and means of men in power almost all seem to me mind-bogglingly right.)

In the last footnote in the book, Daly acknowledges the contributions of many other creatures—birds, butterflies, horses—who have been valuable companions to her in the course of the writing. I understand that companionship; but I have also struggled with another curriculum, in the tutelage of slugs, root maggots, striped cucumber beetles, scab, mold, aphids and sturdy colonies of wild geraniums established amongst the infant carrots. Working in our garden, we fertilize and barricade, spray and sprinkle, disperse purely organic poisons and “biological controls,” and with our fingers squash or rip out small beings whose identities are not known but who look to an educated eye like suspicious characters. All this in our efforts to preserve from predation and fatal competition what is to be a significant part of our supply of relatively unpolluted food for the year. As we work, acquiring in the process nasty sunburns and mosquito bites which will harass us out of our rest at night, my lover and I have been known ironically to incant the syllables bi-o-phil-i-a to the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus. These experiences provoke my chariness about Daly's concepts of natural, biophilic, wild and real, as indeed some of my experience of friendship among women has also done. Certain kinds and degrees of enthusiasms are not possible for me, even though my bones too sometimes speak of happiness.

At some points in the development of life on this planet some human animals entered a kind of existence in which concepts like weed and pest had application, and in which human bodies were tortured regularly by the work of tillage, human livelihoods threatened by two more days with or without rain. Now most of us who have the time and will to philosophize subsist on food produced by the tortured labor of other miserably exploited people and with the aid of tons of dangerous chemicals. How are we to imagine feeding and sheltering all of us without exploiting any of us, and without engaging in that perilous struggle with nature which is agriculture and horticulture? We cannot become a planet of communities of hunter-gatherers migrating through territories abundant with the food and weather we need. The point is not that fructarian grazing is the only correct and “biophilic” way to eat. What bothers me is that I do not have a useful, practical, ordinary understanding of “love of life” or of that “harmony” in which we want to be with plants and planets and with other animals—including each other.

I do not believe Daly's anarchic harmony is natural in the sense of requiring no straining and no deliberate invention. I merely believe it is possible. That sets for me the tasks of figuring out how to love life, how to understand the fact that in nature living things kill and eat other living things all the time, how to behave honorably, virtuously when another's vital motion would block mine—or mine hers—et cetera.

In Pure Lust, Mary Daly's contribution to such work is indirect. It comes in the form of exemplary iconoclasm (the shattering of the concept of species, for instance, is music to my ears), lessons in method that are more like art lessons than cooking lessons (no recipes are given), a prodigious new profusion of metaphors for mixing into conceptions of ourselves, and the renewing encouragement of Daly's own terrific vitality and inventiveness.


  1. This may provide the answer to the conundrum given by Carol Anne Douglas in her review of Pure Lust in off our backs (June, 1984) as to how Daly can be both an essentialist and an existentialist, both of which she seems to be.

Julia Penelope (review date December 1987)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3237

SOURCE: Penelope, Julia. “Erratic, Ecstatic, Eccentric.” Women's Review of Books 5, no. 3 (December 1987): 5-6.

[In the following review, Penelope offers a positive evaluation of Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language.]

Have you ever stopped in the middle of an intense conversation to search for the “right” word? Have you ever found yourself in an emotionally charged situation in which your mind went blank, and hours, even days, later suddenly realized what you could have said? When it happens to me, I say that I'm “at a loss for words,” and spend sleepless nights scratching at “I should have said's.”

Typically, our English teachers encourage us to believe that these lapses are our fault, that the language has all the resources one could ever want, and that we are somehow lacking—in vocabulary, cleverness, wit. But in language, as elsewhere, form follows function. As a consequence of male meddling, the English we are taught is adequate only for talking about the world and living in the world as men conceive the world to be. Male language has messed with our minds. The world-view codified by the syntax and semantics of English is only one version of the world we move and act in, and not necessarily the most enlightened or intelligent version.

Why, for example, do sex-specific pairs of adjectives—womanly/manly, feminine/masculine, girlish/boyish—exist (and persist)? Because the categories legitimized by those adjectives help maintain the heteropatriarchy. Without the concepts of opposition, duality and sexuality imposed by the names, it would be harder to keep us in our place; the categories define the boundaries of permissible behaviors, limiting the ways we think of our Selves. What would it be like to grow up female without the word feminine in your vocabulary?

And what about concepts, experiences and behaviors that are utterly unspeakable in English? How can we use English to talk about our vision of a nonpatriarchal society? How can we conceive, and then describe, nonoppressive relationships? What we can't talk about we're likely to have trouble thinking about.

In English, men rule and women serve. English is a structured code that permits easy expression only of those concepts that follow the ruts made by male speakers and writers during the past thousand years. Women often find ourselves at a loss for words, but it isn't our linguistic competence that's lacking; it's the vocabulary of English, a vocabulary that seems infinitely flexible and hospitable to new words that name people, objects, events, actions, feelings and perceptions—as long as they validate, and are sanctioned by, the privileged male class.

Do women speak English? It's hard to tell. If we believe male historians and grammarians, the answer is a qualified “no.” According to patriarchal research, women have gossiped, chatted, prattled, prated and nagged. Women who dared to Speak, to express themSelves, have been systematically ignored, erased, demeaned and disappeared by male chroniclers. There are 1,200+ terms for what men “do [to women] in bed,” but Women's Liberation and Feminism have added only a few precarious words to the English vocabulary.

Words like screw, fuck and slut have a long if disreputable career and everyone knows what they mean. Sexism, in contrast, stretched by humanists to include the “plight of men,” is virtually meaningless now, and only a few speakers have heard of heterosexism. Just the other day, a politically-aware and active Lesbian asked a friend of mine what “lookist” (she meant looksist) referred to. She thought it meant staring at a woman longer than was socially acceptable! No wonder we miscommunicate more often than not.

Women have been unable, or unwilling, to force the kinds of language change that would make English more accommodating to us. (For example, none of the neutral pronouns proposed by second-wave Feminists have been adopted in popular usage.) Nor have women had the opportunity to make conceptual “grooves,” because our history is so discontinuous. There's an Aphra Behn here, a Hildegard of Bingen there, yonder a Mary Wollstonecraft, and Mary Daly down the road a ways. But they do not find an audience with the power to ensconce them in public memories, libraries and classrooms. In fact, their works are quite regularly and systematically “lost.”

Can it be that the majority of English-speaking women have never felt constrained or limited by their language? If our contemporary situation is a reliable indicator, perhaps so, although. I'm reluctant to accept that. Most women seem content to go on using the distorted, misogynistic vocabulary of English, even going so far as to write elaborate justifications for perpetuating it. (Even Lesbians seem comfortable talking about sexual relationships in patriarchal terms, as “monogamous” or “nonmonogamous,” in spite of the fact that terms and concepts alike are inapplicable.)

What are we to do if we refuse to remain perpetually “at a loss for words”? I think we have only two options: construct an entirely new language, as Suzette Haden Elgin has done,1 or discover and develop the hidden layers of English in ways amenable to our political consciousness, as Mary Daly does.

The First New Intergalactic Wickedary gathers up the skeins of Mary's previous work, particularly the attention to language of Beyond God the Father and the linguistic discoveries and innovations of Gyn/Ecology and Pure Lust. The result is a cunning weaving that offers women an articulate, coherent network (Word-Web), a linguistic tapestry woven from the possibilities of our lives and the future we might make with them. The breadth and resonance of the vision are daring and convincing. Contrasting the Elemental reality of Websters, Hags, Spinsters and Crones with the elementary reality embedded in patriarchal English, Mary conjures Other ways of Be-ing and Becoming on the boundaries between masculist descriptions of how women “should” be and our experience as we know it. If it is true that how we speak reflects the way we think (and I think it is) the language of the Wickedary gives us a colorful, reliable map of a New World made visible, a world women create as we Speak.

The Wickedary is a Sin-thesis (“a going into, beyond”) of Mary's Archaic (“Original”) Work, bringing Words and Concepts from her earlier books together with New/Archaic Discoveries from the Be-Wishing (“influencing in a Magical way by ontological Wishing”) Background (“the Realm of Wild Reality”).

The Labyrinthine design of the Wickedary may appear twisted and contorted to those accustomed only to linear patterns such as graphs and charts. In fact, its order is organic and purposeful, and it can be compared to a flock of Wild fowl in flight. … They [the flight and cries of words/birds] also awaken the Labyrinth of the reader/hearer, that is, “the internal ear” (Webster's), which Websters understand to be the Elemental capacity for Hearing our way into and through these passages of the Background—the Wild reality hidden by the falsehoods of the patriarchal foreground.

(from the Preface)

Like the work of Fore-bear Gertrude Steirr, Mary Daly's is a discovered language that is purposefully, radically unsettling. For this reason, re-viewing the Wickedary requires using the Background language of its Conjuring: the Radical Feminist perspective of her vision demands that we learn to read and write in an Other consciousness.

Patriarchal words “take on New/Archaic meanings when Heard within the context of Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language.” The Wickedary is about Context, “the weaving together of words”; “connection of words, coherence” (Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary).

The Wickedary is Self-Contextualizing. It is a Metadictionary, a “Metapatriarchal dictionary, written by and for Wicked/Wiccan Websters”; a “dictionary that Gossips out the Elemental webs of words hidden in patriarchal dictionaries and other re-sources.” Like patriarchal dick-tionaries, the definitions in the Wickedary assume a specific way of perceiving and comprehending the world. Whereas Webster's definitions describe how words mean in the “foreground” (the heteropatriarchal context), the Wickedary presents the coherence and meaningfulness of Weird Words Spoken and Heard among the Inhabitants of the Background. “The work of the Wickedary is a process of freeing words from the cages and prisons of patriarchal patterns.”

How does context redefine and re-present a word? Harpy, for instance, an insulting judgment of a woman's character in a patriarchal context, like Shrew and Hag, becomes high praise when Spoken and Heard in the Super Natural Background:

Harpy in [“a shrewish or depraved woman”—Webster's]: A Shrewish and Enraged woman, one who harps on Haggard themes. Example Susan B. Anthony. …

The Birds/Words fly the coop!

Every respectable patriarchal word-list is sandwiched between two bunches of supplementary material, the Front Matter and the Back Matter. The Front Matter may consist of essays on such foreground topics as why publish yet another dick-tionary, a superficial “history” of the English language, correct spelling, pronunciation and suchlike. The Back Matter usually consists of geographical and biographical information and Tables of Measures. No one bothers to read the Front or the Back Matter, because they are Boring, tiresome justifications of male meddling with English. The Labyrinthine organization of the Wickedary, in contrast, invites leisurely browsing/dousing through each of its three Phases. Each Journeyer should travel at her own speed.

The First Phase spans five Preliminary Webs (Front Matter) which give the Reader a Sense of Direction as she enters the Magical Realm of Re-membering, engaging her Labyrinthine Sense (“the faculty of Hearing the difference between Real, Elemental Words and mere elementary terms”). In these Eye-opening essays Mary urges Readers to discover the Elemental Code within them. She invokes the Guides who accompany Wild Women on their Otherworld Journeying, an Awe-ful Assemblage. As we Re-member our connections with Other Elemental beings and acquire Volcanic Virtues, we prepare Our Selves to join the Tribe of Terrible Women, according to the Wicked Law of Attraction, Be-Musing great dreams, Be-Speaking changes, and Be-Laughing man-made pseudo-reality.

I couldn't resist the Call of the Wild. Gathering my Wits about me, I gleefully accepted Mary's invitation to embark on the Second Phase of this Journey, the three Word-Webs that comprise the Core of the Wickedary. These Weird (“earthy,” “uncanny.”) Wordlists chart the Background where the Race of Wild Women dwells and expose the stagnant, phallic consciousness of the patriarchal foreground (“Flatland”). Minding my Meta-mysterious Map, I Activized my Active Eyes and set off to Familiarize My Self with the Activities and Characteristics of the Background Inhabitants, to explore the Crone-logical Constellation of Haggard women (among them Sojourner Truth, Judy Grahn, Ma Rainey, Alix Dobkin, Emily Culpepper, Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker and Valerie Solanas).

As I traversed Word-Web One I was Amazed at the gaggle of terms and definitions that “Name Wild Reality and its patriarchal counterfeits from the perspective of those who choose the Background as our Homeland, … Living on the Boundary Between the worlds.” These are the key words of the Outsiders' Society that release us to the Archespheres, “the Realm of true beginnings, where Shrews shrink alienating archetypes … uncovering the Archimage, the Original Witch within.” This Word-Web distinguishes between Biophilic Communication (“the natural communication among Elemental creatures—animals, plants, seas, the sun, the moon, the stars”) and the use of the Biggest Lies (a “fundamental strategy of the Cockocratic State for breaking minds/spirits/senses.”), between Tidal Demons (“Goddesses, Geniuses, Spirits”) and tidy demons, the evil dispiriters … that fix the flow of women's creativity.” Uplifted by Tidal Memory, my “Memory of the Deep Background,” and my own Wonderlust (“strong and unconquerable longing for Elemental adventure and knowledge”), I spun into the Background:

Word-Web Two “introduces the reader to the Natives, their world view and customs, describes places of interest, and provides words and phrases necessary for communication in the Country of the Strange”: the Abecedarians, Be-Spelling women who combine and recombine “the Elements of words in New ways, Hearing New Words into be-ing”; Fore-Bears, Foresisters “of Great Bears and Little Bears, honored by all Bearish Women”; and Silly (“Happy, Blessed, Graceful”) Quacks, “quick, queenly” utterances, “the quintessential Elemental” cries of ducks.

These Super Natural Be-ings are given to such Batty behaviors as Dis-ordering—“Tidal Weaving and Reweaving; breaking through the tidy order/orders of Boredom”—and Gossip—exercising “the Elemental Female Power of Naming, especially in the Presence of other Gossips,” taking part “in the festivity of word-play among Boon-Companions” and telling “like a Gossip,” divining and communicating “the secrets of the Elements, the wisdom of the stars.”

With so much to do, it was difficult to find time to brew even a tempest in a teapot, but I did succeed in attending several Cat/astrophes, events “precipitated by Catty Conspirators that [subvert] the patriarchal order or system of things,” went Con-Questing with Amazon Argonauts, “adventuring into Uncharted/Unchartable Realms,” and hung out with a bunch of “extraordinarily Strange, Eccentric” Weirdies. I skipped out on the Dryads, Furies, Familiars, Websters and Weird Sisters, and hopped on over to Word-Web Three to see what I could See.

Well, I probably don't need to tell you who the inhabitants of the foreground are: the usual gang of fools, frauds, gaffers, gaggers, snools and snotboys. There they all were, snooking (“prying about while sniffing and smelling”) and spooking (“fabricating confusion”). The pricks, self-important members “of the thrusting throng,” were eye-deep in their own bull, “the most solemn and respected form of discourse under patriarchy,” leaving behind them a trail of logocide, “the systematic murder of logos (reason) in patriarchy, the State of Sleeping Death” and verbicide, “the systematic murder of words; the reduction of living words to the condition of mere noises echoing each other through the hollow world of the hollow men.” Their dick-speaking and flashing (“compulsively” exposing their “inadequacies”) were Boring and predicktable. There's not much to be said about patriarchal elementary intelligence that is Fascinating, but it's worth a Glance, because here you'll find, alphabetized, classified and defined, all the men and some of the women you know.

Abandoning Yahweh & Son and Yessir Professor to their own devices, I arrived at the Third Phase of the Wickedary, four “Deliberately Delirious essays designed to assist Wicked women to stray and stay off the tracks of trained responses and traditional expectations.”

The essays of this “Back Matter” move from the analysis and description of the elementary terms of patriarchy to an explanation of the Real Acts of Be-Laughing, Nixing, Hexing and X-ing; they end by roaming into the Wild Realms beyond patriarchal space/time, travelling Widdershins, Counter-clockwise, away from the clockocracy. Here I found explicit descriptions of how man-handling abuses the English language. Mary exposes four patriarchal linguistic tactics. Reversal, the fourth tactic, for example, takes five forms: simple inversion (Ronald Reagan called “The Great Communicator”), reversals that take the elementary world as the model for natural phenomena (the prevalent metaphor that Elemental beings are machines), reversals that project patriarchal male qualities onto women and nature (attributing “penis envy” to women, calling other animals “predatory”), male reversals that appropriate women's capacities and qualities (gynecologist), and reversals by redundancy and contradiction (“weapons of life,” “just war”). Naming these linguistic tricks and identifying the common varieties of foreground mess-ages empowers women by showing how we can Be-Laugh Our Selves beyond their mind-binding (w)raps.

Some entries I expected to find but didn't. In Gyn/Ecology Mary discovered the tidy bifurcation of related words in patriarchal English, revealing how men had reserved control of text, grammar and spelling to themselves, leaving women the less prestigious and respectable realms of textile, glamour and spells. A similar pair of words, Cosmic/cosmetic, would have fit well in the Wickedary. Their significance dovetails neatly with the first three, and the point is implicit in the Metadictionary, where Cosmic occurs in several phrases. But when I turned to Word-Web Three, where I expected to find cosmetic between consumer society and covert, an appealing position for it, it wasn't there. Nor did I find the noun friend (from Old English freond, “free one”) listed in Word-Web Two, an entry which would have elaborated the participial Be-Friending of Word-Web One. Too obvious? Over-lookings? Lost notecards?

Many of the Wickedary's entries are (surprisingly) adjectives or nouns. I found this disturbing because the Verb as concept is central to Mary's Metaethics, as is evident in the pages of the Wickedary itself. The phrase Goddess the Verb is defined as a “Metaphor for Ultimate/Intimate Reality, the constantly Unfolding Verb of Verbs in which all being participates …,” and Be-ing, first introduced in Beyond God the Father, is similarly defined: “Ultimate/Intimate Reality, the constantly. Unfolding Verb of Verbs which is intransitive, having no object that limits its dynamism …” With so much ethical emphasis on verbiness, I wonder why entries like Be-Musing, Be-Tidings, Prance of Life, and Metabeing, to name a few, are entered in the Wickedary as nouns rather than verbs, treated as states rather than processes. Making them into verbs for Our Selves is easy enough, and I'm sure this will happen, but I'd like to know why Mary handled these entries as she did, especially when she's given us such powerful verbs as Dragonize, Gorgonize and Eyebite/I-Bite.

It's unfair to expect everything all at once, even from Mary Daly, and these omissions won't detract from the pleasures awaiting Other perusers of the Wickedary. There's enough word-weaving here to keep us Spinning until Mary's next book Aeromantically Activizes our Powers of Be-ing. I found my-Self Leafing/Leaping through for hours, discovering words I hadn't known existed (depravation, maffick, fremitus), words I'd known and used and but never looked up (cheeky, dizzy, tough, jinx, apperception) and what I think may be a hitherto hidden etymological relationship between Modern English war and Old English wer, the now obsolete word that once meant “male human being.”

Because the Wickedary is erratic (“having no fixed course”), ecstatic (“causing to stand out”) and eccentric (“out of the center”), its probabilities are Cosmic. It succeeds in a way that most books should, but don't: the information it provides is a springboard for the reader, Sparking her to discoveries and revelations of her own. Instead of working on this review, I was busy writing down: new words that Named themSelves: Sin-thesis, Nix-mister, nixonize. It is a Starting/Sparking Place for all who've been itching to scratch lexical limitations.

Readers accustomed to the empty, meaningless, monotonous English of Reagan and the naughty/not-I windbags will find the Wickedary tough (“strong or firm in texture but flexible and not brittle”; “not easily chewed”; “characterized by severity or uncompromising determination”). But if you find that the Prancing, Frolicking phrases and sentences are making you dizzy and Brewing Brainstorms—you're experiencing Sylph-consciousness.


  1. Láadan means “the language of those who perceive,” and it's a language structured specifically to enable women to talk about “chunks of reality” that matter to them but that “have not been given names of their own before.” (This idea is the subject of Elgin's S/F novel, Native Tongue.) Having worked my way through both the grammar and dictionary of Láadan, I didn't find many “chunks of reality”-lexicalized that aren't already available to us in English. Notable exceptions include an expanded group of terms naming different kinds of “love,” and a set of terms for describing several ways a heterosexual woman might feel about being pregnant, but the number of “encodings,” as described in Native Tongue, is disappointingly small. Male violence, a variety of experience shared by a majority of women, is invisible in Láadan. There is no word for rape.

Jane Hedley (essay date spring 1992)

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SOURCE: Hedley, Jane. “Surviving to Speak New Language: Mary Daly and Adrienne Rich.” Hypatia 7, no. 2 (spring 1992): 40-62.

[In the following excerpt, Hedley discusses Daly's attempt to depose male-defined language through etymological reconstructions and the invention of a new vocabulary for women, culminating in Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language.]

As radical feminists seeking to overcome the linguistic oppression of women, Rich and Daly apparently shared the same agenda in the late 1970s; but they approached the problem differently, and their paths have increasingly diverged. Whereas Daly's approach to the repossession of language is code-oriented and totalizing, Rich's approach is open-ended and context-oriented. Rich has therefore addressed more successfully than Daly the problem of language in use.

“For many women,” Adrienne Rich explained in 1977, in her introduction to the collected poetry of Judy Grahn, “the commonest words are having to be sifted through, rejected, laid aside for a long time, or turned to the light for new colors and flashes of meaning: power, love, control, violence, political, personal, private, friendship, community, sexual, work, pain, pleasure, self, integrity. … When we become acutely, disturbingly aware of the language we are using and that is using us, we begin to grasp a material resource that women have never before collectively attempted to repossess” (LSS [On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978], 247).1 The attempt to repossess language has been an important dimension of second wave feminism in the United States. For many feminists, this attempt has crystallized as “the great he/she battle” (Nilsen 1984): the struggle to discredit “generic he,” along with a large set of nouns that are officially gender-neutral but have installed masculine gender as normative for entire categories of persons, and indeed for the human species as a whole. The he/she battle is for “equal opportunity,” with an emphasis on the ways in which standard usage interferes with women's efforts to hold their own in public life and in the world of work.2 Meanwhile, however, radical feminists have found it more important to stress that “the oppressor's language” interferes with women's ability to communicate and bond with one another. Thus, for example, in a poem called “Natural Resources” (1977), Rich announced:

There are words I cannot choose again:
Such words have no shame in them, no diffidence
before the raging stoic grandmothers:
Their glint is too shallow, like a dye
that does not permeate
the fibers of actual life
as we live it, now:

(FD [The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New 1950-1984], 262-63)

Here Rich expresses the conviction that an equal-opportunity agenda is not radical enough: gender-neutral usage cannot grasp the specificity of women's experience in the present, and it short-circuits the attempt to rescue a collective past from the oblivion to which the history of “mankind” has largely consigned women's lives.

In 1978, Mary Daly spoke in very similar terms of being engaged in an ongoing collective process of sifting and winnowing the words that feminist women would use to speak of important matters: “There are some words which appeared to be adequate in the early seventies, which feminists later discovered to be false words. Three such words … which I cannot use again are God, androgyny, and homosexuality” (Daly 1978, xi). Thus in 1977-78 Rich and Daly apparently shared the same agenda, as lesbian feminists whose “dream of a common language”—Rich's phrase, originally—gave direct expression to a politics of woman-bonding and woman-identification. “The crucible of a new language,” Rich asserts in the Grahn introduction (1977), is “that primary presence of women to ourselves and each other first described in prose by Mary Daly” (LSS, 250); meanwhile in Gyn/Ecology Daly hails Rich as a “boundary breaking poet and warrior” with whom she shares in an “uncommon quest for ‘a common language’” (Daly 1978, xvii). Daly's “uncommon quest” would culminate ten years later in Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language. Meanwhile, however, Rich was coming to understand her own relationship to language differently, and she would “survive to speak new language”3 on very different terms.

There are two different ways of construing radical feminism, suggests the Australian feminist critic Meaghan Morris: as “a politics which works on whatever all women have in common” or as “a theory of the determining role played by sex over class, economic and cultural factors in the oppression of women” (Morris [1982] 1988, 46).4 Ever since Gyn/Ecology, Daly's commitment to radical feminism in Morris's second sense has been unequivocal and unwavering: it has, if anything, strengthened in response to opposition from both inside and outside the feminist movement. In the 1970s Rich apparently shared this commitment: in “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” (1978), she argued that “the power men everywhere wield over women … has become a model for every other form of exploitation and illegitimate control” (BBP [Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985], 68). But Rich explicitly distanced herself from this position during the 1980s: in “Notes toward a Politics of Location” (1984), she is outspokenly critical of “a form of [American] feminism so focused on male evil and female victimization that it … allows for no differences among women, men, places, times, cultures, conditions, classes, movements” (BBP, 221). The approach she favors in 1984 is one that would shelve the whole primacy question and broaden the feminist agenda by acknowledging that “most women in the world must fight for their lives on many fronts at once” (BBP, 218).

In one of Rich's earliest formulations of the problem both she and Daly have sought to address, we can begin to see how Rich's language radicalism would also come to differ from Daly's:

This is the oppressor's language
yet I need it to talk to you

(FD, 117)

In this pair of lines from a poem dated 1968, the boldly totalizing generalization about language is very much in the spirit of Daly's project; yet Rich has framed that generalization as a particular instance of discourse. She uses the deictic words “This,” “I,” and “you” to stage the subjective experience of a particular woman, at a particular historical juncture, who is actively trying to communicate with someone else.5 Rich's formulation thus calls attention to the two different modes in which language exists for us simultaneously: as a system of already encoded meanings and as ongoing, open-ended meaning-making activity.

From the outset, Daly's effort to repossess language has been code-oriented: “the oppressor's language” has presented itself to her as a totalizing system that must be modeled as such and completely dismantled. Her priorities are those of a systematic theologian for whom the power of words belongs primarily to their “cosmic” function—their power to name reality into being. Meanwhile Rich, though by no means indifferent to the cosmic power of words, has always been even more obsessed with their communicative function: in the foreword (1984) to her poetry collection The Fact of a Doorframe, she writes that her worst fear as a poet has always been “that these words will fail to enter another soul” (FD, xv). Rich's approach to the repossession of language has therefore always been context- or usage-oriented. And whereas Dalys “master trope”6 is metaphor, the trope that uses the code against itself to produce semantic novelty through deviant predication, Rich favors metonymy, the trope of contexture, as she struggles to keep the language of her poetry grounded in “the actual world.”7

Both Daly's code-oriented, “metaphoric” approach to the repossession of language and Rich's context-oriented, “metonymic” approach are “radical,” in the sense that language itself is what they have sought to change.8 Their difference exposes a tension that belongs to language itself in its dual existence as langue and parole—a code whose structures we internalize, but also the changing, context-sensitive medium of our dealings with one another.


Derived from the Greek meta (meaning after, behind, transformative of, beyond) and pherein (meaning to bear, carry), metaphor in the deepest sense suggests the power of words to carry us into a Time/Space that is after, behind, transformative of, and beyond static being—the status maintained by phallocracy.

(Daly 1973, xix)

Daly begins Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language by explaining that “the word webster, according to Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, is derived from the Old English webbestre, meaning female weaver” (Daly and Caputi 1987, xiii). Under the entry for Webster, she credits Judy Grahn with this Dis-covery and cites The Queen of Wands, where Grahn engages in speculative etymology:

The word-weavers of recent centuries who have given us the oration of Daniel Webster and the dictionary listings of Merriam-Webster stem from English family names that once descended through the female line. Some great-grandmother gave them her last name, Webster, she-who-weaves.

(Quoted in Daly and Caputi 1987, 178)

This metaetymology models both the process whereby words can be said to have been stolen from women and the strategy Daly uses to repossess them: “a process of freeing words from the cages and prisons of patriarchal patterns” (Daly and Caputi 1987, 3).

In the Wickedary, weaving becomes the prototypical strategy of feminist lexicography. The book consists of a series of “Word-Webs”—“according to Webster's [Third International], the first meaning of web is ‘a fabric as it is being woven on a loom …” (Daly and Caputi 1987, xvii)—and Daly invites her readers to conceive of language itself as a fabric that was originally woven by women in conversation with one another. She cites conversations with other women as sources for some of her entries, to convey that she and her Cronies are once again actively engaged in language-making; and she stresses that the Wickedary itself is not, and could not be, finished. In the preface she explains that she has intended to model a certain “tension between incompletion and completion” (Daly and Caputi 1987, xviii)—between language as meaning making activity and language as system of signs.9

Daly's understanding of language is close to that of sociologist Peter Berger,10 who treats language as the primary agent of what he calls “world-building.” Human society, as theorized by Berger, is a “world-building enterprise,” and language is the means by which the social world is constituted for its members as a meaningful order, or “normos”: “Every empirical language may be said to constitute a nomos in the making, or, with equal validity, as the historical consequence of the nomizing activity of generations of men [sic]” (Berger 1967, 20). From the perspective of nomos in the making, language is an ongoing, open-ended activity that expresses the human craving for meaning; but as the product of this activity, language “acts back upon” its producers and their descendants, imposing its conventions upon them as their patrimony. “The original nomizing act is to say that an item is this, and thus not that. As this original incorporation of the item into an order that includes other items is followed by sharper linguistic designations (the item is male and not female, singular and not plural, a noun and not a verb, and so forth), the nomizing act intends a comprehensive order of all items that may be linguistically objectivated” (Berger 1967, 20-21). Berger emphasizes that although the nomizing act is totalizing in its intention, in fact it never attains to totality: “just as there can be no totally socialized individual, so there will always be individual meanings that remain outside of or marginal to the common nomos” (Berger 1967, 20).

Like Berger, Daly regards language as the objectified consequence of an activity, but for Daly “the nomizing activity of generations of men” has been a conspiracy to uproot and stultify language. Dictionaries epitomize for Daly a whole set of cultural activities—including theology, metaphysics, gynecology, as well as lexicography—that have codified, in order to fix and perpetuate, the patriarchal status quo (otherwise known in Daly's writings as Stag-nation, or the State of the Living Dead). They have sought to legitimate pseudorealities—“civilization,” “history,” “God”—that alienate women from their own world-making powers. Dictionaries make a pretense of establishing the true senses of words by tracing them back to their earliest forms, but these etymologies have “no Originality in them”: “appearing capable of taking us back to our roots or to first principles or sources, they in fact block access to Origins” (Daly and Caputi 1987, 244). Fortunately, however, this work of deracination has not entirely succeeded: thus Webster's, the American Heritage Dictionary and the O.E.D. “contain fragments of and clues to our own stolen heritage” (Daly and Caputi 1987, xxiii).

The Wickedary situates itself on the boundary of what Berger calls “the common nomos”; but whereas for Berger all that can be glimpsed beyond that boundary are individual meanings and the terrifying specter of “anomie,” for Daly the boundary is a vantage-point from which women, collectively, can begin to Activize Original Be-ing. A Witch or Hag—Daly has used the O.E.D. to trace Hag back to a “prehistoric” West-Germanic compound with components akin to Old English haga “hedge” and Old German dus “devil”—is one who “haunts the Hedges/Boundaries of patriarchy, frightening fools and summoning Weird Wandering Women into the Wild” (Daly and Caputi 1987, 137). “Sitting on the Fence between the worlds,” she “is engaged not only in Boundary Living but also in Boundary Breaking” (Daly and Caputi 1987, 267). The way that language can be enlisted for Boundary Living and Boundary Breaking is through the power of metaphor. “To a large extent,” Daly explains, “metaphors are the language and the vessels of metapatriarchal Spiraling, that is, of Be-Witching” (Daly 1984, 404).

In her Wickedary entry under Metaphors, Metapatriarchal, Daly dissociates herself from the ornamental or figures-of-speech view of metaphor,11 defining it in a way that is consistent with Suzanne Langer's account of metaphor and its role in language and with the work of more recent theorists of metaphor such as Max Black and Paul Ricoeur. According to Ricoeur, for example, metaphor produces semantic innovation through “deviant predication.” We make a metaphor when we combine a subject and a predicate whose common or usual meanings clash in some important way. The predication thus produced is deviant, but if the metaphor succeeds it is also acceptable: its impertinence does not disappear but is overcome, since we have recourse to connotations or secondary semantic features of its crucial words. Metaphors thereby have the potential for enlarging the domain of what seems possible or can be thought: “new predicative meaning emerges from the collapse of … the meaning which obtains if we rely only on the common or usual lexical values of our words” (Ricoeur [1978] 1981, 232).

Metaphors thus live on the boundaries of conventional usage. When we speak of a dead or faded metaphor, we are citing a process whereby those boundaries have shifted: the conventional range of application of a particular expression has been extended through the assimilation of what had once been deviant, metaphorical applications. Suzanne Langer suggests that every new idea “evokes first of all some metaphoric expression. As the idea becomes familiar, this expression ‘fades’ to a new literal sense of the once metaphorical predicate, a more general use than it had before.” This, Langer argues, is how language grows: metaphor is “the power whereby … new words are born and merely analogical meanings become stereotyped into literal definitions” (Langer 1942, 141). Langer's theory of language is based on a speculative account of its origins in a prediscursive human capacity for symbolic thinking: metaphor is for Langer not only the power whereby new words are born, but also the power of abstraction by which words as such were born in the first place, out of the sounds our prelinguistic forebears must have used to greet significant events.12

The process Langer treats as a positive or at least necessary one, insofar as it is central to the elaboration and maturation of languages, is assimilated by Daly to a process linguists call “pejoration,” whereby words associated with women and their activities have, over time, become negatively stereotyped. “Like Langer, Shrews are aware of apparently faded metaphors, but … Shrewish analysis discovers a sexual politics of fading” (Daly 1984, 28). Daly is especially interested in words still used to denote women and their activities whose etymologies connect them with the elemental symbols of prediscursive thought, so that they seem to be etymologically linked to collective intuitions of Original Be-ing. Thus, for example, she reclaims the meaning of the word spinster not only by challenging the negative stereotype of the unmarried woman and restoring primacy to the word's original meaning, “a woman whose occupation is to spin” (Daly and Caputi 1987, 167), but also by attaching to that occupation a mythic dimension of meaning. She reminds us that in mythology the Fates are Spinsters (Daly 1978, 176): thus she discovers in this woman's occupation a presentational symbol for elemental cosmic process. Spinning becomes, in Daly's lexicon, a woman-identified synonym for world making: “Gyn/Ecological creation; Discovering the lost thread of connectedness within the cosmos …” (Daly 1978, 96). She regards the fading of the word's symbolic resonance as a semantic impoverishment and as evidence of a patriarchal conspiracy to divest language of its cosmic power. Restoring that power is a metaphoric process that gives the word Spinster several dimensions or levels of meaning: “When, for example, I say ‘Spinsters Spin,’ multileveled images of creation and change are evoked” (Daly 1984, 404).

In other instances, the work that metaphor does for Daly is critical rather than “cosmic.” Thus, for example, she explains in the preface to her fourth book, Pure Lust, that its title has a double meaning. In lowercase, this phrase invokes the current, conventional meaning of lust and is used to Name the “life-hating lechery” that “assails women and nature on all levels”; at the same time, however, Daly reclaims a more positive definition, now obsolete, of lust—“intense longing or eagerness”—so that in uppercase, the phrase can be used to mean “simple sheer striving for abundance of be-ing” (Daly 1984, 2-4). The phrase Pure Lust thus becomes a double-edged “labrys”: it refers to both the problem and its solution, the State of Bondage and the energy that will launch Wild Women into freedom. Just as with Spinster, the woman-identified definition of Pure Lust cites its more archaic, “original” meaning. In this case, however, Daly's strategy is to put the word's two meanings in conflict: she uses deviant predication to overcome the conventional, current meaning of lust; and deviance, as a feminist survival strategy, is thematized by the double definition.

Language can only do the consciousness-altering work Daly wants it to do insofar as words are used disruptively, jarringly, deconstructively: “Websters are aware that new words are new in the sense they are heard in an Other semantic context” (Daly 1984, 404). Thus many of Daly's neologisms are self-contextualizing compounds (Nag-Gnosticism,Pure Lust) that have metaphoric deviance built right into them, and she will often mix her metaphors, to keep them fade-resistant. In Pure Lust she explains that metaphoric predication is a safeguard against building a new prisonhouse on the ruins of the old one, which is what will happen if radical feminists begin “accepting Hag-identified new words as taken-for-granted labels” (Daly 1984, 404).

Long before Daly's linguistic project had emerged full-blown in the Wickedary, Meaghan Morris made a telling criticism of her whole approach to language. Writing for the Marxist journal Intervention, after Daly had made a controversial appearance in Sydney, Australia, in 1981, Morris accuses her of using language to create a self-enclosed speech community of the elect, and thereby largely ignoring the problem of “language in use” (Morris [1982] 1988, 30). Daly, Morris argues, appears to subscribe to the view that “there is a strength-potential in isolated signs which is sufficient to overcome the histories of their use”:

The word race, for example, can be cheerfully put to ‘new’ political purposes by reviving the dictionary ‘meanings’ of rushing onwards, or of two tides meeting in a choppy sea—while the function of race in certain particular discourses, the history of those discourses, and the histories which those discourses have made and still make possible, remains … entirely beside the point.

(Morris [1982] 1988, 42)

Morris takes issue with this position in no uncertain terms: “Unlike Mary Daly,” she writes, “I do not believe that ‘meanings’ are in ‘words,’ but that meaning is produced in specific contexts of discourse” (Morris [1982] 1988, 32).

Morris's objection should not be taken to suggest that Daly is naive about how language works, or about how meaning is produced: as we have seen, her metaphoric feats rely on adroit manipulation of context. What Morris has recognized, however, is that Daly's discourse is self-contextualizing and auto-telic to a quite remarkable degree. This tendency is not nearly so pronounced in Beyond God the Father (1973), the first book she wrote after her conversion to radical feminism, as it is in Gyn/Ecology, where she undertook to expose and denounce “the totality of the lie which is patriarchy” (Daly 1978, 20), and in Pure Lust, which is structured to model an “Otherworld Journey of Exorcism and Ecstasy” (Daly 1984, x). In Beyond God the Father Daly was still making arguments. Here is a sample paragraph from that work, with italics added to highlight its discursive framework to the extent that Daly has made that framework explicit:

A qualitatively different understanding of justice also emerges when the peculiar rigidities of the stereotypic male no longer dominate the scene. Tillich has written of transforming or creative justice, which goes beyond calculating in fixed proportions. Unfortunately, he tries to uphold the idea that “the religious symbol for this is the kingdom of God.” I suggest that as long as we are under the shadow of a kingdom, real or symbolic, there will be no creative justice. The transforming and creative element in justice has been intuited and dimly expressed by the term “equity.” Aristotle defined this as a correction of law where it is “defective owing to its universality.” What this leaves out is the dynamic and changing quality of justice which does not presuppose that there are fixed and universal essences, but which is open to new data of experience.

(Daly 1973, 128)

In this paragraph, Daly's linguistic usage is neither transgressive nor uncommon, and neither is her discursive procedure. The “qualitatively different understanding of justice” she seeks to establish is played off against classic formulations with which she disagrees but which afford a discursive context for her own. If the effort to redefine justice presages her growing interest in total renovation of the lexicon of “first philosophy,” it nevertheless acknowledges and connects with the ways this concept has been understood within the tradition of Western metaphysics.

In Pure Lust Daly again cites Tillich's notion of “creative justice.” Instead of paraphrasing Tillich, this time, she quotes him directly, after declaring that his formulation is “so alien to Pyrosophical awareness and analysis … that it will make a feminist's flesh crawl” (Daly 1984, 276). She sets up her quotation from Tillich as a separate block of text, suggesting that the reader try imagining a priest, rabbi, or minister reciting it to a woman who has been repeatedly battered by her husband. “What happens in such a case,” Daly explains, is that “the woman is morally bullied [by Tillich's notion of creative justice] into forfeiting her right to judge … [and] breaking her own Naming process.” We conclude that “Tillich's moral verbiage … is worse than useless” and that “justice is not an adequate name for that which Canny, Raging women create.” Daly has already proposed that we substitute the woman-identified term Nemesis, and she now proceeds to explain why this would be desirable:

The new psychic alignment of gynergy patterns associated with Nemesis is not merely rectifying of a situation which the term unjust could adequately describe. Nemesis is Passionate Spinning/Spiraling of new/ancient forms and connections of gynergy. It is an E-motional habit acquired/required in the Pyrospheres. It demands Shrewd as well as Fiery judgment and is therefore a Nag-Gnostic Pyrognostic Virtue. Nemesis is a habit built up by inspired acts of Righteous Fury, which move the victims of gynocidal oppression into Pyrospheric changes unheard of in patriarchal lore.

(Daly 1984, 277)

What we should notice about this entire passage is not only that Daly is now unwilling to engage in dialogue with Tillich, but that her text's relationship to its hypothetical readers has also changed. Both Tillich's account of “creative justice” and her own celebration of Nemesis are proffered to the reader not as arguments, but as rival incantations. We are to imagine a priest or a rabbi reciting Tillich's text, and then, having repudiated his “moral verbiage,” we are to enter into a “new psychic alignment of gynergy patterns” as Daly's verbal Pyro-technics burst upon us. In repudiating the moral verbiage of Tillich and his ilk, we not only disagree with him and reject his approach to the definition of justice, we leave his world for another—the world Daly's discourse weaves around us.13

Daly relies on what Roman Jakobson calls the “poetic function” of language (Jakobson [1960a] 1987) to set her discourse apart from the ordinary language of patriarchy and to strengthen its internal cohesiveness. The rhythms of her prose are often incantatory, and she makes lavish use of alliteration to “conjure the Chorus of Wild Racing Words” (Daly and Caputi 1987, xvii). These are poetic strategies that promote an iconic relation between sound and meaning, signifier and signified. Her neologizing compounds, her hyphenations and capitalizations, likewise call attention to the process of signification, forcing us to attend very carefully to the shapes of words. All of these strategies work together to foster the illusion that words do indeed possess their meanings intrinsically—that they have an inherent power or life of their own.14 But this is only an illusion, one that Daly has to work very hard to create. In the preface to Gyn/Ecology she betrays this by claiming, with Humpty-Dumpty-ish bravado,15 that the word she has coined for her title “says exactly what I want it to say”—and then taking three pages to explain what she wants it to say, in explicit defiance of the standard definition of gynecology, which she quotes from the O.E.D. The prominence and frequency of this kind of explicit word-definition is much greater in Gyn/Ecology than in Daly's earlier writings, and greater still in Pure Lust, the work that immediately predates the Wickedary. In Pure Lust it begins to seem as if word-redefinition had become the primary task of Elemental Feminist Philosophy.

As we proceed through Daly's writings chronologically we can thus, as it were, see the Wickedary coming. Despite her intention to model an open-ended, ongoing process of community-building through language, and despite the commitment to dialogue with other women that she often professes, Daly's “uncommon quest” has developed according to an inner logic of its own.16 The Wickedary is full of “we”-statements, but the collectivity or community they invoke is internally generated by a proliferating series of epithets that reinforce one another in a circular fashion within the work itself: “Webster's do not use words, we Muse words”; “Wild women recognize our Guide Words …” (42); “Wise women … find here clues to our own liberation”; “Wicked women Announce our Departure from the State of Patriarchal Paralyis” (Daly and Caputi 1987, 24, 42, 284; italics added).17 The women's community whose Naming process Daly champions in the Wickedary is an abstraction—not the agent but the figment of its prophetic exhortations. …

Whereas Daly's “uncommon quest” has resulted in a language that is so uncommon as to have no general currency, Rich's most recent writings suggest that she is no longer dreaming of a common language at all. Where she does call attention to particular words and their meanings, she emphasizes that a particular word has meant different things to the same person at different points in her life, or stages encounters in which differently located usages need to be respected. Her 1986 poem “Negotiations,” for example, is addressed to a sister poet with whom, it seems, she has often angrily disagreed:

Someday if someday comes we will agree
that trust is not about safety
that keeping faith is not about deciding
to clip our fingernails exactly
to the same length or wearing
a uniform that boasts our unanimity

(TP [Time's Power], 9)

Their hypothetical truce-day will not come, the speaker is suggesting, until she and her interlocutor have become more comfortable with their differences: thus, with respect to the words truth and faith her strategy here is not to formulate positive definitions, but by means of negative definitions to forestall premature closure.

Rich's career has followed a trajectory that is more or less the opposite of Daly's. Even as Daly's project of code-renovation has disclosed its totalizing intention more and more clearly, Rich has tried—more valuably, I think—to keep faith with the historical, material conditions of language in use. Perhaps the most important lesson she has for us is that there is no question of getting any word's meaning finally “right.” Meanings are not “in” words, and the kind of usage-oriented change that Rich has consistently modeled for feminist readers is open toward the future as well as the past.


  1. Where possible, in quoting from Rich's poems and prose writings, I will use abbreviations to refer the reader to three collections:

    LSS for On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978; BBP for Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985; FD for The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New 1950-1984.

    Poems from The Dream of a Common Language (1978) and A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981b) that were not reprinted in FD are referred to DCL and WP. Poems written after 1984 and published in Time's Power (1989) are referred to TP. The date that appears in my text will always, however, be the date Rich provides to establish when she wrote the poem or when she delivered or published the prose piece originally.

  2. On the whole, American feminists have been more pragmatically interventionist than feminists working in the French intellectual tradition have been, as Betsy Draine (1989) points out. Their efforts have resulted in the adoption of guidelines for nonsexist usage by most of the major educational publishers in this country and by many organizations concerned with the teaching of English. For a bibliography of these guidelines, see Frank and Treichler (1989, 310-14).

  3. This phrase is taken from “Transcendental Etude” (FD, 267), a 1977 poem I will be using later on to illustrate Rich's approach to the repossession of language.

  4. For a brief account of the origins and development of radical feminism, see Eisenstein (1983, 125-35).

  5. The gender of her interlocutor is not specified, but in view of the poem's date and her references to lovemaking between them I infer that Rich in this poem is still “trying to talk to a man.”

  6. This phrase was coined by Kenneth Burke (1941), whose suggestive discussion of metaphor and metonymy predates Jakobson's more precise linguistic analysis.

  7. The classic discussion of metaphor and metonymy as opposed, complementary radicals of language is Jakobson ([1960b] 1987).

  8. Within the British feminist movement, which has taken its bearings from a Marxist tradition of social and political analysis, the radical feminist approach is criticized for paying too little attention to the history of sexist usage within particular “discursive formations”; see, for example, Black and Coward ([1981] 1990).

  9. I will argue later that the Wickedary cannot do this successfully. Because of its emphasis on code-refashioning, Daly's project is implicitly totalizing in its intention, despite her professed intention to model an ongoing communal process.

  10. See Fiorenza (1983, 23), for whom Daly's writings afford a classic example of a “sociology of knowledge” approach to theology. Daly was apparently reading Berger in the early 1970s: she uses many of his key formulations in Beyond God the Father (1973), while calling attention to Berger's androcentrism. In Gyn/Ecology (1978), although she does not cite Berger, she uses his notion of “legitimation” to explain that the purpose of all major world religions is to shelter the male against anomie, and suggests that the symbolic message of all of them is “Women are the dreaded anomie” (Daly 1978, 39).

  11. See Daly (1984, 25), where she approvingly cites Julian Jaynes's assertion in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind that “metaphor is not a mere extra trick of language, as it is so often slighted in the old schoolbooks on composition; it is the very constitutive ground of language.”

  12. See Cassirer (1946), especially chapters 3 and 6. Langer is the English translator of Language and Myth and has built upon Cassirer's account of the origins of language.

  13. Morris uses the “Dissembly of Exorcism” from Gyn/Ecology to make a similar point (Morris [1982] 1988, 40). My own example is chosen to highlight the way in which Daly's discursive posture has changed over time.

  14. See Jakobson ([1976] 1987, 378): “Poeticity is present when the word is felt as a word and not a mere representation of the object being named or the outburst of emotion, when words and their composition, their meaning, their external and internal form, acquire a weight and value of their own instead of referring indifferently to reality.” The Wickedary is full of explicit claims that words are living creatures or can be made to “come alive” (Daly and Caputi 1987, xvii).

  15. On the subject of “feminist Humpty-Dumpties,” see Cameron (1990, 11-12).

  16. Morris recalls a telling moment from Daly's address in Sydney, when “the we-ness of the address was ruptured … by a woman who called out ‘Mary, you're not speaking to me … ’” (Morris 1988, 39).

  17. I do not mean to accuse Daly of lying when she claims that her “we” in the Wickedary refers to other women who have helped her with the project in various ways (Daly and Caputi 1987, xxii), but rather to point out that the pronoun is manipulated in such a way as to take on a life of its own within the discursive system of the work itself.


The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: New College Edition. 1976. Ed. William Morris. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Benveniste, Emile. [1966] 1970. Problems in General Linguistics, trans. Mary Elizabeth Meek. Miami: University of Miami Press.

Berger, Peter. 1967. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. New York: Doubleday.

Black, Maria, and Rosalind Coward. [1981] 1990. “Linguistic, Social and Sexual Relations: A Review of Dale Spender's Man Made Language.Screen Education 39 (Summer); reprinted in The Feminist Critique of Language: A Reader, ed. Deborah Cameron. London and New York: Routledge.

Black, Max. [1954-55] 1981. “Metaphor.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society n.s. 55: 273-94; reprinted in Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor, ed. Mark Johnson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Burke, Kenneth. 1941. “Four Master Tropes.” Kenyon Review 3: 421-38.

Cameron, Deborah. 1990. “Introduction: Why is Language a Feminist Issue?” In The Feminist Critique of Language: A Reader, ed. D. Cameron. London and New York: Routledge.

Cassirer, Ernst. 1946. Language and Myth, trans. Suzanne K. Langer. New York: Dover.

Daly, Mary. 1973. Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press.

———. 1978. Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Boston: Beacon Press.

———. 1984. Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy. Boston: Beacon Press.

Daly, Mary, and Jane Caputi. 1987. Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language. Boston: Beacon Press.

Draine, Betsy. 1989. “Refusing the Wisdom of Solomon: Some Recent Feminist Literary Theory.” Signs 15: 144-70.

Eisenstein, Hester. 1983. Contemporary Feminist Thought. Boston: G. K. Hall.

Fiorenza, Elizabeth Schussler. 1983. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. New York: Crossroad Press.

Frank, Francine Wattman, and Paula A. Treichler. 1989. Language, Gender, and Professional Writing: Theoretical Approaches and Guidelines for Nonsexist Usage. New York: Modern Language Association.

Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar. 1979. Shakespeare's Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Jakobson, Roman. [1960a] 1987. “Linguistics and Poetics.” In Style in Language, ed. Thomas A. Sebeok. Cambridge MA: MIT Press; reprinted in Language in Literature, ed. Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy. Cambridge, MA.: Belknap Press.

———. [1960b] 1987. “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances.” In Fundamentals of Language [with Morris Halle], part 2. The Hague: Mouton; reprinted in Language in Literature. See Jakobson (1960a).

———. [1976] 1987. “What is Poetry?” Trans. Michael Heim. In Semiotics of Art: Prague School Contributions, ed. Ladislav Matejka and Irwin Titunik. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1976; reprinted in Language in Literature, 368-78. See Jakobson (1960a).

Langer, Suzanne K. 1942. Philosophy in a New Key. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Morris, Meaghan. [1982] 1988. “A-mazing Grace: Notes on Mary Daly's Poetics.” Intervention 16; reprinted in Morris, The Pirate's Fiancee: Feminism, Reading, Postmodernism. London: Verso.

Nilsen, Alleen Pace. 1984. “Winning the Great He/She Battle.” College English 46: 151-57.

The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed. 1989. Ed. J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Rich, Adrienne. 1978. The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977. New York: Norton.

———. 1979. On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978. New York: Norton.

———. 1981a. “What Does Separatism Mean?” Sinister Wisdom 18 (Fall): 83-91.

———. 1981b. A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far: Poems 1978-1981. New York: Norton.

———. 1985. The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New 1950-1984. New York: Norton.

———. 1989. Time's Power: Poems 1985-1988. New York: Norton.

Ricoeur, Paul. [1978] 1981. “The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling.” Critical Inquiry 5: 143-59; reprinted in Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor, ed. Mark Johnson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Carol Anne Douglas (review date January 1993)

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SOURCE: Douglas, Carol Anne. Review of Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage: Containing Recollections from My Logbook of a Radical Feminist Philosopher, by Mary Daly. Off Our Backs 23, no. 1 (January 1993): 19.

[In the following review, Douglas lauds Daly's frank and insightful portrayal of her life as a feminist scholar in Outercourse.]

Looking back to Outercourse: The Bedazzling Voyage, logbook of radical feminist philosopher Mary Daly, is a good reminder of the obstacles faced by feminists in the late twentieth century. Daly is, of course, the feminist who reclaimed words such as spinster, hag, nag, and crone. Readers must remember that in the 20th century these terms had strong negative connotations to many people.

Readers will note many references to the Roman Catholic Church, which was the patriarchal religion in which ForeCrone Daly and quite a few other twentieth century feminists were raised. This church was organized in an ultra—hierarchical structure, with a central patriarch called the pope, at its head, For more background on Roman Catholicism, see The Women's Encyclopedia of History, under the entries for Daly, Mary; de la Cruz, Sor Juana; Hunt, Mary; Mary, the Blessed Virgin, representations of; and Raymond, Janice.


Daly tells of her voyaging through and beyond the church, after obtaining two doctorates in theology and one in philosophy; a difficult task for a working class woman with no money like Daly. At one point she was afraid she would be denied the doctorate in theology from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland because the university required all those who attained the degree to swear to reject “modernism,” but she was saved by the patriarchs who decided to deny her permission to take the oath because that would give her the right to enter the male club of those privileged to teach theology at canonical institutions.

Daly apparently steered clear of men and traveled extensively in Europe, often with her mother, on very little money, enjoying herself hugely.

She then accepted a teaching position at Boston College, which was the former name of Mary Daly College. At that time, the college was run by an order of priests called Jesuits who were known as intellectuals but who persecuted ForeCrone Daly. When considering her for tenure, they actually said they were going to look only at the evaluations from male students! Many male students appreciated her brilliance, so she gained tenure, a decision the Jesuits no doubt regretted from then on as she moved beyond Catholicism and god and became a spinning spinster and, a revolting hag.

They punished her by denying her promotions and salary increases. At one point when she was on leave, one of her theology department colleagues told people calling to offer her speaking engagements that she was unavailable because she was having a mental breakdown.

However, Daly connected with enough Cronies to be able to withstand the harassment at Boston College. (By this time, she had come out as a lesbian.) When asked by a feminist in Ireland why she stayed at Boston College, Daly replied, “I choose to Stand my Ground.” As both a student and a teacher (other than short-term courses and her many speaking engagements), Daly's entire career was spent in Catholic institutions; she doubted that secular patriarchal institutions would be fundamentally better.

Moreover, Daly retains a considerable attachment to the works of the Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, from which she spins off. I suspect she would gladly defend Aquinas as a spinning off place compared with, say, Marx.


Although her books Gyn/Ecology and Pure Lust expressed horrific and pervasive violence against women, Daly never ceases to enjoy life, to discover pleasure in words, friends, nature (especially her cat and cow familiars), and new feminist acquaintances in many places. Her balance between calling attention to horrors and nonetheless living joyously is truly A-mazing.

Sometimes one wonders whether her contemporaries always appreciated her playfulness. For instance, her discussion of the reflections of her preconceived spirit, in which she decided to be a female and communicated that decision to her mother-to-be, may have been a bit trying to some feminists at a time when women did not have assure rights to abortion. (And when abortion was still very common because women did not have complete control over the sexuality.)

As we know, a number of Daly's feminist contemporaries such as ForeCrone Audre Lorde criticized omission in Gyn/Ecology as racist. In Outercourse, Daly deals with this indirectly by summoning Susan B. Anthony as a character and giving Anthony a chance to apologize for the lack of understanding about race and class. (She also attempts chats with Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, and has a vision of Spider Woman.) More directly, Daly says she regrets any pain her own omissions may have caused other women, particularly women of colors.

Anyone who has enjoyed ForeCrone Daly's other books will surely enjoy her Outercourse. Those who do not enjoy her work as much, perhaps because they come from different intellectual traditions, might nevertheless a least skim through Outercourse to understand where she came from as she spirals on. Certainly, anyone who is studying the twentieth century, particularly those focusing on the United States (that was in the days when there were nation states), should read Outercourse.

Sudie Rakusin, the amazing lesbian artist who illustrated Daly's Wickedary provides magnificent, animal-centered illustrations for each of the four spiral galaxies of Outercourse.

Carol J. Adams (review date March 1993)

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SOURCE: Adams, Carol J. “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.” Women's Review of Books 10, no. 6 (March 1993): 1, 3.

[In the following review, Adams praises Daly's contribution to feminist theory and offers a favorable evaluation of Outercourse.]

For anyone who has ever wanted to know more about the radical feminist philosopher behind Beyond God the Father, the Revolting Hag of Gyn/Ecology, the Nag-Gnostic philosopher of Pure Lust and the Conjurer of the Wickedary, here in one installment are the how, the why and the what of Mary Daly and her books. Through the medium of one woman's life—her own—Mary Daly invites us into the process of radical feminist philosophy.

Outercourse is big (at 477 pages, it is Daly's longest book); fascinating (describing travels and relations, travails and reflections); humorous (after recounting an especially insulting faculty meeting at Boston College, Daly comments “These men could not understand that they were giving me rich material for analysis”); and provocative (reminding us that women are the “touchable class,” asking “While we wade knee deep in the blood of women shall I chat about Freud, Derrida, and Foucault?”). Outercourse takes risks, especially when it shares intimate moments of the sacred—a clover blossom announces to a young Mary Daly “I am,” setting her on the path of becoming a radical feminist philosopher: “If a clover blossom could say ‘I am,’ then why couldn't I?”

Outercourse is above all inviting. While Daly's books are said to be difficult to read, Outercourse engages the reader on many levels, telling the story of a life (and a brilliant life at that), introducing the basic concepts contained in each of these previous “difficult” books, offering philosophical reflections and giving quotations from letters Daly received from ecstatic readers who found their own reality validated. The book relies on a certain vocabulary that has evolved to represent the sequence of insights of Daly's books. But it gently pulls the uninitiated into its logic and wordplay.

Outercourse expresses and enacts the major argument of Beyond God the Father (1973)—that the women's revolution is about participation in Be-ing. (Be-ing is hyphenated and capitalized to stress Daly's ontological position that Ultimate Reality is a Verb, an intransitive Verb.) Outercourse is a logical development from that starting-point: if through feminism we participate in Be-ing, then the story Daly will tell about her books and herself must contain both the autobiographical material that reflects her own participation in Be-ing and the philosophical arguments that accompany it.

The book also enacts (or as Daly would say, Realizes) another central tenet of Daly's Elemental Feminist Philosophy, which she described in Pure Lust as “a form of be-ing/thinking that is rooted in Metapatriarchal consciousness—consciousness that is in harmony with the Wild in nature and in the Self.” This philosophy dissolves the dualism between “matter” and philosophy, consolidating both intuition and ecofeminism, the experience of the clover blossom and the European-trained scholar. Elemental Philosophy, Daly instructs through examples in Outercourse, is of the world. Thus she describes not only conversations, but also experiences with tornadoes and ancient “beehive structures,” interactions with spiders who appear in cars, crabs crossing highways, a cow with a runny nose, and cats.

Outercourse will satisfy anyone curious about Mary Daly's life and her writings. We learn about her relationship with her mother Anna, her Catholic girlhood in upstate New York, the acquisition of degree after degree in her determined attempt to become a philosopher, the volcanic year in which she became a lesbian, her evolving ecofeminist consciousness, and about how all of her books—including Outercourse—came into being.

Mary Daly has always been in the process of interpreting herself. Practically from the moment she finished The Church and the Second Sex (1968), she has been revisi(ti)ng it: its writing and publication set in motion her separation from, as it brought her even closer (if only because of its reaction to her writings) to, the massive institution she scrutinized. As Daly has revisited earlier works, she has offered autobiographical groundings: notes about where she was, and where she is now.

This is the story of the journeys of a pirate, one who sees herself plundering from the patriarchy and smuggling treasures of archaic knowledge back to women. Since women under patriarchy have been vessels, Daly proclaims this is something that radical feminism must reverse. Thus the craft this pirate takes on her journey is truly a craft—as in a vessel—and also the craft of writing and witch/craft. “My True Course was and is Outercourse—moving beyond the imprisoning mental, physical, emotional, spiritual walls of patriarchy, the State of Possession.”

Daly journeys from the foreground (the world of the patriarchy, the fatherland) to the Background, “the Homeland of women's Selves and of all other Others.” Her voyage takes her through and over what she calls a “Subliminal Sea.” Even when she felt like a cognitive minority of one, she writes, she realized that this did not mean she was alone: she had “subliminal knowledge of similar subliminal knowledge buried in other women.” Letters she quotes from readers of her previous books echo with the sense of this subliminal knowledge. In response to Beyond God the Father, one woman wrote: “You took the top off my head. You electrified me. I felt as if—this may sound contradictory—I were discovering things for the first time and recognizing them as authentic, recognizing them as things I had so long felt myself.” After reading the Wickedary, another woman exclaimed, “I am startled and thrilled to find words for my feelings.”

To represent the movement of this pirate and her craft through the Subliminal Sea, from the foreground of patriarchy to the Background, Daly divides Outercourse into four “Spiral Galaxies.” Each galaxy encompasses a certain time span in her life, and addresses the writing and themes of her books during that time. The First Galaxy—the time of growing up out of a Catholic girlhood, the acquisition of her seven higher degrees, the publication of The Church and the Second Sex and her experience of being denied tenure at Boston College—involves the effort to overcome aphasia, the “inability to Name Background reality as well as foreground fabrications and the connections among these.” In the Second Galaxy—the time of the writing of Beyond God the Father and the Feminist postchristian introduction to The Church and the Second Sex—Daly encounters the demonic forces of elimination “who/which erase women's histories and our very lives” and overcomes amnesia (seeing beyond the “androcratic lies about women's history”). In the Third Galaxy, the time of Gyn/Ecology,Pure Lust, and the Wickedary, Daly confronts apraxia (the inability to Act as Radical Feminists), and moves into the Background present which is represented by the Fourth Galaxy.

Daly provides the answer to a question many have asked: why did she leave the church but stay in “academentia,” since many see academia as even more oppressive? Her answer: she chooses “to Fight/Act (Stand my Ground) at that precise location on the Boundary between Background and foreground where the demonic patriarchal distortions of women's Archaic heritage are most visible and accessible to me.”

Outercourse should draw at least three groups of readers. One group is those who have faithfully read Mary Daly for the past two decades, have been waiting for her next opus and asking her “Where did your books come from?” In answering this question, Daly speaks also to the second group—those who have not yet encountered her writings—by inviting them into her spiraling thought, providing a way to engage with her other books. And those who have marginalized Mary Daly's radical feminist philosophy—arguing that it reiterates a manicheanism of its own, that it is essentialist, that it no longer works from within the belly of the beast—will meet a more complex individual than they have acknowledged, and may also refine their reading of her theory. All of these readers survive in what Daly calls the foreground now—a foreground she has always unerringly exposed: “the Age of Dis-memberment has arrived. the media men are excited, delighted. same old story, hate and gory. win an election. have an erection, selling polygrip and cars.”

Daly does not attempt to pinpoint every step in her life, the beginning and end of every relationship, every story about each book's evolution. Despite being a philosophical autobiography, Outercourse seems to fall outside the burgeoning body of women's cross-genre writing which Diane Freedman characterizes as speaking “of as well as from the self.”1 While Outercourse speaks both of and from the self, the originating momentum for this speaking and the metaphysics that this speaking participates in feel different because of the unique way the grounding principle of ontology operates in Daly's thought and life. Daly is not so much reading her life as an example of her theory or writing in her own voice for the first time (she would, I am sure, say she has always written in her own voice), but placing herself philosophically within the ontological framework that her books provide in order to help elucidate these books. To bring her life more fully into her books, she embeds them in her own becoming and provides us with an understanding of the ontological significance of her experiences.

To write this review I began by digging out my notes from the Feminist Ethics class I took with Mary Daly during the 1974-75 school year. I find my notes on her revision of the deadly sins, including “processions—reification of process, stunting of female becoming” and “Male pride twists female pride into vanity, shame.” Later in my notebook I find a list of the Boston College tenure board that turned Mary down for full professor in 1975. I drag down a book Mary assigned in class: Rape: Victims of Crisis. Yes, I remember correctly. She had pointed out the false naming of that title, and encouraged us to cross out “crisis” and write above it “men.” I remember especially Mary joining a celebration of Susan B. Anthony's birthday I had planned at Radcliffe College, and a discussion we had about the adequacy of Anthony's slogan, “Failure is impossible,” as a vision. Interestingly, it is this slogan that echoes on the last page of Outercourse.

Mary Daly's life is about Be-ing; she has challenged aphasia with Naming, amnesia with Knowing, apraxia with Acting. As a radical feminist philosopher she provides an analysis of ontology—what smashes female Be-ing in a patriarchal world and what enables it. From the moment in the 1970s when she realized the women's liberation movement was an ontological movement, in which women participate in their own becoming and being, she has, labrys-like, both named it and pushed it further. In the naming acts of her books, many women have experienced the creation of the ontological space for the discovery of their own authentic selves.

Daly reminds us that it does none of us any good to mince words, to be humble or hold back speaking the truth. In a sense, she demonstrates how “Failure is impossible” is not so much a slogan as a process. This is the story of Outercourse. No one knows it better than she: “We will do or die … or do and die. But we won't be defeated, ever.”


  1. Diane P. Freedman, An Alchemy of Genres: Cross-Genre Writing by American Feminist Poet-Critics (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1992). See also Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey and Frances Murphy Zauhar, eds., The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993).

Cindy L. Griffin (essay date June 1993)

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SOURCE: Griffin, Cindy L. “Women as Communicators: Mary Daly's Hagography as Rhetoric.” Communications Monographs 60, no. 2 (June 1993): 158-77.

[In the following essay, Griffin analyzes Daly's feminist philosophy of language and its application as an alternative mode of communication theory and rhetorical practice among women. According to Griffin, Daly elucidates the dichotomy between women's public and private discourse, embodied in a “foreground” of patriarchal oppression and a “background” of feminist authenticity and subversion.]

In 1987, Spitzack and Carter suggested that, although women's visibility has increased in the communication discipline, the simple fact of their presence has not necessarily corresponded to increased knowledge about women's unique or distinctive forms of communication. While the study of women's communication may have become a part of the communication discipline in the 1990s, scholars who work in this area, for the most part, continue to attempt to understand and evaluate women's communication from traditional frameworks. The result is that women's communicative experiences and efforts, in their complex and myriad forms, tend to be distorted, devalued, and misunderstood. Adopting a feminist perspective on the study of women's communication, in contrast, would enable scholars to develop theories that better explain women's experiences and eloquence, challenging, if necessary, current knowledge about communication.1 As Spitzack and Carter suggested, to do anything other than challenge these structures is to place research on gender and communication “back into the pre-established frameworks” that have offered little that is useful in understanding women's communication as unique, credible, and effective (p. 401). A feminist perspective, in addition, assists scholars in avoiding what Aptheker (1989) has labeled the “universal iconography” of “woman”—the illusion that all women, regardless of race, class, age, identity, and/or experiences are the same (p. 12). A feminist perspective toward women's communication, in sum, begins to explicate the many categories/structures of women's communication and to contribute to rhetorical scholarship by identifying and explaining these patterns.

Five areas regarding women's communication have emerged from previous feminist scholarship that suggest topoi from which to begin to expand and develop the conceptualization of women as communicators. The first topos concerns the nature of the oppression that perpetuates the silencing of women's voices and is raised by the research of Kurs and Cathcart (1983), Edson (1985), Endress (1988), Campbell (1989), Foss and Foss (1991), Houston and Kramarae (1991), and Biesecker (1992). A second topos concerns various systems that contribute to the oppression of women and possible alternative world views that might empower and value women's communication. Questions regarding the nature of those rhetors who assume a stance of woman as communicator, a third topos of feminist scholarship, are raised by Campbell's (1973) research on the oxymoronic nature of the women's liberation movement, her two-volume work on women rhetors in history (1990), as well as the work of Japp (1985) and Solomon (1988). The fourth topos, the goals of women as communicators, is explored by Gearhart (1979) in her essay on communication as co-creation rather than persuasion. A fifth and final topos identifiable in previous research addresses the communicative strategies available to women who allow their voices to be heard within a framework that does not recognize women's perspectives as useful or important; this issue is raised by scholars such as Hancock (1972), Campbell (1986), Sheridan (1988), Williams (1990), and Houston and Kramarae (1991). While this list is by no means exhaustive, each of these researchers has made a significant contribution to the conceptualization of women as communicators and has offered at least one topic or construct with which to begin more comprehensive discussions of this notion.2 A fully developed theory of women as communicators, however, has yet to be developed.

The theoretical writings of Mary Daly address these five feminist topoi by providing a more comprehensive feminist rhetorical perspective with which communication scholars can begin to examine public and private discourse.3 Daly's perspective falls within the purview of what Jaggar (1983) and others would term a “radical” feminist rhetorical perspective. Such a perspective rests on three assumptions: (a) the oppression of women is at the root of all other systems of oppression and subordination; (b) important insights can be gained from women's own experiences of oppression; and (c) primary energy is devoted not to “organizing direct confrontations with ‘the patriarchy’” but rather to “developing alternative social arrangements” (p. 104). Daly's perspective on women as communicators is revealed throughout her five books: The Church and the Second Sex (1985b), Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation (1985a), Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978), Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (1984), and Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (Daly & Caputi, 1987). Each of these books challenges the roles and treatment of women in various cultural institutions, articulates what Daly calls “the potential of women's revolution” and the generation of “human becoming,” and ventures into new realms of existence, language, and theorizing (1985a, p. 6).

Daly's perspective assists scholars in understanding a rhetorical duality that has yet to be articulated or addressed fully. It suggests that there is a rhetorical foreground in which women function as communicators and a rhetorical background to which women can aspire as communicators. While Foucault (1970, 1972) has identified a rhetorical episteme—a cultural code or structure of relations that dictates the language, perceptions and values of an age—that privileges certain voices and silences others, Daly's theory of women as communicators suggests that not only does the episteme of the foreground silence women's voices, but it works to misname or erase completely the perspectives and experiences of women. Articulating the nature of this duality reveals that the rhetoric within each realm—the foreground and the background—functions very differently. In the foreground, rhetoric oppresses and limits individuals and creates a state of ontological erasure for women; in the background, rhetoric transforms and facilitates for women the process of ontological affirmation. A theory of women as communicators, then, suggests that more than one rhetorical realm exists and that various realms serve different rhetors differently.

Daly's work also assists rhetorical scholars in incorporating and extending the work of feminist theorists such as Lakoff (1975, 1977, 1979), Fishman (1983), and Gilligan (1982) into theories of women's rhetorical forms and strategies. A theory of woman as communicator based on Daly's work disputes Lakoff's (1979) suggestion that women's special rhetorical characteristics grow out of a lack of self-confidence or a denial of responsibility. This theory also moves scholars beyond Fishman's (1983) claim that women perform the maintenance work of a conversation in mixed-sex pairs. Daly's theory suggests that women may, indeed, employ a kind of “women's language” and/or perform the maintenance work of conversation in the foreground, but in the background, this rhetoric is altered significantly. In the background, rhetoric is rooted in confidence in and responsibility to one's self and others, an attempt to construct rhetorical forms that represent women's experiences more fully and accurately, and an identification and emphasis on women's “personal identities” (Lakoff, 1977, p. 7). Daly's work also suggests that not only might background communicators answer to “different voices” ethically, as Gilligan (1982) argues, but that there are specific rhetorical strategies available to assist these rhetors in recognizing, maintaining, and even increasing their positions of interconnection to one another.

Daly's theory of women as communicators, in addition, offers concrete evidence of efforts directed toward rupturing the “phallocentrism” of the foreground as originally identified by Cixous (1976), Irigaray (1980, 1981), and Kristeva (1986). A comprehensive theory of women as communicators suggests that women listen to their bodies, experiences, marginality, histories, and differences and that they build a background of discourse based on these elements. As communicators, background rhetors re-connect with these characteristics, recognize the hidden and masked meanings of these forms and styles of being, and inscribe them into a language that is grounded in and informed by the valuing of women's diverse realities.

Finally, Daly's explication of the distinctive forms and styles of communication within the foreground and the background assist rhetorical scholars in understanding the dichotomy that has been perpetuated between “public” and “private” discourse. While attempts are made to keep these two spheres distinct, and scholarship has focused primarily on rhetoric as it occurs in the “public” realm and as it focuses on “public” topics, Daly's work provides a framework for exploring the intersection of these two realms. By articulating the various components of Daly's theory, rhetorical scholars can begin to develop and make use of new methods and strategies for assessing rhetoric that does not fit comfortably into either realm. Scholars can begin to assess rhetoric that incorporates both public and private topics and language with methods of analysis that offer insights into the nature and function of rhetoric that blends these two realms. Ursula Le Guin's (1989) “A Left-Handed Commencement Address,” a speech that I analyze in this essay, is an example of such rhetoric. Le Guin's rhetoric does not fall neatly into the category of public or private; she makes use of both forms of address; and when judged by the standards of either form of address, Le Guin's speech seems inappropriate or poorly planned. Judged by Daly's perspective, however, the speech can be seen as a sophisticated combination of the two and a fairly remarkable piece of rhetorical discourse. Daly's theory, then, offers rhetorical scholars a model with which to begin further exploration into the implications of the public/private dichotomy as well as possible standards for evaluating and assessing rhetoric that blends or combines discourse from both realms.

I begin this paper by identifying within Daly's philosophical writings the constituent elements of a theory of women's rhetoric that develops throughout her work. I summarize Daly's theory according to the aspects identified and explored above: the nature of the world created by the patriarchy, the nature of the world created when women assume positions as communicators, the nature of the goals and processes of women as communicators, the principle rhetorical strategies available to women as communicators, and the natures of women as communicators. Daly's theoretical formulations then are applied to Le Guin's “A Left-Handed Commencement Address,” in order to illustrate how Daly's theoretical perspective provides an alternative standard from which this speech may be judged perspicacious. Finally, some suggestions for future applications of Daly's Hagographic rhetorical perspective are discussed.


Daly's theoretical formulations of women as communicators do not offer scholars one grand theory designed to understand, predict, or explain fully every possible manifestation of women's communication. Daly's work is more consistent with Dance's (1978) discussion of the existence and even necessity of various theoretical explanations that enable scholars to formulate an understanding of a diverse, and frequently complex, phenomenon. Her theory represents what Gergen (1982) has identified as a generative theory—a theory “that unsettles common assumptions within the culture and thereby opens new vistas for action” (p. 133). As a generative theory, Daly's work challenges “that which is ‘taken for granted’” and offers new avenues for understanding rhetorical phenomenon (Gergen, p. 109). Daly's theory can be understood by exploring the ways in which she challenges common assumptions about oppression, women's roles in society, and communication practices and forms.

Much of Daly's work focuses on the politics that oppress women: yet, within this emphasis is an explication and challenge of many of the assumptions that are embedded in research paradigms of communication researchers. Daly identifies the “foreground,” a world or environment in which women are oppressed and silenced. The foreground reflects and supports a “male-centered” perspective, “where fabrication, objectification, and alienation” of women take place (Daly & Caputi, 1987, p. 76). In the foreground, men generally occupy the positions of power, and women are molded in and constrained to an existence that serves men's purposes. Daly describes the foreground as reflective of “sexual desire, especially of a violent, self-indulgent character,” and as a false society—a “pseudosociety”—characterized by both an obsession with and an aggression toward women (1984, pp. 1-2). The foreground constructs and perpetuates a society that supports and worships the perspectives of men, drains women's energies, and reveals an inability on the part of humans to “reach beyond appearances” (1984, p. 49).

The foreground, characteristic of “science, theology, psychology, biology, and pornography,” has as its purpose the obliteration of natural knowing and willing (1984, p. 50). This involves preventing women from existing in a state of “be-ing,” which Daly defines as existing in this world in ways that connect women to the earth, to other women, and to themselves.4 The foreground is informed by and perpetuated through the oppression and separation of women's selves from experience, is male centered and male controlled, and is the overriding condition in which women exist and to which women must respond. This state of “ontological impotence” offers only conditions of negation and experiences of erasure to women (1984, p. 36). The foreground is maintained and perpetuated by numerous strategies and constraints that function to keep women separated from their experiences and perspectives and, ultimately, unable to recognize their real selves (1978, p. 322).


Within the realm of the foreground, specific constraints are available to foreground rhetors to prevent women from emerging from the state of oppression and moving into a realm where their unique voices are heard and valued. These restrictions represent “entire conceptual systems … developed under the conditions of patriarchy” that “have been the products of males and tend to serve the interests of sexist society” (Daly, 1985a, p. 4). Foreground rhetors use these constraints to promote and advance the interests of the patriarchy, to perpetuate the oppression of women, and to control, objectify, alienate, silence, and/or erase women's perspectives and experiences. While the foreground offers women a kind of half-existence at best, particular methods of oppression are available, even imbedded into the structure of the foreground, that facilitate the objectification and silencing of women and their experiences.

Fixing women's images. One of the constraints Daly identifies provides foreground rhetors with a means for subtle and powerful control of women's images and identities. Similar to the theories of Lukács (1971), Hall (1985), and Spivack (1988), Daly articulates the process by which women's identities become fixed or reified so women have neither their own sense of self nor any freedom in constructing their identities. Daly calls this process the fixing of women's images, arguing that this constraint insures conformity of women within the foreground of oppression by the control of women's images and, as a result, control of their creativity. Not only does this control of images program certain behaviors and thoughts for women, but it has kept women focused eternally on appearance rather than intellect. Such fixed images freeze women into the position of beauty queen and a state of pseudo-exaltation (1985b, p. 60), subjected to threats of “unfeminine” if they do not conform to contrived standards of femininity set forth by the foreground.5 In addition to this reification process, Daly identifies three other major constraints that are placed on women's existence and identity by the foreground.

Silencing and erasing women's voices. A second constraint operating in the foreground is the erasure and silencing of women's voices. Erasure and silencing are accomplished by instilling fear into the consciousness of women so that when they begin to speak out against the foreground, they either modify their responses to accommodate the foreground perspective or do not speak out at all. Examples of effective fear-instilling techniques that constrain women include the labeling of those who would challenge the foreground as man-haters, possessing “no sense of humor,” “sick,” “selfish,” or “sexless” and the use and promotion of supposedly generic terms such as “he” or even “chairperson” (1978, pp. 18-20). Daly argues, as do many others, that the use of “he” to represent all people makes men visible and not women, simultaneously removing women's perspective from communication. Pseudo-generic terms like “person” or “people,” according to Daly, make women “deceptively feel at home” in a language that continues to be male controlled (1978, pp. 18-19).

The foreground silencing of women is also illustrated in labels that are used to denigrate women—labels such as the term “spinster.” In the foreground, the word “spinster” is commonly used as a deprecating term to identify an unmarried woman or a woman who seems unlikely to marry. There is, however, a definition for “spinster” that is seldom used and that is affirming rather than negating—“a woman whose occupation is to spin” (1978, p. 3). Taken out of the boundaries of the foreground definition, there is “no limit to the meaning of this rich and cosmic verb. A woman whose occupation is to spin participates in the whirling movement of creation” (1978, p. 3). Constrained by the foreground definition of the term, however, spinsters see and hear only the negative definition of this powerful word, and their creative powers are effectively silenced and erased.

Depreciation, particularization, spiritualization, and universalization. A third constraint used in the foreground entails clouding the issue of women's oppression in general. This constraint is perpetuated in four different ways—through depreciation, particularization, spiritualization, and universalization.6 Depreciation involves asking the question, “Are you on that subject of women again when there are so many important problems—like war, racism, pollution of the environment?” (1985a, p. 5). With depreciation, the fact that sexism is “the basic structure underlying the various forms of oppression” is masked (1984, p. 320). Particularization occurs in the use of phrases such as, “Oh, that's Catholic problem,” so that individuals are led to believe that patriarchy exists in only a few institutions (1985a, p. 5). Spiritualization is the refusal to look at facts of concrete oppression. With this technique, women are constrained by the proclamation, “in Christ there is neither male nor female” (1985a, p. 5). The effect of spiritualization is that even if there were no sex assigned to Christ, we are led to believe that there is no patriarchy anywhere else (1985a, p. 5). A final technique available for clouding the issue of the dominance of foreground perspectives is that of universalization, represented by the question, “But isn't the real problem human liberation?” As Daly suggests, “the words used may be ‘true,’ but when used to avoid confronting the specific problems of sexism they are radically untruthful” (1985a, p. 6).

Ritualistic violence toward women. While these four above noted constraints can be both subtle and powerful, a fourth strategy—ritualizing violence toward women—also is effective in that the symbolic and literal effects of this violence are masked and distorted. The very real and highly symbolic rituals of Indian suttee (1978, pp. 113-133), Chinese footbinding (1978, pp. 134-152), African genital mutilation (1978, pp. 153-177), and European witchburnings (1978, pp. 178-222) are examples of foreground violence enacted toward women, resulting in the restriction of women's activities and perspectives.7 The ritualization of these acts serves to mask the depth and scope of the violence inherent in the acts and prevents the recognition of the commonalties among these rituals. The repetition of these symbolic rituals perpetuates the foreground violation of women, deceptively drawing the participants as well as the observers into “emotional complicity,” training “both victims and victimizers to perform … their preordained roles” uncritically (1978, p. 109). Constrained in this ritualistic way, women cannot articulate their oppression easily, nor can they physically or mentally break out of these oppressive and dangerous situations.

Each of these constraints effectively insures conformity, silences the voices of women's deep selves, clouds the issue of women's oppression, and ritualizes the subordination of and violence toward women. On the surface, these techniques may appear as vastly isolated instances and vastly dissimilar practices. However, as Daly notes, rather than being unique, all of these techniques are “variations on the theme of oppression,” and the “phenomenon,” she explains, “is planetary” (1978, p. 111).


The existence of a foreground—and the constraints operating within it—implies the existence of particular types of individuals characterized by a specific nature who will perpetuate this oppressive existence. Daly's theoretical formulation of the foreground identifies three types of individual oppressors: “Snools,” “Fixers/Tricksters,” and “corporate Big Brothers of Boredom” (1984, pp. 20-24). A “snool” can be defined as a “cringing person” and an “abject or mean-spirited” individual. Snools, feeling powerful and authoritative in the foreground, attempt “to reduce to submission” or to “cow” or “bully” those who do not abide by the rules of the foreground. Corporate Big Brothers of Boredom are the grim, depressing, bores of the foreground (1987, p. 186). Fixers/Tricksters are those individuals in the foreground who attempt to fix or block women's existences. Having blocked or fixed women's movement, a Fixer/Trickster then attempts to convince women that these identities are women's own creations (1984, p. 20). Snools, accompanied by the corporate Big Brothers of Boredom and the Fixers/Tricksters of identities and realities, “continually aim to freeze life” and to keep individuals “within the confines of bore-ocracy, using bore-ocratic details and mazes” (1984, pp. 20-23). In the foreground, snools rule by virtue of their powers of intimidation, privileged positions, and access to a language that adequately represents and describes their realities.

Snoolish, boring inhabitants of the foreground, however, are not strictly male. Women, too, comprise a portion of this group. These women are known as “Daddy's Girl[s],” “Self-loathing ladies,” and “Fembots” (1978, pp. 8, 17). As snools, these women obey the rules of the foreground, responding like puppets when the strings of the foreground constraints are manipulated and pulled. There is, Daly suggests, only one rule for Daddy's Girls: “they must never laugh seriously at Father—only at his jokes” (1978, p. 17).

In addressing and illustrating the nature of the foreground, many previously unaddressed aspects of the politics that keep women oppressed surface. Not only does Daly address the reification of women's identities, but she identifies the subtle and pervasive strategies used in the foreground to interpellate women and to keep them unaware—even supportive—of this process. A theory of women as communicators must move far beyond this first step, however, and suggest ways in which women might begin their journey out of the foreground and into positions of ontological affirmation and self-identified communication. Daly's work enables rhetorical scholars to begin to describe the nature of the world created through this communication, the goals and processes of these communicators, the strategies women can use to create this world, and the natures of women as communicators.


Rather than remain in the foreground as objects of male oppression and constraints, Daly suggests that women can and do move outside this realm and create new ways of living, thinking, and be-ing. The world created by women as communicators, the Background, is one in which women reject the “mindless devastations” brought upon women by foreground myths and un-realities (1987, p. 264). Women are unsubdued in this world; they move contrary to the false standards imposed upon them by foreground rhetors and replace these standards with background reason and truths (1984, pp. 262-264). The nature of this world is one of Deviance and of moving the “Wrong Way, that is, contrary to customary procedures” (1987, pp. 268). The Background is a place in which women reject the notion of foreground female “docility” and obedience; they move beyond “patriarchal meanings/myths of good and evil” and create a world in which women are for each other and for themselves (1984, pp. 267-269). The Background is a world of “Self-creation” and of “Metamorphosing” women—women who are recasting their knowledge, language, and identities and who are actively supporting others who would engage in this journey (1984, p. 409). The world created by women as communicators, in sum, is a world out of control—a world out of the control of the foreground. While the foreground communicator may fear losing control, the Background communicator actively seeks this loss, challenging and transforming this control in order to understand women and women as communicators (1984, p. 410).

The nature of the world created by women as communicators implies a “universal human becoming” (1985a, p. 6). Yet, Daly recognizes that this world, with the recognition of the value of women, most likely will be considered “anti-male” (1978, p. 27). The cliche, she argues, “is not only unimaginative but deadeningly, deafeningly, deceptive,” masking the potential of each individual, and fitting nicely into the foreground constraint of fear-instilling labels (1978, pp. 27-28). As communicators, women recognize the undermining effects of the foreground and its “anti-female” orientation (1978, p. 29). As communicators, women express a form of Outrage toward this oppression, and express their determination to name and transform this anti-female reality, creating a women-centered, women-identified reality.


According to Daly, two primary goals exist for women as communicators in their responses to the foreground—transcendence and the generation of women's becoming. As communicators, Hags and Crones seek to move beyond the “idolatries of sexist society” and to encourage the transcendence of this state of existence (1985a, p. 6). Daly's notion of transcendence, however, is not the process of attempting to reconnect masculinity with femininity or vice versa. That form of transcendence, she suggests, rests “on the mistaken assumption that these ‘halves’ will make a whole” (1978, p. 387). Attempts to combine the foreground constructs of “masculinity” and “femininity” only result in “pseudointegrity” and “pseudowholeness” because these “halves”—and even the idea that there are only two pieces of a whole human being—are foreground fabrications (1978, p. 387). The goals of the rhetor in the background are to transcend this dichotomy and to weave patterns of insight and knowledge that lead to women's becoming—the recognition of women as subjects living and creating life, altering the male-authored knowledge of the world, and weaving world/word tapestries of a new kind. These goals, then, are “metapatriarchal.” They leave “reform” as well as re-forming behind, focusing instead on transforming our “Selves” and engaging in the process of “continual conversion of the previously unknown into the familiar” (1978, pp. 7-8).

Guided by these metapatriarchal goals, women as communicators make use of numerous strategies as they move into the realm of communicator—strategies that can be used to move beyond the foreground so women can create a world where their diverse voices can be heard. These strategies focus on the blasphemy of naming the oppressor as well as the actions of the oppressor, and on forms of communication by which women can move beyond the patriarchal construction of Self and into the Background, the realm of woman as subject/communicator.


Engaged in the process of establishing themselves as ontologically whole and credible communicators, background communicators make use of various Outrageous styles of communication. As communicators, women break the rules and laws of the foreground, “figure out its meanings,” and then develop alternative meanings, Background meanings that represent a world rich in women-centered and women-constructed realities (1984, p. 409). Background communicators attempt to change consciousness, behavior, and perceptions by upsetting unconscious traditional assumptions, and Daly identifies several techniques that are helpful in the process of creating an alternative to the dominant foreground rhetorical system. Like other theorists, Daly argues that reality is reflected in the prevailing social and linguistic structures of our time. But Daly moves beyond this perspective, suggesting that these structures represent the male-centered foreground. For women as communicators, alternative meanings to the foreground are developed by using techniques such as metaphors and redefinitions; alternative styles of capitalization; Spelling/Be-Spelling; Grammar/Sin-Tactics; and Spooking, Sparking, and Spinning.

Metaphor. Metaphors are tools to name change and challenge the foreground logic and, as such, are a necessary and natural component of the background.8 Metaphors, according to Daly, “evoke action, movement. They Name/evoke a shock, a clash with the ‘going logic,’ and they introduce a new logic. Metaphors function to Name change, and therefore they elicit change.” The metaphor, Daly reminds her readers, “is the very constitutive ground of language” (1984, p. 25). Background communicators use metaphors to move past the unnatural state of being that is representative of women's existence in the foreground and name the complex multiple meanings of life. In this way, Spinsters Spin past the Static State of the foreground and journey into new ways of being and communicating (1984, pp. 404-405).

Redefinition. The strategy of redefinition, which involves recognizing the “deceptive perceptions [that] were/are implanted through language—the all-pervasive language of myth”—can free women from these linguistic myths and assist them in moving into the realm of communicator (1978, p. 3). In employing this technique, women as communicators reinterpret words, take them out of their usual semantic field, and place them in the realm of women's creativity. Redefinition means that women really hear themselves and each other and, through this process, find new words to describe their experiences and their lives (1985a, p. 8). Daly does not suggest that background rhetoric is “an entirely different set of words” in the “material sense—that is, different sounds or combinations of letters on paper.” Rather, she suggests that in background rhetorical strategies, words that are “identical with the old become new in a semantic context that arises from qualitatively new experience” (1985a, p. 8). Thus, for example, Hags and Crones use redefinitions not because Daly expects their's will be the final definitions of words, but rather because in so using them they will bring forth new meanings that have the power to transform old realities and reveal new ones.

Capitalization. Background communicators' capitalization of words is “capitally irregular, conforming to meaning rather than to standard usage” (1987, p. xxi). This strategy ensures that Background realities and foreground fabrications are properly named. Words such as “Websters,” “Nag-Gnostic,” and “Background” wear capitals to distinguish them from words in the foreground. Capitalizing “Boredom,” in addition, indicates the official state produced by foreground “bores” and not only the feeling of boredom. Although confusing to foreground communicators, capitalization quickly makes sense to women who recognize the importance of naming realities for themselves.

Spelling/Be-Spelling. A fourth strategy available to background rhetors is that of Spelling/Be-Spelling. Daly suggests that this process involves changing the spelling of a word and engaging in a kind of “Archmagical Shape-shifting” by altering the physical form of the word (1987, p. 14). This technique, which is most effective when used in writing, releases the original magical powers of words, transforming the ways we respond to and interact with a word so that meanings that have been “masked and muted by man's mysteries” might be revealed (1987, p. 14). Women can engage in the process of Spelling/Be-Spelling in several ways: hyphens, slashes and irregular capitalization. Background rhetors, for example, can use hyphens to “Dis-cover” new ways of knowing and understanding and allow new meanings to emerge, make use of slashes in order to “release ontological powers encased/encaged” within words, and borrow from the earlier strategy of irregular capitalization as exemplified by the term “Spelling/Be-Spelling” (1987, p. 14). Use of this strategy requires that women act as “Websters,” weaving words and word-webs; Websters “break the boring rules of spelling imposed by snoolish schoolmasters” of the foreground (1987, p. 13).

Grammar/Sin-Tactics. Not only do Background communicators alter the spelling of words as they attempt to re-construct their identities and experiences, they commit what Daly calls the “Sin of Creative Dis-Ordering” of the foreground rules of “order” for words (1987, p. 30). Background rhetors recognize that “the arrangement of words is not merely a matter of … ‘style’” but of naming one's own reality (1987, p. 30). This strategy involves asking, “who controls the ways in which words are put together?” Upon answering this question, rhetors work with and alter wording and pronoun choice, make use of slashes, hyphens, and the concept/term “Be-ing” as the Verb of un-limiting Self-communication in order to communicate more accurately. These grammatical alterations function to move women into positions of self-affirmation and existential courage by discovering the nature of words beyond the foreground. As a result of Daly's Sin-Tactical strategy, Background rhetors now can speak of foreground fabrications, the corporate Big Brothers of Boredom, and Bore-ocratic details and mazes. They can refer to Sister Spinsters, Hag-ocracies, and Journeying into Other worlds. Daly's own writing is filled with Sin-Tactical grammatical errors as she names and defines foreground rhetors as the language and image “shape-shifters of snooldom/fooldom” or suggests that women can create “Archaic arrangements” of words and meanings “without snoolish interruption and interference” in their own speaking and writing (1987, pp. 28-29). The goal of using the strategy of Grammar/Sin-Tactics, Daly explains, is to free words from the “paralyzing patterns” of the foreground and begin to form “magical metapatterns” based on background experiences and realities (1987, p. 24).

Spooking, Sparking and Spinning. As communicators, women focus their attention not only on language patterns and meanings or on the identification of the harm done to them by negative discourse or symbols, they also engage in a journey of becoming that involves connecting and re-connecting with others and themselves. Having been spooked, which is to be frightened and silenced by the foreground and its myriad constraints, women, using Daly's strategy of Spooking, learn to Spook/Speak back. Daly's theory explains how women as communicators can detect the patterns of rhetoric that have erased and fragmented women and can speak “back at and beyond the spookers” (1978, pp. 318-322). As Spooking communicators, women challenge, for example, the legal system and its construction of women's identities (Hoff, 1991; MacKinnon, 1989; West, 1990); label pornography as a form of the modern witch craze (Dworkin, 1974, 1981; Griffin, 1981; Lederer, 1980); and raise issues of what makes a woman “attractive” (Cottin Pograbin, 1983; Freedman, 1986; Lakoff & Scherr, 1984; Steinem, 1982). In these challenges and other like them, women as communicators reveal the false identities constructed for them as well as the methods used to normalize these constructions.

To succeed in their process of speaking out, feminist communicators need energy. In Daly's theory, this energy is garnered by “Sparking” and involves building the fires of “female energy which both comprehends and creates who we are; that impulse in ourselves that has never been possessed by the patriarchy” (1987, p. 77). Sparking strategies involve building coalitions and “sisterhood” (Morgan, 1970); they entail a “re-sourcement” of our energies and identities (Gearhart, 1982) and the creation of a chorus of women who, as communicators, speak back to the foreground. Background rhetors need to recognize, however, that, at first, generating enough sparks for building fires of Female Friendship is difficult. This is because “patriarchal males, sensing the ultimate threat of Female Sparking,” attempt to put these fires out whenever women start them (Daly, 1978, p. 320). Sparking, for example, occurs when women gather together, begin to discuss their experiences and knowledge, make sense of these outside the patriarchal framework and mindset and inside a background epistemology, and discover new ways of existing as whole human beings.

Spinning communicators take these new ways of existing and begin to make connections with others. Spinning involves weaving past the un-reality of the foreground and “dis-covering the lost thread of connectedness” that results from patriarchal perceptions; spinning rhetors, “whirling away in all directions” from the foreground, repair this thread and begin to built a web of connections to other women (1987, p. 96). Without Spinning, Daly explains, a woman as communicator may become “trapped in one of the blind alleys” of the foreground—she may become “fixated upon” the foreground rules for order (1978, p. 320). Spinning communicators, as they join with other Spooking and Sparking women create a network of women's realities. Spinning communicators, for example, can be found in the peace camps of Greenham Common, establishing and operating women's health centers and networks, creating and running “safe houses” for women and children, and participating in alternative and non-hierarchical forms of spirituality. After Spooking and Sparking, Spinning rhetors create new worlds and new ways of existing that are for themselves, other women, and the planet.

The strategies of women as communicators, as most critics recognize, move contrary to the rules of the foreground, its practices, and its theories. These “Contrary-Wise” forms of communication, however, assist women as communicators in creating a world where their voices—diverse and complex—can be heard above and beyond the constraints/communicators of the foreground (1987, p. 113).


Women can communicate authentically in the Background, the “homeland” in which women are able to achieve “ontological depth” and unlimited “Self-communication” (Daly, 1987, pp. 63, 64). In this realm, communication can be described as “exceeding normal or conventional bounds in thought, design, conception, execution, or nature.” It also seems a bit extravagant, fantastic, and visionary, but this is only because, as yet, it cannot be explained by, as Daly herself suggests, “any known theories” (1987, p. 100). The following is a description of the unique traits, goals, strategies, and visions of the women communicators who move within the Background. These women cannot be grouped into one homogeneous category known as “Woman.” Rather, they must be identified and understood by their multiple, highly complex, and ever changing communication styles and patterns.

In order for women to discover authentic, self-affirming, and women-centered forms and styles of communication, they must begin to define themselves in ways that have not been recognized within the foreground. This self-definition is a complex and diverse process, one in which women reach not a single definition or state of being but many kinds of be-ing (1987, p. 64). Daly describes the two kinds of be-ing that most fully exemplify this process of self-definition as “Hags” and “Crones.” A “Hag” is most commonly defined as “a female demon,” a “fury,” or a “harpy.” “Hag” also is defined as “an ugly or evil-looking old woman,” referencing its former definition as “an evil or frightening spirit” (1978, pp. 14-15). Daly suggests that before we allow this word to sound too negative, however, we should move outside the constraints of the foreground and ask the relevant questions: “‘Evil’ by whose definition? ‘Frightening’ to whom?” (1978, p. 14) Considering the source, this foreground definition may be a compliment, for as Daly notes, “the beauty of strong, creative women is ‘ugly’ by misogynistic standards of ‘beauty’” (1978, p. 15).

Hags exemplify the process of women's becoming outside the foreground because they embark on the journey of radical be-ing, seeking out, nurturing, and encouraging any creative enterprise that furthers women's process. In undertaking this journey, however, Hags become “haggard,” a term commonly used in the foreground to “describe one who has a worn or emaciated appearance” (1978, p. 15). An obsolete definition of haggard, however, which Daly incorporates in her theoretical formulation, suggests that hags are communicators who are “untamed … ‘intractable,’ ‘willful,’ ‘wanton’ … wild in appearance.” A haggard woman, then, can be defined as “a woman reluctant to yield to wooing”—one who is not “wooed” into compromise by traditional foreground rhetoric (1978, p. 15).

Haggard communicators, if they live long enough, become Crones—“the long-lasting ones” (1978, p. 16). These long-lasting rhetors have survived the life-threatening rhetoric of the foreground and are living to write/record/create the discourse of women as communicators (1978, p. 16). Crones act as Cronographers, recording from the Hag's perspective women's ways of be-ing, both past and present. These communicators recognize how they have been “tricked” by the “texts” of the foreground, find the courage to break out of the foreground constraints, and move into new ways of be-ing (1978, p. 6). As communicators, women recognize the illusion of the foreground, resist its summons and restrictions, and participate in the Journey of becoming. Background Communicators move past the foreground sense of reality and identity, creating a “Hag-ocracy,” and affirming the complex processes of women as communicators (1978, p. 3).

Not only does Daly's work develop the dimensions of communication begun to be explored by feminist researchers—the nature of oppression, the goals and processes of women background communicators, the strategies available for developing women's voices, and the natures of women background communicators—but she articulates the unique characteristics of each of these elements. Daly's work, and this theory of communication, identify what might be labeled Hagography as rhetoric—women's communicative processes and patterns as they occur outside the patriarchal framework. As a result of Daly's Hagography, communication scholars might now begin to attend to very different sorts of communication phenomena and to use very different frameworks for analyzing these communicative events.

In order to illustrate some of these alternative frameworks and their application to a particular piece of feminist discourse, I now turn to an application of Daly's theory. In what follows, I apply Daly's theory of rhetoric to a speech given by Ursula Le Guin to the graduating class of Mills College, a private, all-women's college. In doing so, I illustrate how the Background framework Daly provides enables scholars to expand their critical tools and insights in their analysis and assessment of rhetoric.


Ursula K. Le Guin is a distinguished author, feminist, and winner of numerous awards, including the National Book Award, Nebula, Hugo, Gandalf, and Kafka. She has written 16 novels and approximately 60 short stories and presented numerous public lectures. Of her work, Le Guin explains, “There is no more subversive act than the act of writing from a woman's experience of life using a woman's judgment” (1989, p. 177). In 1983, Ursula Le Guin delivered the commencement address to the graduating class of Mills College, titling it “A Left-Handed Commencement Address.” Because of the nature of her address, the nature of the audience, and the various rhetorical strategies used by Le Guin, the speech offers rich data for rhetorical exploration. Le Guin's rhetoric combines elements of both public and private discourse and challenges patriarchal codes of conduct as well as rules for success. In her opening statement Le Guin thanked Mills College for offering her “a rare chance: to speak aloud in public in the language of women,” acknowledging the existence of two rhetorical realms—women's and men's (p. 115). In the address, Le Guin touched on a variety of topics: power, failure, education, politics, relationships, children, careers, stereotypes, fears, and hopes. She compared success to failure and suggested that the two are intimately connected and she challenged her audience to have the courage to fail. In fact, she did not wish her audience success but, rather, the ability to live with failure and to live their lives free from domination.

When assessed through the lens of Daly's theory, Le Guin's speech exemplifies several of the patterns of communication articulated by that theory. As a rhetor, Le Guin speaks as a Hag—she is wild, risky, intractable and even unattractive to a foreground audience. She explains her choice to speak the language of women by stating boldly, “There is a Greek tragedy where the Greek says to the foreigner, ‘If you don't understand Greek, please signify by nodding.’ Anyhow, commencements are usually operated under the unspoken agreement that everybody graduating is either male or ought to be” (p. 115). Daly's conceptualization of the nature of women as communicators suggests that Le Guin, as a Hag, is reluctant to yield to the patriarchal code of audience adaptation—she will speak to the women of the audience even to the exclusion of the men. Le Guin's words are uncompromising and perhaps a bit unsettling to some audience members, yet, she maintains this posture throughout. She argues that intellectual tradition is male, the public tongue is male, and, perhaps women “have come a long way, baby, but no way is long enough. You can't even get there by selling yourself out: because there is theirs, not yours” (p. 115). Le Guin, in sum, confronts the foreground silencing of women, names women's experiences as one of exclusion and objectification, and sets the tone for her use of “women's language” throughout the address.

Le Guin goes on to suggest that women should not attempt to gain access to the foreground vision of post-graduation success, exemplifying Daly's thesis that the goals of women as communicators are different from those of the communicators operating in the foreground. She explains that women are “already foreigners” in this tradition and in society in general. “Women,” she explains, “as women are largely excluded from, alien to, the self-declared male norms of this society” (p. 116). Her goal seems to be to create environments where women are free to craft their own futures. She encourages them to have children “only if” they want them. “Not hordes of them. A couple, enough” (pp. 115-116). She hopes they can build worlds of “weakness” for themselves and their children, and that they can ignore “words of power and talk about the battle of life” (p. 115). In effect, Le Guin is suggesting that the women in her audience step out of and away from the foreground—the society “where human beings are called Man, the only respectable god is male, and the only direction is up” (p. 116).

She reiterates her stance of woman as communicator, asking, “what if I talked like a woman right here in public? It won't sound right. It's going to sound terrible” (p. 115). Taking that risk, Le Guin continues to “talk like a woman” and to pursue her goal of constructing an alternative reality for women. At the same time, she engages in Daly's background strategy of redefinition. Le Guin states that what she hopes for her audience is not success and power: success “is somebody else's failure. … No, I do not wish you success. I don't even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure” (p. 116). Failure is the “dark place. … the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies” (p. 116). We will all visit this place, she argues, and her goal is for her audience to “be able to live there,” to “take responsibility for helplessness, weakness … the irrational and the irreparable, for all that is obscure, passive, uncontrolled, animal,” and “unclean” (p. 117). As a woman as communicator, Le Guin exposes the unpleasant reality of foreground success, the concomitant oppression of women, and redefines “success” as “failure.” Le Guin offers a new definition of success, one that recognizes the interconnection of individuals, the ability to live with ourselves as we encounter those aspects of existence that patriarchy has denied or rejected, and the valuing of that which has been assigned to women (p. 116).

Not only does Le Guin's rhetoric encourage her audience to move beyond the foreground of competition and power and into the Background, but it reflects many of the strategies available to women as communicators that Daly identifies. Le Guin takes her audience on a rhetorical journey into the Background by redefining key graduation themes—success and failure—and by reversing the implications of traditional metaphors. She alters the metaphor of darkness, for example, and suggests that darkness is the place that “nourishes” (p. 117). Darkness, Le Guin reasons, is the place “where no wars are fought and no wars are won,” where one person does not have power over another (p. 117). She beckons her audience to leave the foreground and enter the darkness and the Background—to explore a different country than the one in which they have grown up—“to be at home there, keep house there, be your own mistress, with a room of your own” (p. 117). Le Guin's metaphor of darkness clashes with the logic of the foreground, which encourages us to avoid or escape the darkness, and offers a reversal of this frequently used metaphor suggesting, as Daly does, a need for change and/or transformation of the term and its meaning.

Le Guin also encourages her audience to participate in the strategies of Spooking and Sparking. She encourages her audience not to fall prey to what Daly labeled the “seductive summons” of the foreground. Le Guin admonishes her audience not to put on the masks of patriarchy and not to be fooled or tricked by foreground power games. She admonishes that, “if you put the mask on you'll have a hard time getting it off” (p. 116). Le Guin suggests that rather than putting on the masks of the foreground her audience members spook/speak back to “Machoman” (pp. 116-117). She encourages them to recognize the hazards of and leave behind “the so-called man's world of institutionalized competition, aggression, violence, authority, and power” (p. 116). She advocates Daly's strategy of Sparking explaining that if women “want to live as women, some separatism is forced upon us: Mills College is a wise embodiment of that separatism” (p. 116). She asks her audience to journey contrary to the foreground, to go beyond the “night side of our country,” the side that has been despised by “Machoman” (p. 117). The sparking separatism of Mills College, Le Guin suggests, holds the potential for discovering the “day” side of women's country. The day side offers “high sierras, prairies of bright grass, we only know pioneers' tales about it, we haven't got there yet. We're never going to get there by imitating Machoman. We are only going to get there by going our own way, by living there” (p. 117). Le Guin's rhetoric articulates the need to spook/speak back to foreground messages that denigrate women's experiences and realities and reject these messages. Her rhetoric encourages women to consider and embrace new realms of existence and identity and to spark the fires of female togetherness in order to discover and spin into “the day side” of women's country.

Finally, Le Guin's address describes the nature of the world created by women as communicators—the state of deviance that Daly articulates in her theory. The image created by Le Guin's discourse is a world in which women live “not as prisoners, ashamed of being women, consenting captives of a psychopathic social system, but as natives” (p. 117). Women are at home in this world, “a world without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated” (p. 117). The world Le Guin describes is a world in which individuals look to the earth for blessing, not to the “sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry” (p. 117). The world created by Le Guin's rhetoric is a world where blessings come “from below” and “where human beings grow human souls” (p. 117).

Le Guin's commencement address, explained through the framework of women as communicators, becomes an intricate rhetorical document worthy of analysis and discussion, rather than an odd piece of rhetoric set aside or forgotten for lack of a proper critical/theoretical methodology. The address incorporates many of the elements formulated by Daly and employs many of the strategies available to Background rhetors. Le Guin assumes the stance of rhetorical “Hag,” speaking against the foreground rules and constraints that she identifies and describes. She commits what Daly refers to as the “sin of ultimate blasphemy”—naming the “enemy” as male/Machoman. The strategies used in the address reflect many of those that Daly advocates women use as communicators: metaphors that clash with the going logic; redefinition; creative dis-ordering of rules and meaning; and Spooking and Sparking. Le Guin also describes the goals and the nature of the world created by women as they assume the stance of rhetors—goals and natures that differ greatly from the vision held out by the traditional intellectual community. Ultimately, she blurs the distinction between public and private discourse by discussing women's experiences, oppression, goals, and possibilities in a formal public setting. Furthermore, she uses what typically has been considered private language—the reciprocal, dialogic, and unguarded language that typifies women's discourse in the private realm—in the public realm. The result is a blurring of the distinction between public and private knowledge as well. Daly's theoretical framework assists critics in recognizing that Le Guin's rhetoric exposes foreground constraints and offers previously “un-speakable” background realities. As such, Le Guin's address calls into question the usefulness and function of making a firm distinction between these two realms of communication.

As this illustrative application of Daly's hagographic theory of women as communicators to Le Guin's commencement address revealed, Daly's theoretical formulations of foreground and Background frameworks and background strategies can greatly facilitate our analysis and appreciation of public and private discourse that otherwise might be dismissed as a fanciful but disorganized pastiche of comments. Likewise, Daly's theoretical formulations could add much to our understanding and appreciation of other rhetorical forms, including such “women's communication” genres as soap operas, harlequin romances, daytime audience-interaction talk shows, and the like.


This essay, which develops and describes a feminist rhetorical perspective of women as communicators, begins the process of articulating and exploring the rhetorical patterns and frameworks that exist in women's communicative styles and practices. A few of these patterns and frameworks—connections and interrelationships, for example—suggest traits and styles of interacting that typically are associated with women's roles. This may encourage some critics to label her theory as reinforcing stereotypical perspectives of women or even as a theory with essentialist underpinnings. This charge, however, runs counter to Daly's theory and her work. As Noddings (1990) explains, that “women and men have had different kinds of experience” and “our society's expectations and demands for their experience have differed” is obvious (p. 26). Daly's argument suggests not that women and men are innately different but, rather, that critics “have to work with difference—not essential difference, but experiential difference” (Noddings, 1990, p. 27).

The notion of Hagography as rhetoric, the process of dis-covering the variety of forms of women's communication and affirming those forms as they assist individuals in creating identities, functions not only as a generative theory but moves rhetorical scholars into the revisionist stage of the rhetorical tradition (Foss, Foss, & Trapp, 1991). At this stage, rhetorical constructs are reformulated so that they take into consideration women's diverse experiences and perspectives (pp. 284-287). Daly's theory, however, is more than revisionist and generative; it is highly political. Daly's work promotes the recognition of a rhetorical duality that informs and influences rhetorical practices in very different ways. Her theory reminds scholars that rhetoric that does not fit neatly into the foreground is usually relegated to the realm of non-rhetoric or, as Daly herself might suggest, non-sense. Daly's identification of the foreground and the Background assists women as communicators in challenging the ideologies that keep women oppressed and silenced (Moi, 1985) and in opening new pathways for understanding Background communication. Her theory also assists rhetorical scholars in recognizing that subjectives are continually created and recreated and that this is a process with no clear beginning or ending. According to Daly's theory, “subjectivity is an ongoing construction,” a process that resembles a journey and “not a fixed point of departure or arrival from which one then interacts with the world” (de Laurentis, 1984, p. 159).

As Gergen (1982) suggests, developing theoretical perspectives that unsettle common assumptions requires, among other things, articulating the perspectives of those who do not share the majority view or interpretation, extending the “acceptable set of commonsense assumptions,” and even searching “for an intelligible antithesis to commonly accepted understandings” (pp. 141-142). Daly's work as well as her radical feminist perspective urge rhetorical scholars to engage in this generative search, move contrary to the foreground, and begin to expand the base of acceptable assumptions regarding rhetorical phenomenon. Scholars are encouraged to move the Wrong Way—to explore in multiple directions and in multiple ways the rhetoric of other individuals who speak from outside the communication discipline. In so doing, rhetorical scholars begin to revise and expand the boundaries of the discipline and to explain more fully the diverse rhetorical phenomenon that are encountered daily. Revising and even re-creating some of the foreground sense-making structures for theory and criticism enables scholars to assess a wider variety of forms of communication with increased perspicuity as well as an increased awareness of the political nature of each rhetorical realm. Daly's feminist rhetorical perspective challenges some of the “truths” of the discipline and reminds rhetorical scholars that much is yet to be dis-covered in the realm of communication.


  1. A useful and comprehensive definition and description of a feminist perspective and the feminist challenge to traditional research is offered in Foss & Foss (1989, 1991) and Foss, Foss, & Trapp (1991). Recognizing that the term feminist has numerous negative connotations, I offer the following definition for feminist that is consistent with both Daly's work and this research project. A feminist is an individual, usually a woman, who believes that women and men “should have equal opportunities for self-expression” and who works to secure these opportunities (Foss & Foss, 1991, p. 20). For other, similar, definitions of feminist and feminism, see Kramarae and Treichler (1985, pp. 158-161).

  2. While scholars such as Spender, and Kramarae, for example, have made significant contributions to feminist theory, for the purposes of this essay, I have chosen to discuss those scholars who focus on feminist rhetorical theory specifically.

  3. While Daly is not explicitly addressing Spitzack and Carter's notion of women as communicators and does not define herself as a communication theorist, she offers an increasingly detailed description of this concept throughout the work in which she focuses on communication and language. Thus, Daly's theoretical writings set the stage for discussion, elaboration, and modification of the idea of women as communicators and provide a useful alternative rhetorical critical frame for evaluating women's discourse.

  4. Daly defines “be-ing” as “participation in the Ultimate/Intimate Reality” and as “the Final Cause, the Good who is Self-communicating, who is the Verb from whom, in whom, and with whom all true movements move,” (1984, p. 2; c.f. 1985a, pp. xvii-xx; 1987, p. 64). For purposes of this essay, I have followed her use of this term throughout her books and attempted to reformulate her definition into lay terms that are more informative and helpful to this analysis.

  5. Daly, of course, recognizes that women have seen “through the myths” and have been intellectually creative and productive. Her argument is, however, that even when women do break through these constraints, their work is hampered because they must struggle continually to dissipate the images under which they work as well as find ways to articulate their creativity so that will be heard (1985b, pp. 60-61).

  6. Originally, in Beyond God the Father (1985a), Daly used the term “trivialization” rather than “depreciation.” Since “Trivia” is one of the names for “the Triple Goddess,” she no longer uses this term to mean the “depreciation/disparagement/belittling of the cause of women” (1984, p. 320n).

  7. Daly received harsh criticism for her discussion of African genital mutilation by Lorde (1983). Lorde's criticism was directed at Daly's failure to “re-member” images that are “dark and ancient and divine” in Gyn/Ecology and to incorporate fully the perspectives of women of color throughout her work (Lorde, 1983, pp. 94-97). Daly's fourth book, Pure Lust (1984), reflects her efforts to account for these “dark and ancient” images as does the Wickedary (Daly & Caputi, 1987).

  8. Compare, for example, Daly's theory of metaphor with that of Burke (1969) or Weaver (1985). Burke suggests that a metaphor “is a device for seeing something in terms of something else. It brings out the thisness of a that, or the thatness of a this” (p. 503), while Weaver describes metaphor as “a means of discovery. … requiring only some form of parallelism. … leading us from a known to an unknown, but subsequently verifiable, fact of principle” (p. 203). Daly extends each of these perspectives, suggesting metaphors are not a means to express similarity but rather a means to articulate the need for change or transformation.


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Lorde, A. (1983). “An Open Letter to Mary Daly.” In C. Moraga & G. Anzaldua (Eds.). This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (pp. 94-97). New York: Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press.

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MacKinnon, C. A. (1989). Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

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Morgan, R. (Ed.). (1970). Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement. New York: Vintage.

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Krista Ratcliffe (essay date 1996)

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SOURCE: Ratcliffe, Krista. “De/Mystifying Herself and Her Wor(l)ds: Mary Daly.” In Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions: Virginia Woolf, Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich, pp. 65-106. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Ratcliffe provides an overview of Daly's radical feminist critique of patriarchal language and discusses the rhetorical strategies of intervention by which she exposes male oppression embedded in language and attempts to reclaim and liberate women's discourse from male domination.]

[T]his book is primarily concerned with the mind/spirit/body pollution inflicted through patriarchal myth and language at all levels.

—Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology

As a feminist philosopher, theologian, and political activist, Mary Daly is deeply concerned with Bathsheba's dilemma; however, she defines it in slightly different terms than does Woolf. Daly argues that the patriarchal categories constructed through language result in “a kind of gang rape” of a woman's mind and body ([Beyond God the Father] 152). In spite of (or perhaps because of) this jarring image, Daly also argues that a woman need not be doomed nor determined within these categories but may, instead, turn language back on itself and construct new categories while embarking on the journey of radical feminism. Such a journey—from twice-born Athena to thrice-born Athena,1 from Righteous Truth to Sinister Wisdom, from Dutiful Daughter to Revolting Hag, from Spooking to Sparking to Spinning—has as its goal “the discovery and creation of a world other than patriarchy” (Gyn/Ecology 1). Daly invokes this multidimensional journeying of radical feminism for herSelf and Others in her texts. But Daly's texts do more than just record three decades of an evolving radical feminist consciousness. Her critiques of myth, language, and ideology may also be read from the site of rhetoric and composition studies to extrapolate an Anglo-American feminist theory of rhetoric.

Since Daly first began writing in the 1960's, her mythic and linguistic critiques of patriarchy have gotten progressively more radical.2The Church and the Second Sex argues for equality of the sexes within the Church (6). Beyond God the Father argues for a new, unfolding definition of God that will create a space of “human becoming” (40). Gyn/Ecology argues for a radical feminist metaethics with which any woman can refute patriarchal history—for example, Indian suttee, Chinese footbindings, African genital mutilation, European witchburning, and American gynecology—and dis-cover her own history as well as its connections with other women's histories (xlvii). Pure Lust argues for an alternative to phallic lust in the form of a revisionary Pure Lust, which names the humor, hope, and harmony of women who challenge patriarchy (1-2). Websters' First Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language by Daly and Jane Caputi offers a Metapatriarchal dictionary that creates new words and exposes sexist assumptions in old words by playing with etymological and metaphorical meanings (xiv-xv). As the culmination of all these works, the autobiographical Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage explores intersections of the personal, the philosophical, and the theological in radical feminist journeying.

Most importantly for rhetoric and composition studies, however, Daly's texts outline particular language strategies through which she finds her voice(s) and through which she hopes other women will find theirs. Daly's texts outline these strategies mostly in prefaces and introductions, forewords and afterwords, not only naming problems that will be explored but also identifying purposes and methods. In this way, her texts expose and critique insidious connections between myth, language, and the perpetuation of patriarchy. By examining Daly's critiques, by analyzing her own specific rhetorical strategies, and by exploring the differences between what she claims to do in her writing and what I read in her writing, I offer a rendering of her texts from the site of rhetoric and composition studies that articulates her contributions to this field. My purpose is to extrapolate an Anglo-American feminist theory of rhetoric that challenges the genderblindness of more traditional rhetorical histories, theories, and pedagogies.

To this end, I first locate Mary Daly as a rhetorical theorist. I then examine how her texts may be read as exposing a foreground rhetoric of patriarchal mystification and its strategies, which may be categorized into traditional rhetorical canons of invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. In the majority of this chapter, however, I explore how Daly's texts may be read as conceptualizing a Background rhetoric of radical feminist de/mystification and as modeling its strategies; these Background strategies of Spinning, Dis-ordering, Be-Spelling, Re-membering, and Be-Speaking are a feminist reversal of traditional rhetorical canons and, as such, imply revised concepts of a writing process and a rhetorical triangle. I conclude by posing theoretical and practical questions made possible by Mary Daly's Anglo-American feminist theory of rhetoric.


Mary Daly does not situate herself or her texts within a predominantly male tradition of Western rhetoric or even within a predominantly male tradition of Western scholarship.3 While she acknowledges that a woman must enter patriarchal fields if she is ever to move beyond those fields, Daly's texts ultimately challenge such fields as well as their powerful traditions (Gyn/Ecology 8). Daly clearly states why such challenges are needed: “Within a culture possessed by the myth of feminine evil, the naming, describing, and theorizing about good and evil has constituted a maze/haze of deception” (2). Daly identifies this maze/haze as patriarchy,4 as the dominant ideology that cuts across all cultures, that encompasses everything, and that perpetuates itself through the good man speaking well about myth and language. She exhorts women to break through this maze/haze. Yet she rejects anti-intellectualism as a method, for she sees anti-intellectualism as a trap, an understandable but ultimately unproductive reaction against patriarchal education and scholarship that moronizes women (22). Instead, Daly calls for feminist scholarship that will enable feminism(s) to “become sensible” so that women can both think and feel themSelves becoming (23). The feminist scholarship that Daly models celebrates two moves: creating her own ideas through language yet being impeccably scholarly about doing so (Pure Lust 412). The purpose of these scholarly moves is the liberation of myth and the liberation of language. Such liberation, Daly believes, has the potential to liberate women into radical feminism. To demonstrate how this theory of liberation locates Daly as a rhetorical theorist, I will critique her radical feminist concepts of Women, myths, and language function.

When talking about the liberation of women, Daly means all women. That is, she believes that because patriarchy “is itself the prevailing religion of the entire planet,” it oppresses all of us regardless of our cultural location (Gyn/Ecology 39). But Daly has been challenged for this seemingly uncomplicated use of the term women, and her texts have been attacked as separatist, essentialist, and racist. Because rhetorical theories ever circle around assumed definitions of subjectivity, Daly's claim and her critics' challenges deserve attention before we investigate her feminist theory of rhetoric.

Because Daly's feminism focuses on women's concerns, it is often charged with being a separatist ideology. Daly responds to this charge as follows: “The words gynocentric be-ing and Lesbian imply separation. This is what this book is about, but not in a simple way” (Gyn/Ecology xlvi). That is, Daly is not a traditional separatist in terms of denying men the presence of women or women the presence of men, despite complaints that dismiss her as such because she has banned men from some of her classes. Daly interprets these complaints as male identified. Rather, Daly is a radical feminist separatist in her own terms; she encourages women to be present to one another, to identify ourselves in relation to each other instead of in relation to men. Within Daly's Woman-identified feminism, a radical feminist separatist is a be-ing who affirms “the flow of connectedness within each woman” and who works for a “feminist separation from the State of Separation” that is patriarchy (Pure Lust 371-72, 373). Consequently, Daly spends little or no time talking about men, not because they cannot be liberated but because she figures plenty of other people will champion their cause (Beyond [Beyond God the Father] 8, 172-74). From this position, Daly's feminism articulates how women can recognize and refuse their inferior status within patriarchy and achieve their own power within radical feminism. Daly's radical feminist separatist agenda has as its primary goal the transformation of a woman's Self and as its secondary goal the transformation of the social (Gyn/Ecology 7). Within this logic, a radical feminist may exist with(in) the same time and space as patriarchy. Following a similar logic, Daly's feminist theory of rhetoric may be located within the rhetorical tradition(s) without being domesticated by it.

Because Daly's radical feminism focuses on women's Selves and on the powers of these Selves, it is often labeled essentialist. This charge is meant to dismiss Daly's intellectual power as naive by forcing her into the category of biological determinist. But Daly refuses such categorizing. She is not an essentialist in the Aristotelian sense; she does not believe that an irreducible essence defines a thing or a Self.5 Neither is she an essentialist in John Locke's terms; she rejects his real and nominalist distinctions.6 Instead, Daly redefines essentialism as a radical feminist concept.7 This essentialism presumes an essence or a radical feminist Self that is always already in process, that is, the “Original core of one's being … that participates in Be-ing,” which is the “Ultimate/Intimate Reality” or “Final Cause” (Wickedary 95, 64). Within this theoretical framework, Daly's radical feminist Self is an essence in motion, a be-ing continually constructed through the interweavings of myth and language, a be-ing participating in Be-ing (Pure Lust 160-61).8 Thus, Daly is an essentialist, but in her own terms.

Because Daly's feminism focuses on the effects of patriarchy on all women, it has been accused of having an unacknowledged Euro-American focus. The most well-known challenge of this kind comes from Audre Lorde. On 6 May, 1979, she wrote a letter to Daly detailing her interpretation of Gyn/Ecology; when she received no written reply, Lorde published her letter. In it, Lorde commends Daly for her “good faith toward all women” (“Open Letter” 67). She agrees with Daly that the oppression of women crosses all ethnic and racial boundaries; however, she argues that Daly's focus erases differences within this oppression (70). For example, Lorde concurs with Daly that too little has been written about African genital mutilation but also asks Daly to consider not just the similarities between African genital mutilation, Chinese footbinding, and American gynecology but also the differences: “To imply … that all women suffer the same oppression simply because we are women is to lose sight of the many varied tools of patriarchy” (67). Lorde concludes her letter with a thank-you for the insights that Daly has given her and an offering of her own insights as repayment (71). In many ways, Lorde's letter is offered as a gift because she had earlier decided never again to talk with white women about race; for Daly, however, she makes an exception.

In the introduction to the second edition of Gyn/Ecology, Daly acknowledges Lorde's letter. Although she implies that Lorde has misunderstood her intent, she apologizes for the pain that any unintended receptions of her book might have caused: “I regret any pain that unintended omissions may have caused others, particularly women of color, as well as myself. The writing of Gyn/Ecology was for me an act of Biophilic Bonding with women of all races and classes, under all the varying oppressions of patriarchy” (xxxi). Although willing to apologize for unintended slights, Daly refuses to debate Lorde in published discourse, claiming that such debates hurt women's causes. And while I agree with Daly that women's wrangling over who is more oppressed is probably a counterproductive political move, I do not believe this is what Lorde intended. Feminists may learn and grow from exchanging ideas, that is, from negotiating the very real differences between our intentions and our receptions.

The above challenges to Daly's texts should resonate for all of us as we consider her feminist theory of rhetoric. Although Daly rarely uses the word rhetoric, her critiques of patriarchal myth and language are indubitably rhetorical, for at the intersections of myth, language, and ideology we arrive at rhetoric.9 When describing the rhetorical functions of such intersections, Daly establishes no easy cause and effect. Instead, she argues that our myths and language must change if patriarchy is to change and that patriarchy must change if our myths and language are to change. This claim does not posit a logical contradiction. Rather, it conceptualizes a complex, active cultural matrix within which a woman may employ language to (un)weave interweavings of patriarchal myth, language, and ideology within herSelf (Gyn/Ecology 389-424).

Daly's concerns about women and myth permeate her texts. Although strongly grounded in Western philosophy and Judeo-Christian theology, her texts define myth in the broadest sense of the wor(l)d. She is particularly concerned with how these myths metonymically re-present patriarchy. Her critiques of such re-presentations encompass different cultures,10 yet the common denominator is that these critiques reimagine myths by dis-covering11 women's perspectives, something that many traditional myths have either blindly or purposefully ignored. For example, the Neith myth is re-membered as the Libyan Triple Goddess whom the Greeks whitewashed into Athena (Gyn/Ecology 75, 88). Athena's myth is dis-covered as a Warrior goddess who must be born not only of Metis's womb, not only of Zeus's head, but also of her own words (13-14). Cinderella's myth is re-called as a young Oriental girl's being subjected to beautifying (read “eroticized”) footbindings (151-52). Snow White's myth is un-covered as a young girl's being offered the same poisonous apple of patriarchy that the wicked stepmother has choked on all her life (44, 351). The Virgin Mary's myth is re-visioned as a young girl's being overwhelmed by a loving father's sexual advance (85). And the myth of the Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) is re-cognized as a patriarchal reversal of Trivia, the Triple Goddess who is manifested via Maiden, Mother, and Crone (75-79). Such antipatriarchal conclusions will no doubt disturb those who take less extreme positions. But this disturbing element is precisely why Daly's texts are worth reading. Demaris Wehr echoes this claim in her review of Pure Lust: “While such strong denunciations no doubt serve to deter adherents of these beliefs from reading [Daly's] work, I recommend they read [her texts] anyway. Why? Her powerful mind, her creative genius and her uncanny ability to put her finger on deep emotional, psychological and spiritual problems are ignored at our peril” (14). Moreover, Daly's metonymic critiques model a method that may be employed in a variety of contexts.

Of particular interest to rhetoric and composition scholars is the way Daly theorizes a tripled language function: that is, sign, symbol, and metaphor. She acknowledges that language functions as a sign system, with all the potential for free play that such a system entails. Without such play, feminists could not use old words in new ways. But she also insists on language's simultaneous symbolic function, which she believes both historicizes and invokes free play. She compares these functions of sign and symbol as follows: “Symbols, in contrast to mere signs, participate in that to which they point. They open up levels of reality otherwise closed to us and they unlock dimensions and elements of our souls which correspond to these hidden dimensions and elements of reality. … Of course, there can be no One Absolutely Right symbol for all Lusty women, for we belong to different tribes and have great individual diversity” (Pure Lust 25). Daly's problem with patriarchal symbols is obvious in her definition of them as “commonly flattened-out, frozen metaphors that have been captured, reduced, and reversed into one-dimensionality” (Pure Lust 405-6). Her solution to this problem is radical feminist de/mystification. This de/mystifying process exposes that symbols and their meanings are not eternally nor universally fixed; hence, they may be changed. Such a process also affirms the power of symbols for women in general and in particular, a move that enables Daly's concept of symbol to avoid the gender erasure that often occurs when people retreat into totalizing linguistic philosophy (all Americans speak the same language), totalizing feminism (all women are oppressed by language in the same way), or totalizing tokenism (a particular woman's problem with language is an exception, an aberration).

Although symbols function as metaphors within Daly's theory of language, metaphors possess more possibilities than mere symbolic function. More than stylistic dress laid onto thought, metaphors are the innate generative power of language that enables it to be used, consciously and unconsciously, to subvert the status quo. Daly defines the feminist agenda of this language function as follows: “[M]etaphors evoke action, movement. They Name/evoke a shock, a clash with the ‘going logic’ and they introduce a new logic. Metaphors function to Name change, and therefore they elicit change” (Pure Lust 25).12 In turn, metaphors generate other metaphors, some of which Daly names metapatriarchal metaphors.13 Such metaphors rupture the dominant logic(s) of patriarchy and propel “a woman further into the Wild dimensions of Other-centered consciousness—out of dead circles into Spiraling/Spinning motion” (405). Daly insists that metapatriarchal metaphors be seen not as fixed symbols, not as fixed abstractions, but as the never ending processual energy and motion that is radical feminism (407, 327-33) In this way, Daly conceptualizes a gendered language function that not only reflects reality but also continually (re)constructs it. It is this gendered function that separates Daly's theory of metaphor from humanist ones.

In Daly's theory the tripled language functions of sign, symbol, and metaphor occur simultaneously in two dimensions: the foreground and the Background. Daly defines foreground as the “male centered and monodimensional arena where fabrication, objectification, and alienation take place” (Wickedary 76). She defines Background as “the Realm of Wild Reality; the Homeland of women's Selves and of all Others” (63). Radical feminism, then, is a woman's newly created yet remembered journey from foreground to Background. It is a journey from the realm of patriarchy where meanings are frozen and reversed to a realm other than patriarchy where women may reconnect with unfrozen, a priori meanings that defy the patriarchal structure of language. Daly names this radical feminist process of Websters' moving from foreground to Background as Spinning (Gyn/Ecology 389-91).

Spinning is a be-ing's participation in the metaphoric drive of language in order to de/mystify gendered terms, phrases, claims, and actions. The passage below is a prime example of Daly's Spinning through writing. Through her wild and wicked feminist play with the word paradise, she challenges commonly accepted foreground meanings and discovers radical feminist Background ones:

A primary definition of paradise is “pleasure park.” The walls of the Patriarchal Pleasure Park represent the condition of being perpetually parked, locked into the parking lot of the past. Abasic meaning of park is “game preserve.” The fathers' foreground is precisely this: an arena where the wildness of nature and of women's Selves is domesticated, preserved. It is the place for the preservation of females who are the “fair game” of the fathers, that they may be served to these predatory Park Owners, and service them at their pleasure. Patriarchal Paradise is the arena of games, the place where the pleas of women are silenced, where the law is: Please the Patrons. Women who break through the imprisoning walls of the Playboys' Playground are entering the process which is our happenings/happiness. This is Paradise beyond the boundaries of “paradise.” Since our passage into this process requires making breaks in the walls, it means setting free the fair game, breaking the rules of the games, breaking the names of the games. Breaking through the foreground which is the Playboys' Playground means letting out the bunnies, the bitches, the beavers, the squirrels, the chicks, the pussycats, the cows, the nags, the foxy ladies, the old bats and biddies, so that they can at last begin naming themselves.

(Gyn/Ecology 7)

Many strategies employed in the above passage represent Daly's Spinning through writing, which uses language against itself, that is, uses foreground strategies to expose Background meanings. Toward this end, Daly employs several Ciceronian topoi. Definition enables her to redefine paradise, exposing how the foreground concept traps women and how the Background concept empowers them. Etymology enables her to unpack lost meanings of paradise, which further enhance her Background definition. Analogy, too, enables her to expand her definition of paradise, comparing it to a “park” and a “game preserve” in order to expose the penned-in animal status afforded to women in the foreground. Partition enables her to divide and define game preserve so that game suggests women and preserve suggests their disempowerment. Finally, effect enables her to explain how women are silenced, and difference enables her to demonstrate that women should name themselves. Likewise, Daly utilizes several figures to construct Background meanings. Metaphor allows her to expose paradise as a “Playboy's Playground.” The alliteration of ps and ss allows her to construct a tone that is disdainful of the foreground. Polyptoton allows her to employ different forms of preserve to emphasize the static nature of the foreground. Paronomasia allows her to unpack fair game as both beautiful women and easy prey, exposing the animal status of women. Prosonomasia allows her to extend her metaphor and nickname men as “Playboys” and “Patrons.”

By challenging patriarchal meanings, Daly's paradise passage and its strategies challenge the genderblindness of traditional logic and rhetoric. They also exemplify Daly's belief in language play: breaking through foreground meanings is a context-bound possibility, not simply a utopian desire. Although Daly acknowledges the limitations of such play for transforming the social, her wild and wicked Spinning is a deadly serious and revolutionary endeavor in that it possesses the potential to transform the Self.

Patriarchal scholarship diminishes the process of Spinning by capturing it in dictionaries and renaming it linguistic etymology. But according to Daly, other records also exist as deep Background feelings and ideas. These feelings and ideas are what Lorde challenges Daly to take even further: “Mary, I ask that you re-member what is dark and ancient and diving within yourself that aids your speaking” (69). It is to these ideas and feelings that Daly looks for inspiration; it is to them that she refers when traditional linguistic scholars accuse her etymologies of being “incorrect” or “far-fetched.” She might agree that they are fetched from afar, but such far-fetched truths propel Daly's radical feminism. From this position in motion, Daly would not accuse foreground scholars in their own language of privileging the signified; she would accuse them of perpetuating the static premises of patriarchy. By exposing this play between foreground meanings and Background meanings, Daly unmasks how myth and language intersect in the foreground to perpetuate patriarchy. In other words, she un-covers the dominant rhetoric of patriarchy.


This dominant foreground rhetoric perpetuates the eighth deadly sin of deception (Pure Lust x).14 The primary function of this deceptive rhetoric is to socialize women into the foreground, reinforcing its powerful ideology through the interweavings of myth and language. As such, this deceptive rhetoric constructs an inverted foreground culture that mystifies by reversing primary and derivative values (Burke, Rhetoric of Motives 104). Daly describes this foreground inversion as patriarchy's power to steal women's words and meanings (Pure Lust 86). In the following passage she exemplifies this claim: “Women's minds have been mutilated and muted to such a state that ‘Free Spirit’ has been branded into them as a brand name for girdles and bras rather than as a name of our verb-ing, be-ing Selves. Such brand names brand women ‘Morons.’ … Patriarchy has stolen our cosmos and returned it in the form of Cosmopolitan magazine and cosmetics” (Gyn/Ecology 5). Such foreground inversions of meaning are commonly perceived not as “mind-binding”15 but as the “natural order of things” at the interwoven levels of the institutional, the personal, and the textual; as a result, women are discouraged from re-membering and un-covering possible Background meanings. The implications for women are enormous. They suffer not only from plastic and potted passions16 but also from stifled and stilted speech. Shaped by genteel manners and customs, this speech, or “shallow verbiage,” exists to flatter men and build their confidence; it pays no heed to a woman's repressed ideas and emotions (Pure Lust 18). Thus, a rhetoric of patriarchal mystification promotes what Daly calls the Big Lie.

This rhetoric, however, is not happenstance. It is driven by foreground methods. Within Western rhetorical traditions, these methods have been categorized into the canons of invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Although Daly does not couch her analysis in terms of the rhetorical traditions, her primary project may be read as identifying mystifying invention strategies, which she perceives to be particularly responsible for reproducing the continual stasis of the foreground.

The foreground's first mystifying invention strategy, trivialization, makes unimportant that which is important and succeeds when we fall prey to hierarchal, dichotomized thinking; for instance, antifeminists wondering why feminists are so concerned with women's problems when many other, more important troubles exist in our world, such as poverty, war, and racism. A second, particularization, focuses on only one aspect of an issue or event and succeeds when we neatly compartmentalize ourselves and our complex social matrix; for example, Anglo-Americans claiming or implying that race is only a concern for African Americans or Asian Americans. A third, spiritualization, is a form of particularization that separates mind, spirit, and body, and it succeeds when we ignore material influences on spirituality; that is, when the body is maimed to celebrate the soul. And a fourth, universalization, renders particular differences invisible by concentrating on the fictionalized whole, and it succeeds when we erase categories of difference, particularly gender, from our analyses; for example, claiming that we should focus on strategies of empowerment for all humans, not on particular strategies for Hispanic women (Beyond 5).

A fifth strategy, erasure, fosters a foreground forgetting of both mythic and linguistic events. Mythic erasure represses women's lives, stories, and meanings from traditions of history, literature, politics, theology, folklore, philosophy, and so on. Linguistic erasure represses women's words and their presence in grammatical constructions of language (Gyn/Ecology 8). Erasures succeed when the foreground remains unquestioned; for example, when literary canons composed predominantly of males are presented as the best that has ever been said and written. A sixth, reversal, inverts the hierarchal values assigned to binary oppositions; it also occurs on both mythic and linguistic levels. Mythic reversals coopt women's biological and social powers. Theological and mythological examples are Adam's giving birth to Eve and Zeus's giving birth to Athena; a philosophical example is Socrates' adopting conception and birthing as metaphors for his method of dialectic.17 Linguistic reversals devalue language assigned to women; for example, our witchy connotation of hag mystifying its etymological root in holiness and our unquestioning use of bunny, bitch, beaver, and so on, mystifying our frequent association of animal names with women (14-17, 7). Daly conceptualizes subcategories of reversals: simple inversion (MX missiles as Peacekeepers), reversals that posit the elementary world as the model for natural phenomena (watches explaining a deistic cosmos), reversals that project male qualities onto women and nature (penis envy, predatory birds), and reversals by which patriarchal males appropriate capacities and qualities of women (philosophical midwifery) (Wickedary 239-58).

A seventh strategy, false polarization, posits false binary oppositions. Unlike some feminists, Daly does not reject the method of binary oppositions; in fact, she regularly employs them; for instance, foreground and Background. What she does attack, however, is the patriarchal presence assumed by the false positioning of binaries. Such a strategy succeeds when we are afraid to name true positionings. Mythically, we see male-defined sexism (men holding the door open for women) being set up against male-defined feminism (women hating men) (Gyn/Ecology 8). The sexism is extremely conservative; the feminism, extremely radical. Such false positionings allow antifeminists to say, Gee, I hold open a door for a woman and she acts like this?—the result being that feminism(s) are easily dismissed. Linguistically, false binaries emerge as man/wife (which denotes differences in power and roles), madonna/whore (which limits women's options), and stud/wimp (which limits men's).

Divide-and-conquer, an eighth strategy, separates the oppressed to keep them from uniting and rebelling. Also occurring at mythic and linguistic levels, this strategy succeeds by turning women against each other, encouraging us to compete with one another rather than critique systemic oppressions. Mythic divide and conquer celebrates a token woman (whom Daly calls “twice-born Athena” or “Daddy's girl”) as a positive role model for other women because she has played the game and pulled herself up by her bootstraps; ironically, the token's function is often to fill an unspoken quota and keep other women from attaining the same successful place. Linguistic divide and conquer is a form of particularization. It compartmentalizes our logic so that we separate, for example, logical and emotional appeals, thus effectively hiding (the existence and the validity of) their interconnectedness (Gyn/Ecology 8).

A ninth strategy, mummy words, entails using language to deaden the mind. This strategy succeeds when language remains invisible, when it is perceived as a tool that carries meaning rather than as an integral component in the construction of meaning. Daly cites the following examples: civilization, mystery, custom, forefathers, history—all of which are usually silent about women's actual social roles (Wickedary 243). Tenth, dummy words also imply a strategy of using language to deaden the mind; however, these words appear harmless so as to metaphorically mystify the danger of their referents. Again, this strategy succeeds when we allow language to remain invisible and do not question it. Daly cites these examples: daughter used as a radioactive decay product, breeder reactor, air-breathing missile, artificial intelligence (245). Eleventh, anti-biotic words imply a strategy in which dummy terms are so exaggerated that they deserve a separate category. Like mummies and dummies, anti-biotic words succeeds when their language is commonly accepted instead of exposed as the hyperbolic ironies they are. Daly notes the following example: acronyms like MAD (mutual assured destruction), names like bomblet, terms like fallout, nuke, meltdown, deployment, and plutonium, and code words like disinformation (character assassination) and neutralize (assassination) (246-47).

The Sado-Ritual Syndrome is the twelfth and most powerful strategy that patriarchy employs to relegate women to foreground stasis. Although the Syndrome occurs transculturally, it manifests itself differently: for example, Chinese footbinding, African and American genital mutilation, Indian widow burning, European witch burning, and so on. According to Daly, such rituals are perpetuated via men's and women's participation in the Sado-Ritual Syndrome's seven moves: obsessing about purity; erasing responsibility for atrocities performed in the name of a transcendent truth; catching on and spreading quickly; using women as scapegoats and “token torturers”; obsessing on order, repetition, and detail; accepting behavior that in other contexts would appear appalling; validating a ritual's existence through academic scholarship (Gyn/Ecology 130-35). The socializing function of this Syndrome keeps women from questioning their plight and imagining other possibilities. Because such patriarchal logic is inscribed within our bodies, this Syndrome is a powerful strategy for maintaining the status quo.

Although Daly discusses the remaining rhetorical canons in less detail, they also participate in constructing the foreground's rhetoric of patriarchal mystification. For example, she claims that foreground arguments are arranged in a “tidy” order, which she defines as “tracked, tamed, sanitized, routinized” (Wickedary 97); furthermore, she names the linear movement of this arrangement strategy “pure thrust” (221). Daly also claims that styles of such arguments too often invoke the noun-goddess and passive voice, thus deleting agency and direct action (86, 215). She further claims that such arguments construct a memory that allows only enough space for foreground memories; these memories perpetuate the “cock and bull story [of] patriarchal history, any highly respected account of the exploits of cocks and bullies which effectively erases the existence and history of women and all Others” (190). Finally, Daly claims that the delivery of these arguments occur either as consciousness razing or as re-covering, that is, covering again (191, 222).

Within a rhetoric of patriarchal mystification, these five canons successfully mystify possible Background meanings by constructing foreground meanings that appear so clear, so precise, so logical, so normal, and so true that none of us think to question them. None of us can stand outside this rhetoric or its meanings because they are found at all levels of society: “from styles of grammar to style of glamour, from religious myth to dirty jokes, from theological hymns honoring the ‘Real Presence’ of Christ to commercial cooing of Coca-Cola as ‘The Real Thing,’ from dogmatic doctrines about the ‘Divine Host’ to doctored ingredient-labelling of Hostess Cupcakes, from subliminal ads to sublime art. Phallic myth and language generate, legitimate, and mask the material pollution that threatens to terminate all sentient life on this planet” (Gyn/Ecology 9). Within the foreground, the only option open to women is reacting, fighting on foreground turf in foreground terms (Wickedary 222). But Daly claims that such games cannot be won and that participation in them only further inflicts “mind/spirit/body pollution” upon a woman (Gyn/Ecology 9). For this reason, she offers an alternative to this foreground rhetoric of patriarchal mystification.


This Background rhetoric encourages and enables women to de/mystify foreground meanings and dis-cover Background ones. Such a de/mystifying rhetoric is imperative if women are to unmask the eighth deadly sin of deception, which permeates every word we use (Gyn/Ecology 3). Daly describes this de/mystifying rhetoric in Pure Lust: “Breaking the bonds/bars of phallocracy requires breaking through to radiant powers of words, so that by releasing words, we can release our Selves” (4). She names the moves of this rhetoric exorcism and ecstasy, with exorcism entailing the (meta)physical dis-possessing of patriarchy and ecstasy, entailing the (meta)physical giddiness that emerges when women are released from foreground meanings (Gyn/Ecology 2; Wickedary 75). As such, a rhetoric of radical feminist de/mystification encourages and enables a woman to Spin between the foreground and Background, continually (un)weaving the intersections of patriarchal myth and language in order to create and dis-cover both herSelf and herWor(l)ds.18

This Background rhetoric depends upon language, namely, the possibilities of metaphor that Daly associates with the powers of magical conjuring:

The Active Potency of the archimage, then, is transformative Power. This faculty, through which she “brings celestial forces to earth,” is the power of healing broken connections. One way through which this is communicated is the transmission of Metaphoric words that transverse/pass across the fathers' archetypes, awakening the stifled archai with word-waves/wand-waves. The words/wands of Weird women also transverse the archetypes in the sense that they overturn and reverse them, reversing their reversals. For words are weapons, Labryses of Archimagical Amazons. Women participating in the biophilic powers of the Archimage also transverse in the “obsolete” sense of the term, which is “alter, transform,” as we change our lives in the process of dis-spelling the archetypes.

(Pure Lust 90)

This magical conjuring through metaphor manifests itself in many ways. Consider the slight of place that occurs when a woman is shifted from a “thing” noun to a “verbal” noun: instead of being a thing or object, she becomes a Namer or a Speaker, who has the power to “Name away the archetypes that block the ways/words of Metabeing” (86-87). In this way, magical conjuring both ruptures phallogocentric grammar and generates Daly's Elemental Feminist Philosophy. This Philosophy is a kind of be-ing and be-thinking that is grounded in a Metapatriarchal consciousness which presumes reason to be a function of instinct, intuition, and passion as well as mind (Wickedary 72).

Magical conjuring through metaphor is crucial to Daly's rhetoric of radical feminist de/mystification. It enables women to overcome both verbal violence and verbicide. While verbal violence degrades a woman semantically (Gyn/Ecology 358, 359-62), verbicide carefully kills words in order to rob them of meaning and reduce them to noise (Wickedary 233). The danger of verbicide is that it splits a woman from herSelf and creates in her an insecurity that results in amnesia, aphasia, and apraxis (Pure Lust 94). But Daly assures us that such states need not be permanent: “The remedy is unrelenting understanding that Stamina is stronger than the verbiage of the re-verberators, and that breathing/speaking forth Elemental words/actions is itself the creation and communication of Stamina, which is the living thread of conversation spun by Fates. … Naming our way beyond verbicide (which is deeply connected with gynocide) we are creators of our own fates—becoming Fates” (95). If a woman employs this remedy, she becomes patriarchy's worst fear: a castrator. For magical conjuring through metaphor implies the castration of language and images that construct and reflect patriarchy (Beyond 9; Pure Lust 166-69). In the process, magical conjuring creates new Elements—new hearing, new contexts, new speech, and new words—whose discursive powers can cast spells on the personal and the cultural.19

The first Element that Daly's Background rhetoric must conjure is a new hearing. In the last chapter of Gyn/Ecology, Daly concludes that the word was not the beginning, the hearing was (424). With this assertion, she challenges patriarchal obsessions with First Causes. She locates hearing (a human potential), not the Word (God's utterance), as the space where we can analyze Be-ing and Know-ing. This (meta) physical space is where women can question patriarchal ideology through myth and language:

The essential thing is to hear our own words, always giving prior attention to our own experience, never letting prefabricated theory have authority over us. Then we can be free to listen to the old philosophical language (and all philosophy that does not explicitly repudiate sexism is old, no matter how novel it may seem). If some of this language, when heard in the context of female becoming is still worth hearing, we need not close our ears. But if we choose to speak the same sounds they will be formally and existentially new words, for the new context constitutes them as such. Our process is our process.

(Beyond 189)

Once this hearing is tapped and a radical feminist journey begun, other Elements necessary to Daly's Background rhetoric are also magically conjured. Once a woman hears differently, she must constantly negotiate between foreground and Background contexts. Because this process cannot be arrested, new hearing continually generates new contexts, that is, new movements between foreground and Background. Even when a woman uses old language, new contexts transform it into new speech (Beyond 159). In turn, new speech generates questions as well as answers to these questions (8-9). As such, new speech is essential to Daly's rhetoric of radical feminist de/mystification. Without it, language becomes a trap; women, merely determined parrots. But a woman's employing new speech does not mean that she should imitate male-identified discourse (8). New speech leads to new words, and this process continually unfolds at all semiotic levels—in talk, in texts, in clothing style, in body language, and so on (Gyn/Ecology 340; Wickedary 86). In this way, Daly's rhetoric of radical feminist de/mystification occurs in the presence of patriarchy.

Like its foreground reversal, Daly's Background rhetoric is not happenstance. It is driven by Background methodicide, which Daly defines as “deicide by means of asking Nonquestions, and Discovering, reporting, and analyzing Nondata” (Wickedary 82). Methodicide is not the denial of method but rather the denial of foreground methods and the celebration of Background ones.20 How does Daly's methodicide translate into practice? It encourages a woman to actively read and write against patriarchal myths and language that construct herSelf and her daily life. Because it occurs in the midst of systemic oppressions, methodocide has its limits; nevertheless, it can be invoked by a Self, whose limited conscious agency may trust its unconscious for assistance.

Methodocidal reading and writing presume that a woman can and should break the silence imposed by patriarchal structures of history, culture, society, and family (Beyond 93). Breaking the silence, however, is not a simple talking cure, nor is it without consequences. Instead, it is a never ending process that breaks subject/object categories into intersubjective relations that continually (re)produce meanings beyond the hearing of patriarchal ears (152). It induces “the vertigo of creation,” the dizziness associated with Spinning (Gyn/Ecology 414-17). Methodocidal reading and writing also presume that patriarchal concepts like “natural” and “objective” must be challenged and that patriarchal arguments must be analyzed to determine how they focus only on certain facts, never questioning the assumptions or implications of these facts while ignoring other facts that may inform a woman's experience (Beyond 107).

Daly advocates specific de/mystifying maneuvers for methodocidal reading and writing. These maneuvers, I argue, construct her Background rhetoric of radical feminist de/mystification. This rhetoric reverses the foreground canons of rhetoric and posits instead interwoven Background Non-canons of Spinning, Dis-ordering, Be-Spelling, Re-membering, and Be-Speaking.


The re-versing of invention, Spinning is the first of Daly's Background Non-canons. Neither topoi nor place, Spinning is the major metaphoric motion of Daly's Background rhetoric (Gyn/Ecology 424). Daly defines Spinning as “Dis-covering the lost thread of connectedness within the cosmos and repairing this thread in the process” (Wickedary 96). In the foreground, however, such Spinning is often deflected and deflated with the following results: “Our creativity is misdirected into misplaced rage against other women. It is traced into soap opera level aspects of ‘relationships.’ Under therapeutic treatment, it is tracked into psychobabble that closes off deep Memory. When academically trained, it repeats male theories. Groomed for professional excellence, it serves phallic institutions. ‘Religious,’ it worships a male god” (Pure Lust 18). By moving Spinners toward the Background, Spinning exposes patriarchal socialization, reversing the foreground's deflection and deflation of Gyn/Ecological Creation and modeling this reversal for others (Gyn/Ecology 404). But such an invention process is not easy: it requires repetitive practice, not just wishful thinking (Pure Lust 261). To articulate the methods and possibilities of such an invention process, I have culled Daly's texts to identify different invention strategies, which may be read together as the Non-canon of Spinning that drives Daly's Background rhetoric.

The first type of Spinning is Daly's reversal of the seven-step Sado-Ritual Syndrome. As noted earlier, this Syndrome details how patriarchal rituals obsess on purity, erase responsibility, spread quickly, use women as scapegoats and as token torturers, promote compulsive orderliness and obsessive repetition, make the unacceptable acceptable, and justify themselves through scholarship (Gyn/Ecology 130-35). But radical feminists may turn this Syndrome against itself, employing it as a de/mystifying strategy. Such de/mystifications may occur in interrelated reading and writing moves. In Gyn/Ecology Daly uses this Syndrome to read and write against cultural rituals such as widow burning and genital mutilation; in Pure Lust she employs this Syndrome to analyze and write against the effect of such atrocities on women's spirituality. This Syndrome could also be used to analyze Miss America pageants, Cosmopolitan covergirls, women in academia, and so on. And though Daly discusses this Syndrome in relation to patriarchy's atrocities against women, William Jones finds this analysis useful in demystifying patriarchy's ritualized oppression of African Americans.21

The second type of Spinning is Ludic Celebration. Daly defines this strategy as “thinking out of the experience of being; the free play of intuition in New Space” (Wickedary 143). Ludic celebration begins with Laughing Out Loud, a strategy of “cracking the hypocritical hierarchs' house of mirrors [and] defusing their power of deluding Others” (142). This strategy not only breaks foreground logics but moves the Laugher into Background logics. Daly describes three types of Laughing Out Loud or Be-Laughing: Nixing, Hexing, and X-ing. Nixing is the re-fusal of absence and the assertion of presence (264). Hexing is the casting of Spells or Be-Wishing that breaks patriarchal boundaries (267-68). And X-ing is the naming of strange coincidences and synchronicities that are important to women's lives (269). These Ludic Celebrations are all “intertwined, interwoven wondrous workings/wordings that are Dis-covered and passed on” so that women can “keep a Silly Sense of Humor and regain a Sinful Sense of Direction” (263, 272).

A third type of Spinning is Be-Musing, “be-ing a Muse for oneSelf and for Other Muses [while] refusing Musing to a-Musing scribblers” (Wickedary 65). In other words, a woman should refuse to serve as muses for others who drain her energy; instead, she should re-fuse herSelf and other Others who share her desire to de/mystify foreground meanings and un-cover Background ones. Such a move is neither simple nor easy, for it flies in the face of powerful socialization that asks women to be kind, nurturing, and supportive. But such a total woman, Daly argues, is really a “totalled woman” (232). Hence, Be-musing enables a woman to recognize her totalled foreground self as a false identity that covers her Background Self (95). Once Be-Musing occurs, the foreground self dis-covers the Background Self in a move that Daly names Realizing Presence.

A fourth type of Spinning, Realizing Presence refers to the Self's “active potency/power to create and to transform, to render present in time and space” (Pure Lust 149). Despite her definition of Self as “the Original core,” Daly is not a traditional humanist (Wickedary 95); such a position is much too patriarchal for her. The Key distinction between Daly's Self and a humanist self lies in her definition of Be-ing as the “Ultimate/Intimate Reality, the constantly Unfolding Verb of Verbs which is intransitive, having no object that limits its dynamism” (64). As a part of this constant unfolding process of Be-ing, Daly's Self as be-ing is neither static nor unaffected by context. Instead, her Self as be-ing continually spins between foreground and Background, and “this Active Voicing … Spooks the spookers” (Gyn/Ecology 340). Daly's Self exists as an active though not autonomous agent who is continually (re)constructed by patriarchal myth and language. While being (re)constructed, this Self may turn language on itself in order to unweave patriarchal ideology. Such a process frees the Background Self from foreground selflessness. Thus, Daly's Self is an agent who chooses herSelf and defines herSelf in relation to her own experiences, not only in relation to children or men (3-4).

Realizing Presence reverses two common foreground states: the presence of absence and the absence of Presence (Pure Lust 149). The former refers to the lack of meaning in male-identified myths and ideologies, which manifests itself as mental and spiritual “bloat”; the latter refers to a missing substance and purpose, the absence of Self (147). Daly acknowledges that questions of presence and absence have dominated philosophical debates for centuries. Yet she also acknowledges that such questions have played out tragically in popular culture: the result is that a woman is robbed of her sense of Self and, hence, her confidence and ability to act. To reverse this phenomenon, Daly encourages us to Sin Big; because one etymology of the word sin is “to be,” to Sin Big means to question foreground assumptions and refuse false ones, including the death of the author/speaker/writer/Spinner (151). The desired result is Realizing Presence, which can make a woman aware of herSelf, let her dis-cover Background meanings, and enable her to own the original power of her words (162).

Closely related is a fifth kind of Spinning, Realizing reason.22 Daly defines this process as “both dis-covering and participating in the unfolding, the Self-creation, of reason,” not as a transcendent truth but as an ongoing (meta) physical process; and she cites this strategy's most common manifestation in the repetition, the litany, of the sentence, “I just didn't realize …” (Pure Lust 162). Bonnie Mann gives an example of Realizing reason when discussing how she uses Gyn/Ecology in her work with battered women; one woman named Barbara, when she first heard Daly's work read aloud, exclaimed, “Oh my god! I'm a radical feminist!” (xli).23 In this instant, Barbara Realized reason by making connections between her particular experiences and those of other women.

Daly warns us that establishing particularization and universalization as a binary opposition creates a false opposition (Pure Lust 322-25). Yet she posits them as active, interwoven principles of Realizing reason. The particular enables women to celebrate our diversity while the general provides structures within which such diversity flourishes. Respecting both the particular and the general, and not getting trapped in the general, is a great concern of Daly's:

Not only are there ethnic, national, class and racial differences that shape our perspectives, but there are also individual and cross-cultural differences of temperament, virtue, talent, taste and of conditions within which these can or cannot find expression. There is, then, an extremely rich, complex Diversity among women and within each individual. But there is also above, beyond, beneath all this a Cosmic Commonality, a tapestry of connectedness which women as Websters/Fates are constantly weaving. The weaving of this tapestry is the Realizing of a dream, which Adrienne Rich has Named “The Dream of a Common Language.”


In Daly's theory, this common language creates a space that is continually unfolding, a space in which logics of the general and particulars can exist.

By refusing stasis, Realizing reason assumes the unstoppable play of language between foreground and Background. As such, it breaks the logic of the foreground, exposing not only the existence of Background logic but also the multiplicity of this logic: “The expression ‘Realizing reason’ is doubled-edged. It is even multiple edged” (Pure Lust 162-63). Thus, Realizing reason is not the reification of a static logos within a determined cosmos, nor is it the celebration of an unknowable chaos within an unknowable cosmos; rather, it is the ongoing discovery and creating of logic(s) other than patriarchy (Gyn/Ecology 160-69). A particular strategy for Realizing reason is Be-Shrewing or “being a Shrewd Shrew,” which reverses Aristotelian syllogistic logic (Wickedary 65): “Shrewdness was understood by Aristotle as ‘a faculty of hitting upon the middle term [connecting link] instantaneously.’ As he explained: It would be exemplified by a man who saw that the moon has her bright side always turned towards the sun, and quickly grasped the cause of this, namely that she borrows her light from him [sic]; or observed somebody in conversation with a man of wealth and divined that he was borrowing money, or that the friendship of these people sprang from a common enemy” (Pure Lust 267). Aristotle's syllogism is based on commonly accepted first principles and middle terms, what most people call common sense. Daly's shrewdness, however, is dependent on women's posing different first principles, different middle terms, different senses, and different contexts (269).

Daly's gendered challenge to Aristotle's logical syllogism has implications for the rhetorical enthymeme. In terms of individual socialization, Daly's challenge exposes how common assumptions privilege the power of the center. For example, such outsiders as women, minorities, and lower-class white males are encouraged to accept the economic structure of capitalism because they, too, may one day benefit from it; the odds of its happening, however, are never discussed. Conversely, Daly's challenge exposes how a focus on difference subverts the power of the center. Suppose the above-mentioned outsiders have no aspirations to climb a capitalistic ladder but rather prefer to pursue radical politics; as such, they might be accused of constituting clear and present dangers to our way of life. Nevertheless, they would exemplify how different principles and different senses may tear holes in the dominant ideology.

Daly's gendered challenge to Aristotle's enthymeme reveals the difficulty of communication between center and margins. Suppose a nonfeminist disagrees with a feminist claim, for example, that military women should fly jets in combat because they are as well-trained and capable as men. The nonfeminist could refute the major premise (i.e., ability and training are necessary for flying jets in combat) by invoking biological differences between men and women and by claiming that such differences affect either ability or training; or the nonfeminist could concede the major premise but supply a different middle term (e.g., combat necessitates special considerations for women in addition to their ability and training). Either way, the feminist claim is dismissed, and communication is closed down with a simple because clause. To move beyond such closure, the major premises, middle terms, and their underlying premises must be teased out; then they must be reimagined, articulated, questioned, and negotiated.

Context is the determining factor for deciding whether or not Be-Shrewing should be acted upon. Sometimes it is too draining, too time-consuming, too futile. Juanita Comfort speaks of picking her battles carefully, of choosing not to lay out the logic needed to educate a white professor who had refused to consider seriously the contributions of women within a certain literary period. Sometimes, however, Be-Shrewing is imperative. Deneen Shepherd speaks of carving a space for herself within academic discourse, challenging feminists (particularly, white feminists) to reconsider the place of personal narrative, the place of oral tradition as ways of knowing and being within academic discourse. As both Comfort and Shepherd make clear, deciding whether or not Be-Shrewing should be acted upon steals time. If the decision is no, time has still been spent considering the possibilities. If the decision is yes, even more time must be taken to remap premises, reconfigure logical stances, and painstakingly lay out claims and reasons. So the question is not whether Be-Shrewing costs time, but how much. Hence, Be-Shrewing slows political action.

A sixth kind of Spinning is Feminist Naming. Daly defines this strategy as “Truth-telling,” or the “Original summoning of words for the Self, the world and ultimate reality” (Wickedary 83). Feminist Naming enables a woman to uncover Background meanings as she sees, feels, thinks, intuits them: “[It is a] deliberate confrontation with [the] language structure of our heritage [that] transcends the split between nonrational sounds of ‘tongues’ and the merely rational semantic games of linguistic analysis, for it is a break out of the deafening noise of sexist language that has kept us from hearing our own word” (Beyond 167).24 Eight methods of Feminist Naming are outlined in Gyn/Ecology: (1) making up words—for example, gyn/ecology, (2) unmasking deceptive words—for instance, recover, which actually means to cover again, (3) unmasking hidden reversals—such as glamour's referring to a witch's power, not merely a cosmetic trick, (4) inviting readers to see and hear words differently—for example, de-light or re-verse, (5) tracing etymologies—as in text and textile, which have the same root although they have evolved in different gendered directions, (6) considering multiple meanings of words—such as spinster, referring to an unmarried woman and to a radical feminist Spinner, (7) rejecting inauthentic words that obscure women's lives and their oppression—for instance, chairperson, and (8) listening to one's intuition and making personal decisions—such as Daly's decision not to use herstory (24). Despite its power, Feminist Naming does have limits. Sometimes we only know our truths by their absence, by a felt sense that has no name. Sometimes, even if we do have names for our truths, the common sense of the dominant culture dismisses them as unimportant.

Because Feminist Naming is synonymous with Truth-telling, Daly does not validate prevaricating as Quintilian does in his famous discussion about why good men tell lies (12.33-45). In Daly's theory, lying has three possible results: silencing the Self, assuming a privileged position over others (as in lying to them for their own good), or perpetuating the Big Lie of patriarchy. Not lying is an important political step for Daly, not only for establishing her own Background Self but also for directly challenging her readers' daily identification with commonly accepted foreground myths and languages To promote Truth-telling, Daly tells the truth about it: not lying has consequences (Gyn/Ecology 1-36). Nevertheless, Feminist Naming as Truth-telling serves several important (meta)physical functions. It enables a woman to confront false naming as a patriarchal tool of social control (Beyond 126). It enables her to conceptualize and articulate herSelf and the Background realm, (Pure Lust xii). And it enables her to reimagine deity as Be-ing. This latter move is imperative if the first two are to occur. For Feminist Naming is participating in Be-ing, “naming toward God [instead of] fixing names upon God, which [deafen] us to our potential for self-naming” (Beyond 33). Thus, Truth-telling takes on processual motion that lying tries to halt.

Daly's first Non-canon begins with exposing the Sado-Ritual Syndrome and culminates in the Play of Feminist Naming, which in turn generates more Syndrome exposures. And so goes radical feminist Spinning, proceeding in a Dis-ordering way.


The re-versing of arrangement, Dis-ordering is the second of Daly's Background Non-canons. Daly defines Dis-ordering by tracing its etymology to order, which derives from Latin terms that mean to warp and to weave; this warping and weaving is associated with “Tidal Weaving and Reweaving; breaking through the tidy order/orders of Boredom” (Wickedary 118). By playing with this warping and weaving metaphor, Daly refuses a fixed or formulaic foreground arrangement. Like Socrates, she offers no tidy introductions, narrations, proofs, refutations, or conclusions. Unlike Socrates, however, she describes Background Dis-ordering as Tidal, composed of gendered cosmic rhythms and interconnectedness (97). As such, Dis-ordering resembles a freewriting that de/mystifies patriarchal myth and language.

Daly's weaving metaphor implies that Dis-ordering is a process of constructing texts that is grounded in the particulars space and time of composing, whether that composing be reading or writing. This weaving metaphor also implies that Dis-ordering emerges as patterns that are simultaneously crafted and functional. Such claims are supported by her definition of weaving as an “Original activity of Websters: creating tapestries of Crone-centered creation; constructing a context which sustains Sisters on the Otherworld Journey”; and a “mode of Travelling: wending one's way through and around the baffles of blockocracy; crisscrossing and connecting with other Voyagers” (Wickedary 99-100). This definition simultaneously posits Dis-ordering as a process (“activity”), a product (“tapestries”), a space (“context”), a time (“Travelling”), and a recognition of intersubjectivity (“crisscrossing and connecting”). This definition challenges foreground arrangement patterns, whether classical schemes or their much diminished twentieth-century receptions like the five paragraph theme.

As demonstrated by Daly's own textual practice, the implications of Dis-ordering are multiple. First, it celebrates intertextuality. In many cases, Daly's forewords and afterwards are written years after the text's original publication; thus, they talk to and about the texts that follow, breaking down boundaries between time and space, reaffirming and rejecting earlier metaphors, methods, and claims. Likewise, subsequent books are conversations with and about her earlier texts. Second, Daly's Dis-ordering can break patriarchal logic for writers and readers. By jolting them with her claims and language play, she invites them to read and write differently, with more gender awareness. She is realistic, however, about the extent to which she can control the reception of her texts, as evidenced by the patriarchal reviews that she predicts for The Church and the Second Sex.25 Third, if Dis-ordering does not break patriarchal logic(s) for all her readers, at the very least it will alleviate Boredom, “the official/officious state produced by bores” (Wickedary 186). Fourth, Dis-ordering re-fuses Spinning, generating ideas by taking writers and readers to a new space and time. For some, this new place is the Background; for others, it is a heightened awareness, or a vehement reaffirmation, of the foreground. Fifth, Dis-ordering merges subject and object, process and product, celebrating the journey while recognizing that each tapestry/text must be completed and used if only as a pattern for further Spinning. In these ways, Dis-ordering is neither a glib response to patriarchy nor a mere antiformalism.26 Rather, it embodies radical feminist journeys and invites others to join (Gyn/Ecology 23).

As discussed thus far, Spinning-in a Dis-ordering fashion concentrates primarily on the voyager's attempt to de/mystify the foreground and discover her Background Self. But when Be-Spelling enters into play with Daly's first two Non-canons, it discloses how Spinning in a Dis-ordering fashion is not just done in a vacuum but encompasses innocent bystanders, enchanting those who happen to get caught up in the whirl.


The re-versing of style, Be-Spelling is the third of Daly's Background Non-canons. A casting of charms and enchantment through language, Be-Spelling is listed in the Wickedary as the “ontological Shape-Shifting of words which awakens latent powers of be-ing in the Spell-speaker, in the hearer, and in the words themselves” (65). This definition reveals Be-Spelling's rhetorical functions, both communicative and socializing; the power of Be-Spelling is centered at the intersection of speaker, hearer, and language where it assumes a potency unrealizable at any one of the three points individually. That power may be channelled in “overthrowing dronedom/clonedom,” that is, in throwing “the old order out of order” (19).

Be-Spelling functions at both conscious and unconscious levels, as exemplified by Daly's descriptions of her own textual practices. Her unconscious magical conjuring of metaphorical language is especially powerful for evoking an alliterative, incantatory quality in her prose: “[The words] seem to want to break the bonds of conventional usage, to break the silence imposed upon their own Backgrounds. They become palpable, powerful, and it seems that they are tired of allowing me to ‘use’ them and cry out for a role reversal. I become their mouthpiece, and if I am not always accurate in conveying their meanings, that is probably because I haven't yet learned to listen closely enough, in the realm of the labyrinthine inner ear” (Gyn/Ecology 25). At other times, Daly's conscious magical conjuring is especially powerful for constructing, reflecting, and reinforcing her messages. In forewords, afterwords, introductions, explanatory notes, and prefaces, she discusses seven conscious Be-Spelling choices: spelling, grammar, word choice, pronoun usage, capitalization, punctuation, and sources. But whether unconscious or conscious, Be-Spelling choices do not culminate in static stylistic rules that all feminists should follow. Rather, these choices embody visual ruptures in texts that force writers and readers to become aware of, and reflect on, the foreground function of language. As such, these choices pose questions that each writer and reader must answer. Such a questioning process is necessary, Daly argues, if we are to recognize the ideological assumptions built into our foreground language practices.

To demonstrate Be-Spelling through her own writing, Daly cites seven particular strategies that expose links between words and magical conjuring. First, her Spellings are links that “open gateways, summon spirits, brew brainstorms, and Be-Speak Other worlds” (Wickedary 13). Such Spellings invoke Dis-Spelling, “un-spelling/respelling the possessed words of phallocentric language [in order to release] the Original Magical Powers of Words” (118). Daly proposes three basic Spelling strategies: changing spellings so that words are seen differently (e.g., Gyn/Ecology instead of gynecology), changing contexts of spellings so that words are heard differently (e.g., the radical feminist un-covering of spinster as one who Spins), and spinning off so that words heard differently are written differently and thus seen differently (e.g., words in the Wickedary) (14-18). The reasons for conjuring such Spellings are simple: patriarchal language and scholarship cannot convey women's Background energy (Pure Lust 30). These Spelling strategies challenge the foreground assumption that correct spelling is indicative of intelligence yet extraneous to meaning; simultaneously, they expose the Background assumption that Spelling not only reflects but constructs a reader's and writer's Self.

Second, grammar is also a link between words and magical conjuring. Background grammar is the “harmonious interplay among the primal sounds of words; concordance of words Sounding and Resounding together in complex compositions, as they communicate manifold meanings” (Wickedary 77). Linking grammar etymologically to glamour, Daly repudiates foreground meanings that reduce grammar to dull, dry, static studies and glamour to painted, airbrushed magazine covers. Instead, she uncovers their Background meanings of Be-Witching, or “breaking the rules/roles of boring bewitchingness” (66). When juxtaposed to Background Be-Witching, foreground grammar and glamour are exposed not as objective descriptions of language and beauty but as means of social control (24, 128). For example, Daly argues that foreground grammar deletes agency: passive voice mystifies accountability by erasing who or what performs as action; unattributed adjectives in such expressions as “undesirable behavior” suppress the agent's identity (i.e., who finds the behavior undesirable); and generic nouns such as people and they allow particular perpetrators to hide behind the general (Gyn/Ecology 324-26). In addition to deleting agency, Daly argues that foreground grammar deletes possibilities. That is, foreground grammar posits static categories and rigid rules of syntax, which Background grammar challenges with active verbs, active adjectives, and specific Naming that spooks the passive. Hence, Daly encourages a Spinning woman to play with the categories and rules of grammar, to practice Sin-tactics by making connections between seemingly unconnected information. Sin-tactics is a crucial strategy of Daly's Be-Spelling, enabling a Spinning woman to break patriarchal logic(s), rhetoric(s), silence(s), and taboo(s) (Wickedary 30).

Closely associated with Daly's concerns about spelling and grammar is her third Be-Spelling strategy, diction. She carefully deliberates over word choice not because words are politically correct but because they construct and reflect our be-ing in particular spaces and times. Words must be written and read both to expose old meanings in the foreground and to construct new meanings, New Words, in the Background: for example, what Daly calls discrimination in 1968 she might call oppression in 1975 (Church [The Church and the Second Sex] 14-15). Changes in time and space create different places in which people have different perspectives and words have different functions, hence Daly's interest in etymologies and Meta-etymologies (Wickedary xxiii). She employs them not only to expose Cronelogical meanings for Feminist Naming but also to invoke Be-Spelling enchantments, which she hopes will spark Spinning in herSelf and her readers (Gyn/Ecology 24). Thus, diction embodies more than a polite reflection of class status and educational achievement; in Daly's theory, it embodies a metaphoric, generative function.

Fourth, although pronoun usage is a type of word choice, Daly singles it out for individual mention as a Be-Spelling strategy. Pronouns pose particular problems because they perpetuate the dilemma of subject/object relations. Daly invokes her concept of intersubjectivity to resolve this dilemma theoretically and particular pronoun strategies to resolve this dilemma theoretically and particular pronoun strategies to resolve it linguistically. When considering third-person pronouns, Daly not only rejects the generic he but more interestingly questions the use of they when referring to women: they is an “objective” subject position that allows a woman to separate herself from other women. When contemplating first-person pronouns, Daly offers no easier choices: I conceals the writer's sex as does we (Gyn/Ecology 18-19). To solve this problem in the Wickedary, Daly and Caputi stipulate that we includes not only the coauthors but also other Background journeyers (xxii). Despite these strategies, Daly admits that no easy solutions or hard and fast rules exist: in the final analysis, context should determine pronoun selection (Pure Lust 31).

Fifth, Daly claims that her Be-Spelling strategy of capitalization reflects her meanings, not foreground ones or standard usage; yet she also discloses that the previous claim is not always true (Wickedary xxi). Nevertheless, patterns do emerge. Daly unfolds her capitalization logic as follows: “I consistently capitalize Spinster, just as one normally capitalizes Amazon. I capitalize Lesbian when the word is used in its woman-identified (correct) sense, but use the lower case when referring to the male-distorted version reflected in the media. Self is capitalized when I am referring to the authentic center of woman's process, while the imposed/internalizes ‘self,’ the shell of the Self, is in lower case” (Gyn/Ecology 25-26). Daly uses capital letters to distinguish Wickedary usage from standard usage, to emphasize foreground fabrications, to laugh at foreground seriousness, and to name Background meanings (xxi-xxii). Thus, her capitalization identifies for herSelf and her readers the differences between foreground and Background; it also forces readers to see and hear words in a different way.

Sixth, Daly's Be-Spelling strategy of punctuation is surprisingly standard. She puts quotations and dialogue in quotation marks; she emphasizes words being defined with italics; she ends sentences with periods and question marks; and she indicates possession with apostrophes. Her most subversive punctuation strategy involves the hyphen and the slash. With these marks, Daly regularly separates prefix and root, root and suffix as in un-cover or re-cover,gyn/ecology or a/mazing. In terms of signifieds, such strategies uncover foreground reversals; for instance, un-cover suggests that there was once a cover-up. These strategies also create Background meanings; for example, Gyn/Ecology suggests that women need to be saved. In terms of signifiers, however, such strategies provide a visual break in the language, a crossing out or slashing of foreground signifieds.

Daly's seventh Be-Spelling strategy, her use of sources, is an important political statement. As “the rebuttal of the rite of right re-search,” Daly's feminist scholarship challenges patriarchal scholarship (Gyn/Ecology 23). To reverse standard foreground practices, Daly transvalues sources: her primary sources are women's experiences; her secondary sources, men's texts from a variety of fields (27; Pure Lust 31). Unlike some feminists, Daly does not avoid using men's texts nor apologize for doing so; however, neither is she a disciple of these texts. Whether using them as proof or as springboards for thought, Daly is always aware of women's contributions to these texts (Gyn/Ecology 27). Because of this awareness, Daly's sources invoke fleeting shadows in prefaces and dedications as well as forgotten episodes in women's history. In this way, her citation process is Woman identified.

As a feminist reversal of style, all of these Be-Spelling strategies are important to Daly's rhetoric of radical feminist de/mystification. The purpose of these strategies is to remind writers and readers of Virginia Woolf's claim that meanings do not reside in books and dictionaries but live in minds (Wickedary 27). And within such minds, much is created and much is Re-membered.


The re-versing of memory, Re-membering is the fourth of Daly's Background Non-canons. It is Daly's answer to the Nietzschean question of how to create a memory for the human animal (Gyn/Ecology 109; Pure Lust 169-78). Crucial to Daly's radical feminist journeys between foreground and Background, Re-membering entails “Re-calling the Original intuition of integrity; healing the dismembered Self” (Wickedary 92-93). More than rote memorization, Re-memberings unpack foreground mystifications and reassemble them as Background de/mystifications. In this way, Re-memberings reverse foreground dismemberments of ourSelves and our wor(l)ds and posit new Background definitions. But such a defining process is not linear, with a neat beginning, middle, and end; instead, it folds back on itself in a never ending recursive motion. By citing specific texts to exemplify these definitions, Daly demonstrates how foreground memories and Background memories may exist simultaneously while taking their meanings from their immediate contexts.

So important is Re-membering to Daly's rhetoric of radical feminist de/mystification that she conceptualizes seven different types. The first, Memory, is “the power to Re-member; the power to transcend the categories of tidy time, to connect with the sources of instinctive, ecstatic knowledge” (Wickedary 79); it puts fragmented members together into a web in which reason and instinct, seriousness and ecstasy construct a fuller knowledge than that which exists in the foreground. The second, Gynocentric Memory, is both the “Memory of a Gynocratic world that pre-existed patriarchy” and the “Crone-logical Memory: history that records/Re-calls events of central importance to women” (136). Merging history and prehistory, this memory is woman centered in its attempt to uncover the gaps, the white spaces, and the off-the-page spaces in (pre)history. The third, Elemental Memory, is the “faculty that Re-members Knowledge, emotions, and experiences beyond the fabricated elementary ‘recollections’ of the foreground” (80). Here Daly plays with foreground elementary and Background Elemental, defining the former as a lack of connection with the earth and the latter as the presences of this connection (73). Within an Elemental Memory, humans do not have dominion over the earth; instead, they understand their interconnectedness with the earth as well as the truths this interconnectedness bestows. The fourth, Tidal Memory, is the “Memory of the Deep Background, characterized by Tidal Rhythms of Re-membering”; because Daly posits Elemental as a synonym for Tidal, tidal memory can be read as a kind of Elemental Memory (97).

The fifth type of Re-membering, E-motional Memory, is an “Elementary Memory, stirring deep Passion, generating Movement out of the Fixed State” (Wickedary 80). Neither static nor rational, E-motional Memory rides the rhythms of emotions and constructs a space for emotion and body language within Background logic(s) and rhetoric(s). By validating commonplace and commonsense meanings in a woman's life, E-motional Memory posits these meanings as valid proof. The sixth, Memory of the Future, is “active participation in Tidal Time; action that affects/effects the Future” (80). This memory makes both past and future possible in the present for individual be-ings and cultures. It also foregrounds the rhythmic, associative nature of memory and breaks down the affect/effect (subject/verb) dichotomy. Finally, the seventh, Metamemory, is “Deep, Ecstatic Memory of participation in Being that eludes the categories and grids of patriarchal consciousness … Memory beyond civilization” (81). Driven by Meta-etymologies and Meta-metaphors, Metamemory enables a woman to think beyond the foreground and Re-member her interconnectedness nature, other people, and the cosmos. Thus, a woman Re-members herSelf as a be-ing, a member of the ecological web that participates in Being.

Taken together, these Re-memberings do not question the process of categorizing; however, they do question the desire for static categories in patriarchal logic. As fluid Background categories, these Re-memberings blur boundaries and generate possibilities. Because these memories and their meanings are deeply rooted in our everyday words, Daly argues that we may discover them by analyzing not only language functions, nor only language use, but also the manner and context in which language functions and is used (Pure Lust 152). Hence, Re-membering enables Be-Speaking, both verbal and textual.


The re-versing of delivery, Be-Speaking is the fifth of Daly's Background Non-canons. Daly defines Be-Speaking as “bringing about a psychic and/or material change by means of words; speaking into be-ing” (Wickedary 65). As such, Be-Speaking becomes more than a list of simple tips for effective body language and enunciation; it becomes an integral gesture in the construction of power and knowledge that is rhetoric. According to Daly, this reversal of delivery has multiple possibilities within our culture, possibilities that include writing, painting, pottery, social work, marches, and scholarship as well as speaking (Pure Lust 120). Within these multiple possibilities, each woman may contribute her particular talents, interests, and experiences.

Daly names three interwoven strategies—Raging, Be-Wildering, and Be-Thinking—as the main motions of “speaking into be-ing.” Raging is not a developmental stage that must be resolved in order to progress to the next one; rather, it is a transforming force that presumes E-motion, especially anger, possesses the potential to unbind minds (Gyn/Ecology xxxi). Raging reverses foreground repressed rage and enables us to keep women's loss of power within patriarchy constantly in the forefront of our thinking and acting. Although Raging can be misdirected, it can also be productively channeled into other Be-Speaking strategies, such as Be-Wildering and Be-thinking.

Be-Wildering takes the Self as well as Others farther into the Background when they follow the Call of the Wild (Wickedary 66). Once this Call is discovered and Re-membered, Be-Wildering emerges as an exploratory gesture that challenges foreground logic and invites others to embark on radical feminist journeys by staying on the question. Be-Wildering does not pose simple questions nor provide easy answers. Rather, it enables us to tease out the blurrings of foreground categories as well as to question the categories themselves. Its purpose is to demonstrate that different ways of thinking/speaking/writing are neither craziness, nor wrong tracks, nor the sum total of raging hormones.

Because Raging and Be-Wildering are rhetorical strategies that lead to Background logic(s), they presume Be-Thinking, or thinking one's way farther into the Background with a warped logic (Wickedary 65). By urging women to Re-call Original Questions, Daly Challenges the foreground's obsession with first causes; moreover, she exposes that questions should concern Final Causes, not first causes. Simply put, Final Causes are “The beginning, not the end of becoming”; as such, they provide the space of agency or Be-Speaking (76). Thus, Be-Speaking, invokes the mental, spiritual, and bodily be-comings of radical feminism.

With the process of Be-Speaking, we arrive back at Spinning. This movement exposes the interwoven nature of Daly's Non-canons. Because her rhetoric of radical feminist de/mystification is predominantly a generative rhetoric, Spinning occurs throughout all the Non-canons; that is, Spinning is both a cause and effect of Dis-ordering, Be-Spelling, Re-membering, and Be-Speaking. Daly's Non-canons are not linear motions, nor compartmentalized categories, nor simple causes and effects. Instead, Daly's Non-canons participate in continual be-ing—blurring, overlapping, and/or changing at particular moments of composing. For this reason, Daly's Background rhetoric of radical feminist de/mystification is a reversal of, not a counterpart to, the foreground rhetoric of patriarchal mystification. For Daly's Background rhetoric presumes a different mindset, a different process of seeing and hearing, a different set of assumptions about myth and language, and a different reading of their ideological implications for ourSelves and our wor(l)ds. Hence, her Background rhetoric posits her radical feminist concept of writing process.


Radical feminist writing processes must be articulated, Daly argues, because feminist processes “must become sensible (in actions, speech, works of all kinds) in order to become” (Gyn/Ecology 23). Rather than beginning from a general premise of that which should be, Daly begins with her own feminist writing process, which presumes a metaphoric language function that enables the writer to break through foreground meanings into the Background. Daly names her feminist writing process “creative Hag-ography” and attributes it with several powers. It enables women to generate new Background thoughts and actions about women. it un-covers old thoughts and actions about women that have been denigrated or hidden over time. And it rebuts patriarchal methods of research in order to challenge the nature and value of foreground knowledge (23). Through these powers, Daly's radical feminist writing process participates in changing the personal, the textual, and the cultural. But this process requires the strength to stop repeating the same old patterns: that is, to Spin new ideas and ethics by reversing the old ones, to Dis-order old logics, to Be-spell our audiences, to Re-member ourSelves, and to Be-speak all of the above, not necessarily in that order (23). In turn, Daly invites other women and feminists to adapt their own versions of writing process for their own ends.

A particular kind of writer emerges through Daly's feminist writing process: the “Cosmic Writer is any Lusty woman who speaks the Words of her own being” and who, when such action is taken, is spurred to write more, Name more, and speak more (Pure Lust 120, 173). Even though Daly acknowledges limitations in posing literacy as a solution to patriarchal oppression, she believes that most women have the power to articulate our own particular experiences, Naming them verbally if not in writing (174).27 And even though she recognizes that the resulting consciousness will not erase nor even reform the social, she does believe that such a feminist literacy enables a Self to Be-Speak its way out of foreground meanings into Background ones (121). In this way, foreground speaking gives way to Background Speaking. Moreover, Daly insists that such Speaking cannot be seen as a one time experience but rather must be accepted as a continual journey. As such, this Naming/Wording/Speaking discovers, creates, and translates the radical feminist journey of weaving the self into the Self, a process that manifests itself throughout the body and onto the page (173).

For Daly, such weaving culminates not only in a radical feminist Self but also in a living text with radical feminist voices of its own. Daly describes her concept of text as follows: “It is by no means my contention that the task of feminist writers, or of any writer, is literally to ‘transcribe’ books that exist elsewhere. However, the intuition of a library and a community of scholars in another dimension seems to me inspired. For in true acts of creation one does participate in Other dimensions. Moreover, it is true that as we go about our work ‘here’ we are making our way ‘there.’ For in honest acts of creation deep Be-ing is disclosed. Such acts are carriers/Metaphors of Metabeing” (Pure Lust 120). This definition is in no way Platonic. “Other dimensions” refers not to Plato's transcendent and immutable forms of being, but rather to Daly's transcendent-and-immanent, always mutable process of be-ing within Be-ing. Thus, Daly's text is not a static reflection of a static truth, or a patriarchal essentialism. Instead, it is a constructed web of words that, in turn, constructs the Self as a text who reads and writes other texts. This constantly interchanging process constructs a new space in a new time, which is one of Daly's definitions of radical feminism.

Although Daly's ideal audience is receptive to this new space and new time, her Background rhetoric with its Background categories—Non-canons, writing process, writer, and text—leave her open to a plethora of criticism from unreceptive audiences, whether feminist or otherwise, whether academic or otherwise.28 For example, poststructuralist (feminist) critics might argue that, by positing a priori meanings, Daly naively privileges the signified over the signifier. Materialist (feminist) critics might argue that, by positing a transcendent Be-ing in which Websters may participate, Daly naively assumes that patriarchal ideology and its power structures can be transcended by autonomous agents. Psychoanalytic (feminist) critics might argue that, by positing a material and spiritual Self who uses language for her own ends, Daly naively privileges consciousness. And African American critics might argue that, by positing gender as the dominant category of analysis, Daly naively dismisses the power differentials of race. Mary Daly, however, is anything but naive: she simply refuses to play within patriarchal logics and rhetorics. Instead, she Spins such criticisms to expose the gaps in them.

Daly recognizes such criticisms and models strategies for exposing their “logic” in a playful afterwords to Pure Lust. In this “Non-Chapter Thirteen: Cat/egorical Appendix,” Daly narrates an academic journal representative's attempt to interview her, but instead of speaking for herSelf, Daly gives voice to her familiar, a feline named Ms. Wild Eyes whom the representative reluctantly agrees to interview in Daly's stead. The purpose of the interview is to identify, locate, or fix Daly's theory for the journal's constituency. The irony, of course, is that in attempting to fix Daly, the representative fixes himself. Using him to parody male-identified post-structuralist theories of language, Daly demonstrates that sexism is more deeply embedded in academia than are theoretical convictions about language (Pure Lust 412-15). For example, by preferring to talk with Dr. Daly instead of with her familiar, the representative seems to privilege autonomous agency, not heteroglossic discourse. By wanting to come straight to the point, he seems to desire clarity and presence, not play and absence, in language. By obsessing about her feminist invention process, he seems to prefer empirically-based theories of knowledge, not constructionist ones. By accusing her of insulting people (read “men”), he seems to promote a conspiracy of silence within the academy, not political action. By accusing her of biological determinism, that is, by interpreting be-ing and Be-ing as static concepts, he seems to defend the categories of phallogocentric culture, not their overlaps or gaps. By refusing her redefinition of Sin, he seems to champion fixed meanings, not multiple ones. And by ignoring her degrees in theology and philosophy and by trying to confine her to literature, he seems to reinforce a dichotomy between truth and fiction, not their blurrings. When at the end of the interview he still professes perplexity about Doctor Daly's work, Wild Eyes further confuses him with her own Background cat/egorical imperative: “What did you expect? Fuzzy foreground abstractions? We can't discuss metapatriarchal metapatterning Metaphor with just anyone …” (415).

While admittedly manipulating this representative as well as her “audience” in this NonChapter, Daly de/mystifies the rhetoric of patriarchal mystification as espoused by the journal representative so that the charges leveled against her are exposed as unconscious desires of academia. By refusing to participate in this rhetoric and its desires,29 that is, by declining to debate the representative on his foreground turf and in his foreground terms, she forces him to be responsible for his own understanding of her Background turf and terms. If he so chooses, they have the possibility of communicating; if he does not, at least Daly has created her own Background space and time where her Self and be-ing are not dependent upon his language or logic. Daly's refusal to participate in his foreground rhetoric of patriarchal mystification is not simply the luxury permitted an Anglo-American, tenured professor; neither is her construction of a Background rhetoric of radical feminist de/mystification a universal theory. Rather, it is, for Daly, a means of Self-survival that allows her, and perhaps others, to flourish within the presence of patriarchy.


Mary Daly's Anglo-American feminist theory of rhetoric conceptualizes both the existence and strategies of a foreground rhetoric of patriarchal mystification and a Background rhetoric of radical feminist de/mystification with its accompanying concept of Hag-ography. The key to escaping from foreground rhetorics into Background ones is the socially transformative power of language. In Daly's theory, language may be employed to Spin ourSelves and our wor(l)ds, Dis-ordering and Be-Spelling so that we may Re-member Background meanings and Be-Speak them for ourSelves and for others.

But because no theory can explain and predict the actions and attitudes of every particular individual in every corner of the world, Mary Daly's feminist theory of rhetoric—being, among other things, white, middle-class, American, and lesbian—cannot but mystify as it demystifies. Because Daly's Anglo-American feminist theory of rhetoric cannot provide a totalizing theory, it should not be read as the answer to all women's problems; neither should it be dismissed out of hand. For Daly's feminist theory of rhetoric poses questions and possible answers about a multitude of our concerns: women and agency, the play of language, the construction of knowledge, the existence of de/mystified meanings, the conception of be-ing/Be-ing as a verb, the categories of foreground logic, the multeity of meanings, and the distinctions between truth and fiction, to name only a few. All these issues can subsequently inform feminist composition pedagogies.

Specifically, Daly's Anglo-American feminist theory of rhetoric invites continued conversations about the intersections of feminism with rhetoric and composition studies:

1. How does Daly's concept of Spinning, or Gyn/Ecological Creation, challenge Aristotle's concept of inventive topoi and multicultural concerns about invention?

2. How does Daly's concept of agency, which assumes a material and spiritual dimension, complicate the social constructionist theories of rhetoric and writing pedagogy that focus primarily on the material?

3. How does Daly's concept of conjuring through metaphorical language complicate Nietzsche's and subsequent deconstructionist theories of metonymic language function? And what are the implications for reading and writing pedagogy?

4. How does Daly's critique of patriarchal logic and its penchant for stable categories create a space in which Plato's and Descartes's charges against rhetoric may be refuted?

5. How does Daly's theologically grounded feminist theory of rhetoric, which focuses on both the word and The Word, challenge Kenneth Burke's rhetorical theory of logology and Logology?30

Chances are, most readers will not easily identify with Mary Daly's metaethics or her rhetorical strategies; on the other hand, they will not soon forget her powerful prose either. But whether or not we agree with her conclusions, whether or not we adopt her strategies, once we read Mary Daly, we are never quite the same (un)gendered readers or writers again. Throughout her texts, her goal is simple but not easily achieved: “Virginia Woolf knew of the need for a feminist tradition when she wrote of her hope for the eventual arrival of Shakespeare's sister. I hope for the arrival also of the sisters of Plato, of Aristotle, of Kant, of Nietzsche: sisters who will not merely ‘equal them,’ but do something different, something immeasurably more” (Church 51). Mary Daly may not exactly be the Judith Shakespeare that Virginia Woolf imagines in A Room of One's Own, and she may have Spun beyond desiring to be Nietzsche's sister. Perhaps she can instead be read as the thrice-born Athena imagined in Gyn/Ecology, who is born into a particular culture not only through her mother's womb, not only through her father's brow, but also through her own words. Therein, I argue, lies the importance of Mary Daly's Anglo-American feminist theory of rhetoric: it conceptualizes a revisionary language theory and praxis through which a woman may participate in de/mystifying herSelf and her Wor(l)ds.


  1. For the source of Daly's thrice-born Athena concept, see Nicholson.

  2. For Daly's autobiographical accounts of her evolving radical feminism, see the “Autobiographical Preface to the 1975 Edition,” Church 5-14; the 1990 “New Intergalactic Introduction,” Gyn/Ecology xi-xliv; and, of course, her autobiography, Outercourse.

  3. Daly claims that patriarchal scholarship is “writing that erases itself” and “even at its best, continues and participates in the Righteous Rites of female slaughter/erasure” (Gyn/Ecology 120). Also see 126, 133, 143-52, 170-77, 203-22, 288-92, 306-12.

  4. Daly defines patriarchy as follows:

    n 1: a society manufactured and controlled by males: FATHERLAND; society in which every legitimated institution is entirely in the hands of males and a few selected henchwomen; society characterized by oppression, repression, depression, narcissism, cruelty, racism, classism, ageism, objectification, sadomasochism, necrophilia; joyless society, ruled by Godfather, Son, and Company; society fixed on proliferation, propagation, procreation, and bent on the destruction of all Life 2: the prevailing religion of the entire planet, whose essential message is necrophilia.

    (Wickedary 89)

  5. Aristotle discusses his definitions of essence in the Metaphysics (1.7.315-21). For critiques of this position, see Fuss xi, 71-72.

  6. See Locke, 1.27-29, who defines real (or Aristotelian) essentialism as assuming an irreducible, unchanging essence and nominal essentialism as assuming that essence is a linguistic construction. For an extended discussion of feminism and essentialism, see Fuss.

  7. For discussions of why feminisms should not attempt to redefine essentialism, see Judith Butler vii; and de Lauretis 267.

  8. Daly distinguishes between Be-ing and be-ing as follows: Be-ing is the “Ultimate/Intimate Reality, the constantly Unfolding Verb of Verbs which is intransitive, having no object that limits its dynamism (Wickedary 64); be-ing is “actual participation in the Ultimate/Intimate Reality—Be-ing, the Verb” (65).

  9. For an extended discussion of how rhetoric emerges at the intersection of myth, language, and ideology, see Burke, Rhetoric of Motives 101-10. This relationship is most evident, and applicable to Daly's project, in Burke's seventh definition of ideology: an “inverted genealogy of culture, that makes for ‘illusion’ and ‘mystification’ by treating ideas as primary where they should have been treated as derivative” (104).

  10. Feminists have sometimes accused Daly of colonizing another culture's myths by viewing them from a Euro-American perspective. See Lorde, “Open Letter” 66-71.

  11. To honor Daly's (theory of) language play, I use her spelling and punctuation when referring to her concepts. For example, I use the verb “dis-cover” purposely here to reflect Daly's meaning: “uncovering the Elemental Reality hidden by the hucksters, frauds, and framers of phallocracy; finding the treasures of women's Memory, Knowledge, History that have been buried by the grave diggers of patriarchal re-search” (Wickedary 118).

  12. Influences on Daly's concept of metaphor include: Jaynes 48; Langer 14; Morton; Rich, Dream; Tillich 1.163; and the work of Julia Penelope (Stanley). See Pure Lust 25-30, 421).

  13. Daly defines the term metapatriarchal as follows:

    [B]ecause the prefix meta has multiple meanings. It incorporates the idea of “postpatriarchal,” for it means occurring later. It puts patriarchy in the past without denying that its walls/ruins and demons are still around. Since meta also means “situated behind,” it suggests that the direction of the journey is into the Background. Another meaning of the prefix is “change in, transformation of.” This, of course, suggests the transforming power of the journey. By this I do not mean that the women's movement “reforms” patriarchy, but that it transforms our Selves. Since meta means “beyond, transcending,” it contains a built-in corrective to reductive notions of mere reformism.

    (Gyn/Ecology 7)

  14. In Pure Lust Daly identifies deception as the Eighth Deadly Sin, that is, “the most crucial one, which the fathers, of course, omit” (x). The other seven are Professions (pride); Possession (avarice); Aggression (anger); Obsession (lust); Assimilation (gluttony); Elimination (envy); Fragmentation (sloth) (x). In the Medieval period a debate arose as to whether the deadly sins should number seven or eight; like Daly, Gregory the Great championed lying, or deceit, as the eighth sin (Bloomfield 60-67).

  15. Daly defines “mind-bindings” as “layers of crippling patriarchal thought patterns comparable to the footbindings which mutilated millions of Chinese women for over one thousand years: masterminded myths and ideologies meant to mummify the spirit and main the brain” (Wickedary 211).

  16. Daly defines “plastic passions” as “those blobs in inner space which preoccupy and paralyze their victims—predominantly women—draining our energies, perverting us from the pursuit of Pure Lust” (Pure Lust 200); she defines “potted passions” as “feelings that fragment and distort the psyche, masking Passion, making Pyrognostic Lust incomprehensible” (206).

  17. See duBois 169-83, who also analyzes this phenomenon in her feminist critique of classical philosophy.

  18. For a critique of Daly's method, see Nye, who argues that Daly's Theory falls into the utopian trap of many Anglo-American radical feminisms because it assumes that something essentially female about women can be recovered and used to empower women (101). For other sides to this debate, see Spender 53-54, 165-71, 181-89, 228-29, and Penelope 35-38, 213, 218-23).

  19. For an extended discussion of how Daly connects rhetoric and magic, see Pure Lust 79-123. Covino, Magic also explores the intersections of rhetoric and magic in Mary Daly's texts. For more on connections between rhetoric and magic, see Gorgias, who argues that two arts of witchcraft and magic are errors of the soul and deceptions of opinion; Burke, Rhetoric of Motives 40-42, 44; and Rhetoric of Religion; and Blankenship.

  20. To unpack Daly's definition of methodicide, we need to examine the terms of her definition. Nonquestions are “genuinely Questing Questions; Canny Questions frequently raised by women and erased by men and their henchwomen in the elementary schools of snooldom,” a snool being a “normal inhabitant of sadosociety, characterized by sadism and masochism combined” (Wickedary 87, 227). And nondata are “information that is disruptive and disturbing to pedants and therefore banned from the categories and classifications of academented re-search, theory, and method” (86). Also see Beyond 7-12 and Gyn/Ecology 23-24. The debate about feminism and its relation to methodology has haunted the contemporary feminist movement; see Harding, Feminism and Method 1-14.

  21. Dr. Jones is Professor of Theology at Florida State University.

  22. To demonstrate how her concept of Realizing reason differs from foreground constructions of realism, Daly compares her concept to Platonic realism, Aristotelian realism, and nominalism (Pure Lust 160-61). Drawing on a “medieval tradition of ‘theological ethics,’” Daly also locates reason as one of the eight “quasi—integral” parts of prudence (265-74).

  23. The following is Barbara's explanation for why she suddenly saw herself as a radical feminist:

    I used to—when I'd go in the bookstore and I'd see books about radical feminism—I'd have this fear. And I'm a great reader, but oh I wasn't going to read that! And I always had this great fear that, oh, they would just be angry books. I don't know, I would have this awful fear. And then when Bonnie was reading stuff from Gyn/Ecology I thought, “God, why have I been so afraid of those books,” … and if anything there's a connectedness. That really did help me, that really helped me because up until that point I felt like no other woman thought this way, that I was terribly radical and alone.

    (Mann xli)

  24. Speaking in tongues, Daly argues, is evidence of psychological rebellion against strictures imposed by language (Beyond 166). For critical discussions of Daly's Feminist Naming, see Rich, “That Women Name Themselves” 10; and Reading.

  25. The following are reviews that Daly predicts for her text: “I saw this coming in 1968,” from a Conservative Catholic; “Despite her disclaimers, she still belongs to the Judeo-Christian tradition,” from a Liberal Protestant Professor; and “She should join the Unitarian Universalists,” from a Unitarian Universalist (Church 48).

  26. For an opposing argument, see Fraser 93-100. In her critique of Kristeva's work on “avant-garde aesthetic production,” Fraser argues that such language play, “irrespective of content,” is indeed mere formalism (95).

  27. For a discussion of the limits and possibilities of feminist naming, see Cameron, Feminist Critique 99-198.

  28. For critiques of radical feminism and language theory as they apply to Daly, see Alcoff; Cameron, “Why Is Language” 12-20; Nye 95-103, 175, 178; Ruthven 36-50, 96; Weedon 6-7, 132-35.

  29. Daly's maneuver is reminiscent of Callicles' move in Plato's Gorgias. Callicles refuses to participate in (and thus repudiates) the dialectical method; as a result, Socrates is forced into a rhetorical monologue, the very type of discourse that he purportedly most mistrusts.

  30. Like Burke, Daly is intrigued by how language functions at the level of the word and “the Word,” what Burke in Rhetoric of Religion calls logology and Logology. What Daly foregrounds is the gendered function: “Such extensions/incarnations of the collectively supreme patriarchal Word (Lie) in secular as well as sacral society requires the discrediting of women's own words, although patriarchally instilled delusions will be accepted from the mouths of women after these have been tested and corroborated. This follows the tradition of Christian gospel: The words of the women who has ‘seen’ the risen Christ were at first discredited, but the error of those who disbelieved the women was rectified when the reports were confirmed by male witnesses” (Gyn/Ecology 91).

Carol Anne Douglas (review date December 1998)

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SOURCE: Douglas, Carol Anne. Review of Quintessence … Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto, by Mary Daly. Off Our Backs 28, no. 11 (December 1998): 14.

[In the following review, Douglas praises Daly's optimistic world view, but finds Quintessence inferior to her previous works.]

Readers in 2048 will like Mary Daly's new book, Quintessence. That's Daly's prediction, and the book is filled with comments from a radical feminist from that year who likes the book and conjures Daly back to discuss it.

Daly's faith in the future bespeaks her isolation, and the isolation of many radical feminists, in the present. She is rightly angry that some radical feminist books are no longer in print and numerous women's bookstores have gone out of business. But when Daly is angry, she is never simply angry. Always she finds joy as well as rage in radical feminist knowledge; always she leads beyond the anger to the joy.

Quintessence is the final element, beyond earth, air, water, and fire. She seeks it in a time when men are trying to find ways to use everything in the universe—every plant, every star—for their purposes. Everything exists only to be used, they think. Daly is rightly horrified at this ethic of exploitation.

Daly writes of the scattering of radical feminists because they must disperse to find a living (especially those who teach college). This dispersion, a major cause of the feelings of isolation, she names a diaspora. The divisions among women she also calls a diaspora. I think the term is appropriate, not too strong. But she sees good in the dispersion of our ideas this creates. Similarly, remaindering of our books causes them to be sold at lower prices to women who might not be able to afford the original price, Daly notes. Her publisher has recently taken three of her books out of print.

If we feel despair, we must name it, not call it depression, which too easily suggests that it is an illness that can be treated, Daly writes. We must see that the condition of women under patriarchy is a state of despair. Seeing the hopelessness of reform under patriarchy can help us leap to hopefulness about going beyond it, she says. “In our Aloneness, Spinsters Rage Together,” Daly says.

Daly sees grief as passive; she tries to transform it into rage, which can move us to creative action. We must have the Courage to Create, she writes. Out of despair, we may take Desperate Acts that will inspire change.

At the age of five, we are all philosophers, asking “Why?” until we are squelched, Daly writes. Citing an experiment, she says that if we hear that people are brilliant, we will start seeing them as brilliant and their performances will be brilliant. We should proclaim our Elemental Female Genius and believe in it, she writes.

The boundaries between feminist theory and fiction have always been hazy, and Daly deftly blurs them. In her vision, patriarchy crumbled around 2018 because of the powerful energies emanating from a few thousand radical elemental feminists. Men who did not decide to reject patriarchy just faded away, as did women who were too wedded to patriarchy. At this point, I almost wished this was entirely fiction, rather than theory, because I don't have enough of what Daly calls Hopping Hope to believe in this vision.

In around 2018, the Anonyma Network found/founded a lost continent, perhaps Atlantis, which they call the Lost and Found Continent. Women from all over the world flock to live there. Other radical elemental feminists live scattered across the world.

Daly is a little clearer in this book than in previous ones that men can reject patriarchy, and she names John Stoltenberg, author of Refusing to Be a Man, as one such man. Those men who reject patriarchy survive.

On the other hand, she praises Elizabeth Gould Davis, who wrote in The First Sex that Y chromosomes are defective and men are mutations. Daly wonders whether men's works saying that Y chromosomes are breaking down have been men's inspiration for cloning, or the fear that led to it.

Daly praises Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, but finds more satisfying Davis's hypothesis that women are “the first sex.” Daly does not believe that men have always been able to subordinate women. Her subtitle, Realizing the Archaic Future, suggests that the past—a distant, gynocentric past—provides the basis for the future, if we only recall it.

She believes that women once reproduced by parthenogenesis (without men), and her women of the future ponder this as an option.

Counting the women of the past and the future, and animals, radical elemental feminists are not a cognitive minority but a majority, Daly says.

Daly is horrified by the abuse of animals, which is growing to unimaginable dimensions. She cites researchers who expect to “create” a headless chicken to produce eggs. Those who do not believe that such abuse of animals will be turned on human beings are naive, she says. She criticizes “bioethicists” who say that cloning is acceptable as long as it doesn't involve human beings, but only (other) animals.

It's certainly understandable for Daly to be-longing for quintessence, which she describes as the ultimate harmonious integrity of the universe and Source of Ecstasy. She says that we can find the State of Natural Grace through many means, such as looking at a sunset, talking with a friend, or lovemaking.

Patriarchal religions are not the route to take us there, Daly says. It is understandable that women leaving Christianity because of its patriarchal form would turn to Eastern religions, but those also can be patriarchal, she notes, giving the example of the exiled Tibetan lamas who have secret subordinate women consorts.

But when she writes of angels as real, I cannot not follow. To me the idea that there are some beings who are all spirit suggests that there is a dichotomy between spirit and matter, and thus goes with those who suggests that animals have no spirit and who look upon matter as some lesser thing, rather than the essence of life. I am a materialist, but I know that we need to find sustenance for our cravings for meaning, and am glad that despite the miasma of contemporary patriarchy Daly can seek and help others seek quintessence.

I understand Daly's saying that the '90s make her want to time-travel; she also time-traveled in the '50s to Fribourg, Switzerland, where she studied theology, much of it medieval. The '90s have also made me want to time-travel and work on fiction set in the Middle Ages.

I admire Daly's body of work greatly, but I think this book is most likely to please those who already love Daly. For those who have not yet read her work, Gyn-Ecology is a better place to start.

Anyone who can transform despair to the passion to create deserves a great deal of respect.

Pamela Schaeffer (essay date 5 March 1999)

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SOURCE: Schaeffer, Pamela. “Law Firm Forces Mary Daly's Hand.” National Catholic Reporter (5 March 1999): 3.

[In the following essay, Schaeffer recounts Daly's controversial academic career at Boston College and discusses the possibility of her early retirement in the face of a legal challenge brought by a male student denied admission to Daly's female-only class.]

Feminist author Mary Daly's stormy 33-year career in the theology department at Boston College may be coming to an end. Her nemesis is a single male student who has demanded entrance to one of her women-only classes, challenging her 20-year policy of teaching men separately.

The student, Duane Naquin, is a pro bono client of the Center for Individual Rights, an aggressive, conservative, Washington-based public-interest law firm that has warned Boston College of a possible lawsuit on Naquin's behalf.

Rather than admit the student, Daly asked the university to cancel her spring semester classes. She is on paid leave and, saying she is effectively being forced to retire, is negotiating terms with the university. Daly said she is being “deprived of her right to teach freely.”

Daly, who has often clashed with officials of the Jesuit school since she began teaching there in 1996, accused administrators of “caving in” to the law firm. The firm is engaged in a legal assault on affirmative action at universities around the country. In a recent fundraising letter, the center promise to devote “increased energy and resources” to fighting “radical feminism.

Daly, a self-proclaimed radical feminist, lesbian and “post-Christian,” said she is deeply disappointed that Boston College had “buckled under to pressure from a right-wing group. They bully institutions,” she said. Daly said she is confident Naquin had no interest in the content of her course in feminist ethics. She remains adamant about her women-only classroom policy.


“I am caught in a double bind,” she said. “Either I go in and teach men who would ruin my classes, or I find a way to negotiate a solution.”

Jack Dunn, director of public affairs at Boston College, said Daly's policy violates university policy and federal law. Administrators had not been swayed by the center's involvement and would have taken the student's side regardless, he said. Dunn said a second student had also challenged Daly's policy.

“Our position is that all the educational resources of the university are available to all students regardless of race or gender,” he said. “Separate is inherently unequal.”

“Federal law backs us, specifically Title IX,” he said. “It would be wrong to make an exception.” Dunn added, “Mary Daly has a unique perspective, and we think all students, including males, should be able to avail themselves of it.”

Dunn said the university is not trying to push Daly out. “It was she rather than us who raised the issue of retirement,” Dunn said.

Daly, who has published seven books but been denied full professorship at Boston College, has taught men separately since the late 1970s. She said she uses a time-tested “feminist strategy” of preserving a place where women can talk freely without the presence of men. She offers men separate instruction using the same books and materials as she uses in the class, she said.

Daly said her policy is not anti-male. Rather, she said, it derives from her discovery that women are less focused in her classes when men are involved, directing part of their attention to the way men are reacting to class material.

“I never refused to teach a male,” she said. “But after I discovered how the dynamics changed in the classroom, I taught them separately.” Usually, she said, just one or two men would be interested.

The university and its male students have tolerated Daly's policy over the years, although it has been one source of her intermittent clashes with school officials. Dunn said Daly's policy had stood because it had gone unchallenged by students. This year, though, Naquin, a senior at the university who signed up for Daly's introductory course in feminist ethics, wasn't buying it. Shortly after Daly explained her teaching policy to him, a letter arrived at Boston College from the Washington-based center threatening legal action unless Daly's classes were opened to men and its client, Naquin, was allowed to attend classes with women in Daly's spring semester course.

The letter was sent in mid-October to Jesuit Fr. William Leahy, president of Boston College, Daly said, but she was not informed of the center's involvement until late December. “Boston College officials sat on it for two-and-a-half months. That didn't leave me time to strategize or consider my options,” she said.

Daly said Naquin had lacked the required prerequisite for her course but had nevertheless been admitted by the theology department chair. She said she finds it shameful that Boston College would give in to pressure from “the right wing.”


“I am calling on Boston College to do the right thing and stand by faculty and students against assaults that would violate academic freedom,” she said. “The right wing is trying to make this an issue of discrimination when it is about refusing to dumb down education and about the right and obligation of faculty not to be forced to accept students in their classes who are not qualified and do not have the prerequisites.

“One of the hallmarks of a great university is that it allows for diversity of methodology,” she said.

Naquin refused to talk with NCR. The theology department chair, Donald Dietrich, said he was unable to discuss a legal matter and referred NCR to higher university officials. Terence J. Pell, senior counsel at the Center of Individual Rights, said he had “no comment” on the Boston College situation.

The Center for Individual Rights gained national recognition in 1996 when it won a case that signaled a halt to affirmative action polices and stunned higher education officials around the country. According to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in that case, known as Hopwood v. State of Texas, the University of Texas Law School was barred from using racial quotas in deciding which applicants to admit but was allowed to consider an applicant's race as a “plus” among many other factors.

The center is behind lawsuits challenging race-based admission policies at the University of Michigan and the University of Washington. In late January, the center released a handbook instructing readers how to initiate lawsuits against institutions whose affirmative action policies allegedly violate the law. The handbook was advertised in campus newspapers at 14 major institutions. In its fundraising letter last fall, the center charged that the courts, “on practically every issue,” had “ratified feminism's most extreme demands.” Examples, the letter said, included holding employers liable for “sexual harassment the employers never knew about” and declaring all-male colleges to be unconstitutional.

In meetings with university administrators in late December, Daly, who turned 70 Oct. 16, decided that, rather than change her long-standing teaching practice and admit a male student who had already threatened to sue, she would ask the university to cancel her spring semester classes, go on paid leave and evaluate her options. One option, Daly said, is to work toward a retirement settlement with the university, although before the recent conflicts she had planned to teach indefinitely. “I want to stress that it was never my intention to retire at this time,” she said.

Daly said she hopes to be compensated for what she describes as years of low salary due to conflicts with university officials. Further, she said, during her 33 years at Boston College, she has taken 14 years of unpaid leave to produce her books, resulting in a significant loss of retirement funds.

Daly declined to state the amount of her salary. In 1989, she earned $33,800. The average salary then for associates professors was $40,600. Daly said she had received few increases in the past 10 years.

Daly, who holds a master's degree in English from the Catholic University of America, a doctorate in religion from St. Mary's College, Notre Dame, and four degrees from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, including doctorates in Sacred Theology and philosophy, was the first woman on the faculty of Boston College's theology department.

She points out that during her first three years of Boston College, from 1966 to 1969, she taught only men because women were not admitted to the school, except for nursing programs, until 1970. Daly was denied tenure in 1969, following publication of her book The Church and The Second Sex. Daly describes that book as a mild exposition of the church's “misogyny.”


Ironically, she points out, it was demonstrations by some 1,500 students, nearly all of them men, that saved her job. “Fifteen hundred of those young men marched and demonstrated for me in 1969,” she said. “Some 2,000 professors and students signed a petition. That's how I got promotion and tenure.” Now, she said, “one male student is trying to undo what they did.” Daly was promoted to associate professor following those demonstrations, the rank she still holds.

Daly said her decision to cancel her spring semester classes had been difficult for other students. “I regret that,” she said. The present situation had come as a “complete shock” after several years largely free of the conflicts of the past, she said. “I've been treated wrongly, and the students are deprived of my voice, a radical voice,” she said.

She was denied full professorship in 1975 and again in 1989. The six-member promotion committee that rejected her application in 1989 said she was “undistinguished in every area, including teaching and publication.” In 1979, following publication of her third book, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, faculty members and administrators monitored her classes and students again demonstrated in her support.

Daly has contended that the university has punished her for pushing the boundaries of theology and philosophy while benefiting from her high profile. In an article she wrote for the Feb. 26/March 4, 1996, issue of The New Yorker magazine, she said Boston College had served as “my laboratory for the study of patriarchal tricks.”

In the most recent controversy, a group of 14 female students demonstrated support for Daly in a letter published in the Feb. 15 issue of the campus newspaper, The Heights. The students described the impasse between Daly and university officials as “symptomatic of a much broader problem, that being a disrespect for and stifling of the multiplicity of perspectives crucial to academic freedom.”

The students wrote, “Throughout her 33-year career at Boston College, Professor Daly has provided insight, inspiration and mentoring as a world-renowned philosopher/theologian and radical lesbian feminist. In refusing to support Professor Daly against the potential lawsuit threatened by the Center for Individual Rights, the administration is silencing Mary Daly and negating the very ideals that it proclaims invaluable.”

Kate Heekin, one of the signers, said one class with Daly “absolutely changed my life.” She added: “I consider it a tragedy that she's not teaching here anymore. I really do,” Heekin said.

Heekin acknowledged, though, the difficulty of mobilizing broad support for Daly in the current academic environment. “I can't tell you how difficult it is to get even 20 women who have taken Mary Daly's classes and consider themselves pretty radical to mobilize,” she said. “But there are about 10 of us, all seniors, who won't graduate without letting the university know we are not happy about this.”

Megan Niziol, another signer, said Daly is “invaluable” as a professor. “She provides the environment to examine everything in your life in a way I had never done before,” Niziol said.

Daly said she would use her leave to write a sequel to her most recent book, Quintessence … Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto (Beacon Press 1998).

Other titles of Daly's books, many of then notable for creative wordplay, are Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation; Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy; Webster's First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language; and Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage.

Daly's work, though it has not earned her full professorship at a Boston College, is known internationally. “There are dissertations and books about my books,” she said. She is frequently invited to speak at universities and conferences in the United States and abroad.

“The only place my work isn't recognized is at Boston College,” she said.

Geraldine Moane (review date September-October 1999)

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SOURCE: Moane, Geraldine. “Mary Daly's Radical Elemental Feminist Journey.” Women's Studies International Forum 22, no. 5 (September-October 1999): 573-75.

[In the following review, Moane praises Daly's accomplishment with Quintessence, arguing that the work “pushes her ontological analysis to new depths.”]

Quintessence is Mary Daly's seventh radical feminist book, published on the 30th anniversary of her first book, The Church and the Second Sex (Daly, 1968). Quintessence is also being published on the 25th anniversary of Beyond God the Father (Daly, 1973), and the 20th anniversary of Gyn/Ecology (Daly, 1978). It can be seen partly as a statement of Daly's most important ideas; this is implied in the subtitle of Quintessence, which names it as a ‘Manifesto’. In a play on this abundance of anniversaries, Quintessence contains ‘Cosmic Comments and Conversations’ from the year 2048, the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Quintessence. These comments are written from the ‘Lost and Found Continent’ after the feminist revolution, and provide fascinating discussions and intriguing glimpses of ‘an Archaic Future’.

Daly presents Quintessence as the third volume of a trilogy which also includes Gyn/Ecology (Daly, 1978) and Pure Lust (Daly, 1984). The trilogy charts what Daly calls ‘the Metapatriarchal Journey of Exorcism and Ecstacy’ (Daly, 1998, p. 15). Quintessence matches and may exceed the power of these earlier two books. It both reiterates the themes of the earlier volumes and elaborates many new themes. In Quintessence, Daly pushes her ontological analysis to new depths. Her greater focus on the patriarchal destruction of nature results in a devastating analysis of new technologies based on genetic manipulation, which she refers to as ‘nectechnology’. She places connecting with the Wild and with Nature as the central focus—hence the sub-title of the book as a Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto.

It may be helpful to first reiterate some of the themes from Daly's former works, which are gathered and expanded in Quintessence. The theme of the women's movement being an ontological movement as well as a cultural and political movement was presented clearly in Beyond God the Father (Daly, 1973). The view of radical feminism as a ‘journey of becoming’, involving both ‘Exorcism and Ecstacy’ was articulated more fully in Gyn/Ecology (Daly, 1978) and Pure Lust (Daly, 1984). In these books, Daly both exposed the mechanisms of patriarchy, particularly the atrocities against women and the various processes of mystification which resulted in what she called ‘mindbindings’, and offered a vision of a new way of being which involved overcoming the mindbindings (‘Exorcism’) and bonding with other women in a movement towards ‘participation in be-ing’ (‘Ecstacy’).

The analysis of patriarchy as a planetary system which involves an assault on women's spirits as well as minds and bodies was developed more fully in Gyn/Ecology (Daly, 1978), renowned for its exposure of atrocities which ranged from witchburning to genital mutilation. Here Daly also established her strength in ‘cracking the codes’ of Western mythology and language. That exposure opened Daly up to charges of racism by women of colour which motivated her to define her ground—of Western and Christian symbolism—more clearly, and also to be more inclusive and to acknowledge diversity in her later works. In Pure Lust, Daly (1948) focused again on Western and Christian mythology and discourse as vehicles for mystification and for the control of women. At the same time she highlighted their role in cutting women off from participation in be-ing, their connection with what she called ‘Elemental Reality’. She also elaborated her view that necrophilia was a fundamental dynamic of patriarchy, associated with exploitation and destruction not only of women but of the environment.

The internal structure of the three books which form the trilogy centres around the exposure of patriarchy through analysis of what Daly terms the deadly sins (reversals of the seven deadly sins of Catholicism plus the unnamed sin of deception), and the elucidation of a transcendental vision of woman and nature-centered existence which is in harmony with the universe. Quintessence draws on Gyn/Ecology (Daly, 1978) and Pure Lust (Daly, 1984), and also on a further two books which, as she writes, intervened between Pure Lust and Quintessence, namely the Wickedary (Daly, 1987) and Outercourse (Daly, 1993). The Wickedary collected and defined the new words and phrases which Daly had used and also contained new words, phrases, illustrations, and essays. This vocabulary is used most effectively in Quintessence to clarify and embellish. Outercourse provided an intellectual autobiography, and moved Daly into exploring more esoteric ideas in ‘the Fourth Spiral Galaxy’, a realm where past, present and future are interconnected, where animals and foresisters are present, and where psychic and otherworldly phenomena manifest themselves. This is a realm which to an Irish reader is resonant of Celtic Mythology, a connection which Daly also makes.

Quintessence journeys in the realm of ‘the Fifth Spiral Galaxy’, seeking ‘Universal and Cosmic Harmony’ or ‘Cosmic Integrity’. This is contrasted especially with fragmentation, and also with assimilation and elimination (the last three of the eight deadly sins). Fragmentation manifests itself in the separation of women from each other, from their own wisdom and history of resistance, from their vision of the future, from nature and their participation in be-ing. Women are separated from each other through the state of terror which is perpetuated through the myriad forms of violence against women. Examples of this in Quintessence include rape in war and its link to pornography in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and the condition of refugee women. Daly provides a moving exploration of the separation of women from each other, and more specifically, of the fragmentation in the women's movement, writing of the alienation, isolation, and disillusionment which this creates. Burning and erasing women's books are obvious manifestations of fragmentation, but Daly also offers a scathing analysis of post-modernism and the creation of ‘Con-fusion’ by academia and mass media.

Perhaps the most devastating of the atrocities documented in Quintessence are in the area of biotechnology, or ‘nectechnology’. Daly provides up-to-date research and descriptions of biological technologies which up to recently were considered science fiction, offering this as a warning of the speed of proceedings in this area. In the case of cloning, for example, she exposes the deaths and deformities which accompany each “success”, and makes the links between cloning and reproductive technologies. She foresees the use of adult women as incubators of genetically constructed fetuses who are referred to in the technical literature as ‘Adam II’. She describes the formation of transgenic animals and plants, including the production of seeds which do not themselves reproduce and which can be patented. She notes that there have already been attempts to patent the cell lines of indigenous people. Additionally, she exposes the mindset—Man as God the creator—behind these technologies, and makes connections to nuclear technology, deforestation, colonisation of space, and other assaults on nature. Her hope is that the courage needed to confront these horrors will also fuel the ‘Quest for Quintessence’.

The meaning of Quintessence is illuminated through an exploration of themes and concepts relating to the number ‘five’. These include the fifth essence that permeates all nature in Medieval philosophy, the fifth province that is present through the four provinces of Irish mythology, and fifth element that unifies the other four. It is related to concepts from Daly's earlier works, such as ‘Elemental Being’, ‘Pure Lust’, and ‘Final Cause’, but it underlies and goes beyond these, placing them in a new light. Daly gets at the heart of ‘Quintessence’ in the word ‘integrity’, which names each individual woman's own integrity, and also her connection with the universal force or unifying principle (‘Integrity’) which provides coherence, the ‘harmony of the spheres’. Her aim is to reach beyond what has been named and articulated and to bring into consciousness this mystical dimension. Through the book itself, the concept of ‘Quintessence’ becomes clearer as Daly and the reader catch glimpses of that which has been kept out of consciousness by the veils of mystification. Quintessence reaches for that which is beyond language and consciousness, which is elusive and ephemeral, yet which is at the core of existence.

Daly writes that the ‘Quest for Quintessence’ must be sustained in the face of the divisions and fragmentation which characterise the late 20th century. In Daly's view, this fragmentation can only be overcome by realising our connections with each other, with nature and with ‘Elemental reality’. Here Daly urges women to make our presence felt, to believe in the potency of our words and deeds. Writing of ‘Magnetic Presence’ and ‘Magnetic Courage’, she argues that as radical feminists expand our courage and realise our universal connectedness, as we shout out loud and create nemesis, we can magnetise courage in other women, creating a field of Magnetic Courage. This will create Syn-Crone-icities, magnifying or amplifying the power, helping us to create a future that is Elemental. For Daly, the Radical Elemental Feminist journey is always double-edged, both confronting the atrocities of patriarchy and reaching for Quintessence. The goal is total subversion of the present order and the creation of a new context—‘the Archaic Future’.

Between each of the five chapters in Quintessence which explore these and other themes are Cosmic Comments and Conversations. These take place on the Lost and Found Continent in the Biophilic Era. There is harmony between all forms of ‘Elemental be-ing’, created through a shifting of energy patterns by the magnetizing power of Radical Elemental Feminists. The narrator, named Annonyma (Annie), ‘conjures’ Mary Daly for conversations about her ideas and also about the women's movement and the post-patriarchal era. Here there is more informal elaboration, explanation, and debate on the themes from the five chapters. There is much discussion of the women's movement, where Daly expresses her faith in the ‘Unquenchable Fire’ in all women, regardless of whether it manifests itself in radical feminist acts. While Lost and Found Continent is presented as ‘Fantastic’, it plays on modern views of time, space and energy to provide further convincing arguments for the importance of every Radical Elemental Feminist act.

Daly's analysis is articulated through a metaphorical system which draws on transformations of Western discourse and, increasingly, the development of her own language and metaphors. The development of her own language and metaphors over the years has enabled her to more effectively evoke the vision for which she strives. For some, her language and metaphors are fascinating and inspiring, for others, difficult and inaccessible. At times, the universalising and ethnocentric elements of Western discourse appear, albeit in diluted form, as if they have migrated across the many transformations and leaps of imagination which Daly has made. Yet her central insights—that patriarchy is a system which involves an assault on spirit, mind and body; that women must resist, and always have and always will; that it is vital to connect with each other and with nature through a visionary or spiritual dimension—are shared by feminists from many different backgrounds. As Daly's work has progressed, she has developed her language and metaphors, especially through their elaboration in the Wickedary and their consistent use and expansion in Outercourse, so that their meanings are more fully accessible. Indeed Quintessence shimmers and sparkles through the treasure trove of new words and metaphors which Daly has crafted in the course of her journey.

This review could barely do justice to the richness, complexity, and power of Quintessence. Daly has charted a Radical Elemental Feminist journey which is profound and exhilarating. She has revisited her earlier works and carried her analysis of patriarchy and of Being to new depths and complexities. She has furthered our understanding of the links between the destruction of Nature and of women through her exposure of genetic technologies, pushing radical feminists to address the destruction of Nature with greater urgency. Her insistence on placing connection with Nature or with Elemental reality as central expands feminist visions in many ways. At a more personal level, she offers many thoughtful reflections on the changes in the women's movement over the last decades of the 20th century—and beyond, reflections which make Quintessence a very moving book. Through her exposure of patriarchy and her vision of ‘Quintessence’ Daly hopes to inspire the courage and the conviction in women to take action not only for now but for the future.


Daly, Mary. (1968). The Church and the Second Sex. Boston: Beacon Press.

Daly, Mary. (1973). Beyond God the Father: Towards a Philosophy of Women's Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Daly, Mary. (1978). Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Boston: Beacon Press.

Daly, Mary. (1984). Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy. London: The Women's Press.

Daly, Mary. (1988). Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, conjured in cahoots with Jane Caputi. London: The Women's Press.

Daly, Mary. (1993). Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage. London: The Women's Press.

Daly, Mary. (1998). Quintessence … Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto. Boston: Beacon Press.

Daly, Mary. (1999). Quintessence … Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto. London: Women's Press.

Marsaura Shukla (review date winter 1999-2000)

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SOURCE: Shukla, Marsaura. “Time Is on My Side.” Cross Currents 49, no. 4 (winter 1999-2000): 550-57.

[In the following excerpt, Shukla presents a favorable review of Quintessence, which the critic contrasts with Rosemary Radford Ruether's Women and Redemption.]

The liquor store around the corner from my apartment has in its window a digital sign counting down in rapidly moving milli-seconds to the year 2000.1 A friend of mine is developing a class on time and millennialism in the New Testament. The terrors of Y2K appear as a motif in television commercials for cars, insurance, soda-pop. As the twentieth century and the second millennium of the common era draw to a close, we all, in different ways, have time, history, and change on our minds. This cultural preoccupation forms a link between the otherwise very different books under review here. Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford Ruether each conjures her own vision of time as that in which the feminist project finds its “home.” …

To turn from Ruether to Mary Daly's Quintessence is to shift “keys” dramatically. While Ruether makes some radical claims about the significance of history for feminist theology in her conclusion, hers is a fairly conventional presentation. She stands firmly in the recuperative tradition of feminist historiography, and the rhetorical force of her project derives from the conventions of such scholarship. Daly, as we have come to expect, is doing something very different. Whereas Ruether is engaged in a “retelling” of some of the stories that make up Christian history, Daly is engaged in a kind of “re-visioning,” not only of history but of time itself.

The last line of Quintessence names the book a “Memory of the Future” (237). The paradoxical character of this description points to the complexity of Daly's play with the notions of time and history. This “play” begins on the cover and pervades the entire work. The text I read, published in 1998, announces on its cover that it is the “fiftieth anniversary edition,” published in 2048 B.E. (Biophilic Era), of the “original” 1998 edition.

Quintessence is a “transtemporal” work, told in two voices: one, Mary Daly's, from 1998; and the second belonging to a woman living in 2048 who writes under the name of “Anonyma.” These voices are interwoven throughout the book, with each chapter in Daly's voice being followed by a section of “cosmic comments and conversations with the author” reported in the voice of Anonyma (“Annie” for short). These conversations take place primarily between Annie and Mary Daly, whom Annie “invokes,” but also include other women from 2048, like Kate, Annie's mother. The “invocation” is not a summoning of Mary Daly's “ghost.” It is, rather, something like a physical transportation—Daly is “drawn out” of 1998 “into” 2048 during the time she is writing Quintessence. Thus the book is not simply (although it is partially) about the passage of time, a view of what Daly's work might “look” like fifty years from now. It is also a product of transtemporality, an “artifact” from a different time/space continuum.

The “cosmic comments and conversations” significantly complicate the sense of “time” that pervades Quintessence by rendering the 1998 of and to which Daly is speaking “the past,” a past radically different from the “present” of 2048. In the intervening years, the world has become a new place. Annie reports this “history” to Daly in one of the early conversations:

Wild Women and other Elemental creatures eventually achieved critical mass and acted to overthrow the moribund patriarchal rule. This Fierce Shifting of energy patterns was achieved with the help of our Sister the Earth, who vomited out many of the poisons that had sickened her. As she cleansed herself, there were many geographic and climatic changes.


During this “Tremendous Transition,” in 2018, the members of the Anonyma Network (a group of five thousand “Foresighted” women—Kate, Annie's mother, and her “Cronies”) “Dis-covered” the Lost and Found Continent. In the “Gynocratic and Gynocentric” world of 2048, the Lost and Found Continent is a “joyous Women's Space” and a “Power Center [generating] Elemental Energy,” guarding against the “danger of slippage” back into patriarchy (66).

The idyllic world of the Lost and Found Continent is clearly meant both to contrast with the “necrophilic” mess of 1998 and to provide a “happy ending.” The 1998 introduction to the “Manifesto” proclaims that “the writing of this book is a Desperate Act performed in a time of ultimate battles between principalities and powers. More than ever all sensate and spiritual life on this planet and anywhere within reach is threatened with extinction” (1). In the “cosmic comments and conversations” we learn that the worst-case scenario of extinction was avoided through the activism of the Anonyma Network and its radical feminist “Foresisters.” Furthermore, we are shown that the war against patriarchy, waged by Daly in all her work, has been won, and on Daly's terms. As Kate says to Daly, “We're here to tell you that you Battle Axes won!” (191). At the risk of belaboring the point, Daly describes in another conversation the reaction of her friends every time she “returns” to 1998. “When I tell them about you they say ‘So there is hope! There is a Future Sisterhood. We were right all along. We won't be defeated after all!’ And that reawakens Vision and Courage” (233).

At the level of a projected “happy ending,” Quintessence is easy to dismiss. This is in no small part due to the heavy-handed style in which the “cosmic comments and conversations” are written. Daly's (or perhaps I should say “Annie's”) skill in constructing dialogue and narrative does not match her talent for manipulating language to create the “parodic” critiques and diatribes that characterize her work.2 Yet, to read this book as nothing more than a flat-footed account of how the radical feminists will save and then rule the world would be to miss the point.

The “literary conceit” of Quintessence invites such a mistake by suggesting that the 2048 “cosmic comments and conversations” form the appropriate context within which to read the 1998 “manifesto” sections of the book. Such a reading, however, enacts precisely the preoccupation with the linear passage of time that Daly is working hard to resist and invites us to resist. When this “literary conceit” is reversed, and the “manifesto” sections of the book are read instead as the context for the “comments and conversations,” it becomes clear that this book is not an empty exercise in “happy endings,” but, rather, an attempt at transformation, at the production of “Transtemporality,” a state that requires falling out of linear time. This project is named most clearly in the second part of the title of the book, “Realizing the Archaic Future,” which “does not mean simply waking up and Seeing. It means working to open the Way for Transtemporal/Trans-spatial and Interspecies Bonding” (6).

The primary way in which Daly articulates the effects of patriarchy in her “Radical Elemental Manifesto” is as “diaspora,” feeling “cut off from our Foresisters. … Severed from our own history,” fearing “that our own Reality is being splintered/destroyed by agents of dividedness” (37). The Radical Feminist project requires that this state of diaspora be transformed into Positive Diaspora:

Our participation in this transformative work requires that we break out of the dreary state of temporal as well as spatial diaspora. Temporal diaspora is the state of separation from our Real Present and therefore our True Past and Future. The institutions of patriarchy, most notably the media, foster this separation by embedding deadening archetypal images/molds into women, making us prisoners of archetypal deadtime (a.d.). Deviant Women dissolve these molds by performing Original Creative Acts, thereby participating in Background Time, which is Original/Archaic Time, beyond the stagnation/timelessness of patriarchetypes. By our successions of such acts we create a Real Future, which is an Archaic Future.

(119, 121)

Daly's identification of the state of “temporal diaspora” and its “reversal,” “Positive [‘Transtemporal’] Diaspora,” gathers together several threads from her earlier work. “Archetypal deadtime” is defined in Wickedary as “Timeless Time, lacking genuine movement, having no real past, present, or future,”3 and is associated with “tidy time,” which is defined as “fathered time; measurements/divisions that cut women's Lifetimes/Lifelines into tidy tid-bits; dismembered time …” (Wickedary, 62). These are opposed to “Archaic Time,” defined as “Original Creative Time …” (Wickedary, 97), and “Tidal Time,” “Elemental Time, beyond the clocking/clacking of clonedom. … Time that cannot be grasped by the tidily man-dated world …” (Wickedary, 62). Within this web of oppositions, the “Archaic Future” is defined as the “direction of the movements of Archaic time,” a “reality created through successions of Original Creative Acts/Actions” (Wickedary, 97).

The definitions in Wickedary draw a verbal “map” of an alternative time/space continuum, the paradoxical “transtemporality” of which is captured by the notion of an “Archaic (“Original, Primal, Primordial” [Wickedary, 62]) Future.” In Quintessence, Daly takes the next step, that of Realizing (“[making] real. … [Bringing] into concrete existence” [Wickedary, 92]) this Archaic Future. The “cosmic comments and conversations” begin with an act of “invocation,” but in that act the future is itself “invoked” for the reader. The dynamic relationship Daly sets up between the 2048 and the 1998 sections of the book, so that each is read in light of the other, is an attempt “to shift the meanings of Past, Present, and Future,” to create a “counterflow of Time” (199). Quintessence is an enactment of a different way of inhabiting time such that the “diaspora” of present is transformed.

We have only to remove the blinders imposed in the pseudoworld of the foreground to See that these Future Women are Here Now. … This is indeed Intergalactic Travel. It is Transtemporal Diaspora that transforms temporal diaspora. Our Exile, Scattering, and Migration create an Outsiders' Society that is outside anything imaginable to microscopic/telescopic (re)visionaries. And it is Re-membering that makes it Real.

Through the “cosmic comments and conversations,” Daly performs the “Here Now” of which she speaks. Her “Memory of the Future” is primarily an attempt to practice a transformed, re-membered present.

Daly has often been criticized for ignoring the historicity of women's knowledge and experience.4 While Quintessence does not really answer these critiques, it does add a twist to the conversation. Both in the dis-membering of temporal diaspora and the re-membering of Transtemporal Diaspora, time/Time is the primary organizer of women's experience. Daly is asserting that it is from our sense of Past, Present, and Future that we get a sense of ourSelves.

Is time, as Mick Jagger claims, on my/our side? Both Ruether and Daly suggest that it is. Both, in different ways, approach the issue of identity and community within feminism through a “rehearsal” of history. Ruether rehearses history in the sense of recounting or relating facts. Daly's rehearsal is more performance driven. She is practicing, drilling, training for/in a “counterflow” of time. Yet both assert that some such “rehearsing” is an integral part of “performing” the future (Archaic or otherwise) of feminism.

Daly's notion of the problem of “diaspora” resonates with Ruether's sense of the necessity of locating and articulating the stories of women who acted as liberators. For Ruether too, a kind of “temporal diaspora” must be overcome—a diaspora that separates us from our “repressed plurality of identities” and, ultimately, stands as an obstacle to our becoming “fully christomorphic.” For Ruether too, “re-membering makes it real.” And yet “time” is conceived of differently by Daly and Ruether; as a result, the community into which we remember ourselves emerges differently in the work of each. The “pastness” of the past is all important to Ruether, both in the sense of its difference from the present and in its being our past, the forerunner of our present. To inhabit time so understood is to re-member ourselves into a “traditioned” community, a community that derives its future from precisely that which is not present. For Daly, on the other hand, linear time is that which we need to re-member ourselves out of. Time, correctly inhabited, is a Here Now, in which Past, Present, and Future are simultaneously experienced. The Past and Future gain their “Realness” from being Present. The community into which Daly calls us to re-member ourselves through this kind of overcoming of time is an “Outsider Society that is outside anything imaginable.”

While both Ruether and Daly assert that we receive ourselves in/from time, the differences in their “rehearsals” raise the issue of identity. How time is on our side shapes who we are. How we chose to “rehearse” time shapes who we as “performers” of the future become.


  1. I want to thank Susan Simonaitis and Karen Trimble Alliaume for their help with this review.

  2. The notion of Daly's work as “parody” is developed by Mary McClintock Fulkerson [Changing the Subject: Women's Discourses and Feminist Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994) 299-354].

  3. Mary Daly and Jane Caputi, Websters' First Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (Boston: Beacon, 1987), 62.

  4. See, for example, Sheila Greeve Davaney, “Problems with Feminist Theory: Historicity and the Search for Sure Foundations” in Embodied Love: Sensuality and Friendship as Feminist Values, ed. Paula M. Cooey, Sharon A. Farmer, and Mary Ellen Ross (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), 75-95.

Mary Daly and Catherine Madsen (interview date fall 2000)

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SOURCE: Daly, Mary, and Catherine Madsen. “The Thin Thread of Conversation: An Interview with Mary Daly.” Cross Currents 50, no. 3 (fall 2000): 332-48.

[In the following interview, Daly discusses the abuses of patriarchal language, her conception of and contribution to radical feminism, the dangers of biotechnology, and her utopian vision of a patriarchy-free future world.]

Perhaps a certain amount of disclosure is needed. I am, if not quite an ex-radical feminist, no longer a loyalist to radical feminism. My circumstances and my opinions would still look radical enough to anyone but another radical feminist, but I am no longer willing to worry what another radical feminist thinks of me. When I found that liberation meant confinement to an ever-narrowing circle of acceptable thought and behavior, I did not renounce liberation, but I decided at least to draw my own circle.

I am also a jaundiced observer of feminist theology. As promulgated in seminaries and religion departments, it seems to have lost the edge of insouciance that first made feminism interesting; the combined constraints of theological study and feminist collectivity seem not only to draw a circle but at times to enclose it with an electric fence that warns the mind against too much exploration. Original thought is stunted in such conditions. What feminist theology has not produced—cannot produce, as long as its main products are secondary source material and pastoral care—is a female Luther, a female Swift, a female Nietzsche, trenchant and scatological and fierce. Feminist theology can talk, in decorous academic prose, about the erotic in spirituality; it avoids a show of libido.

Mary Daly, of course, is made of more volatile stuff. As one of the originators of feminist religious thought, she is not bound by its subsequent limitations; at this point, in any case, she calls herself a philosopher and not a theologian at all. Beloved only daughter of working-class parents in upstate New York, victor over a Catholic educational system that prevented women from earning graduate degrees in philosophy, sole female student for seven years at the University of Fribourg, where she earned three doctorates, she has paid in full for the right to criticize patriarchal institutions as recklessly as she chooses. After the publication of Beyond God the Father, in which she called for an exodus of women from the Church, she was given tenure at Boston College only because of the protests of her students (at that time nearly all men). Much of her work since that time has consisted in blowing exuberant raspberries at the Vatican, Boston College, and the keepers of the patriarchal flame generally—who may have expected no better outcome from educating a woman, and must feel betrayed and vindicated by turns. For thirty-odd years she has hung on by a thread to the academy—a thread that has now been cut by Boston College, which has suspended her for her long-time policy of teaching only female students in the classroom (and male students in independent study). Whatever one thinks of her policy, the college's tactic is a little too transparently vindictive, as is the role of the Center for Individual Rights (the right-wing backers of the student who brought suit against Daly for discrimination). One does expect, however naïvely, of people who call themselves conservatives that they will have some sense of their own long-term interests. If they had been trying to prove Daly right—by demonstrating the power of a stripling boy to reduce an old woman to dishonor and poverty with the help of a male-controlled hierarchy—they could not have chosen a better tactic.

Daly's wordplay and “insufferable stubbornness” (her own phrase) have put her closely in the neighborhood of Luther, Swift, and Nietzsche. She has evolved a sort of intimate slang, alliterative and erratically capitalized, whose purpose is to burst the bubble of male dignity and make female deference ever more impossible: a rhodomontade of invective (snools, Stag-nation, cockaludicrous, dick-tionary) that is either irresistible or intolerable, depending upon the reader. Her thinking is powered by the driving force of the syllogism, the high Thomist ecstasy of abstraction; it tars with a broad brush, but is always intellectual work. She incites her readers to great feats of boundary-breaking with epithets like “Positively Revolting Hags,” “Nag-Gnostic Crones,” “the Metapatriarchal Movement of Wayfaring Wayward Women.” She is a proponent of parthenogenesis, in both its physical and intellectual forms—the creation of “unfathered works.” It is heady stuff, especially for young women testing their intellectual powers for the first time or for women long frustrated in their search for feminist allies. The very intimacy of the language makes it unanswerable; one must meet it either with resistance or with conspiratorial glee.

As one who was long ago surfeited with feminist pride and who has exacting tastes in obscenity, I am inclined these days to resistance. I was grateful for Beyond God the Father, which gave me the immediate impetus to leave the Episcopal Church; I waited eagerly for Gyn/Ecology, which promised to be one of the more striking events on the feminist intellectual landscape. By the time of Pure Lust and the Intergalactic Wickedary I had begun to think that “ludic cerebration,” to be cerebral enough (and even ludic enough) might need some self-critical element. Daly doesn't have a self-critical bone in her body—doubtless the best way to survive seven years' study as the only female at a Dominican institution—and the energy of radical feminism is, for her, genuinely self-renewing and self-sufficient without any pitfalls. When Daly is right she is very very right; I am particularly struck by her analysis of “aphasia, amnesia and apraxia” as the paralyzing results for women who are barred from thinking and speaking of their experience (something Freud noticed too but with a less thorough understanding). She traces very accurately the dumb despair of being forbidden to know one's powers, and the exhilaration of using them in spite of all prohibitions. But she is oblivious to one thing that matters very much: the tendency of revolutions to go wrong.

A disenchanted reader must be particularly careful to distinguish her disenchantment with the writer's actual work from her disenchantment with her enchantment. Daly is not to blame for the bloodthirsty enthusiasm with which I would once (at least in my daydreams) have overthrown patriarchy and punished its worst offenders, by ingenuities that I later discovered are in every small-time torturer's repertoire. She did not intentionally contribute to the painful and vicious infighting in the rank-and-file feminist movement of the late '70s and early '80s—a phenomenon that so perplexes her that in her recent book Quintessence she speculates it was caused by “man-made electromagnetic fields” (a hypothesis that cannot, however, account for similar breakdowns in the French Revolution and the Communist Party). She is a voice for genuine independence of mind—and a voice that can be heard by women outside the academy, where it is much more difficult to feel entitled to do intellectual work.

At the same time, her idiosyncratic language has done what idiosyncratic language will do and created a sect; it is extraordinarily easy for women to use her terms to dismiss other women as insufficiently radical. She has added heavily to the lexicon of female contempt for the male anatomy, an amusing pastime as long as one doesn't object to forming the habit of contempt. Her use of terms like “diaspora” and “the Race of Women”—for a sector of humanity whose presence is the precondition for anyone's existence, anywhere—is an attempt to bend historical and biological truths that do not easily bend. One can't explain to a totally committed person what it is to stand suddenly just outside the commitment: to see it comparatively, to recognize that the euphoric hopes and unheard-of liberties are becoming a new set of repressive boundaries, that the giddy bravado coming out of one's mouth has begun to sound like other forms of bravado one does not want to indulge. When I was thirty or so—an insignificant library clerk desperate with pent-up intellectual strivings that seemed to have no good outlet in “Womyn's Culture”—I encountered a book on the Nazi effort to delimit a German aesthetic; I recognized in one breath the parallels to my own earnest effort to develop a lesbian aesthetic, and woke to the prolonged intellectual hangover that anyone suffers who has given too much of herself to a political movement. One does not want, after a shift like that, to be invited into a conspiracy; one does not want to bolster one's serious love of a woman with sneering caricatures of men. One begins to mistrust altogether the impulse toward purity.

An interviewer who approaches Mary Daly with irreconcilable differences of temperament, ideology, and strategy does not get very far. She is famously impervious to critique: the Australian critic Meaghan Morris has written of her “preemptive disqualification” of critics as dupes or casualties of patriarchy—the “fembot,” the “Painted Bird,” the “token torturer.” There is some justice in Daly's claim (elaborated below) that criticism arises from the envy of the analytical thinker for the free imagination—the envy of the Devourer for the Prolific, in Blake's terms. But the critical faculty is not, I think, exclusively the turf of the analytical thinker. Analytical thought can be a poor second to what the free imagination puts itself through on the way to doing its work. Consider the following exchange from one of the utopian sections of Quintessence, which alternate with the analytical sections (the “I” is Anonyma, a citizen of Lost and Found Continent fifty years in the future, and “Mary” is Daly herself):

“Are there men and boys on the other continents?” [Mary] asked.

“Yes,” I said. “But since patriarchy is essentially finished, the implications of that change are enormous. … The world today is Gynocratic and Gynocentric. … The Earth's transformation has required that her inhabitants grow through profound psychic changes. Those who were not able to grow could not endure in the purity and strength of the New energy field. They simply withered away. …”

‘Are you saying that men who insisted on clinging to patriarchal beliefs and behaviors became obsolete and ‘died off’?” asked Mary.

“Yes, they rapidly became extinct,” I said.

“And what became of the patriarchally assimilated women who identified with the roles and rules of patriarchy?” asked Mary.

I answered, “Those women who refused to release themselves from the phallocratic dependencies and habits that had been embedded in them under the old system were in effect refusing to evolve. So they also could not survive in the New energy field.”

The free imagination—the imagination at work on a convincing fiction—might say: We are reading about death; is there any whiff of death in this passage? We are reading about mass death—a form of mass death that serves as the deliverance of our desperately overtaxed planet; is there any ambivalence among these survivors and beneficiaries of mass death? Does anyone mourn the dead? What does a death look like whose cause is the planet's retaliatory violence for violence committed on it? Is it really an advance for the indifferent, broad-shouldered earth to take up selective killing? The free imagination recoils from the impersonal fait accompli with a tidy moral lesson attached. If it's going to be like that, one might as well die with the phallocrats; it's as bad as the Rapture.

All that said, I liked Mary Daly. If, more or less inadvertently, she has replicated all the worst faults of the system she broke with—the massive ego-strength that permits no dissent, the elaborate logical scaffolding, the simultaneous unabashed reliance on miracles, the absolute lack of perspective—she has also brought with her all of its virtues: intelligence, good humor, persistence, the indefatigable demand for justice. What struck me most forcefully about her quickness of mind, her unassuming charisma, her mild, immovable purpose, was her essential innocence: it does not occur to her, it cannot be made to occur to her, that words may have consequences the writer doesn't intend. If, for myself, I consider that innocence well lost, there's still something moving about seeing someone who has it.

At one point in her life, Daly was fond of quoting a line from Peter Berger's The Sacred Canopy: “The subjective reality of the world hangs on the thin thread of conversation.” It does; at moments during an interview that was generally at cross purposes, the threads twined and the world was suspended. Subjective realities are among the most difficult things on earth to bring into consonance. Perhaps one simply has to be grateful for all the consonance one can get.

[Madsen]: Some Europeans have told you that you think like a European. I'm curious what they meant.

[Daly]: Well, I studied there for seven years. That's the way I was trained. They're interested in analytic … thought, you know, and so much over here is empty babble! I don't know what else they meant. They loved Pure Lust—the analysis of Virtues and Vices, the scholastic terminology.

Having come back to the States after those seven years, and lived with the intellectual conditions here, what's your sense of what your work has accomplished for feminism and for philosophy?

That's not the way I think. I'm right in process, so I don't think of it as something that has accomplished but is accomplishing. I'm still doing it very vigorously, particularly in this battle against Boston College; I'm speaking all over the country. What I'm trying to do right now is wake women and others up to the right-wing backlash—the converging of conservative Catholicism and fundamentalism and all the rest, together with biotechnology, nectech [cloning, genetic manipulation, biological warfare]. All of that is stifling diversity and integrity, and so what I'm really working for is critical mass, a critical mass of feminists, ecologists … rebels … so there can be a survival of consciousness, a survival of biological and spiritual integrity, intellectual integrity. And it's been very exciting—radical feminism is really alive, it's just gone underneath. Like Harvard Divinity School, two nights ago—it was incredibly exciting when I spoke there, I could feel the mass shifting. The faculty weren't there, of course, but the students, and others who weren't from the school. …

So much of the way you go about your work is through examination of language—its misuses, its reversals, the need to “reverse the reversals” and recover truth and energy, the potential of radical feminist language to puncture patriarchal arrogance and pomposity through mockery and derision. I'm struck by the parallels between what you say about the deceptions of patriarchal language and something that George Steiner said in his 1959 essay “The Hollow Miracle” about the corruption of German by the Nazis:

Languages are living organisms. … They have in them a certain life-force, and certain powers of absorption and growth. But they can decay and they can die. … Actions of the mind that were once spontaneous become mechanical, frozen habits (dead metaphors, stock similes, slogans). Words grow longer and more ambiguous. Instead of style, there is rhetoric. Instead of precise common usage, there is jargon. … All these technical failures accumulate to the essential failure: the language no longer sharpens thought but blurs it. … The language is no longer adventure (and a live language is the highest adventure of which the human brain is capable).

(she likes the quote): This is Rudolph Steiner?

George Steiner.

Oh, I don't know him.

He's a literary critic. So my question is this: As you work at unmasking decay and death in the common language, how do you guard against the same thing happening to your own language?

Doesn't seem to be happening. Because I keep inventing. I just don't think that way, see, about guarding against. I'm thinking about plunging ahead. All right, I think you guard against decay, in general, and stagnation, by moving, by continuing to move. And with courage. And courage is like—it's a habitus, a habit, a virtue: you get it by courageous acts. It's like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging. I often draw the Spiral Galaxy on the blackboard, and instead of stars there are Moments. So each Moment, a real Moment, is an act of courage, and that means that the world will speak back to you—and that Moment speaks to the next one, and the next one, and the next one.

OK, take the labrys: everything is double-edged. You “guard against” best by not even guarding—just by risking tremendously, and then you jump—Leap—into another sphere, or dimension.

Where do you think radical feminist language generally is in the greatest danger of losing its energy, and becoming a “mechanical frozen habit” or a kind of jargon?

See, this is where we have certain differences, because I never think of it that way. I don't mean to criticize you, I'm just giving my natural reaction, that “in danger of” or “losing” is kind of a negative take on it. My question is, how can we regenerate the energy of radical feminism? I don't think of the danger. Because I just refuse to acknowledge danger. Maybe that's crazy.

I think it's a difference, probably, in our positions. We're from different generations: you've been inventing radical feminism all this time, and I've been partly inventing it and partly seeing it come down already invented—seeing it adopted by other women my own age who were desperate for some kind of help in getting beyond where they were, and who sometimes clung on too tight to other women's formulations and used them in a doctrinaire way.

Well—there is a phenomenon, it bores me, but—of women in their thirties and forties—and I don't want to get into generationalism, because that's boring, I want communication among the generations—but, of “knocking down tall poppies,” as they say in Australia, or trying to pick off this generation—mine—that was so alive in the '60s and '70s. I'm more alive than they are. And I think it happens when they're not able to create themselves. So this kind of envy—anger. … I never suffered from that. First of all because there was no living generation of feminists. I mean there was Virginia Woolf. And Simone de Beauvoir, just preceding. But getting back to your question, which was, where is radical feminism in the greatest danger of losing its energy and becoming a jargon? I almost wish there were a danger, the fact is that—See, that isn't the way it is, you keep inventing new words, you just keep moving. So I would say, how do we keep it alive? But that isn't even right, you keep alive by being alive, and by daring, and by listening.

See, it isn't hard for me, right now, to keep alive, because they're trying to kill me. It's perfectly obvious: I've been fired out the back door, they've taken away my tenure, I'm in danger of great poverty. They offered me this rotten little retirement agreement, I refused, and they lied and said that I have retired; the whole scenario is the most disgusting kind of rape scene, it's like a gang rape. And so I've decided, if they want me to be silent, I'll yell it from the rooftops. It's just made me freer, really. The more they do, the more I can expose. So I'm not in danger, because I'm not comfortable. I think the danger of a real radical feminist being comfortable is, like, nil. Don't you think so? A radical feminist.

Yeah; but I don't think that's my question.

Well, I don't know if I can meet your question.

Well—when Gyn/Ecology came out, in the late '70s, the passage I turned out to be most grateful for was actually one of your side points; I put it on my refrigerator. “The Amazon Voyager can be anti-academic; only at her peril can she be anti-intellectual.” That wasn't a message one heard very often in those days in radical feminism. It's not that intellect wasn't out there, but there was a kind of. …


Exactly. And—well, for example, you're quite open about the usefulness of Aristotle and Aquinas to your own thinking.

Oh, I love that stuff. Yeah.

You don't let them get away with anything, but they were influences in your intellectual training.

They still are.

And still are, just as Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir and Matilda Joslyn Gage later became. My generation of radical feminists—I'm sorry to talk about generations; and of course they can be transcended, but there is a common experience there—the women around me tended not to allow each other male intellectual influences, not without a lot of suspicion and mea culpas and apologies. As if the proper study of womankind is woman, and only woman, and only by means of women's works.

No, I'll take it wherever I can get it. If there's an insight, I'll take it.

So the phenomenon of women decamping from radical feminism wasn't only—as is sometimes suggested—because they couldn't face the truth about women's condition, how terrible things are for women worldwide; at least that's not why I decamped, it was because I couldn't put up with this directive to be so incurious.

I never experienced that. It never hit me, absolutely. Maybe it was thrown at me, but. … Before radical feminism was actually a phrase used by anybody, I was one, I just didn't know the name. So I guess I was less susceptible to those [pressures].

It seems it should be a general truth, that once a woman's curiosity about women is roused, she can become curious about everything at a new level?


There's this funny use of what have become radical feminist precepts to limit and hem in women's imaginations, it's very strange.

See, I haven't experienced that. Give me an example.

Well—I'm hesitant to put it this way, because people really aren't responsible for their disciples, but I've heard women quote you in the way other people use Catholic dogma, or Freudian psychology: it's this airtight little system in which they've got everybody figured out. It's a terrific contrast with the way you are, because your whole self-presentation, your speaking, your writing, your whole sense of the universe is bursting with joy: you're having a wonderful time. And this is so joyless—their eyes glaze over and they flip a switch, and this taped message comes out, You're-only-saying-that-because-you're-a-fembot-and-driven-by-Male-Approval-Desire-et-in-saecula-saeculorum-Amen. And they are not really looking at the woman they're analyzing, they're never really seeing her.

It's a strange phenomenon to become this icon. There's nothing of you in it. Read my books.

The cost of discipleship. What do you think writers can do to discourage their readers from doing this?

I don't—see, again, there are a lot of problems I simply don't think about. Discourage—I try to encourage them to think for themselves. But if they won't crack the book open what can I do.

Or if they've cracked it open and they've memorized it like a catechism.

Yeah. Right. But—well, then they didn't get it. Because the last thing about it is—you know: you don't memorize. I don't care if they like my words, I love that if they like my words. But make up some of your own.

When feminists criticize your work, where do you think they're the most wrongheaded?

Maybe they focus too much on criticizing. You know, it seems to me that if you spend a lot of time criticizing rather than creating, that suggests a lack. I do have critiques of de Beauvoir, there are a lot of ways in which I think she's wrong. And I've written about it, but I don't spend a lot of pages on that; I respect her for what she's done. So I think a lot of that [focus on criticism] is just leaning on me, or on any village guru—and that's not what I ever want to be—leaning on me instead of branching out.

My intention, say, in writing Gyn/Ecology was to—truly for it to be a springboard, say for example the Second Passage [Daly's comparative analysis of Indian Suttee, Chinese footbinding, African genital mutilation, European witchburnings, and American gynecology, with an afterword on the influence of Nazi medicine on American gynecological practice]. And instead, You didn't do it perfectly, there's something wrong with what you did about the African genital mutilation, oh go to hell. It's just a springboard! You carry on, when you have specific knowledge.

Do you think the shape of academia has something to do with this, the fact that everybody's learning to do a certain kind of analytical, critical thought, and rather than producing creative work, they've got to produce analytical work?

Oh, yeah. It's what I call academentia. Everyone's supposed to look to authorities. And criticize. And so you have to break out of it—take what you can from it, but break out of it. I hate it. Sure, there was always the dream of the university, but look what's happened to me. It's perfectly logical.

No, we need a diversity. And with the backlash, this right-wing takeover, there'll be literally nothing. You know, the CIR, the Center for Individual Rights, which planted the boy in my class. … It's not even an issue, it's like changing the subject, to keep talking about discrimination; I don't discriminate. That's not discrimination. They are against gays and lesbians, radical feminists, blacks, all minorities, and blah blah, and having a voice. One monoculture, which is comparable to the monoculture being generated by bioengineering—which is a cleaned-up way of describing genetic mutation. But then that's typical of patriarchy, and its reversals, which is the most key concept: in everything “they” do, “they” meaning patriarchs and their henchwomen, and anyone who is imitative of them, they always are the reverse of what they claim to be. So of course in patriarchal education the mind is stultified. What else would you expect?

And law, oh God. The concept of reverse discrimination—the thing is that people buy it. And they don't seem to have the wits to untangle it. [They say] I've violated Title IX. What was Title IX for? But—Oh, well, but you're discriminating. … So I've found it very useful to do this diagram when I speak now, to show what happens. For example, there was this fellow at Lawrence Livermore laboratories, who was asked, “Why are you making weapons of death?” That's the genus, weapons. Then two subcategories, weapons of death, which is a redundancy, which leaves room for a contradiction: weapons of life.

You quoted that in—

That was in the Wickedary. And again: rape. “Forcible rape” is an absurd thing, it's redundant, and that leaves room for another kind of rape—

Consensual, maybe.

Yeah, or benign rape. So that diagram helps people see—I've just picked that up and found it useful recently, to make it clear what's going on. With “reverse discrimination” you have to change the word to a more apt word, which is oppression. The redundant thing would be to say “oppression of the institutionally powerless by the institutionally powerful”; of course that's who does it, they're the only ones who can do it. And then you get room for—oh, the opposite! Oppression of the institutionally powerful by the institutionally powerless. So a black guy can oppress white guys, et cetera. It's nonsense. But our minds have been so set to that, and it goes back to the myths—including the religious myths, even though we decry them. Like the Trinity: the Trinity is a model for cloning.

In Byzantine icons, the persons of the Trinity don't look different from each other: it's not an old guy with a beard and a young guy and a bird, it's three men who look identical.

In Fribourg, we spent months studying the Trinity. The idea was, there are two processions: the Father generates the Son, and he generates the Son by thinking of himself, but his thought is so perfect that it is himself, it is identical with himself, so they're consubstantial. Of course there's no time in this, because it's eternally happening. And so the Father generates the Son, and in the second spiration the Father and the Son love each other—of course they do, because they're the same guy masturbating—

And they produce! That's a good trick.

They spirate the Holy Spirit. But the thing is that it is a model of cloning, because it's total sameness. The same thing with Christ: Christ is a perfect clone. The incarnate Word. It's all there in Tibetan Buddhism too. With the Dalai Lama, they take this little boy, and take him away from his mother, and there's no matrilineal—he's the reincarnation of the previous one, and so it's cloning.

It's the mythos. And I think they are themselves uncomfortable to live out these myths, which they're constantly saying they don't believe, or they don't even mention because they didn't believe them—they think; but they're living them out, perpetually. So reversal is absolutely important. And I think more important than George Orwell's “doublethink”; he didn't go quite as far.

Thinking about Fribourg and all that inculcation of tradition, does anything ever jump out of your thought and suddenly announce itself as the residue of Catholic training and have to be rethought?

I think I've pretty thoroughly exorcised that. When I was studying, I loved it, and my curiosity drove me and drove me—and I still love it. But I think the real impetus was Pure Lust. [A partial definition: “pure Passion: unadulterated, absolute, simple, sheer striving for abundance of be-ing” (Wickedary 89).] I just wanted to know. I didn't want to become something, a priest or anything like that; I wanted to get it, I wanted to know. And of course I loved it. And it was by that desire to know that I was pushed ahead, it seems to me, to—YEAH. KNOW. I mean, just see it. It's inside out and upside down. And what pushed me to that, of course, was the speaking of feminism. Once feminism became a lived reality in community by the mid-'60s and early '70s I had all this baggage to work with. And it's really a very priceless thing I have, this treasure, I can always pull from it, and see more reversals.

What does that mean for its perpetuation in the future?

Perpetuation of—the original, or—?

Yeah, I mean, should somebody keep preserving the stuff?

I know, I've thought about that. Should anyone—actually, in my classes I have taught Thomas Aquinas, for fun. But not—not mocking him, really, because it's a great intellect. My students loved it. And then we talked about, well, what's happening. But actually to have something like Fribourg again, no … it would be acontextual. I think the only way is to have somebody like me teaching it—and undoing it.

The heretics and blasphemers maintaining orthodoxy.

Yeah. Right.

I like that.

In order to destroy it. “We had to destroy the village. …” We had to save it in order to destroy it.

That's a great reversal. [Laughter]

I do have to confess that when I read Quintessence there was something that struck me as very Catholic. The deliverance of the planet from ecological disaster and patriarchal rule by women's psychic bonding, and the rapid, convenient reduction of the male population by Mother Nature without women having to get their hands dirty by murder or method—it all comes about because women adjust their minds to the proper understanding of the universe, and it's a miracle and doesn't have to be explained. Conform yourself to the true doctrine and the universe will take your side and rub out your enemies.

Well—it's a leap of imagination. I was so sick of the '90s—so fed up with the '90s—that I wanted to jump, and this idea came into my mind and helped me to do that. It actually has turned out—I have a quote about Quintessence from the New York Times, this tiny article. … “The universe is expanding at an increasing rate, and the reason may be a force from another universe.” They do think now there's another universe. “Dr. Andreas Albrecht, a cosmologist at the University of California at Davis, and his colleague Constantinos Skordis, have published a paper showing that a ubiquitous energy named quintessence could inflate the known universe like a balloon. ‘Quintessence is a very ghostly thing,’ said Dr. Nima Arkani-Hamed, who with his colleagues has presented evidence of how it might function within the ten dimensions predicted by superstring theory, which suggests that all matter is made from small vibrating strings.” But the idea they got, that there's another world, the Otherworld Journey that I keep writing about—and that this other world is influencing this world now, I was trying to say that in Quintessence. And so that's fun too. Because there are parallels between the new physics and—and they love it, too, they love the parallels with Aristotelian philosophy.

Your students?

No, the scientists, the physicists. So—yeah, maybe it sounds Catholic, who cares. It's my thought; if that's a challenge, I don't know, I'd have to think about it. Well, why not make it quick and spontaneous: my sense was, terrible urgency—and I feel a terrible desperation; really, when Dolly came through, that exploded my brain. And then I started reading and reading about cloning, and genome theory, and all that. And I realized that I don't want to live in the world they're making. And there's no hope if you start with patriarchal premises. So I want to go back to the archaic past in order to get to the archaic future. So it is a kind of rapid transit, but then it is transtemporal. Why wouldn't it be rapid, everything is moving faster and faster.

I suppose so, but—the convenient disappearance of the patriarchs, and of males generally, just doesn't strike me as … sufficiently credible to give hope.

I know, your use of the word convenient gives your cynicism away. But—but why not? I mean, what it does is examine possibilities and new avenues of thought.

Well, why not is because of so many attempts at conveniently disappearing other populations in the twentieth century.

Well, I'm not disappearing them. It's just a possibility. It would be a wonderful one to me. Let it happen. Do you see any other way that patriarchy will disappear?

I don't know either. But if somebody put the tools in my hands to disappear them I wouldn't do it.

I don't think anyone would put the tools in my hands. No, I didn't have the women in Quintessence out killing them. But I do think there's something wrong with that life form, to be honest. You know, in the '70s we commonly called them mutes [short for mutants].

Yes, I remember that.

And there are articles that I've found on the Y chromosome as disappearing, both in German journals and American ones—that the Y chromosome is, perhaps it's taking a long time, but it's disappearing. The males obviously are terrified that they're going to disappear. So they have to clone. And I don't see that there would be any progress with male leadership, patriarchy—none. Nothing but the opposite. So of course I go wild: see what happens. But no, I'm not a killer. I'm not into killing. I think the earth, being female at core, will take care of it. Or else there's nothing but disaster here.

I guess I have more sympathy with Alice Walker's statement, “The good news is that Mother Nature is phasing out the white man. The bad news is that's who She thinks we all are.”

But why would She have to think that? Would you object more to having just the males phased out than to having everyone phased out? Don't you think you would prefer to have a survival of really creative minds, a leap, an evolutionary leap? rather than just have us all go, because those guys are in control?

It's all hypothetical.

I don't want to die with them.

[An inarticulate silence. The thin thread of conversation has, for the moment, snapped; unaskable questions tumble around in my head.]

I'd—you know, I'd prefer to have intelligent people survive. If it were up to me. I wouldn't much care what sex they were.

Well, sure, in Quintessence I have a population of males. And I know intelligent males, males that I really like. But—the quote from Alice Walker suggests that we all have to go. I don't want to go.

No, I don't either.

So what are you going to do? Wait for them to … self-destruct? I'm in a hurry, so let it happen.

But if neither of us is willing to destruct them, then it's up to somebody else.

And I think there are somebody elses in the universe. Presences that are very very benevolent, and that wouldn't want evil to prevail. And I'm not equating male = evil, it's not that simple, there's evil in men and women, of course, but … I just have great … I do have hope, in the prevailing biophilia.

One more negative question; it's my nature.

I think so.

—Not negative at the outset, because I think there are certain parallels between your work as a philosopher and Nietzsche's, in the sense that Nietzsche is massively irreverent, and liberating, and was ignored during his lifetime in official philosophical circles—

We have that in common.

—but had a very excited unofficial following, and changed the intellectual landscape. But then people picked up Nietzsche's thought and twisted it and misused it; the idea of the Übermensch was used horribly in a way he didn't intend.

I doubt they were intelligent enough even to have read it. It maybe wasn't even the misuse of him; because it wasn't a use.

It seems entirely likely that it would have happened without him. But I also think of Yeats, and his disillusionment with Irish politics, and his lines in “Meditations in Time of Civil War”:

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart's grown brutal from the fare;
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love. …

History doesn't give us many examples of an idea being played out benignly and at its best. The state was supposed to wither away under socialism; it didn't. And so on. It's clear in Quintessence how you would love to see your work being used by women in fifty years; how would you not want to see women using your work in fifty years?

I don't care what they do. Because, for one thing, my idea of time is not as simple as it might appear. I think—I think our foresisters are here now. I don't believe in linear time. It would be nice to think that what I've done, what I'm doing, is a springboard for others to carry on. I think I'm going to carry on too, though. I'm not going to croak and say it's all over. So—it doesn't even matter to me if there's some adulation in the future or not. I don't give a damn, I just want to be alive and do what it is that I'm called to do. And I'm trying to do that.

Anne-Marie Korte (essay date 2000)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 14753

SOURCE: Korte, Anne-Marie. “Deliver Us from Evil: Bad versus Better Faith in Mary Daly's Feminist Writings,” translated by Mischa F. C. Hoyinck. In Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly, edited by Sarah Lucia Hoagland and Marilyn Frye, pp. 76-111. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Korte traces the development and contradictions of Daly's feminist theology and post-Christian critique of patriarchy, particularly as shaped by her reading of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and subsequent efforts to reconcile religious experience with the process of women's self-realization and transcendence.]

Mary Daly's later writings tend to make late twentieth-century feminist readers uncomfortable. Her later works are sometimes praised for their poetic, visionary, or “destabilizing” style and imagery.1 Far more often, though, these works are sharply criticized for containing essentialist and dualistic concepts of gender and ahistoric and undifferentiating analyses of patriarchy.2 Why do scholars in women's studies so often choose Daly's works to expose faults and slips in radical feminist thinking? I believe this is mainly due to the many religious connotations and reminiscences that permeate her work. For what are we to think of “patriarchy as a worldwide religion,” for example, or of invoking “elemental faith” to resist the “spells of male demons”?

Critiques of Daly's writings have repeatedly suggested that her controversial feminist concepts are related to her adherence to traditional theological and philosophical frameworks.3 Indeed, classic Christian theology and philosophy undeniably inform Daly's feminist writings, and her later, so-called post-Christian, works are still rife with religious concepts and imagery, which is no doubt due to Daly's Roman Catholic upbringing and theological training. However, this angle offers little challenge as a research perspective, for it almost inevitably points to the question Did Mary Daly Really Leave Christianity?4 At best, this question leads to contemplation of classic christian views of ‘virtues’ or ‘passions’ at the heart of Daly's later work. But more often than not, it calls Daly's credentials into question. The narrow scope of the “Did-She-Really” question precludes a more refined view of the complex role of religious faith in Mary Daly's oeuvre, a complexity which is the focus of this article.

That Daly's work is so well suited to what Teresa de Lauretis has called “upping the anti [sic] in feminist theory” is, I believe, closely connected to the problematic status of religious faith in the frameworks of critical Western science that feminist reflection draws upon.5 I see feminism as a movement that, in a practical and political sense, strives for the emancipation and liberation of women, while at the theoretical level historifying and deeply problematizing gender. It is a movement that unmistakably continues to propagate the ideals of the Enlightenment.6 The Enlightenment ideals intrinsic to the feminist agenda are emancipation, self-determination, democratization and (historic) relativization of (religious) traditions. These are all matters that encourage the processes of secularization. Philosopher Alice Jardine has suggested that feminism, with its battle against what are perceived as “false images” of women, may be seen as the final secularization of the West. Feminism “is necessarily bound to some of the most complex epistemological and religious contradictions of contemporary Western culture.”7 Feminism has prompted many women to distance themselves from religious traditions, but it has also engendered a passionate struggle to liberate and renew religious faith.

Quite early on, in Beyond God the Father (1973), Daly observed that it was far from evident to most feminists why one should care about God or religious faith at all.8 But to her, as a theologian, these were all-important issues. Through all her writings, she has held a certain religious faith very dear. Although her theoretical frameworks and her language changed drastically, she described this faith in various contexts as “a passion for transcendence.” In Pure Lust, for example, she wrote: “[O]ur struggle and quest concern Elemental participation in Be-ing. Our passion is for that which is most intimate and most ultimate, for depth and transcendence.”9 She is convinced that this passion for transcendence is of great importance for the continuing development of a feminist attitude and conduct.

As a feminist and a theologian, Mary Daly's position on religious faith changes through the course of her oeuvre. In this chapter, I explore these changes. With this approach, I hope to achieve two things. First, I aim to analyze the meaning of religious faith and theology in Mary Daly's work while avoiding the usual prejudices and interpretations applied to her work. To understand and value the role that religious faith plays in Daly's feminist writings, we need to raise issues that can deconstruct established modes of interpretation, such as “feminism versus traditional Western theology and philosophy,” issues that can uncover conflicts and differences that resist subsumption into these standard approaches. Second, I will contribute to the discussion of what religious faith means to feminism. These two aims are interrelated; identifying the many, often contradictory, meanings of religious faith to feminism and to the women's movement may contribute to a (re)valuation of Mary Daly's feminist theological project—and vice versa.


Looking back on her college years in Fribourg, Switzerland (1959-67), Mary Daly described her experiences there as bizarre:10 like Alice in Wonderland, she found herself in a totally clerical world, devoted to neo-scholasticism—the study of Saint Thomas Aquinas's texts to defend Roman Catholicism against the philosophy of Modernity. However, Daly's de facto marginalized position in Fribourg—as a non-European, a layperson in the Roman Catholic church, and above all, as a (young) woman—must also have given her a certain intellectual advantage. She could engage in modern philosophy and liberal theological debate with relatively little to fear, because she was outside the Roman Catholic power structure and thus could not be punished for deviating from “official” views. Evidence of this relative freedom can be found in Daly's two neoscholastic dissertations dating from the early 1960s.11

In these studies, Daly not only showed her capabilities in neoscholastic “logic,” but also gave voice to contemporary concerns in a remarkably strong and consistent way. But Daly did not attempt to reconcile Christianity and modernity on the level of neoscholastic discourse itself, as some other young Roman Catholic theologians tried to do at that time.12 She alternated expressions of religious faith in an “Infinite Being” with skepticism toward the complacency of people who continued to speak in theological terms as though nothing had changed since the Middle Ages. Her notions of God, theology, and religious faith were neoscholastic. At the same time, she spoke for a new generation in the increasingly secular Western world: the men and women who were interested in religion, but uninspired—or even turned off—by traditional Christian language and logic. In this context, Daly also openly discussed the specific problems faced by women like herself. In the abridged version of her theological dissertation, Daly explicitly pointed out her own exceptional position as a woman striving for a theological doctorate.13 In this publication, she also discussed the meaning of theology to “non-clerical people” and criticized the exclusion of women from higher theological education.14

In her theses, Daly argued in favor of “speculative theology,” an inductive method based on “positive knowledge of God through creatures.” Neither the explanation nor the proclamation of the content of biblical revelation for modern people, but rather gaining access to God oneself from the position of “modern man” formed her line of approach. By reflecting upon their own “sense of being,” their self-awareness and their actual existence, human beings can grasp, by way of analogy, God's Being. According to Daly, this Thomistic view of theology was “fundamentally open to historic reality and to the experiential world.” Daly hereby placed a remarkable emphasis upon the rational moment in theology. Unlike her young male colleagues who were increasingly coming to regard the immense abstractness of neoscholastic theology as a problem, she did not consider this to be an obstacle to the vitality or relevance of Thomistic theology.

I believe that Daly emphasized the rationality of theology because she reasoned from the position of all women and those laymen and modern believers who lack the philosophical and historical education necessary for independent theological reflection. In various ways, the emphasis on “speculative theology,” on the rationality of theology, gives women the opportunity to participate in theology: “positive knowledge of God through creatures” supposes an understanding of theology in which nobody is excluded, either as a subject or as an object of theology. With these views, Daly was clearly thinking along different lines from those of most other advocates of women's emancipation in the Catholic church around that time. Daly's primary concern was not the equal access of women to ecclesiastical offices, but an autonomous, unmediated access to the “knowledge of God,” for as many people as possible.15


Daly made a plea for speculative theology as positive knowledge of God through creatures and for participation in this theology by men and women who are not part of the clergy. In terms of content, this plea is akin to the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century humanist and emancipatory debates on opening up the study of theology to women. It was not until the twentieth century that women were admitted to theological studies at the university level, and Roman Catholic women had to wait until the 1960s before they were allowed in. However, many women did not see the importance of being permitted to study theology. It was especially their nonscholarly interaction with religion that earned them the praise of church and society. In her research on learned women in European history, historian Patricia Labalme concludes: “(Not until the twentieth century was there a female doctor of theology.) … The world of the university was beyond the reach of women. There was a world, however, always within the reach of women, the world of eternal truth. Piety might be a highroad to religious wisdom. … Religious endeavor both encouraged and limited the literary productivity of learned women. But none wrote on theology: that is for the Doctors, said St. Teresa.”16

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, there was a great respect for a number of women who gave voice to religious matters in the devotional, rather than the scholarly, genre. As a rule, these women belonged to religious orders and their orthodoxy was unquestioned. The church authorities emphatically promoted their prayers and visions, and in their introductions to these women's writings “invariably emphasized the woman's talents for prophesy, inspiration, Christian devotion, and genuine religiosity, not her acuity, erudition, or literary gifts.”17 The church stressed that these women were merely a vehicle of divine inspiration (something that many women were eager to corroborate) and that God had chosen the weak to confound the strong. This was how the phenomenon of lay and female mystical inspiration could be explained “away.” Underlying this explanation is an ancient belief in women's abilities as mystics, prophets, and oracles and in their proclivity for religious fervor.

Women's access to theological studies did not become a public issue until the seventeenth century. It coincided with another question that divided academia at the time: the (in)dependence of philosophy and science from religious tradition (Descartes, Pascal, Spinoza). Sparked off by the Querelle des Femmes—the Renaissance polemics about “the nature of women”—women's participation in theology became the subject of debate. As a result of the humanist ideal and the Renaissance cult of erudition, women—often clergymen's daughters, sisters, or cousins—began entering the field of theology. Among scholars of theology, both in the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, pleas were heard for opening the study of theology to women (Anna Maria van Schurman, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz).18

Those who formulated these arguments, written mostly by women themselves, take the position that intellectual development and religious perfection go hand in hand. They therefore recommend the study of theology, but are clearly detached from the question of whether women should be able to practice a profession, acting as, for example, a clergy-woman or a teacher of religion. Studying theology would simply contribute to women's personal religious education and facilitate its transfer to children and other members of the family.19

The Enlightenment itself did not give rise to debates on whether women should be allowed to study theology. In religious terms, women seem to have felt more appreciated and included in counter-Enlightenment movements: Pietism and Romanticism. Religious women did not take Mary Wollstonecraft's and John Stuart Mill's rational feminist line. The nineteenth century saw wide acceptance of the idea that women were “by nature” religiously and morally superior, a notion held even by women themselves. As a result, women started to actively take part in congregations, missionary work, church-run social welfare work, and charities. This involvement also led to calls for admitting women to the ministry. However, the thought that women would become “better” people and Christians through education and studies, by developing their mental powers and enriching their minds, did not reappear in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century discussion about women and theology.20 In terms of content, Mary Daly's plea for speculative theology as positive knowledge of God through creatures is a continuation of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century appeals for women to be allowed to study theology; according to these arguments, since women were given a brain they should not be denied “the bliss of understanding the highest, divine insights.”

I think it is too reductive to attribute this point of view solely to Daly's Roman Catholic background. After all, some of Daly's contemporaries, including Roman Catholic women, were calling for allowing women into the priesthood. I think that Daly's humanist and emancipatory approach reflects a modern awareness of the value of higher education and that it is part of the belief in the American dream that must have been of great importance in Daly's Irish Catholic immigrant family. Daly's approach also shows her to be one of a new generation of well-educated Roman Catholics who had outgrown their traditional religious upbringing because of their academic education21 and were looking for a more intellectual religious life. In addition, I think her neoscholastic education itself contributed to her point of view, since Thomistic theology presupposes “fides quaerens intellectum,” religious faith that searches for insight.

Mary Daly's early writings criticize institutions, people, and (theological) ideas that hamper a “well-developed” and individual approach to God. However, Daly does not question religious faith as such. Her views on faith and theology are derived from the internal neoscholastic debate and do not confront or deal with the modern suspicion of religious faith that was highlighted by the Enlightenment. In her dissertations, Mary Daly manages to find a positive connection between the neoscholastic concepts of theology and religious faith, and women's and laypeople's emancipation. She continues this line in Beyond God the Father when she starts speaking about God as Be-ing and Verbing from a feminist perspective. She assumes a close and mutual link between “sense of being” and “knowledge of God,” between “being” and “participation in Be-ing.” “When women take positive steps to move out of patriarchal space and time, there is a surge of new life. I would analyze this as participation in God the Verb who cannot be broken down simply into past, present, and future time, since God is form-destroying, form-creating, transforming power that makes all things new.”22 In her later work, we find the same idea cloaked in the term “elemental faith,” religious faith that promotes feminist awareness and women's independent action. But Daly's later writings contain numerous attacks on “patriarchal religion” and the “phallocratic belief system” that hampers women's ability to have faith in themselves. Modern suspicion of religious faith gained a firm foothold in Daly's later work and brought her to sharply demarcate and distinguish between “good” and “bad” faith. How did this change of viewpoint come about?


From an in-depth analysis of Mary Daly's oeuvre, I conclude that Simone de Beauvoir's existentialist feminism, and particularly her gendered concept of ‘bad faith’ must have had a major impact on Daly's concept of religious faith.23

As Daly said many times, Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949) greatly influenced her feminist thinking.24 However, in Daly's first feminist study, The Church and the Second Sex (1967), her resistance to Beauvoir's feminist analyses outweighed her admiration. She felt the need to dispute Beauvoir's feminist attack on the Roman Catholic church. But in repudiating Christianity in the name of women's autonomy, and accusing the Roman Catholic church of overt misogyny, Beauvoir had turned to historical facts, which Daly could hardly deny. Daly's only way out was to point to impending “historical changes” in the Roman Catholic church of the 1960s.25

At the same time, Daly discovered that Beauvoir had been inconsistent in her indictment of Christianity and the Roman Catholic church as active oppressors of women. In The Second Sex, Beauvoir made several references to women “achieving transcendence through religion.” For example, she stated that the power of religious orders had brought women such as Teresa of Avila to “heights that few men ever reached.”26 Daly interpreted Beauvoir's remarks to mean that the church as a social institution could provide “the needed condition for a St. Teresa to rise above the handicap of her sex.”27 Daly also noticed Beauvoir's pronounced admiration for Teresa of Avila. Beauvoir praised Teresa for “living out the situation of humanity” in an exemplary fashion. “As for the psychological leverage which produced this phenomenon, Beauvoir does not explain further,” Daly remarked. “The one indisputable fact is that Teresa of Avila was a Christian mystic.”28

Daly was well aware of the discrepancy between Beauvoir's merciless portrayal of someone like the French mystic Marguerite Marie Alacoque—whom she described as neurotic, overemotional, and narcissistic—and her almost “lyrical” description of Teresa of Avila, whom she credited with “achieving transcendence.” Daly seemed, however, not to be interested in exploring the reasons behind this discrepancy. In fact, she seemed only too happy to accept Beauvoir's suggestion that Teresa of Avila somehow took up an exceptional position in the ranks of Christian mystics. In The Church and the Second Sex, Daly turned Teresa into a precursor of modern Bible interpretators and of proponents of women's emancipation. “Apparently, as a consequence of mystical experience, Teresa's understanding rose above the common interpretation of Pauline texts concerning women,” Daly concluded, echoing both Beauvoir's views and her language.29


In contrast to Daly, I am very interested in possible reasons for the ambivalence in Beauvoir's views on Christian religion and women's autonomy, or “transcendence,” as expressed in The Second Sex. Beauvoir wrote this comprehensive antiessentialist study with the intention of demythologizing opinions on women and “femininity” commonly held in her own social and intellectual milieu. She exposed and analyzed the androcentric bias with which women are classified as “the other” and as subordinate to men. She argued that this phenomenon pervaded not only the Western literary canon, but also myths, morals, and rituals worldwide. Beauvoir showed that both Western, Christian, “enlightened” civilizations and “primitive” cultures were rife with prejudice against women. Yet she also stressed the historical and contextual nature of “femininity”; in her view, women are not “feminine” by essence or nature. On the basis of many examples, she identified the social and psychological processes whereby women learn to act “feminine.”

For a critical interpretation of these processes she turned to the central analytical frameworks of the existentialist philosophy that she and Jean-Paul Sartre had developed. L'être et le néant (1943), the first major product of their collaboration, and which appeared solely under Sartre's name,30 described in great detail how individuals shrink from reaching their full potential and thus give up their freedom. Instead of striving to transcend a given situation, they cling to certain positions and states of mind that prevent them from taking their freedom and from “actualizing the self.” This “inauthentic” or “self-deceptive” way of living was termed mauvaise foi, or bad faith.31 But whereas L'être et le néant only discussed the individual factors that act as impediments to self-actualization, in The Second Sex Beauvoir argued that women's failure to achieve transcendence also had its roots in a shared social situation. Women's social position seemed to engender an almost inevitable, permanent condition of bad faith.

According to Beauvoir, women's position was characterized by the fact that they grow up, live, and make their choices in a world where men have cast them as the other. “They propose to stabilize her as object and to doom her to immanence since her transcendence is to be overshadowed and forever transcended by another ego which is essential and sovereign.”32 Beauvoir eventually linked this subjection to the other to women's reproductive role, or more precisely, to their complete immersion in the sustenance of life itself.

In terms of religion, The Second Sex also expands upon the frameworks of the existentialist philosophy set out in L'être et le néant. Although L'être et le néant firmly denounced religious faith (or, to be precise, God's existence) because of its incompatibility with the individual's radically infinite freedom,33 Beauvoir's The Second Sex offered a far more complex view. Beauvoir endorsed the existentialist “rational” refutation of God's existence,34 but also admitted—albeit with mixed feelings—that religious faith sometimes made women autonomous and helped them transcend the gender-related boundaries imposed on them. It is quite remarkable that religion was the only field where Beauvoir found examples of “self-actualized” women, as Mary Daly was quick to observe in 1967. Therefore, it seems appropriate to investigate in more detail why religious women such as Joan of Arc, Catherine of Siena, and Teresa of Avila were given such special status in The Second Sex.


In The Second Sex, there are two distinct trains of thought about women and religion. First and foremost, there is Beauvoir's main point of view: a strong conviction that religion affirms and legitimizes women's “immanence.” She points to the blatant way in which Roman Catholicism achieves this: it provides saintly role models and uses symbols and rituals of kneeling and of women/mothers who are subservient to, and bow for, men/fathers representing God, the Almighty Father. Besides deepening women's dependency and powerlessness, religion also mystifies their fundamentally lower social status by granting them the illusion of transcendence. Christianity does this in a particularly ingenious way: ostensibly, it grants women an equal status: as creatures of God, both men and women possess eternal souls, bound to heaven. Simultaneously, Christianity, and particularly Roman Catholicism, offers women a magic universe filled with objects and activities to occupy their time and resign them to their fate: “Religion sanctions woman's self-love: it gives her the guide, father, lover and divine guardian she longs for nostalgically; it feeds her daydreams; it fills her empty hours. But, above all, it confirms the social order, it justifies her resignation, by giving her the hope of a better future in a sexless heaven. This is why women today are still a powerful trump in the hand of the Church; it is why the Church is notably hostile to all measures likely to help in woman's emancipation. There must be a religion for women; and there must be women, ‘true women,’ to perpetuate religion.”35

But these mechanisms are at work not only in historical Roman Catholicism. According to Beauvoir, even contemporary Christianity has the same effect: “In modern civilisation which—even for woman—has a share in promoting freedom, religion seems much less an instrument of constraint than an instrument of deception. Woman is asked in the name of God not so much to accept her inferiority as to believe that, thanks to Him, she is the equal of the lordly male; even the temptation to revolt is suppressed by the claim that the injustice is overcome. Woman is no longer denied transcendence, since she is to consecrate her immanence to God.”36

The second train of thought on women and religion in The Second Sex concerns the idea that (certain) women can achieve transcendence through religion. Both girls and adult women can gain autonomy through religious faith.37 It is significant that, in this context, Beauvoir speaks of “mysticism” or “mystical experience” rather than religion. She is not interested in mysticism as a special religious experience, but rather as a special sort of erotic love. Beauvoir devotes an entire section to “the woman mystic.”38 This section forms the conclusion of an analysis of the ways in which women practice bad faith.39 In Beauvoir's view, narcissism, erotic love, and mystical love have common characteristics. The gender specificity in how women forsake freedom lies in their rendering themselves—actually or imaginarily—totally dependent on men. Women practice a disastrous “religion of love”:40 a boundless devotion to divine men and masculine gods.41

Love has been assigned to woman as her supreme vocation, and when she directs it toward a man, she is seeking God in him; but if human love is denied her by circumstances, if she is disappointed or overparticular, she may choose to adore divinity in the person of God Himself. To be sure, there have also been men who burned with that flame, but they are rare and their fervour is of a highly refined intellectual cast; whereas the women who abandon themselves to the joys of the heavenly nuptials are legion, and their experience is of a peculiarly emotional nature. Woman is habituated to living on her knees; ordinarily she expects her salvation to come down from the heaven where the males sit enthroned.42

Love of God can bring women to extremes of self-denial and self-abasement. Some female mystics even practiced automutilation, or physical self-neglect. But somehow this did not apply to Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila. In their cases, mystical experience rendered them autonomous; it empowered them and opened the gate to self-actualization in projects as important as those of men of power. “But the story of St. Catherine of Siena is significant: in the midst of a quite normal existence she created in Siena a great reputation by her active benevolence and by the visions that testified to her intense inner life; thus she acquired the authority necessary for success, which women usually lack.”43 Why are these women so exceptional? Why did Beauvoir consider them the only women to transcend their gender-specific boundaries and, what is more, to reach heights few men ever reached?


Beauvoir remained rather vague about the “self-actualization” of her great women mystics. She confined herself to stating that these women held their own against their male peers. I believe that Beauvoir's appreciation of these mystics' transcendence and self-actualization' is not based on an interest in their spiritual life or their actual social achievements. I think she held these women in high esteem because, as religious women, they were not bound by masculine authority, or at least they did not consider themselves to be. They did not recognize male authority and acted with amazing authority themselves.44

To Beauvoir, the importance of these mystics lay not only in their lack of ties to men, but also in their total lack of interest in men. In The Second Sex, one of Beauvoir's main concerns is the way in which women assent to their subjugation and objectification by men. In her quest for autonomy, independence, and self-actualization, the women mystics serve as paragons of womanhood, since they remained free of the bonds of earthly love and did not devote their entire lives to the sustenance of life itself.

Their unique status in Beauvoir's eyes results from her belief that the struggle for autonomy and the effort to resist subordination to men are intertwined with religious faith in a very concrete way. This link is evident not only in The Second Sex, but also in Beauvoir's Memoirs and other autobiographical texts. In one of the latter texts, there is an explicit reference to the direct link between the search for autonomy and self-awareness, and the experience of denying God's existence.45 When asked in an interview what had made her aware of her position as a woman, Beauvoir answered by describing the time and place when she discarded her belief in God.46 In interviews and in her Memoirs, Beauvoir confessed that her relation with Sartre had given her a fundamental security in life and a justification of her existence that she had previously only experienced in her relationship with her father and with God.47 In The Second Sex, Beauvoir widened the scope of this interchangeability of father, God, and lover, and put the role they play in the process of “becoming a woman” in a wider context.

According to Beauvoir, a young girl's father “incarnates that immense, difficult, and marvelous world of adventure: he personifies transcendence, he is God.” The girl's relationship with the eternal father is based on her relationship with her real father. All her life she may “longingly seek that lost state of plenitude and peace” that came from her father's affection. “The emotional concern shown by adult women toward Man would of itself suffice to perch him on a pedestal.”48

The unique status of the women mystics in The Second Sex can be clarified by regarding the following two interrelated paradoxes as the core issues of Simone de Beauvoir's reflections on women and religion: (1) even women who have ceased to believe in God the Father may still put their faith in men as if they were gods; (2) by loving God “as a woman” women can radically break with their dependence on and subjugation to “mortal men.” The first paradox describes Beauvoir's own position, while the second describes the position occupied by the great women mystics.


In The Church and the Second Sex, Mary Daly steered clear of the hazardous topic of women's autonomy, love, and religion as explored by Simone de Beauvoir. Nevertheless, there are some indications that Daly did not miss Beauvoir's point after all and took good note of her conclusions and dilemmas. In the final chapter of The Church and the Second Sex, titled “The Second Sex and the Seeds of Transcendence,” Daly assessed the results of her attempts to “disprove” Beauvoir's rejection of Roman Catholicism. She chose a curious epigraph for this chapter, a statement she borrowed from Joan of Arc: “I do best by obeying and serving my sovereign Lord—that is God.”49

This epigraph seemed to contradict all the issues Daly had presented and emphasized in the preceding chapters; she had previously argued in favor of a religious language that refrains from gendering God and had advocated total equality and “partnership” between men and women at all levels of church and society. Terms such as obeying and serving hardly fit into this scheme. However, the epigraph does make sense in light of Beauvoir's double paradox. It fits in well with the second paradox, which is that women could make a radical break with their dependence on men and their subordination to men, by loving God as a woman. By quoting Joan of Arc, Daly affirmed Beauvoir's argument, supporting autonomous religious women; and yet in the very same breath, she distanced herself from Beauvoir by declaring that she, Daly, did not need to turn her back on Christianity and the Roman Catholic church.

With this epigraph Daly confirms Joan of Arc's religious faith and autonomy toward earthly lords and sovereigns, as well as her own. Daly did not identify with the great women mystics, such as Teresa of Avila, whose outspoken, erotic mysticism Beauvoir had paid much attention to. By quoting Joan of Arc, Daly allied herself with a strong religious woman who was neither a member of a monastic order, nor involved in a (heterosexual) “mysticism of love.” Joan of Arc was a sort of maverick: her autonomy was extreme and her actions were radical, as was her interpretation of a divine vocation. But unlike any of the other female mystics Beauvoir mentioned, Joan of Arc had had to pay a high price for her “radical transcendence”: she was burned at the stake.

Daly later assessed this element of autonomy in her epigraph. In her 1975 “Post-Christian Introduction” to The Church and the Second Sex, she commented on her choice of epigraph (writing about herself in the third person): “It struck me as curiously fitting that the lead citation was from Joan of Arc. Joan had at least made a partial escape from patriarchy (as had Daly, in her own way.) … Of course, Daly's attention was focused not upon this ultimate “obeying and serving” but upon Joan's escape from the earthly masters.”50


Simone de Beauvoir criticized Christian faith in general and Roman Catholicism in particular for having a negative impact on women's emancipation. Although Daly initially resisted this point of view, she eventually adopted it herself. I believe that she came to accept it precisely because Beauvoir had recognized that religious faith had an ambiguous impact—both positive and negative—on women's autonomy. Beauvoir's frame of reference allowed Daly her first opportunity to embrace modern criticism of religion in the name of feminism. This criticism, dating back to the Enlightenment, boils down to a renunciation of religious faith on the grounds that it, by definition, blocks people's autonomy. In this view, religious faith requires people to subject themselves to a higher being and to institutions claiming to represent this being. A concern of modern criticism of religion is to be free and protect human autonomy from the heteronomy intrinsic to religious faith in general and to institutionalized religion in particular.

As I mentioned before, existentialist philosophy strongly supported this criticism. It explicitly called any betrayal of one's own autonomy and self-actualization mauvaise foi, or bad faith. Daly took this modern criticism of religion much further: for example, to the point where she concluded that patriarchy as such was a religion. She put Beauvoir's remarkable comparison between (heterosexual) romantic love and religious faith as instruments of oppression at the core of her notion and critique of patriarchy. In a nutshell, Beauvoir had found that both love and religion force women to accept their status as the other in relation to men and to become “objects” instead of “realizing their potential.” Deep veneration for divine men and masculine gods is women's particular—and particularly disastrous—form of bad faith.

Daly's later, rigorous critique of patriarchy in all its manifestations the world over is essentially an elaboration of this existentialist-feminist construction of gender-specific bad faith, culminating in the controversial thesis that “[p]atriarchy is itself the prevailing religion of the entire planet.”51 In tracing the development of this thesis through Daly's writings, one finds that Daly, in her initial definition of patriarchy, mainly stressed the wider social processes responsible for the imbalance in power between the sexes.52 In Beyond God the Father (1973) Daly started to use the term patriarchy to describe a feminist analytical concept and defined patriarchy by comparing it to India's caste system:

[T]here exists a worldwide phenomenon of sexual caste, basically the same whether one lives in Saudi Arabia or in Sweden. This planetary sexual caste system involves birth-ascribed hierarchically ordered groups whose members have unequal access to goods, services and prestige and to physical and mental well-being. Clearly I am not using the term “caste” in its most rigid sense, which would apply only to Brahmanic Indian society. I am using it in accordance with Berreman's broad description, since our language at present lacks other terms to describe systems of rigid social stratification analogous to the Indian system.53

However, Daly's declaration that patriarchy is “the number one religion of the entire planet” is not a simple extension of her critical sociological observations about religion. In Gyn/Ecology, Daly worded her point of view as follows:

Patriarchy is itself the prevailing religion of the entire planet, and its essential message is necrophilia. All of the so-called religions legitimating patriarchy are mere sects subsumed under its vast umbrella/canopy. They are essentially similar, despite the variations. All—from buddhism and hinduism to islam, judaism, christianity, to secular derivates such as freudianism, jungianism, marxism and maoism—are infrastructures of the edifice of patriarchy. All are erected as parts of the male's shelter against anomie. And the symbolic message of all the sects of the religion which is patriarchy is this: Women are dreaded anomie. Consequently, women are the objects of male terror, the projected personifications of “The Enemy,” the real objects under attack in all the wars of patriarchy.54

Here, one of Beauvoir's observations is taken to the extreme: that women are turned into the other in relation to men, emphasizing that patriarchy functions and legitimizes itself in exactly the same way that religion does.

Daly presented a further development of her analytical concept of patriarchy as a religion in Pure Lust (1983). She wrote of a “phallocratic belief system” and a “universal religion of phallocracy” that prevents both men and women from believing in women's power and holiness.55 The results are continued objectification and rape of women.

In discussing the effects of patriarchy as a religion, Daly pointed to Simone de Beauvoir's analysis of women's religious masochism. Beauvoir used the exalted and extreme acts of self-denial by the French Roman Catholic mystic Marguerite Marie Alacoque to exemplify how patriarchal religion fosters feelings of guilt and brings women to “masosadism.”56 According to Daly, Roman Catholicism is not unique in this respect; every type of patriarchal religion, in fact patriarchy as such, is guilty of the same. Continual objectification causes a nagging doubt at the core of woman's mind, identity, and self. Women consumed by this doubt are prone to masosadism in a “sadosociety.” Neither they, nor anyone else, are able to believe in the power and holiness of women's lives.


Simone de Beauvoir's ambivalence about the impact of religion on women's autonomy also offered Daly the opportunity to maintain her positive stance toward religious faith, based on a neoscholastic concept of God. Beauvoir's ambiguous views allowed Daly to remain a theologian and to develop her theological insights further. In Beyond God the Father, Daly processed Beauvoir's ideas in a way that is still quite similar to classical Christian theology. Daly sees feminist criticism of religion as criticism of idolatry—a well-respected and important Judeo-Christian point of view. This criticism of idolatry serves to liberate and innovate religion itself:

The passive hope that has been so prevalent in the history of religious attitudes corresponds to the objectified God from whom one may anticipate favors. Within that frame of reference human beings have tried to relate to ultimate reality as an object to be known, cajoled, manipulated. The tables are turned, however, for the objectified “God” has a way of reducing his producers to objects who lack capacity for autonomous action. In contrast to this, the God who is power of being acts as a moral power summoning women and men to act out of our deepest hope and to become who we can be.57.

In Beyond God the Father, feminist criticism of religion is inseparable from a dynamic interpretation of religious faith that supports feminism; these are two sides of the same coin. Later, when Daly renounced Christian theology altogether, feminist criticism of religion and feminist religious faith became increasingly separate topics in her work. From Gyn/Ecology onward, she voiced sharp criticism of any type of faith—religious or otherwise—that turns women into “objects under attack.” At the same time, but on a different track, she continues to develop a thea-logy which supports women's autonomy and “self-realization.”

In 1990, Iris Marion Young characterized Daly's Gyn/Ecology both as a repudiation of femininity along the lines of Beauvoir's brand of “humanist feminism” and as an example of the type of gynocentric feminism that Young considered the antithesis of humanist feminism. She regarded the two as irreconcilable because women either want to be like men or they do not, but they cannot dwell in between. Young therefore classified Gyn/Ecology as a transitional work: “In it Daly asserts an analysis of the victimization of women by femininity that outdoes Beauvoir, but she also proposes a new gynocentric language.”58

I find Young's solution of calling Gyn/Ecology a transitional work rather inadequate. After all, the same “contradiction” is present in Daly's 1983 publication Pure Lust and other later writings. Gyn/Ecology is not an inconsistency in Mary Daly's work. I believe that it is consistent with Beauvoir's ambivalent view of religion in relation to women's independence. In Gyn/Ecology, Daly uses Beauvoir's gendered concept of bad faith to demonstrate how women are turned into the other and how, acting in bad faith, they turn themselves into objects and shrink from realizing their potential. Daly's subsequent comparison of patriarchy to religion is still in keeping with Beauvoir's concept, but it provides Daly with a framework that allows her to do more than just analyze women's victimization and compliance: it also enables her to design strategies for resistance to and escape from patriarchy.

In line with Beauvoir's ambivalence toward religion, Daly starts to outline a “feminist faith” that supports this struggle. Basically, this faith is an unconditional affirmation of women's autonomy, transcendence, and self-actualization. Daly endorsed Beauvoir's finding that women have neither a history nor a religion of their own. She therefore reinvented this feminist faith by deconstructing patriarchal religious myths and imagery and reclaiming the fragments of women's lost or suppressed religious heritage in a gynocentric context. Daly's feminist faith is about establishing a subject position to counteract the objectification, silencing, and crushing of women. Hence, this faith both shapes, and is shaped by, a gynocentric language and context. Gynocentrism is necessary because women had been denied the power to name, as Daly concluded from her struggle with classic Christian discourse in Beyond God the Father. In Daly's post-Christian feminist writings this feminist faith manifests itself as an impressive amount of recaptured religious and mythical imagery rendered in an overwhelming, “scholarly” newspeak. In Pure Lust, Daly defined this feminist faith as “elemental faith.” “Elemental” refers to all spiritual and material realities that have been attacked, suppressed, erased, or annihilated by the “phallocratic belief system.”

Daly's seemingly contradictory combination of antiessentialist and gynocentric views can be accounted for by her ambiguous stance toward the role of religion in women's struggle for autonomy and “self-actualization.” This brings her time and again to discern sharply between bad and good faith, between religion as an addiction (“opium”) or a mystical experience (transcendence) and between religion's power to tempt women into total subjection or its role in empowering them to occupy a subject position. Her positive or affirmative view of religious faith enables her to emphasize women's subject position (gynocentrism), while her negative or critical view of religion allows her to put forward a cultural and religious critique (antiessentialism).


Rather than exploring the (possibly contradictory) notions of gender and gender differences, I would like to focus on the various notions of subjectivity present in Daly's later writings. I think that this angle might best highlight Daly's unique significance as a theologian.

In Daly's later works, the affirmation of religious faith is used mainly to empower women as subjects. To describe what she means by such empowerment, Daly borrows terminology from her study of theology and philosophy (subject/object, self/other, being/nonbeing, being/Be-ing), as well as from popular psychology (power, energy, center, life, integrity, authenticity) and from her own, mythical female language (Hag, Crone, Spinster, Voyager, Witch, Goddess). Daly describes women's becoming subject first and foremost as self-realization, which raises the question of whether this is anything but an uncritical adoption of the androcentric notion of the autonomous self as embraced by existentialist philosophy.59 Daly thought of many equivalents for women's “Self” and a variety of qualifications with reference to this self; these show us that Daly's notion of female self-awareness can be equated neither with self-determination (“being independent”) nor with autonomy (“being free of foreign authority”). She speaks of the Self, the subject, being, presence, awareness, soul, source, force, integrity, wholeness, strength, centering, and so on.

Women's Self as evoked in Gyn/Ecology is characterized by the fact that it is not a given or state of being. It must (still) be actualized; it is a matter of becoming. Daly's point of departure is the absence and fragmentation of the Self. This point is further elaborated in Pure Lust. Here, Daly raises the question of to what extent women have “something of their own,” a self, despite patriarchy's crushing and deadly effects. Some claim that women have nothing of their own; Daly disagrees.60 She does not believe that women have been oppressed to the point where they have no self left. The problem is that they are obstructed from realizing this, from realizing their self. Among the obstacles are violence against women and “patriarchal lies,” but Daly also mentions the lack of solidarity among women (violence among women, the token woman) and individual women's inner fragmentation (“patriarchy's presence in our own mind”).

In Pure Lust, however, Daly provides a more profound exploration of women's lack of self-actualization. This text provides a consistent, multifaceted inquiry into what constitutes and reinforces inner cohesion. Daly discusses three aspects of inner cohesion: consciousness, power, and “lust/longing,” or, in other words, identifying one's self, asserting the self and extending the self. These aspects are dealt with in three major parts or “Spheres” of Pure Lust, focusing on reason, passion, and lust, respectively. Daly also establishes a strong correlation between achieving inner cohesion and naming the self, the world, and God.61

But where exactly should we place this treatment of women's self that hinges on achieving and promoting inner cohesion? Is this a continuation of the androcentric philosophical notion of the autonomous subject, or a break with it? In some respects, Daly's approach resembles that of feminist philosophers such as Luce Irigaray, who aligned themselves with the poststructuralist attack on the dominant Western notion of the subject.62 This resemblance is evident mainly in the importance assigned to the level of language, to deconstruction, to deviant readings and different semantic connotations in order to establish and affirm oneself as a woman.63 Daly refers to Monique Wittig's works, but actually gives them a very different twist.64 Wittig argues that it is impossible for women to say “I” in phallocentric discourse; Daly regards this as an example of the fragmentation of women's self-awareness. In line with Virginia Woolf, Daly believes this fragmentation is healed only in “moments of being,” in epiphanous experiences during which an I is created when the severed parts of the individual suddenly and fleetingly come together.65 Unlike the French feminist philosophers, Daly does not consider the unity and identity of the subject problematic as such. To her, rather, the main problem is the absence of focus and the lack of re-membering; she considers the moments when women experience the constitution of a Self to be “revelations.”

Daly's later writings contain two different and seemingly contradictory notions of subjectivity. In her criticism of patriarchy and religion, she argues that women need to construct an autonomous Self. But what she actually does and achieves and calls for in her writings, while naming, punning, and associating, constitutes a dismantling of this notion of subjectivity. She sings and associates, speaks in different voices, places herself outside any system, shows anger, pleasure, and analytical depth, draws on and cites Western theology, philosophy and mythology as well as contemporary culture; in so doing, she spins and weaves new tapestries of meaning. Insofar as Daly identifies and names her way of thinking, she provides new images of the Self as an intricate knot, consisting of many threads/links:66 a thinking, feeling, listening and naming entity, which both integrates and reaches out, is self-supporting but also connected to others. These are concepts of the Self that are no longer caught in the opposition between the androcentric notion of the autonomous self and the criticism of this notion by feminists and French deconstructionists.

Daly is definitely not out to adopt this androcentric autonomous self, as she herself explains most lucidly in her treatment of the difference between her own “elemental feminist philosophy” and the androcentric ontology of Western philosophy and theology. Daly describes this ontology as follows: “The ontological question, the question of being-itself, arises in something like a ‘metaphysical shock’—the shock of possible nonbeing. This shock often has been expressed in the question: ‘Why is there something; why not nothing?’”67 Daly considers the opposition generated in the second half of this ontological question unjustified: why would amazement about “being” be linked to bewilderment at the thought of “non-being”? Daly feels this automatic link points to a static notion of being, to a reified ontology which first and foremost sees being as the ability to stave off nonbeing. According to Daly, this idea reflects the position of phallic thinkers who sense the terror of the negation of everything that is—and therefore of their own, privileged position as well. The ontology that informs the primary questions of biophilic women is not based on this fear of nonbeing, but on the quest and longing for being (more).68

Daly posits a notion of subjectivity that resides in the tension between “being” and “Be-ing more.” This tension does not arise from the shocking, distressing, or “impinging” experience of finiteness, individuality, and exclusiveness, but from the “unlocking,” affirmative experience of “broadening,” participation, and belonging.69

I believe that Daly derived this definition of subjectivity—which is not based on a modern, individualist, and androcentric opposition between autonomy and heteronomy—from premodern Thomistic religious ontology. This religious ontology assumes that there are various degrees of fullness or intensity of being. An increase in intensity means that people or matters are more involved in an all-transcending or encompassing reality: the fullness or completion of all that is in God. In this view, the way a being actualizes herself (more) is not by resisting or avoiding this all encompassing reality, but by opening herself up to this reality and knowing herself to be part of it.


Mary Daly's post-Christian writings have been interpreted in very different ways. On the one hand, her later work is often characterized as shying away from the actual ongoing conflicts, political issues, and difficult battles the women's movement faced after the euphoria of the first successes.70 On the other hand, Daly's Gyn/Ecology formed the basis for Sonia Johnson's green, leftist political program for Johnson's U.S. presidential campaign in the early 1980s.71 Daly's later work is interpreted as an unconditional and unmediated affirmation of “the feminine”: the body, emotions, “the natural.”72 But Daly's later writings have also been interpreted as expressing a disdain for the actual lives of women and an overemphasis on rationality.73 In the same vein, it has been concluded that immanence and “Diesseitigkeit” characterize the religiosity that Daly's work has testified to since Beyond God the Father,74 while it has also been maintained that her work stresses transcendence.75 Similarly, there are those who believe that Daly's writings since Beyond God the Father hinge on female spirituality and the rewriting of “matriarchal religious imagery,”76 whereas others point to the fact that Daly, in her later writings, no longer identifies the divine with the female.77

I believe this polysemic ambiguity is characteristic of Mary Daly's later writings and that it is of little use to try to reduce her work to one unambiguous statement. I have shown that her work contains two widely divergent positions on religion, which are inspired by the ambivalent views of Simone de Beauvoir on religion's importance to the women's movement. I find Daly's work especially intriguing in those places where the positive and negative aspects of religion cause tension and friction. I have given an example of this by showing how Daly, as a theologian, remained faithful to a premodern notion of religious faith. This notion allows her to define subjectivity without getting caught in the modern androcentric opposition between autonomy and heteronomy in which the subject is represented as “the Self in juxtaposition with the Other” and as “the Self inferior or superior to the Other.” Neoscholastic theology has provided her with another concept of subjectivity that, in some respects, better defines what happens when women occupy a subject position. This concept hinges on the absence of subjectivity and lack of inner cohesion rather than an opposition between Self and Other. It is more closely connected to Thomistic religious ontology than to modern androcentric existentialist ontology, which—through Sartre and Beauvoir—has also informed much of feminist theory.

Incidentally, I find Daly's work interesting not only because of these new feminist interpretations of her old, theological inheritance, but also because of her ongoing critical interpretations of Christian discourse. I choose the word interpretations because Daly reinterprets classical theological themes incorporated in texts of a postmodern signature—in itself an unusual mode for theological discourse. Daly's later writings are characterized by the use of more than one kind of logic and several voices directed at different readers.

As I mentioned earlier, some critics—such as Young—consider Daly's post-Christian writings a catalog of women's victimization. For example, her detailed descriptions in Gyn/Ecology of the atrocities that women all over the world are subjected to have been interpreted as an overstatement to prove women's victimization. However, I believe that Daly had something more in mind than proving that women are victims. I believe that Gyn/Ecology is Daly's multilayered way of revealing, reflecting, and meditating on physical violence against women. As such, this book discusses suffering, sin, evil, and (the hope of) salvation from a woman's perspective—a well-known theological track from an unusual angle.

It is remarkable that Daly's self-declared farewell to Christian theology and philosophy coincided with the introduction of the theme of violence against women in her writings. She had touched upon this theme earlier. In Beyond God the Father, she included it in her discussion of the necessity of replacing phallic morality. In her attempt to deconstruct androcentric Christian morality, she mentioned the unholy trinity of rape, genocide, and war as the three-headed monster to be faced and fought. To write of rape in the academic, theological context of 1973 was an act of true courage because Daly thereby presented herself as a professional theologian who openly took women's experiences seriously. However, the manner in which she dealt with the subject in Beyond God the Father was still very impersonal and abstract.78

In Gyn/Ecology, this had radically changed. Here, she described every physical detail of various, systematic acts of violence against women, such as rape, genital mutilation, foot-binding, widow-burning and hysterectomy. I read Gyn/Ecology primarily in light of this fascination with the violation of women's bodies. Feminist theologians have suggested that Gyn/Ecology is a women's tale of salvation or a female version of the Passion of Christ. Instead of Jesus, women are nailed to the cross. I agree that Gyn/Ecology deals with this central christian story, but I believe that it does so in a very profound and dialectical way. One of Daly's distinguishing characteristics is precisely that she rejects any direct or positive correlation between the Passion of Christ and women's suffering. She is truly scandalized by the suffering caused by violence. Therefore, she is shocked to the core by the fact that Christian theological discourse does acknowledge suffering due to physical violence in the case of Jesus—or God incarnate—but is often oblivious to women's suffering from physical violence. Christian theological discourse seems not only to be indifferent to women's suffering; it is also unable to recognize how the discourse itself propagates this suffering. It condones the hidden violence toward women that is central to many of its own religious images and parables. Therefore, a feminist reinterpretation of Christian passion stories does not suffice. The discourse needs to be altered by the inclusion of other stories of passion and resurrection, in particular of those who have been excluded from and hurt by androcentric theological discourse.

In her introduction to Gyn/Ecology, Daly stated that she had exchanged theology for ethics. According to her, Gyn/Ecology contains the “Meta-Ethics of Radical Feminism.” However, besides it being a feminist exploration of ethics, I consider this book as much an extraordinary form of theology. Daly's self-confessed reversal to ethics seems to me an epistemological move inherent in a shift in feminist position. As Sandra Harding commented in a 1986 publication: “For feminists, it is a moral and political, rather than a scientific, discussion that serves as the paradigm of rational discourse.”79 In my opinion, Gyn/Ecology deals directly with the moral and political discussion that, from a feminist point of view, must be included into theological discourse, the main issue being “How can we ensure that women are done more justice?” rather than “What can we know about women?”

One might argue that this is precisely the point where theology turns into ethics. I disagree; the way in which Gyn/Ecology deals with “evil” is every bit as religious as it is ethical. One need only consider the book's central premise: the act of turning women into objects to be abused, or even destroyed, far too often goes unrecognized as fundamentally wrong or evil. And Mary Daly considers this, the deliberate obfuscation of what should be regarded as evil, one of the main “sins” of all patriarchal religions and societies. A call for ethics alone will not do, because ethics has been distorted by phallic morality. In this situation, “deliver us from evil” seems to be an indispensable prayer for women.

Certainly, women have always cried and struggled for “justice.” The thwarting of this longing and struggling gives rise to the birth pangs of radical feminist awareness. But only when the knowledge that something is not “right” evolves into uncovering the invisible context of gynocide and, beyond this, into active participation in the Elemental context of biophilic harmony and power can there be great and sustained creativity and action. To Name this active Elemental contextual participation, which transcends and overturns patriarchal “justice” and “injustice,” Other words are needed. Nemesis is a beginning in this direction.80

… [U]nlike “justice,” which is depicted as a woman blindfolded and holding a sword and scales, Nemesis has her eyes open and uncovered—especially her Third Eye. Moreover, she is concerned less with “retribution,” in the sense of external meting out of rewards and punishments, than with an internal judgment that sets in motion a kind of new psychic alignment of energy patterns. Nemesis, thus Named, is … a relevant mysticism which responds to the tormented cries of the oppressed, and to the hunger and thirst for creative be-ing.81


  1. See Catherine Keller, From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism, and Self (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986), 207-12; Carol P. Christ, “Embodied Thinking: Reflections on Feminist Theological Method,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 5, no. 1 (1989): 7-15; Rita Nakashima Brock, Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 50; Sharon D. Welch, A Feminist Ethic of Risk (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 1-10; Welch, “Sporting Power: American Feminism, French Feminisms, and an Ethic of Conflict,” in Transfigurations: Theology and the French Feminists, ed. C. W. Maggie Kim et al. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 171-98; Mary McClintock Fulkerson, Changing the Subject: Women's Discourses and Feminist Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 46-47.

  2. Audre Lorde, “An Open Letter to Mary Daly,” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg, N.Y.: Crossing Press, 1984), 66-71; Hester Eisenstein, Contemporary Feminist Thought (London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1984); Beverly Wildung Harrison, Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics, ed. Carol S. Robb (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985); Chris Weedon, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987); Linda Alcoff, “Cultural Feminism Versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory,” in Feminist Theory in Practice and Progress, ed. Micheline R. Balson et al. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 295-326; Jean Grimshaw, “Autonomy and Identity in Feminist Thinking,” in Feminist Perspective in Philosophy, ed. Morwenna Griffiths and Margareth Whitford (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 90-108; Morwenna Griffiths, “Feminism, Feelings, and Philosophy,” in Griffiths and Whitford, Feminist Perspectives in Philosophy, 131-51; Elizabeth V. Spelman, Inessential Women: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988), 123-25; Amy Hollywood, “Violence and Subjectivity: Wuthering Heights, Julia Kristeva, and Feminist Theology,” in Kim et al., Transfigurations, 81-108, especially nn. 14 and 108.

  3. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983); Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (London: SCM Press, 1983); Sheila Greeve Davaney, “The Limits of the Appeal to Women's Experience,” in Shaping New Vision: Gender and Values in American Culture, ed. Clarissa W. Atkinson et al. (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1987), 30-48; Davaney, “Problems with Feminist Theory: Historicity and the Search for Sure Foundations,” in Embodied Love: Sensuality and Relationship as Feminist Values, ed. Paula M. Cooey et al. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988), 79-96; Ruth Groβmaβ, “Von der Verführungskraft der Bilder: Mary Daly's Elemental-Feministische Philosophie,” in Feministischer Kompaβ, patriarchales Gepäck: Kritik konservativer Anteile in neueren feministischen Theorien, ed. Ruth Groβmaβ and Christiane Schmerl (Frankfurt and New York: Campus Verlag, 1989), 56-116; Ellen T. Armour, “Questioning ‘Woman’ in Feminist/Womanist Theology: Irigaray, Ruether, and Daly,” in Kim et al., Transfigurations, 143-70.

  4. See also Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk; Mary Jo Weaver, New Catholic Women: A Contemporary Challenge to Traditional Religious Authority (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985); Groβmaβ, “Von der Verführungskraft der Bilder.”

  5. Teresa de Lauretis, “Upping the Anti [sic] in Feminist Theory,” in Conflicts in Feminism, ed. Marianne Hirsch and Evelyn Fox Keller (New York: Routledge, 1990), 255-70.

  6. The lasting impact of these Enlightenment ideals on feminism is evident in the prevalent categorization of feminist positions into the main political movements based on these ideals: liberal (or emancipatory) feminism, social (or sociological) feminism, and radical feminism (cultural criticism). See Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology, 214-34; Weedon, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987); Rosemary Tong, Feminist Thought: A Comprehensive Introduction (London: Routledge, 1989); Carolyn Merchant, “Ecofeminism and Feminist Theory,” in Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, ed. Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990), 100-105.

  7. Alice A. Jardine, Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 100-101.

  8. Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), 28-33.

  9. Mary Daly, Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), vii. See also Mary Daly, The Church and the Second Sex (London: Chapman, 1968), 223; and Daly, Beyond God the Father, 28-29.

  10. Mary Daly, “Autobiographical Preface to the Colofon Edition,” and “Feminist Postchristian Introduction,” in Daly, The Church and the Second Sex: With a New Feminist Postchristian Introduction by the Author (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), 5-14, 15-51; Daly, “Vorwort zur deutschen Ausgabe von Beyond God the Father,” in Daly, Jenseits von Gottvater, Sohn & Co: Aufbruch zu einer Philosophie der Frauenbefreiung (Munich: Frauenoffensive, 1980), 5-10; Daly, “New Archaic Afterwords,” in Daly, The Church and the Second Sex: With the Feminist Postchristian Introduction and New Archaic Afterwords by the Author (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), xi-xxx; Daly, “Original Reintroduction,” in Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation; With an Original Reintroduction by the Author (Boston: Beacon Press: Beacon Press, 1985), xi-xxix; Daly, “New Intergalactic Introduction,” in Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism: With a New Introduction by the Author (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991), xiii-xxxv; Daly, Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage (San Francisco: Harper, 1992).

  11. Mary Daly, “The Problem of Speculative Theology: A Study in Saint Thomas” (Ph.D. diss., University of Fribourg, Switzerland, 1963); Daly, Natural Knowledge of God in the Philosophy of Jacques Maritain (Rome: Officium Libri Catholici, 1966).

  12. Edward Schillebeeckx, “Het niet-begrippelijke kenmoment in onze Godskennis volgens Thomas van Aquino,” Tijdschrift voor Philosophie 14 (1952): 411-53; Schillebeeckx, “Het niet-be-grippelijke kenmoment in de geloofsdaad: probleemstelling,” Tijdschrift voor Theologie 3 (1963), 167-94; Schillebeeckx, Openbaring en theologie [Theologische Peilingen; 1] (Baarn: Nelissen, 1964). Johan Baptist Metz, Christliche Anthropozentrik: Ueber die Denkform des Thomas von Aquin (Munich: Koesel, 1962).

  13. In the summary of her theological dissertation Daly states: “[The author] would like also to acknowledge her debt to all of the professors of the Faculty of Theology, who by opening for a woman the door to a doctorate in theology expressed openness of mind and spirit.” Mary Daly, acknowledgments to The Problem of Speculative Theology, (Boston: Thomist Press, 1965). In her philosophical dissertation, Daly focused particularly on the philosophical and theological writings of women. Daly referred to the writings of Raissa Maritain—wife of Jacques Maritain, whose writings are the subject of her second dissertation, and to Raissa's role in her husband's philosophical development. Raissa Maritain, Les grandes amitiés: Les aventures de la grâce, vols. 1 and 2 (New York: Editions de la Maison Française, vol. 1, 1942; vol. 2, 1944); Maritain, Situation de la poésie [in cooperation with Jacques Maritain] (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1948). Daly also praised Laura Fraga de Almeida Sampaio C. R. for her interpretation of Jacques Maritain's philosophical works, titled L'intuition dans la philosophie de Jacques Maritain (Paris: Vrin, 1963): “This enlightening and scholarly work is a most important aid to understanding Maritain's thought” (Daly, Natural Knowledge of God, 32 n. 76). Also, Daly favorably reviewed Sister M. Elisabeth I.H.M.'s publication “Two Contemporary Philosophers and the Concept of Being,” Modern Schoolman 25 (1947/48), 224-37. “The author makes an interesting comparative analysis of Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange and Maritain” (Daly, Natural Knowledge of God, 20 n. 34). In addition, Daly pointed out yet another publication, by Sister Aloysius S.S.J., “The Epistemological Value of Sense Intuition,” Philosophical Studies 5 (1955): 71-78.

  14. Daly, The Problem of Speculative Theology, 41-47.

  15. For a further elaboration of the central thesis of Mary Daly's theological dissertation about the importance and relevance of “speculative theology,” based on (rational) “knowledge of God through creation,” see Anne-Marie Korte, Een passie voor transcendentie: Feminisme, theologie en moderniteit in het denken van Mary Daly (A Passion for Transcendence: Feminism, Theology, and Modernity in the Thinking of Mary Daly) (Kampen: Kok, 1992), 55-59, 82-85.

  16. Patricia H. Labalme, introduction to Beyond Their Sex: Learned Women of the European Past, ed. Labalme (New York: New York University Press, 1984), 3-4.

  17. Katharina M. Wilson, ed., Medieval Women Writers (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), xvii.

  18. See Elisabeth Gössmann, ed., Das Wohlgelahrte Frauenzimmer [Archiv für philosophie- und theologiegeschichtliche Frauenforschung; 1] (Munich: Indicium, 1984); Gössmann, ed., Eva—Gottes Meisterwerk [Archiv für philosophie- und theologiegeschichtliche Frauenforschung; 2] (Munich: Indicium, 1985); Anna Maria van Schurman, Opuscula Hebraea, Graeca, Latina, Gallica, Prosaica et Metrica (Leiden: Ex Officina Elseviriorum, 1648); Beatriz Melano Couch, “Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: The First Woman Theologian in the Americas,” in The Church and Women in the Third World, John C. B. Webster and Ellen Low Webster, eds. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985), 51-57; Rosemary Radford Ruether and Rosemary Skinner Keller, eds., Women and Religion in America, vol. 2, The Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983), xv-xvi, 46, 65-68.

  19. See Anne-Marie Korte, “Een gemeenschap waarin te geloven valt: Over de spirituele en de politieke betekenis van het geloof van vrouwen aan de hand van de ‘ommekeer’ van Anna Maria van Schurman en Mary Daly” (M.A. thesis, University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands, 1985), 41-57.

  20. See Moltmann-Wendel, ed., Frau und Religion, 11-38; Rosemary Radford Ruether and Rosemary Skinner Keller, eds., Women and Religion in America, vol. 1, The Nineteenth Century (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981).

  21. This issue was raised by Mary Daly herself in the short version of her theological dissertation. Mary Daly, The Problem of Speculative Theology, 41-43.

  22. Daly, Beyond God the Father, 43.

  23. Korte, Een passie voor transcendentie, 86-187.

  24. Daly's first reference to Simone de Beauvoir appeared in a 1965 issue of Commonweal, a North American Roman Catholic journal: “Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, manifested a strange mixture of insight and understanding when she wrote that Mary kneeling for her own Son represents the supreme victory of the male over the female. Catholic readers, shocked by this, protest that Mlle. de Beauvoir simply does not understand. It may well be true that she does not have a sympathetic understanding of Catholic theology, but in fact she understands its abuses only too well. It is unfortunately not difficult to find examples in Catholic writings about women which manifest the vision of man-woman relationship which Simone de Beauvoir is talking about. (The tortured use of symbolism can be seen in Gertrud von le Fort's The Eternal Woman, which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, as well as in countless other places.) We might well ask where the true culpability lies for Simone de Beauvoir's misunderstanding of Marian doctrine, and incidentally be grateful for her insight into the perversion thereof.” Daly, “A Built-in Bias,” Commonweal 81 (January 15, 1965): 509-10.

    In 1984, Daly wrote:

    In the late 1940s the publication of Simone de Beauvoir's great feminist work, The Second Sex, made possible dialogue among women about their lives. For many years this work functioned as an almost solitary beacon for women seeking to understand the connections among the oppressive evils they experienced, for they came to understand the fact of otherness within patriarchal society.

    There were other feminist works in existence, of course, but these were not really accessible, even to the “educated” women. The Second Sex helped to generate an atmosphere in which women could utter their own thoughts, at least to themselves. Some women began to make applications and to seek out less accessible sources, many of which had gone out of print. Most important was the fact that de Beauvoir, by breaking the silence, partially broke the Terrible Taboo. Women were Touched, psychically and emotionally. Many women, thus re-awakened, began to have conversations, take actions, write articles—even during the dreary fifties. (Daly, Pure Lust, 374)

    See also Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, 56 and Daly, “Feminist Postchristian Introduction,” 16.

  25. Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, 192-223.

  26. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 130.

  27. Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, 68.

  28. Ibid., 69.

  29. Ibid., 100.

  30. Jean-Paul Sartre, L'être et le néant: Essai d'ontologie phénoménologique (Paris: Guillimard, 1943). For a recent critical study of Beauvoir and Sartre's collaboration, see Kate Fullbrook and Edward Fullbrook, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre: The Remaking of a Twentieth Century Legend (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993).

  31. Sartre, L'être et le néant, 93-108.

  32. Beauvoir, The Second Sex, xli.

  33. See also Jean-Paul Sartre, L'existentialisme est un humanisme (Paris: Nagel, 1946).

  34. Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 632.

  35. Ibid., 624.

  36. Ibid., 621.

  37. See ibid., 104; 622, 673-74, 678.

  38. Beauvoir, “The Mystic,” in The Second Sex, 670-78.

  39. Beauvoir, “Justifications,” in The Second Sex, 629-78.

  40. Dorothy Kaufmann McGall has shown how Beauvoir in Le deuxième sexe outlines the pitfalls of romantic love for women by comparing it to religious devotion: “If every man, for Malraux and for Sartre after him, dreams of being God, woman, as Beauvoir portrays her in this chapter, dreams of being His beloved. For Beauvoir it is the woman most avidly seeking transcendence who is often most vulnerable to the religion of love. Denied the transcendence of action and adventure offered to the male, she seeks transcendence by losing herself in a man who represents the essential which she cannot be for herself.” For the origins of this comparison Kaufmann refers to Beauvoir and Sartre's existentialist philosophy and to Beauvoir's personal history: her Catholic upbringing and her relation to her father, God, and Sartre. However, Kaufmann's reconstruction largely ignores the ambivalence in Beauvoir's comparison between love and religion. Dorothy Kaufmann McGall, “Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, and Jean Paul Sartre,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 5, no. 2 (1979): 209-23, especially 216.

  41. In Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, Friedrich Nietzsche ironically compared women's (heterosexual) love to religious faith, “the only faith women have.” For a detailed analysis of the mainly Marxist and existentialist philosophical origins of Beauvoir's gendered comparison between heterosexual love and religious faith, see Korte, Een passie voor transcendentie, 149-54.

  42. Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 670.

  43. Ibid., 104.

  44. See also ibid., 622.

  45. Beauvoir herself considered religion a primary influence on her life and on her growing awareness of her position as a girl and a young woman. She stated that girls from southern Europe grow up with a religion that has an importance in their lives incomprehensible to women from an Anglo-American background. See “Une interview de Simone de Beauvoir par Madeleine Chapsal,” in Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier, Les écrits de Simone de Beauvoir: La vie—L'écriture. Avec en appendice: Textes inédits ou retrouvés (Paris: Gallimard, 1979), 381-96.

  46. “Une interview de Simone de Beauvoir,” 383.

  47. Dorothy Kaufmann McGall investigated Beauvoir's opinions on love and autonomy in light of her real life relationship with Sartre. She concluded: “Her ties to Sartre, however, have been as knotted and difficult in meaning as any tie to husband or family.” Kaufmann McGall, “Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, and Jean Paul Sartre,” 223. For research on heterosexual and lesbian love in The Second Sex, see also Judith Butler, “Variations on Sex and Gender: Beauvoir, Wittig, and Foucault,” in Feminism as Critique: On the Politics of Gender, ed. Seyla Benhabib and Drucilla Cornell (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 128-42; Jo-Ann Pilardi, “Female Eroticism in the Works of Simone de Beauvoir,” in The Thinking Muse: Feminism and Modern French Philosophy, ed. Jeffner Allen and Iris Marion Young (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 18-34; Toril Moi, Feminist Theory and Simone de Beauvoir (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990); Karin Vintges, Filosofie als passie: Het denken van Simone de Beauvoir (Amsterdam: Prometheus, 1992).

  48. Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 287-90, especially 288.

  49. Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, 220.

  50. Daly, “Feminist Postchristian Introduction.”

  51. Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), 39.

  52. The concept of religion Daly used in Beyond God the Father is derived primarily from critical sociologists such as Peter Berger and Herbert Marcuse. In their definition, religion's main function is to stabilize dominant social structures and to uphold norms and values that confirm the social status quo. Religious imagery and rituals make people “remember” and “internalize” the behavior expected of them. According to Daly, women in particular are socialized to consume and internalize religious images.

  53. Daly, Beyond God the Father, 2.

  54. Daly, Gyn/Ecology, 39.

  55. Daly, Pure Lust, 31, 35-77; 170, 339.

  56. Ibid., 57-66.

  57. Daly, Beyond God the Father, 32.

  58. Iris Marion Young, Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays in Feminist Philosophy and Social Theory (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 82.

  59. Griffiths, “Feminism, Feelings, and Philosophy,” 131-51; Weaver, New Catholic Women; Grimshaw, “Autonomy and Identity in Feminist Thinking,” 90-108; Grimshaw, Feminist Philosophers, 146-61; Jean Grimshaw, “‘Pure Lust’: The Elemental Feminist Philosophy of Mary Daly,” Radical Philosophy, no. 49 (1988): 25.

  60. Daly, Pure Lust, 136-38.

  61. The term “Self” (“Self is capitalized when I am referring to the authentic center of women's process” [Daly, Gyn/Ecology, 26]) is introduced in Gyn/Ecology in close connection with a number of other, new expressions: gynocentric terms for God, consciousness and “living as a woman,” namely “ultimate be-ing,” “integrity of be-ing,” and “gynocentric be-ing” (Daly, Gyn/Ecology, xi-xviii). This interrelatedness points to the fact that women's “Self” cannot be reduced to one of these three key notions; what is at stake is a woman's affirmation of her self, which is related to all three of these aspects of Be-ing. Compare the use of the term Self in the following instances:

    The finding of our original integrity is re-membering our Selves.

    (Daly, Gyn/Ecology, 39)

    The murder/dismemberment of the Goddess—that is, [of] the Self-affirming be-ing of women.


    Our refusal to collaborate in this killing and dismembering of our own Selves is the beginning of re-membering the Goddess—the deep source of creative integrity in women.


    The Goddess within—female divinity, that is our Selves.


  62. Luce Irigaray, Speculum: De l'autre femme (Paris: Minuit, 1974); Irigaray, Ce Sexe qui n'en est pas un (Paris: Minuit, 1977).

  63. See for example Johanna Hodge, “Subject, Body, and the Exclusion of Women from Philosophy,” in Griffiths and Whitford, Feminist Perspectives in Philosophy, 154, 167 n. 7.

  64. See Daly, Gyn/Ecology, 19, 327, 350; Daly, Pure Lust, 177.

  65. Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being: Unpublished Autobiographical Writings, edited, introduced, and annotated by Jeanne Schulkind (New York: University Press Sussex, 1976), 86-100.

  66. Daly, Gyn/Ecology, 406.

  67. Daly, Pure Lust, 159-60. Here, Daly refers to Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (London: Nisbet, 1953), 181.

  68. Daly, Pure Lust, 30.

  69. For descriptions of this ontological experience, Daly turns to Virginia Woolf's writings (“moments of being” as ontophanies [Daly, Pure Lust, 171-78]) and Sonia Johnson's work (the “breaking open process” as an epiphany [236-37]).

  70. Jean Bethke Elshtain, “Feminist Discourse and Its Discontents: Language, Power, and Meaning,” in Feminist Theory: A Critique of Ideology ed. Nannerl O. Keohane et al. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 135; Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, 21-26.

  71. Ynestra King, “Healing the Wounds,” in Gender/Body/Knowledge: Feminist Reconstructions of Being and Knowing, ed. Alison M. Jaggar and Susan R. Bordo (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989), 124, 136-37 n. 22.

  72. Joan L. Griscom, “On Healing the Nature/History Split in Feminist Thought,” in Women's Consciousness, Women's Conscience: A Reader in Feminist Ethics, ed. Barbara Hilkert Andolsen et al. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), 85-98.

  73. Wildung Harrison, Making the Connections, 231; Weaver, New Catholic Women, 170-78.

  74. Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language (London: SCM Press, 1982), 155-59; Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, introduction to Moltmann-Wendel, ed., Frau und Religion: Gotteserfahrungen im Patriarchat (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1983), 14; Susan Brooks Thistlethwaithe, Sex, Race, and God: Christian Feminism in Black and White (New York, Crossroad, 1989), 16.

  75. Brooke Williams, “The Feminist Revolution in ‘Ultramodern’ Perspective,” Cross Currents 31 (1981): 311; Weaver, New Catholic Women, 176-77.

  76. Groβmaβ, “Von der Verführungskraft der Bilder,” 56-116; Anne Kent Rush, Moon, Moon (New York: Random House, 1976), 355.

  77. Wanda Warren Berry, “Feminist Theology: The ‘Verbing’ of Ultimate/Intimate Reality in Mary Daly,” in Ultimate Reality and Meaning 11, no. 3 (1988): 212-32; Korte, Een gemeenschap waarin te geloven valt, 162-65.

  78. Daly, Beyond God the Father, 98-131. See also Korte, Een passie voor transcendentie, 284-90.

  79. Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Feminism (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1986), 12.

  80. Daly, Pure Lust, 275.

  81. Ibid.


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Frances Gray (essay date 2000)

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SOURCE: Gray, Frances. “Elemental Philosophy: Language and Ontology in Mary Daly's Texts.” In Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly, edited by Sarah Lucia Hoagland and Marilyn Frye, pp. 222-45. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Gray examines Daly's subversion of male-defined language and philosophy through the calculated use of metaphor, naming, and linguistic inventions, particularly as such strategies reveal Daly's view of language as fundamentally linked to the process of becoming.]

You are the icon of woman sexual
in herself like a great forest tree
in flower, liriodendron bearing sweet tulips,
cups of joy and drunkenness.
You drink strength from your dark fierce roots
and you hang at the sun's own fiery breast
and with the green cities of your boughs
you shelter and celebrate
woman, with the cauldron of your energies
burning red, burning green.

—Marge Piercy, “The Window of the Woman Burning”

In The Church and the Second Sex, originally published in 1968, Mary Daly took seriously the place of language in the social production of women and their experiences. She did this within a theological context. Her denunciation of the Eternal Feminine, an essentializing conception of women that held that women had a fixed, unchanging nature, was accompanied by a strong stand for a social constructionist perspective that was an attempt to refocus and rethink the idea of Woman. Her work was and remains blatantly political and strategic, a deliberate search to reconceive the ideas of Woman and divinity within her own divisive and destabilizing discursive framework.

Central to her concerns is her desire to create discourse(s) specific to women which represent their interests. Daly's explicit assumption is that language is not sex/gender neutral: rather, language is sex/gender specific. She maintains that all languages carry implicit symbolics and semantics. In Western societies, the symbolics and semantics of the dominant language are that of white, middle-class men who have created a master discourse. For such men, language serves the function of maintaining hegemonic masculinity with its associated power and sanctioned pseudoneutrality. On the whole, women accept this alleged neutrality. Daly claims, however, that women find themselves victims within this purportedly neutral system that seeks to define and name them. It is in this context that one should understand Daly's claim that women have had the power of naming stolen from them. And it is in this context that Daly elaborates the idea that language use is subversive: Daly's use seeks to overthrow the purported neutrality of patriarchal discourses and to claim a ground on which women can create their own sex-specific discourses.

Daly's subversive use of language is also strategic. By this I mean that she acknowledges that language always operates within sociopolitical contexts and that language is therefore implicitly perspectival. But she challenges men's discursive hegemony by making language work for her in an attempt to produce and initiate women's discourses. So, at one level, she uses the rules and plays of the master language with its apparently irresistible claim to neutrality as her own theological springboard. At another, she deliberately subverts that master language by undermining its foundations. She takes a pre-existing condition of language—that it is not neutral, but sexed/gendered and monopolizes those who are constituted within its sphere—and then she manipulates that condition in order to subvert its supposed neutrality. Daly's intention is to be divisive and to destabilize language to show that women and their experiences are produced through men's discursive practices, in which women cannot name for themselves. But she also intends to re-conceive language to enable women to name for themselves once more.

Note that Meaghan Morris, in writing about Gyn/Ecology, has argued that Daly uses language strategically.1 When she uses the term “strategy”2 Morris refers to the way in which Daly deploys “punning, alliteration, word-play, allegory, and the Great Metaphor of the Voyage”3 to achieve her revolutionary ends. For Morris, however, Daly's strategy is unsuccessful. She maintains that Daly confines her critique to “a politics of subverting isolated signs, not one of transforming discourse” (71) or “language in use” (73).

What Morris means by ‘discourse’ is spelled out in her lengthy “digression on discourse” which she argues that Daly is concerned with semantics and not with contextual matters, “with the semantics of the said, rather than the enunciative strategies of saying.” Her main claim is that Daly situates meanings in words instead of in contexts (74). Because Daly does this, then according to Morris, Daly fails to acknowledge that “a context—in particular, at least an image of an audience—plays a part in what is said and how it's said. Mary Daly's approach can imply quite the opposite: because you have ‘true meanings’ to articulate, you are likely to say the same thing in the same way in the same language in any circumstances to anyone to whom you accept to speak politically. It is then up to the audience to situate itself/themselves accordingly” (75).

On this view, Daly's preoccupation with nouns and their meanings renders hers a project that cannot be transformative, because énonciation should be the primary site of transformative discourse. To support her reading, Morris cites Pym's view of discourse as “‘constraints on semiosis,’ semiosis being defined as the production of meaning by signs in continuous action [sic]” (77; Morris' italics) and Benveniste's idea of discourse as the “‘product of a speaking position’” (90).4 Morris's stress then is on énonciation, the activity of language, what “everybody does every time that they open their mouths (to good or evil effect).”5 In her view, Daly is not concerned with discursive action at all.

I am not persuaded by Morris's argument. It is not clear to me that Daly is unconcerned about either “speaking position” or the “production of meaning by signs in continuous action.” Daly's desire to destabilize discourse is situated in her belief that patriarchy constitutes itself through the semantic position that Morris describes so well (and ascribes to Daly). Daly's focus on nouns, on radicalizing their meanings, depends for its success on énonciation: without a speaking position, without acknowledging that meaning is produced precisely as Morris suggests, there is little point to Daly's critique of the meaning/reference of nouns and discourse in general.6

Further, and this follows from what I have just claimed, Morris's contention about Daly's subverting isolated signs is strange given the post-modern culture in which she situates herself. Both Ferdinand de Saussure and Derrida argue that no sign can be isolated: that a sign is always a sign within a system and that to change one sign is to change the system as a whole.7 I will argue, contrary to Morris, that Daly, cognizant of structural analysis, is successfully strategic and that her ontological concerns could not be articulated in any other way. Hence I will argue that Daly's is not a strategy of subverting isolated signs at all, but an attempt to displace supposedly neutral (but men's) discourse in order to produce a women's discourse, the function of which is to articulate women's Be-ing.8 Punning, alliteration, wordplay, and allegory are all integral to the transformation of discourse and are not acts of terrorism against isolated linguistic signs: there can be no isolated aspects of, no isolated signs in, language. Daly's speaking position emerges from the oppression of women. Her choice of which aspects of language/discourse to subvert reveals a deep-seated commitment to producing new meanings by rethinking discourse as continuous activity.

Daly's early works, The Church and the Second Sex and Beyond God the Father, neither used nor appropriated language in a divisive and destabilizing manner. Daly's work with language begins in Gyn/Ecology and develops in earnest in the subsequent births of Pure Lust,Wickedary, and Outercourse. Daly's primary task in The Church and the Second Sex was to argue for the equality of women and men as church members, to expose the masculine bias of Christian theology, and to demonstrate the explicit iniquitous practical and psychological consequences that this theology had (and continues to have)9 for women in the church. She saw the Catholic church as an oppressive, man-dominated institution which failed to reconcile its opposing views of women (as virgin and whore), but that used that opposition to revere, regulate, and revile the lives of its women adherents. In Daly's view, the movement to equality between women and men was anathema (70) to the church hierarchy, who resisted and opposed any change to the status of women within the church. “Those engaged in the struggle for the equality of the sexes have often seen the Catholic Church as an enemy. This view is to a large extent justified, for Catholic teaching has prolonged a traditional view of woman which at the same time idealizes and humiliates her” (107).

Informed as her work was by The Second Sex (107), her writing took on much of Simone de Beauvoir's critique of the socio-ontological arrangements that constitute, encompass, and entrap women. Indeed, Daly's book can be seen as a Catholic response to Simone de Beauvoir's critique of the Catholic church's oppression of women. Daly was keen to reveal the history and social circumstances of women in the church. With this disclosure would come an admission that women have been tied to immanence, tied to materiality and symbolized as the embodiment of temptation, lust, and sin. Daly was committed to arguing for some favorable outcomes once the problems were identified and acknowledged. With identification and acknowledgment, women could begin to overcome the historical and social contingencies that had cast them as secondary beings.

The fundamental difference between Simone de Beauvoir's vision of the Church and women and that which motivated this book is the difference between despair and hope. For this reason our approach is fundamentally far more radical than that of the French existentialist. De Beauvoir was willing to accept the conservative vision of the Church as reality, and therefore has had to reject it as unworthy of mature humanity. However, there is an alternative to rejection, an alternative which need not involve self-mutilation. This is commitment to radical transformation of the negative, life-destroying elements of the Church as it exists today. The possibility of such commitment rests upon clear understanding that the seeds of the eschatological community, of the liberating humanizing Church of the future, are already present, however submerged and neutralized they may be. Such commitment requires hope and courage.


Daly could, therefore, be seen as an apologist for the Truth that she believed the Catholic church manifested and revealed and this is a position quite contrary to Simone de Beauvoir's (172). However, there is a significant and fundamental point on which Simone de Beauvoir and Daly agree. Like Simone de Beauvoir (171), Daly attacked the essentializing notion of the Eternal Feminine, the Eternal Woman, the idea that there is a “fixed human nature” (155) peculiar to women. Daly's critics have wrongly argued that she does not persist with her exposure, that she ultimately retrieves an idea of feminine essence which revalorizes universalizing concepts of women. On this view, Daly retreats from her agreement with Simone de Beauvoir, and instead, revalorizes and reinscribes the Eternal Feminine in Gyn/Ecology and Pure Lust. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, for example, argues that Daly “brilliantly … uses an ontological-linguistic strategy to articulate such an alterity. It is a process of Be-coming instantiated by the Wild, Original, Self-actualizing woman who has made the leap from phallocracy into freedom, into the Other-world of Be-ing” (155).

Schüssler Fiorenza argues that Daly reconstructs the category of Woman as a superior, natural category over and against Man. She describes Daly's position as just one of the many that come “dangerously close to reproducing in the form of deconstructive language traditional cultural-religious ascription[s] of femininity and motherhood, ascriptions all too familiar from papal pronouncements, which have now become feminist norms.”10 Schüssler Fiorenza's claim is strange, to say the least, when one considers Daly's complete refusal of fixed categorization and her vehement rejection of essentialism and the Eternal Feminine.

Note that Daly continually emphasizes the idea that Woman is in process, that women do not have a fixed, immutable nature. The (potential) creation of new Woman is the acknowledgment of that process. As social circumstances and conditions will change and change again, so too will women in their searches for Be-ing. The Otherworld Journey in which women should be engaged points to potentiality rather than actuality. So Daly is not appealing to the actuality of an Eternal, essential Woman at all. She is signposting the idea that women are in process, redefining their potentialities, re-claiming their own naming and thus their be-ing.

It should be stressed that in The Church and the Second Sex Daly extensively analyses and subsequently dismisses the concept of women's essence. Her reading identifies the Eternal Woman as the essential Woman: she is that which makes a woman truly Woman. It is this idea of essential womanhood that Daly passionately rejects. Daly remarks:

The characteristics of the Eternal Woman are opposed to those of a developing, authentic person, who will be unique, self-critical, self creating, active and searching. … By contrast to these authentic personal qualities, the Eternal Woman is said to have a vocation to surrender and hiddenness; … Self-less, she achieves not individual realisation but merely generic fulfillment in motherhood, physical or spiritual. … She is said to be timeless and conservative by nature. She is shrouded in mystery because she is not a genuine human person.11

She argues that the Eternal Feminine and the Eternal Woman are symbols that operate at a normative level in society.12 Hence the concepts of the Eternal Woman and the Eternal Feminine, although symbolic, are not merely descriptive. They prescribe how a woman ought to behave in order to count as a Woman. Women, on this account, are genuinely women by virtue of their “passive, dependent, totally relational”13 qualities, which are embodied by the idea of the Eternal Woman. But, Daly maintains, these symbolic qualities are “radically opposed to female emancipation”14 for they evince a perception of women that both describes and prescribes their individual natures as inferior human beings. Paradoxically, anything falling outside this model fails to count as a woman. The Eternal Feminine is, in other words, the essence of individual women: “The formula is very simple: once the a priori norms of femininity have been set up, all the exceptions are classified as ‘defeminised.’”15 Note the relationship, reminiscent of Plato, between the idea of universal Woman and individual women: one is an individual woman in virtue of participating in the ideal form of Woman.

So Daly argues that in a strong sense individual women were expected to derive the idea that they were women from the symbolic Eternal Feminine and the idea of “pure” or “brute” biological nature. The Eternal Feminine is an a priori given; women's sex remains a biological brute fact. Daly saw the Eternal Feminine as an evil which should be exorcised from the church as well as from the lives of women. While the grip of the Eternal Feminine persisted, little could be achieved for women. However, in highlighting the flawed nature of essential Womanhood, Daly resolved to launch on a project designed “to minimize biological differences”16 in order to change how, and the conditions under which, women should be symbolized.17 In this context, one must acknowledge that Daly's project was devoted to elaborating an idea of androgyny.

It is important to acknowledge that Daly was then concerned for women to remain within the church and that she believed that it would be possible to transform the church into the kind of institution in which women would have equality. For her the idea of androgyny suitably expressed the neutrality of the subject. Both women and men, if they were to throw off the shackles of essentializing theory, should see androgyny as an ideal. The last two chapters of The Church and the Second Sex are concerned with “some modest proposals” about how this might come about. Daly's optimism witnesses her belief in the liberal feminist commitment to full participation in the pre-established (sex-neutral) forms of hierarchical institutions. For her, acceptance of women as equal partners in an androgynous church would lead to the transformation of the institution itself, wherein “(m)en and women, using their best talents, forgetful of self and intent upon the work, will with God's help mount together toward a higher order of consciousness and being, in which the alienating projections will have been defeated and wholeness, psychic integrity, achieved.”18

That meant that women and men must abandon the dominant image of women as the embodiment of the Eternal Feminine. In turn, that meant the traditional roles ascribed to women (in which the Eternal Feminine is honored) would need to be re-evaluated so that women could be given the freedom to move into new space(s). Daly contended that men also must go through a process of transformation and come to terms with the ways in which society had imposed values on, and expectations of, them. “The eternal masculine” traps and limits men as much as the Eternal Feminine has women.

What is more the “eternal masculine” itself is alienating, crippling the personalities of men and restricting their experience of life at every level. The male in our society is not supposed to express much feeling, sensitivity, aesthetic appreciation, imagination, consideration for others, intuition. He is expected to affirm only part of his real self. Indeed, it may be that a good deal of the compulsive competitiveness of males is rooted in this half existence. … It is the nature of the disease, therefore, to inhibit the expansion of the individual's potential, through conditioned conformity to roles, and through a total identification of the individual with them.19

Thus although at the time of writing The Church and the Second Sex Daly had as her primary concern the liberation of women from archaic theory and the social practice built upon that theory, her concern was also for the liberation of all humans, women and men alike. She believed that women and men must fracture the stereotypes by which they are characterized and that the ‘real’20 self somehow exists apart from sexual identity. She took up this theme in Beyond God the Father, where she explored notions centered around androgynous being and in which she generated a trinity: language, transcendence, and androgyny. The relationship among these three is implicit: together they produce the ontological foundations for human becoming to ultimate, authentic Be-ing. Note that later, in Gyn/Ecology, Daly remarked that along with the terms ‘God’ and ‘homosexuality’, ‘androgyny’ is a term she will never use again. Daly situated these terms within the masculine paternal canon. They represent men's interests, not women's.

What I do want to emphasize here is that regardless of what patriarchal intellectual commitments Daly attacks and attempts to refute, her underlying commitment to women's liberation remains couched in terms of language and ontology. Daly uses the patriarchal centeredness of dominant language and ontology ingeniously, as we shall see.21 Overwhelmingly, she appropriates and exploits patriarchal language and ontology to make political statements, to address what she considers to be socially and morally corrupt practices, and to redefine the enterprises of theology and philosophy. She reconstitutes language and ontology as her own Elemental Feminist Philosophy in Gyn/Ecology and Pure Lust, the works in which she develops her cosmic odyssey, her gynocratic vision.

In Beyond God the Father for example, Daly is very taken by the idea of process theology because it does not present us with a static world view. She obviously admires the work of Charles Hartshorne, who, she says, believes that “process is creative synthesis.”22 But she is dubious about the social worth of theory such as his and is also suspicious about that which is ready-made (man-made) and can apparently be readily appropriated by feminists. Her enterprise is to make new philosophy and create new language out of the experience(s) of women. “The essential thing is to hear our own words, always giving prior attention to our own experience, never letting theory have authority over us. Then we can be free to listen to the old philosophical language (and all philosophy that does not explicitly repudiate sexism is old, no matter how novel it may seem).”23 Her endeavors, to create out of the old, to renegotiate the relation between ontology and language, should be seen in this light.

From the time of Gyn/Ecology, language is, categorically, the ontological groundwork of Daly's sex-specific women's discourse; in other words, language becomes ontology for Daly: language is the material out of which ontology is constructed, it is the being or esse of ontology. Contra Morris's argument, Daly's strategy involves more than isolating some signs. She seeks to highlight the idea that language and ontology are so related that language is a condition, not just for the articulation of ontology, but for the very possibility of ontology. For her then, the key to directly affecting change in women's lives is through radically re-viewing discourse. Daly's work with nouns begins this change. She is unequivocally committed to transforming discourse in an endeavor to create a space for women, in terms of language and ontology. Hence hers is subversive linguistic activity. By this, I mean that her strategy is to destabilize, refigure, and transform not only discourse, but the way in which one conceives of ontology and one's life, one's be-ing. But of necessity for Daly, the master discursive framework of patriarchal philosophy is the origin of her project.24

So what is the language/ontology relation which Daly affirms? There are three crucial, interconnected elements of Daly's work that elaborate her notion of the ontology/language relation. The first is the idea that women's meanings, the symbolization of their experiences and of women's discourses, must be produced out of existing discourses. The second is that naming is foundational to the creation of meanings; and the third is Daly's use of metaphor.

Daly argues that all language establishes and comes out of an ontologically committed context which is not neutral (as I argued earlier).25 Put simply, language constructs ontology: language establishes the conditions of being. However, there is a reciprocal relationship involved here. Not only does language construct ontology, but the limits of language are set by our ontological understandings and commitments. Language is a condition for the construction of ontology, which in turn is a condition for language. For Daly, the production of be-ing, which participates in Be-ing, is grounded in displacing patriarchal meanings, in appropriating language, in acknowledging becoming, in shape shifting.26 It presupposes an extant discourse. In a similar vein, Mark C. Taylor argues: “While philosophy's other always slips through the structures imposed by conceptual reflection, the unthought can only be evoked through the language of philosophy itself. The postphilosophical thinkers must strategically use language against language. ‘In order to make the attempt of thinking recognizable and at the same time understandable for existing philosophy, it could at first be expressed only within the horizon of that existing philosophy and its use of current terms.’”27

Daly commits herself to using language against language: to looking at its etymological sources, using them, abusing them, drawing out their implications for women and doing that within the horizon, which necessarily must change, of existing philosophical and theological discourses. She is, therefore, engaged in a double project: exploring and using the present/past terrain of philosophy, while at the same time shifting the boundaries it imposes on itself and in particular upon women. The subverting of discourse is a strategy Daly deliberately embraces when she disfigures extant discourse in order to highlight the possibility of women's ontology/language. Hers is a political task that depends upon undermining (purportedly neutral) language. Daly understands language as a whole, as a dialogical, transformative means of achieving a radically altered society for women.28 Given this kind of interpretation of Daly's work, Morris' allegation that Daly merely subverts isolated signs, rather than re-shaping discourse as a whole, should be seen as the dubious rendering that it is.

In the Wickedary Daly talks of elemental ontology, “the philosophical quest for Be-ing; rooted in the intuition that Powers of Be-ing are constantly Unfolding, creating, communicating; philosophy grounded in the experience of active potency to move beyond the foreground of fixed questions and answers and enter the Radiant Realms of Metabeing.”29 Such an understanding reinforces her belief that there is an intimate fundamental relation between language and ontology. Her term ‘Meta-being’, “(r)ealms of active participation in Powers of Be-ing, State of Ecstasy,” is intended to convey the necessary conjunction of discourse and be-ing. For her Be-ing, “Ultimate/Intimate Reality, the constantly Unfolding Verb of Verbs which is intransitive, having no object that limits its dynamism; the Final Cause, the Good who is Self-communicating who is the Verb from whom, in whom, and with whom all true movements move,”30 is an energizing process. ‘It’ is not fixed and determined as essence would be: the play of Be-ing scampers with delight in its boundlessness and constant shape changing.

This gives voice to the Heracleitan resonances we find in Daly's work. She stresses that language is primarily “performative/active/animate” activity, potentially alive with meaning. Her emphasis on process underscores her approach to language as an oceanic whole: vast, interrelated, and ever changing. On this basis, Daly proposes a re-orientation of language that will highlight the fluidity of verbs. And this brings us to the second element in her elaboration of the ontology/language relation.

In discussing the activity of naming which she understands as the locus of power, Daly argued:

In order to understand the implications of this process it is necessary to grasp the fundamental fact that women have had the power of naming stolen from us. Women have not been free to use their own power to name themselves, the world, or God. The old naming was not the product of dialogue—a fact inadvertently admitted in the Genesis story of Adam's naming the animals and the woman. Women are now realising that the universal imposing of names by men has been false because partial. … To exist humanly is to name the self, the world and God.31

She identifies naming as a functional process which can oppress (as it has women) or liberate. In short, Daly believes that because men have named, they have controlled. Hence men have power. Language is therefore necessarily political: it provides the foundations for control and power. Language, then, has been, and continues to be, oppressive to women. In this sense, naming functions as a metonym for all of language.32 Naming, in other words, is but one part of language. Yet the fact that naming plays such a decisive role in the productions of meanings and the construction of our worlds affirms the idea that the whole of language is engaged in some way with the process of naming. Naming—language as an activity that implies, and is implied by, discourse—is a prime mover in both the construction and understanding of Being. But, to reiterate, the concept of naming is not meant to be understood in a literal, narrow sense. Naming embraces the whole of discursive practice. In Beyond God the Father, Daly had denounced the monopolistic practice of naming in which men have engaged. She argued that what she calls “old naming” as a function of language has assumed an oppressive role within, and is constitutive of, patriarchal structures including discursive practice(s). So, Daly believed, “new naming” can creatively constitute a world in which all sexual oppression will disappear.

The power of naming, highlighted in Beyond God the Father, is a crucial feature of Daly's work in Gyn/Ecology and by the time of Pure Lust had developed into a highly sophisticated network of critical exploration of language, play on words, neologism, and re-definition. But Daly re-orients what we might think of as ‘usual’ in the practice of naming. Predominantly, we associate naming with nouns: with sorting, categorizing. Daly is scathing about this practice and emphasizes the importance of verbs over nouns. This is where naming as a metonym becomes a clear strategic device for Daly. The shift from noun-naming to verb-naming swings naming to a new position within language. It is not just that one must find suitable nouns to use in naming: it is that with an emphasis on verbs and their open-endedness—the Heracleitian resonances to which I alluded above—the idea of new-naming becomes an idea of what all language is about: referring, expressing, disclosing, creating, and so on. In this sense, language is action, performance, process, being. Language is the embodiment of creation, the condition for the possibility of anything.

The stress on the role of verbs is no better highlighted than in Daly's discussion of the idea of God. In Beyond God the Father Daly argues: “Why indeed must ‘God’ be a noun? Why not a verb—the most active and dynamic of all? Hasn't the naming of ‘God’ as a noun been an act of murdering that dynamic Verb? And isn't the Verb infinitely more personal than a mere static noun? The anthropomorphic symbols for God may be intended to convey personality, but they fail to convey that God is Be-ing. … This Verb—the Verb of Verbs—is intransitive. It need not be conceived as having an object that limits its dynamism.”33

Daly's concern with the term ‘God’ as a noun is not simply grammatical. ‘God’ either as a proper name or as a mere noun poses a problem for Daly because of her onto-theological concerns and mistrusts. That is to say, Daly ultimately refuses the androcentric term ‘God’, preferring instead ‘Goddess’. This term however, is not intended to convey the idea of a female super-person with whom women might have a personal relationship. Instead, Daly's use is metaphorical. The term ‘Goddess’ represents potential, possibility: it evokes an idea of what women might become.

According to Daly, that God is construed as a fixed definable thing, that God is reified, is a Deadly Deception. Be-ing, with which she identifies the Goddess, is not a thing at all. In reifying, in making things into objects when that should not be the case, the Divine is essentialized, cast into rocklike solidity that does not change; but Be-ing should not and cannot be contained as nouns contain. (This is what patriarchy practices. Witness Daly's claim that ‘God’ “represents the necrophilia of patriarchy.”)34 Daly argues that reification is a masculine engagement with which she refuses to identify. According to her, the term ‘God’ and what it represents is irredeemably masculine. Daly also acknowledges the possibility of falling into the trap of reifying the Goddess, treating the Goddess as an object named by a noun as ‘God’ has been. But for her, ‘Goddess’, properly used, “affirms the life-loving be-ing of women and nature”35 and is the embodiment of the Verb of verbs.

In refiguring the Divine in terms of concentrating on the “verbness of Be-ing,” Daly is following a long theological tradition that situates discourse in ontology and ontology in discourse. The Old Testament story of the revelation of the Divine Name is enshrouded in cosmic mystery and linguistic difficulties:

Moses then said to God, “Look, if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am he who is.” And he said, “This is what you are to say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God further said to Moses, “You are to tell the Israelites, ‘Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name for all time, and thus I am to be invoked for all generations to come.”36

Commentators on this biblical passage point out that there are etymological and interpretative worries concerning the text, both of which have bearing on Daly's concerns. Etymologically, they argue, Yahweh is archaically related to the Hebrew verb ‘to be’. But they also acknowledge that it may be the causative ‘he causes to be’ or ‘he brings into existence’.37 In any case, the emphasis is on the activity (being, causing, or both) signified by the word. The interpretational question is, in part, one of how the word functions, for it apparently has a naming role.38 What is pertinent for us is that the naming takes place through the use of the present indicative (a verb function), not through the isolation of properties, characteristics, or features (a noun function in terms of modification and qualification). In other words, God's pronouncement, “I am he who is,” if we do take it to be a case of naming, is a verb-naming rather than a noun-naming. Needless to say, its origins and the rules of Hebrew grammar indicate that it is tied up with the verb ‘to be’ and hence is revelatory of God's Being (as Being).39 Verb-naming according to Daly seeks not to reify, but to characterize the divine as active principle, as elemental, which is precisely what is happening in this Hebrew text.

The impetus for producing a peculiarly women's discourse lies precisely in theological quandaries such as that represented by the Yahweh debate. Daly uncovers the prejudice toward anthropomorphism that she maintains patriarchal use/discourse exhibits in its theological language. She realizes that language constitutes our understandings and conceptualizings, particularly because many of our concepts are “trapped” in nouns. By “playing around” with language, her intention is to create not only a conceptual shift, but an ontological shift: a shift that will make possible the discovery of the (metaphorical) Goddess in the experience of women.

Note that Mary Daly is concerned with “playing around.” Much of her writing is a joyful playing with concepts, ideas, etymologies, and breaking up of syllables to re-emphasise new and different meanings. Daly's writing is the performance of that play. The divine is found not only in the deep and serious matters of the mind. The divine is found in unfolding the contorted layers of meaning that have fabricated women's lives as well as at times of bliss. Humor and play are restored to philosophy.

The mystery that is the divine is exposed in Yahweh's own playfulness, Yahwistic humor—I tell you who I am: I am. The Hebrew story, which historically speaking is assuredly counter-hegemonic and thus already antithetical to dominant Hebrew-inspired patriarchal conceptions of the divine, exhibits a deep religious bias toward acknowledging the Be-ing and mystery of divinity that falls outside noun-naming processes. So, in identifying noun-naming as a problem for “God,” Daly reiterates part of a tradition that she puts superbly to work in her performing of feminist theology. The centrality of verbs, the stress on their processive function, signifies the open-endedness of Be-ing toward which women can move, marking the re-emergence of the Goddess. And this idea of the Goddess as Verb of Verbs should not be read through patriarchal modernist categories.

Daly's notion of the Goddess points “metaphorically to the Powers of Be-ing, the Active Verb in whose potency all biophilic reality participates.”40 Notice Daly's use of the word ‘metaphorically’ here. The recognition of this term and its cognates brings us to the third element in Daly's elucidation of the language/ontology relation: her use of metaphor. Just as naming functions as a metonym for the whole of language use and practice, so metaphor guides the explosion of language which occurs with the transference of energy from nouns to verbs. The role of metaphor becomes political. It is the means by which transcendence will be made possible. In other words, the Goddess is an expression of the possibility of women's transcendence, of women's gracious movement. Thus use of metaphor, the idea of the Goddess and transcendence are intimately linked.

Daly's chapter “Bewitching: The Lust for Metamorphosis” in Pure Lust contains a substantial elucidation of both the role and significance Daly wants to give metaphor. There, she argues that metaphors are not mere symbols nor mere abstractions. Metaphors are, as she notes in the Wickedary, “words that carry Journeyers into the Wild dimensions of Other-centred consciousness by jarring images, stirring memories, accentuating contradictions, upsetting unconscious traditional assumptions.”41 In Pure Lust she also maintains that the Great Mother is one of the “myriad possibilities for naming transcendence”42 (and that some women can become fixated on images such as the Great Mother, an example of reification of the Goddess).

A metapatriarchal metaphor “works” precisely to the extent that it carries a woman further into the Wild dimensions of other-centered consciousness—out of the dead circles into Spiralling/Spinning motion. Be-witching metaphors transmute the shapes of perception. They do this by jarring images, stirring memories, accentuating contradictions, upsetting unconscious traditional assumptions, evoking “inappropriate” laughter, releasing pent-up tears, eliciting gynaesthetic sensings of connections, arousing Dragon-identified Passions, inspiring acts of Volcanic virtue, brewing strange ideas.43

Daly's concern is with developing a metaphorical understanding of Woman and divinity that is open-ended. In this sense it is essential that one understands her project as non-literal. Daly situates herself within a tradition of metaphorical discourse of which she is simultaneously subversive.44 She alleges: “Metaphors function to Name change, and therefore they elicit change. … Thus the very task of naming and calling forth Elemental be-ing requires metaphors.”45 For Daly, change necessitates the use of metaphor.46

The echo that rebounds in Daly's exegesis of metaphor resonates with the playfulness to which I alluded above. In using metaphor, one plays; that play constitutes performance, challenging and subverting the categories that subtend language. Énonciation occurs in the written text! For example, she speaks of women's bodies as “transmutable to and from energy” and of “[t]he spiration of the Archimage within Lusty women, who speak women's words, heals broken connections between words and their Sources, reconnecting women with their elemental origins.”47 As Daly showed in her analysis of essentialism, this is not the patriarchal way of thinking about women or their bodies. If women in patriarchy are lusty, they are whores; if there is spiration within women, it is the Word of God speaking to a (compliant) Virgin Mother to whom an announcement is made (that she will be the Mother of God). The change in metaphor brings about a change in thinking: Virgin Virtues do not revolve around the idea of submission; Virgin Virtues are “life affirming habits of Uncaptured/Unsubdued women”;48 to Gossip is “to exercise the Elemental Female Power of Naming, especially in the presence of other Gossips.”49

Ironically, Daly's use of (seemingly stereotypical?) “female” metaphors tempts commentators to interpret Daly as essentialist. But Daly's metaphors appeal to the idea of women as constituted through their own language practices, which are not themselves neutral. This cannot be stressed enough, especially since the claim that there can be no sex-neutral subject is discussed widely in feminist literature and Daly's work highlights this assertion.50 But there is a great deal of confusion about what is actually going on when feminist theorists call for a female subject and most of this confusion collapses into debates surrounding essentialism. In other words, the idea that there should or could be a female subject is almost always read as a reaffirmation of the idea of a female essence, even when a theorist taking such a stand identifies herself as a social constructionist and denounces essentialism. This is the case with Mary Daly and her critics.51

Rosi Braidotti, for instance, has maintained that Daly has a “conceptual tendency to naturalize the feminine”52 and thus to reinstate essentializing notions of women. Braidotti's accusation stems from her analysis of Daly's (metaphorical) Goddess imagery, which she misreads as invoking essentialist images. Furthermore, she agrees with Morris, whom she interprets as accusing Daly of “re-naming at the level of lexicon, of the vocabulary, leaving unchanged the syntax of representation.”53 Let me revisit Morris, who writes: “One focus of Daly's interest in Gyn/Ecology is the possibilities offered by changing particular words (those items in the dictionary, ie. the available code—or langue—of patriarchal English). She de-constructs and de-forms them in their inert state as signs whose only context is the dictionary, and then puts them to work in the discourse. … Her strategy is to warp the words of the patriarchal dictionary, to bend the code back against itself until it snaps to their shrieks of derision” (her italics).54

To reiterate the point I made earlier in this essay, this interpretation charges that Daly deconstructs terms within language, without deconstructing the corpus, language in use, and her own speaking position. On this misreading, Daly valorizes Woman as she has been understood through the texts of Western philosophy, ascribing to Woman an essence that depends upon the implicit acceptance of the categories of Western thought. Morris's and Braidotti's readings of Daly are, however, literal rather than metaphoric. They fail to let Daly “mess with their minds,”55 to let her metaphors dislodge patriarchal meanings and re-orient their thinking. They read her through a modernist lens.

Daly does not reinscribe Western philosophical ideas of Essential Woman at all. To recapitulate, her language is metaphorical and seeks to explore the previously unexplored: the possibility of women's discourse. It is important to stress that both Morris and Braidotti assume that Daly essentializes the Goddess and women because she boldly dismisses neutrality as a construction of patriarchy. It is possible that Morris and Braidotti do not recognize the link Daly makes between patriarchy and neutrality. However, that Daly holds that patriarchy constructs the idea of neutrality is apparent. Her rejection of androgyny, tied as it is to the idea of a gender-neutral “best possible subject,” (“‘John Travolta and Farrah Fawcett-Majors scotch-taped together’”)56 states her point sharply and shortly. Daly's underlying argument is always that language is sex specific: there is no gender-neutral sex and, therefore, there can be no gender-neutral language. Since language constructs subjectivities, identities, it follows that there can be no gender-neutral subject. The elimination of the idea of androgyny is couched in these terms.

Daly rejects androgyny; Morris and Braidotti revalorize neutrality. Braidotti's affirmation of neutrality in this text emerges when she argues: “So Daly falls into what I consider one of the worst traps besetting feminism today: the replacement of the masculine subject by the feminine subject. … The latent dogmatism in Daly's thought, quite as much as its reactionary nature, seems to me potentially dangerous for current feminism, insofar as it subverts the signs, not the codes.”57

But Daly replies to her critics who choose the concept of neutrality over that of woman:

Particularly insidious is the pseudo-feminist usage of the term essentialist to label and discredit all feminist writing that dares to Name and celebrate the Wild and Elemental reality of women who choose to think beyond the prescribed parameters of patriarchal mandates. … It elicits the patriarchally embedded Self-censor in women attempting to create in women-identified ways. … In other words, the expression of Original Powers and of the Ecstatic existential experience of women breaking free from patriarchal mindbendings is stigmatized by the label “essentialist,” leaving only the grimness of oppression as that which women have in common. Ultimately this reversal/usage functions to negate Hope for Life that transcends the illusion of inclusion in forever male-identified “humankind.”58

The development of Woman's Be-ing, Elemental Woman's Be-ing, is dependent ultimately on the rejection of masculine discourse, men's discourse, commonly thought of as neutral discourse. Daly's intuition about the role of discourse is sound. Her belief is that the Divine, the Goddess, is mirrored through language practices and therefore the Divine is the mirror of women. The claim that discourse must be sex/gender specific, and that Daly is creating the context for metapatriarchal discourse, is a superb strategy. But it is more than a strategy.

Earlier I remarked that a member of Daly's trinity in Beyond God the Father was the idea of transcendence. The relation between metaphor and transcendence is intimate. Indeed for Daly, metaphors are “the language/vehicles of transcendent spiraling.”59 Metaphors promote transcendence: they embellish the possibilities for women to participate in Be-ing, to persist with the Journey. But what it means to transcend is elusive. And again, the idea of neutrality looms ominously, this time in the context of Simone de Beauvoir.

In her existentialist philosophy Simone de Beauvoir promoted the idea of transcendence, thought of as a peculiarly male interest. Man achieves transcendence in his own subjectivity, “the male recovers his individuality intact at the moment he transcends it.”60 Women do not achieve transcendence: they fail to develop as subjects, for they never transcend their own individuality. Women fail to create value: they make babies instead and remain immanent in the species.61 This does not mean that women have no values. But it means that they subscribe to values that are produced externally to them and that are believed to be neutral.

Now, by appropriating men's discourse and developing the triadic relation between ontology and language, naming and metaphor, Daly shifts away from transcendence conceived of as a peculiarly men's project. She denies that women cannot achieve transcendence, cannot make their own values and seek their own autonomy. The play of metaphor evokes the Goddess. And it is in the Goddess, the Verb of Verbs, that transcendence moves to liberate. Transcendence thus becomes a function of women's process, of women's movement, and metaphor its expression. Transcendence is not to be reified, as a thing that can be defined. Transcendence is the process in which women are engaged as they name themselves, make and re-make themselves in performing their divinity, their participation in the Goddess. The language of transcendence and the Goddess is the language of metaphor. In Daly's hands, metaphor is the language of the Goddess, the language of divine politics, the language of Be-ing.

When one looks at the claim made against Daly—that she is essentialist because she launches a project that attempts to seek out Woman and that Daly's language betrays her—one wonders how closely her detractors have read her. Daly has not claimed to define, to categorize women. Daly works to find a way for women to become Wild, to be Lusty, to be Strong. Her belief that women can have no ontology, no being without women's language, recommends an analysis of the idea of Woman such as Daly has produced. If one can accept that women are on a Journey and that the Journey is within language, then the possibility of Elemental ontology opens before one. It is dangerous, the Journey, the Journey to ontology, for it is to be on the Outercourse, toward transcendence and Be-ing.

I have been arguing that Mary Daly's work is primarily directed towards the re-creation of women through the dis-membering and re-construction of discourse. I have argued that far from her project's being a mere changing of isolated signs as Morris has argued, Daly is concerned to produce a radically creative and subversive Woman's discourse. Implicit in that project is the development of an ethic that valorizes women without reinscribing real essentialist accounts (such as the Eternal Woman) of Woman. I have also argued, using Schüssler Fiorenza's terminology, that this strategy is ontological-linguistic, meaning that for Daly, a strong relationship exists between ontology and language, indeed that the two are so intertwined that language becomes ontology for Daly in the sense I have outlined above. She calls into question the idea that the dominant discourses of theology and philosophy are sex neutral. Because these discourses are masculine paternal discourses, Daly believes that women should develop their own language in which they can articulate their own be-ing. In other words, Daly seeks to re-vision the idea of women and their experiences, ontology and the divine. In so doing, she creates a politics of divinity that is not sex neutral but is an expression of women's transcendence because it involves the idea that women should reclaim the power of naming for themselves. Her work creates divinity as politics because she seeks to subvert hegemonic conceptions of language, the divine, and transcendence. In her work she seeks to subvert men's ownership of, and the imposition of boundaries on, the divine. Daly's work systematically defies the canons of men's theology and philosophy, within which is the myth of neutrality. While that myth preserves patriarchal—that is, masculine paternal—hegemony, women will not have the words with which they might name for themselves, a women's language. In new naming is new ontology, women's transcendence, and the Goddess. This is be-ing for women, Be-ing in women. This is women's participation in the Verb of Verbs. This is a women's politics of the divine. And this is Mary Daly's legacy to philosophy and theology.


  1. Meaghan Morris, “A-mazing Grace: Notes on Mary Daly's Poetics,” Intervention 16 (n.d.): 71-73.

  2. Grosz and other commentators on Irigaray use the term “strategy” in discussing Irigaray's work. See Elizabeth Grosz, Sexual Subversions: Three French Feminists (St. Leonards: Allen & Unwin, 1989).

  3. Morris, “A-mazing Grace,” 73.

  4. Morris here refers, in a footnote, to Pym's work, a 1980 honors thesis at Murdoch University, and notes that the definition was passed on to her by Anna Freadman.

  5. Morris, “A-mazing Grace,” 76.

  6. One also might consider that in the early days of “second wave” feminism, there were howls of protest from women who realized that terms such as ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ for instance, were meant to be inclusive and gender neutral. But in being inclusive, feminists argued, the terms denoted a disregard for the individuality and sexed subjectivity of women. There was, therefore, a push to subvert what might be thought of as “isolated signs” in the writing of public documents. The infamous replacement of “chairman” by “chairwoman” and then its replacement by “chairperson” and the introduction, in English, of the marriage-status-neutral term “Ms.” for women, instead of the two choices “Miss” (unmarried woman) or “Mrs.” (married woman) are examples of this practice of apparently subverting isolated signs. It is manifest however, that the subversion of isolated signs was, and is, only apparent. Such apparently minor changes have called attention to a problem endemic in many languages and have caused a rethinking of how particular nouns are used and when. I think that this is, in part, what Daly is addressing. I talk further about language neutrality later in this essay.

  7. See Ferdinand de Saussure, “Course in General Linguistics” (1916), trans. Wade Baskin, in A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, ed. Anthony Easthope and Kate McGowan, 8-13 (St. Leonards: Allen & Unwin, 1992): “[T]o consider a term as simply the union of a certain sound with a certain concept is grossly misleading. To define it this way would isolate the term from its system. … Language is a system of interdependent terms in which the value of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence of the others” (8, 9); and Jacques Derrida, “Différence,” in Easthope and McGowan, A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, 108-32: “[T]he signified concept is never present in and of itself, in a sufficient presence that refers only to itself. Essentially and lawfully, every concept is inscribed in a chain or in a system within which it refers to the other, to other concepts, by the systematic play of differences” (115). See also Vincent Descombes, Modern French Philosophy, trans. L. Scott-Fox and J. M. Harding (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980), chap. 3, “Semiology.” His discussion of structural analysis, initially using Molière's “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” is particularly insightful here. See 82-100. Descombes also refers to Saussure's remark “‘In a language there are only differences,’” going on to note, “That is why knowledge of any one element is conditional upon knowledge of the system,” 87.

  8. Daly uses the hyphenated forms Be-ing and be-ing to emphasize their “verbness” so that the reader will not be tempted to reify, as she might if she were to read them as nouns.

  9. Although topics such as those raised by Daly about women and the church are commonplace discussion today, little in the sacramental life of the Catholic church (the official position of which remains as it has been for hundreds of years) has changed regarding the understanding and role of women. See John Paul II's apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) for evidence of this.

  10. I have used the past tense here, in spite of the fact that this remains true of Catholic hierarchy and many devout men (and some women) Catholics. Arguments against ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood for example are based upon an assumed inferiority of women developed from Pauline texts in particular. The “different but equal” sentiments that condemn women to lesser positions of power in the church are also an example of this.

  11. Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, 53.

  12. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. H. M. Parshley (London: Picador Books, 1949).

  13. Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, 221.

  14. In the “Post Christian Introduction” in The Church and the Second Sex, Daly speaks of the position she had taken in the first edition in terms of dis-ownership. That is to say, she speaks of herself in the third person, dissociating from and critiquing the views of the earlier Daly.

  15. See Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, Part III, in particular her discussion of the Mother and the Virgin Mary, 170ff. It is beyond the scope of this essay, however, to explore in great depth the relationship between Simone de Beauvoir's work and Daly's.

  16. Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, 70.

  17. See in particular Daly's chapters “Demon of Sexual Prejudice: Exercise in Exorcism” and “Roots of the Problem: Radical Surgery Required” in The Church and the Second Sex, 166-91.

  18. Ibid., 223.

  19. Ibid., 193-94.

  20. Throughout this essay, where the term ‘reality’ is obviously contested, I use single quotes. Where it is not necessarily contested, I omit the quotes.

  21. The irony here is that according to Meaghan Morris, this very point was made by Layleen Jayamanne at what Morris calls “the Mary Daly event” in Sydney in 1981. But in that scenario, it is a point made against Daly, rather than for her. See Morris, “A-mazing Grace,” 70.

  22. Daly, Beyond God the Father, 188.

  23. Ibid., 189.

  24. Nancy Fraser, discussing Foucault's work, also makes this point. She says: “Now, the fact that Foucault continues to speak (or at least to murmur) the language of humanism need not be held against him. Every good Derridean will allow that there is not, at least for the time being, any other language he could speak. … Foucault himself acknowledges that he cannot simply and straightforwardly discard at will the normative associations with the metaphysics of subjectivity.” Nancy Fraser, Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 1989), 57.

  25. See, for example, her discussion of titles and roles within a workplace context: “In women one notices ‘accommodation attitudes,’ that is, a self-abnegating and flattering manner that is almost ‘second nature.’ Conditioning to such accommodation attitudes is intensified by such customs as nonreciprocal first naming, common even when the boss (Mr. Jones, Father Jones, Professor Jones or Doctor Jones) is thirty years of age and the secretary, who is sixty, is called ‘Sally.’ A similar custom is reference by ‘the boss’ to ‘Sally’ as ‘the girl’ in the office. A young male ‘executive assistant’ doing essentially the same work as Sally, for a much higher salary, is of course not referred to as a “‘boy.’” See Daly, Beyond God the Father, 136.

  26. Daly, “Be-witching: The Lust for Metamorphosis,” in Pure Lust, especially 390ff.

  27. Taylor's comment occurs in a discussion of Heidegger in Mark C. Taylor, “Cleaving: Martin Heidegger,” in Alt▽rity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 42-43. In response to the interjector at the “Daly event” in Sydney in 1981, I would cite a claim such as this. Given that one grows up in a culture, how else can one speak except within its terms? Daly is challenging this and attempting to dissipate (a little) the boundaries. Taylor's quotation from Heidegger is Martin Heidegger, “Letter on Humanism,” in Basic Works, ed. and trans. D. Krell (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 235.

  28. This point is reinforced in Daly, Pure Lust. See “On Lust and the Lusty,” passim.

  29. Daly, Wickedary, 86.

  30. Ibid., 64.

  31. Daly, Beyond God the Father, 8.

  32. I thank Marilyn Frye for this insight.

  33. Daly, Beyond God the Father, 33-34.

  34. Daly, Gyn/Ecology, xi.

  35. Ibid.

  36. Exodus 3:13-15 New Jerusalem Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1985). The “I am has sent me to you” is the translation from the New Jerusalem Bible. For example, the sentence is also translated as “I am who I am.” See RSV, Catholic ed. (Nelson, 1966).

  37. New Jerusalem Bible, 85 n. g.

  38. In the footnotes, the translators discuss the question of whether or not the intention of God is to give “his” name. They assume (not argue) that “he” does intend so doing and that is the context in which I am writing.

  39. Exodus, New Jerusalem Bible, n. g.

  40. Daly, Pure Lust, 26.

  41. Daly, Wickedary, 82.

  42. Daly, Pure Lust, 403.

  43. Ibid., 405.

  44. Ibid., 407-8.

  45. Ibid., 25.

  46. Ibid., 408.

  47. Ibid., 91.

  48. Daly Wickedary, 99.

  49. Ibid., 133.

  50. See Moira Gatens, “A Critique of the Sex Gender Distinction,” in A Reader in Feminist Knowledge, ed. Sneja Gunew (New York: Routledge, 1991); and see Grosz, Volatile Bodies.

  51. A recent example of this is in Lesley Instone's essay “Denaturing Women,” in Contemporary Australian Feminism 2, ed. Kate Pritchard Hughes (South Melbourne: Addison Wesley Longman, 1997). Instone accepts Carlassare's diagnosis of Daly as essentialist, noting that Carlassare qualifies her position by arguing that Daly's essentialism is progressive rather than regressive. Such essentialism is strategic as it is “seen as contextual and emerging from specific historical and social situations” (155).

  52. Braidotti, Patterns of Dissonance, 206.

  53. Ibid.

  54. Morris, “A-mazing Grace,” 72.

  55. Thank you to Sarah Hoagland for this expression.

  56. Daly, Gyn/Ecology, xi.

  57. Ibid., 207.

  58. Daly, Wickedary, 251.

  59. Ibid., 82.

  60. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 54.

  61. Ibid., 54-56.

  62. I would like to thank the following women for their encouragement and helpful discussions, insights, and editorial comments in relation to this paper: Marilyn Frye, Sarah Hoagland, Heather Thomson, Angela Bouris, Jan Preston-Stanley, Natalie Stoljar, Cynthia Freeland, and Philippa McLean.


Daly, Mary. 1973. Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press.

———. 1978. Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. London: Women's Press.

———. 1984. Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy. Boston: Beacon Press.

———. 1985. The Church and the Second Sex. Boston: Beacon Press.

Daly, Mary, in cahoots with Jane Caputi. 1988. Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language. London: Women's Press.

de Beauvoir, Simone. 1949. The Second Sex. Translated by H. M. Parshley. London: Picador Books.

Descombes, Vincent. 1982. Modern French Philosophy. Translated by L. Scott-Fox and J. M. Harding. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Easthope, Anthony, and McGowan, Kate, eds. 1992. A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader. St. Leonards: Allen & Unwin.

Fraser, Nancy. 1989. Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press.

Grosz, Elizabeth. 1989. Sexual Subversions: Three French Feminists. St. Leonards: Allen & Unwin.

———. 1994. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Gunew, Sneja, ed. 1991. A Reader in Feminist Knowledge. New York: Routledge.

Heidegger, Martin. 1977. “Letter on Humanism,” in Basic Works. Translated and edited by D. Krell. New York: Harper and Row.

John Paul II, 1994. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

Morris, Meaghan. N.d. “A-mazing Grace: Notes on Mary Daly's Poetics” Intervention 16: 70-92.

Piercy, Marge. 1990. Circles on the Water. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Pritchard Hughes, Kate, ed. 1997. Contemporary Australian Feminism 2. South Melbourne: Addison Wesley Longman.

Schüssler Fiorenza, Elizabeth. 1992. But She Said: Feminist Practices of Hermeneutical Interpretation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Taylor, Mark C. 1987. Alt▽rity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Anne-Marie Korte (essay date 2000)

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SOURCE: Korte, Anne-Marie. “Just/ice In Time: On Temporality in Mary Daly's Quintessence,” translated by Mischa F. C. Hoyinck. In Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly, edited by Sarah Lucia Hoagland and Marilyn Frye, pp. 418-28. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Korte discusses Daly's conception of time and her use of temporal disjunctions in Quintessence to escape patriarchal notions of absolute space/time.]

At the brink of a new millennium, could there be a more fitting subject for Mary Daly, renowned for her “Be-Dazzling” leaps through time and space, to thematize than time? In her latest book, Quintessence … Realizing the Archaic Future (1998), Daly emphasizes time far more than in any of her earlier works. In the narrative as well as in the central concepts of this book, Daly plays with time, molds it, and explores the temporal dimension of all that exists “as far as it will go.” In Quintessence, historical eras flash by and narrative points of view shift according to the flow and counterflow of time. Fortunately, there are enough historical references to provide the reader with some orientation. But the characters in Quintessence are no longer bound to one particular historical period. They “pop up” long before they were born or long after they have died, meeting each other in the Middle Ages, throughout the twentieth century, and even in the near future (from 1998 to 2048). About this last period, however, Daly discloses tantalizingly little. With a thirst for revelations about the near future, I raced through the book—but remained largely unsatisfied.

More revealing to me, however, turned out to be Daly's reflections on time. Interestingly, she bypasses “standard questions” in feminist thinking on time, abstaining from examining such well-known issues as linear versus cyclical time, objective (given) versus subjective (experienced) time or social versus biological time.1 As I will show, the issue Daly primarily addresses is not so much how women perceive time, but rather which notions of time we must embrace to (be able to) do women justice.

In the sense that Quintessence relies on an incisively sketched difference between an oppressive past and a present full of hope, it reminded me of Daly's first feminist book, The Church and the Second Sex (1968). Clearly, and much more straightforwardly, that book also derived its narrative structure from the end of one era and the beginning of another. Its basic idea was that the world was on the brink of a new age that would bring great substantive change. Misogyny was portrayed as a thing of the past, an ancient horror about to be overcome. Depiction of the differences between past and present served to illustrate how far-reaching this transformation would be. Daly's plea for recognition and support of the impending era of “equality” and “partnership” was based on the hopeful signs of change she detected in the Roman Catholic church in the 1960s. Thirty years on, she no longer situates this qualitative difference in the present, but in the near future. Signs of hope can no longer be found in the here and now, but in the women who look back on our own time as history. Looking back from 2048 B.E. (Biophilic Era), the feminist renaissance is a historical fact and the 1990s appear to have been the dark ages of feminism.

This, I believe, is a fundamental element of Mary Daly's feminist approach to time. Expecting, or at least hoping for, changes that will manifest themselves as entirely new eras—this is a constant theme in Daly's writings. Large-scale thinking in terms of (new) ages is, in itself, a feature of modern Western consciousness of time. Daly's view of historical change, however, bears the unmistakably prophetic signs of the Judeo-Christian notion of time. Daly's great expectations are not the forthright product of a modern belief in progress. They are based on a critical assessment of the quality of present-day life, measured by norms and values that transcend the evidences of one's own time and place. Daly's point of departure is a vision of peace, justice, and beatitude on a cosmic scale—a vision that figures prominently in prophetic biblical texts. Here, cosmic vision and judgment of “one's own time” go hand in hand, demanding immediate conversion.

It is this perspective, I believe, that has informed Daly's feminist reflection on time from the very beginning. In Beyond God the Father, she starts urging women to adopt a critical stance toward all kinds of order that bear the stamp of patriarchy. To underscore this point, she again invokes the metaphor of the gloomy past and the radiant new era. To be caught up in patriarchal institutions is, according to Daly, “to be living in time past.”2 By contrast, women who choose not to be party to this any longer “are vividly aware of living in time present/future.”3 Daly localizes women's new awareness of time at the core of the new era: women's own time is situated at the edges of patriarchal time. “It is whenever we are living out of our own sense of reality, refusing to be possessed, conquered and alienated by the linear, measured-out, quantitative time of the patriarchal system. Women, in becoming who we are, are living in a qualitative, organic time that escapes the measurements of the system.”4 Daly called for a clear distinction between patriarchal time and “women's own time” or “Life-time.”

At first glance, this view seems closely related to the feminist concept of “women's time” as explored by Julia Kristeva,5 Heide Göttner-Abendroth,6 and others. These authors have linked the way in which women perceive time to their bodily functions, to the nature of the tasks they usually perform (a day-to-day routine rather than long-term, goal-oriented projects), and to the systematic exclusion of women from language and science. Their explorations of how women experience time have generated conceptual distinctions such as linear versus cyclical time or objective (given) versus subjective (perceived) time. As part of the same debate, widely held concepts of time and historic periodization have come under fire. The criticism focuses on their failure to account for women's tasks and lifestyles. Women's cyclical, mimetic, fragmented, or interrupted perceptions of time are ignored, or even obscured.

In calling on women to distinguish between patriarchal time and women's time, however, Daly had something else in mind. She considers it a moral imperative for women to live on the edge of patriarchal institutions and to claim physical space/time for themselves. Rather than the perception of time, it is the value of time, of the quality of life realized with/in time, that is Daly's frame of reference. She disregards any link between women's perception of time and their biological functions and reproductive tasks. This is consistent with the way she has always ignored “characteristically female” physical experiences when tackling epistemological questions.

I believe that there is a very specific reason why Daly refuses to go along with these explorations of the “cyclical rhythms” of female corporeality. Cyclical notions of time have no positive appeal for her at all, as she made clear in the last chapter of Beyond God the Father (1973). There she stated her faith in the power of the women's movement to radically alter the history of humankind and the course of the entire universe. She argued that women's liberation will engender an unrivaled evolutionary impulse: a qualitative leap of cosmic proportions.7 The nonbeing of women will be undone and oppression and domination in all its forms will be rooted out. Searching for terms and categories to adequately express this cosmic change, Daly reached the conclusion that most philosophical and theological representations of the future were simply inadequate for this purpose because they could not allow for a qualitative difference. They are closed systems, depicting the future as paradise regained and thereby stamping out any difference. The merging of all that exists with God, the absorption of the finite into the Infinite is seen as a return to the womb (exitus-reditus) rather than a move forward into a new Space/Time of “endless divergence.”8

In my view, it is Daly's repellence of closed systems and of the ewige Wiederkehr des Gleichen (endless repetition of the same) that prompted her to go beyond simply criticizing patriarchal time or replacing it with women's time. Radical feminism requires disrupting and abandoning all accepted representations of time and space. With her own leap beyond the Christian and patriarchal era in 1975, Daly put her preaching into practice. The situation was too urgent to wait for all of humankind to take a qualitative leap. Daly stepped out on her own, to begin exploring and charting the new Space/Time herself.

Prophetic judgment of her own time has become a prominent feature of Daly's work. With Quintessence she has embraced the opportunity to deliver a feminist mission statement on the brink of the new millennium, and rightfully so. Admittedly, I would expect nothing less from this philosopher trained in theology. To write about the eschata, the last or ultimate things, is not only a providentially timed project but also a logical continuation of Daly's earlier works—which, as I have shown elsewhere, reinterpret the main theological issues from a radical feminist angle.9 Eschatology, the last item on the theological agenda, deals with the final destiny of all that exists, in terms of both the universe as a whole and the fate of individual people. From a Christian perspective, the latter manifests itself as the resurrection of all individuals, including their bodily existence. This should be preceded by the Second Coming of Christ in an apocalyptic time of catastrophe, violence, and destruction, followed by a thousand-year reign of Christ. In my view, Quintessence provides a unique rereading of these issues.

Just like Daly's other post-Christian books, Quintessence criticizes its own present as an evil time, an era full of dangers and attacks on women and “all of their kind.” But the call to depart from the existing era is expressed in new ways and gives rise to new reflections on the notions of time and space. Ever since Gyn/Ecology, Daly has characterized the detachment from the dangerous, perverted, and patriarchal present as the development of a critical distance. She illustrated this with the image of a (space) journey, a synchronous spiritual movement that allows the traveler to discover the depths and dynamic possibilities behind and beyond the reality of the present. One's inauthentic present life in the foreground directed by the fathers had to be exchanged for the authentic life of presence in the Background that women would control themselves. Daly put special emphasis on the idea that this life in the Background was “elsewhere,” in other words, clearly distanced from here and now. But the metaphors used for imagining the necessary distancing, like traveling, moving, spinning, or hopping, also indicated a different temporal dimension of the Background. These metaphors suggest movements that “take their time,” that have their own pace and intensity, and that make it possible to perceive and value one's own and one another's presence in other, maybe even multitemporal ways.

In Quintessence, these temporal dimensions of life in the Background are far more highlighted. At a future point of time, this life in the Background turns out to have been concretely realized. The new postpatriarchal age finally has arrived. Or so it seems, from the vantage point of the year 2048, on Lost and Found Continent, a special place on our own planet inhabited by a community of women who have managed to leave life-destroying patriarchy behind. We get glimpses of a multicultural group of women leading a life of paradise and extraordinary ecological awareness. The point of view in Quintessence alternates between 2048 and 1998, and sometimes the two perspectives blend. Mixing these two points of view also creates room to “realize” other moments in time.

Until now, Daly mainly explored shifts in historical time in the prefaces and epilogues to her writings. In Quintessence it has become the main focus. Temporal discontinuity is no longer primarily a way to depict the changes Daly herself in fact has experienced, such as abandoning Christianity or developing an increasingly radical feminist vision. These shifts in time are now also used to visualize substantive and much longed-for changes that have not happened yet.

In her previous books, Daly expressed qualitative changes as a detachment from the present or from the past which was once her present. To this end, she had her present-day self look back in amazement at the “prehistoric” writings of the earlier Mary Daly. This time, the present-day Daly and her work are “discovered” by a young, “future foresister,” an inhabitant of the 2048 Lost and Found Continent who is surprised and upset at the situation of the 1990s, an era before her time. She is staggered by the insensitivity and ruthlessness of the people living then: why did they not recognize that they were perpetuating the wholesale destruction of life on earth? Why did the women do nothing about this? In order to answer these questions, she invokes Mary Daly, one of the few authors of the time who were studying this problem. Mary Daly appears before her in body and spirit. Together the two women reconstruct the obstacles that women faced in the horrible nineties. In those days, women were easily scared off and intimidated because of the serious sanctions against “aberrant” behavior. Women were manacled by religious fundamentalism and alternative religions. Moreover, there was a backlash against feminism itself. Many women were loath to associate with it, radical feminist literature was removed from the bookshops and pseudo-feminism, such as postmodern or French feminism, took over the universities. What is more, is it not possible that women suffered some form of slow physical numbing as a result of the large-scale poisoning of the earth?

Quintessence unfortunately does not explain how this process was stopped, although it is suggested that the earth itself ultimately and just in time revolted against its abuse. Increasing numbers of natural disasters and famines finally broke the life-destroying patriarchal hegemony. The fall of worldwide patriarchy has clear overtones of the apocalypse that precedes the Second Coming of Christ—in Quintessence, a Second Coming of Women, as Daly herself had prophesied in Beyond God the Father.10 Yet, this apocalypse is discussed in very veiled terms—we are spared the details, to my relief and in clear contrast to the often unrestrained use of apocalyptic scenery in religious fundamentalism. It is also telling that the residents of Lost and Found Continent commemorate the plagues that visited the earth, but do not celebrate the final victory over patriarchy. They are well aware that patriarchy is tough to wipe out entirely and are wary of a possible resurgence. For that reason, they want to study the lives of their foresisters under the patriarchal order. They wish not only to mourn the injustice done to their sisters, but also to learn from the past.

In Quintessence, Mary Daly does not explore the perception of time in relation to women's day-to-day tasks or their physical functions. Nor does she discuss stress, or the feeling of “always being pressed for time,” two experiences so characteristic of Western women's lives in the late twentieth century. When the Mary Daly character ends up in the Lost and Found Continent of the future, she is astonished by the clean air, the pure water, and the organic food, but makes no mention of a change in the pace of life. Nor does Daly comment on time as described by modern physics. Some see in Einstein's relative notion of time—that it is a function of place and movement, rather than linear and absolute—support for the feminist criticism of linear time. Despite such labels as Archaic Time or Original Time, Daly's own leaps and shifts in time do not result in a reclaiming of what other feminists characterize as “women's time,” a primeval time in which birth and death, menstruation and pregnancy, sun and moon, mark the days, weeks, and years and divide them into rhythmic cycles.11 It seems that for Daly, the importance of temporal discontinuity is that it grants distance from the present, the here and now we live in, in order to judge it. Temporal discontinuity constitutes difference, evokes and expresses the experience of a self that is not (any longer) undifferentiatedly immersed in the flow of time—a self that is capable of judgment.

To me, all of this raises the question of whether Mary Daly is interested in the phenomenon of time per se. After all, times and eras can be judged without any reflection on the concept of time as such, as the judgment might only have a bearing on the quality of life at a given time. So, must we conclude that Daly regards time merely as a given structure? Judging from the obvious passion and joy with which she employs temporal discontinuity, it seems more likely that she indeed considers time inherently significant. The shifting temporal point of view in Quintessence may provide the distance/difference necessary to judge the present, but it has other meanings too. The shifts in time also bring about encounters between completely different creatures, creating “elemental connections” that spark off renewal and change. In Pure Lust, Daly already used the term synchronicity (or in her own words, Syn-Crone-icities) to denote meetings at crossroads of species and souls, such as exchanges between women and cats or other sensitive beings. These encounters “convey a sense of harmony among apparently dissimilar Elemental phenomena.”12 In addition, she used the terms “Tide” or “Tidal Time” in the same sense.13 To her, these are movements of the elements that can be experienced by those who leave patriarchal time/space and that can cause cosmic connections or “planetary communion.” These connections are characterized by the crossing of boundaries. They make it possible to “pick up messages from an Other and better World.”14

In Quintessence, Daly adds the temporal factor to these cross-border encounters. Flashbacks, foresight, and temporal contractions in which past, present, and future converge are quintessential moments in this type of meeting. Boundaries thought to be absolute, such as of time, place, species, or physical entity, are transgressed, while the boundaries of individual creatures are respected and remain intact. After all, Daly considers the violation of boundaries of individual creatures—or simply put, rape—the trademark of patriarchy, as is again stated in Quintessence where Daly displays the persistent terror of this violation, with examples ranging from the rape of women in the Bosnian civil war to biotechnological tinkering with humans and animals.

I believe that Daly assigns a positive meaning to time in the sense that she sees it as the dimension of extension and realization—a dimension women still have not claimed forcefully enough. Existing in time means more than endurance; it also means realizing volume, substance, and constancy. Time not only “makes difference,” but is also the medium through which we can extend in all directions, reach, stand out, connect, be transformed, in short, become more without losing our contours and hence our concreteness as well as our limitations. While many Western theologies and philosophies regard time as a limiting factor at the level of the individual—time being directly linked to finiteness and death—Daly, at this level, seems to opt far more strongly for regarding time as the dimension of transformation and renewal.

In Quintessence, Daly develops promising images and concepts exploring the positive connotations of time as a facilitator of extension and realization. The epitome of this meaning of time is Quintessence, the book's guiding theme. To Daly, Quintessence denotes the completely different reality she yearns for. It is the opposite of the “soul-shrinking, stinking manmade mess that they have made of ‘the globe’ and everything else within reach.”15 Quintessence is a new way of expressing what Daly earlier called “Verb” and “Goddess,” metaphors for “the Be-ing in which we live, love, create, and are.”16 Quintessence, she states, “is that which has drawn me on in my writing and searching. The Quest for Quintessence is the most Desperate response I know to the Call of the Wild. It means throwing one's life as far as it will go.”17

The term Quintessence is derived from ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophy and enables Daly to incorporate the space/time dimensions into her image of the ultimate reality in a far more explicit way than before. Quintessence is the last or highest essence, above the four elements of fire, air, water, and earth. It permeates all nature and is seen as the Spirit that gives life and vitality to the whole universe. Time and space, energy and matter, converge in this fifth or ultimate essence. It is in the context of this premodern metaphysical and mystical philosophy that Daly defines Quintessence as “the unifying Living Presence that is at the core of integrity and the Elemental connectedness of the Universe and that is the Source of our Power to Realize true Future—an Archaic Future.”18 Quintessence is “the Magnetizing Idea of the Good which is the Final Cause.”19 In sum, Quintessence enables extension and realization par excellence.

Daly's Quintessence makes clear that the feminist debate on time should neither be limited to the issue of how women experience time, nor left to those poststructuralist interpretations whose rejection of metaphysics inclines to foreclose any discussion of temporality related to the physical universe. Time should neither be reduced to subjective experience, nor be taken for granted—because too much is at stake. As is urged from Daly's writings, it is imperative that we also explore how time and our notions of time can realize justice.


  1. See also Forman 1989b.

  2. Daly 1973, 42.

  3. Daly 1973, 42.

  4. Daly 1973, 43.

  5. Kristeva 1979, 5-19. See also Clément and Kristeva 1998.

  6. Göttner-Abendroth 1989, 108-19.

  7. Here, Daly's frame of reference is the cosmology developed by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Roman Catholic geophysicist and philosopher, who envisaged evolution to arouse a continual improvement of the quality of the human mind.

  8. Daly 1973, 193.

  9. See Korte 1992, 339-41; “Deliver Us from Evil,” in the present anthology.

  10. Daly 1973, 95-97.

  11. See, for example, Göttner-Abendroth 1989.

  12. Daly 1984, 312-13.

  13. Daly 1984, 290-91; Daly 1987, 231.

  14. Daly 1984, 416.

  15. Daly 1998, 4.

  16. Daly 1998, 95.

  17. Daly 1998, 4.

  18. Daly 1998, 11.

  19. Daly 1998, 102.


Briggs, Sheila. 1997. “A History of Our Own: What Would a Feminist Theology of History Look Like?” In Chopp and Davaney, 165-78.

Chopp, Rebecca S., and Sheila Greeve Davaney, eds. 1997. Horizons in Feminist Theology: Identity, Tradition, and Norms. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Clément, Catherine, and Julia Kristeva. 1998. Le féminin et le sacré. Paris: Stock.

Cooey, Paula M., Sharon A. Farmer, and Mary Ellen Ross, eds. 1988. Embodied Love: Sensuality and Relationship as Feminist Values. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

Daly, Mary. 1968. The Church and the Second Sex. London, Dublin and Melbourne: Geoffrey Chapman.

———. 1973. Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press.

———. 1975a. “Autobiographical Preface to the Colofon Edition,” and “Feminist Post-christian Introduction.” In The Church and the Second Sex: With a New Feminist Postchristian Introduction by the Author, 5-51. New York: Harper and Row.

———. 1975b. “The Qualitative Leap Beyond Patriarchal Religion.” Quest 1 (Spring): 20-40.

———. 1978. Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Boston: Beacon Press.

———. 1980. “Vorwort zur deutschen Ausgabe von Beyond God the Father.” In Jenseits von Gottvater, Sohn & Co: Aufbruch zu einer Philosophie der Frauen-befreiung, 5-10. München: Frauenoffensive.

———. 1984. Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy. Boston: Beacon Press.

———. 1985a. “New Archaic Afterwords.” In The Church and the Second Sex: With the Feminist Postchristian Introduction and New Archaic Afterwords by the Author, xi-xxx. Boston: Beacon Press.

———. 1985b. “Original Reintroduction.” In Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation, with an Original Reintroduction by the Author, xi-xxix. Boston: Beacon Press.

———. 1987. Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language [Conjured by Mary Daly in cahoots with Jane Caputi]. Boston: Beacon Press.

———. 1991. “New Intergalactic Introduction.” In Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, with a New Introduction by the Author, xiii-xxxv. Boston: Beacon Press.

———. 1992. Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage. San Francisco: Harper.

———. 1998. Quintessence … Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto. Boston: Beacon Press.

Davaney, Sheila Greeve. 1998. “Problems with Feminist Theory: Historicity and the Search for Sure Foundations.” In Cooey, Farmer, and Ross, 79-96.

Ermarth, Elizabeth Deeds. 1989. “The Solitude of Women and Social Time.” In Forman 1989a, 37-46.

Forman, Frieda Johles. 1989a. “Feminizing Time: An Introduction.” In Forman 1989b, 1-9.

———, ed. With Caoron Sowton. 1989b. Taking Our Time: Feminist Perspectives on Temporality. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Garcia, Irma. 1989. “Femalear Explorations: Temporality in Women's Writing.” In Forman 1989a, 161-82.

Göttner-Abendroth, Heide. 1989. “Urania-Time and Space of the Stars: The Matriarchal Cosmos Through the Lens of Modern Physics.” In Forman 1989a, 108-19.

Korte, Anne-Marie. 1992. Een passie voor transcendentie: Feminisme, theologie en moderniteit in het denken van Mary Daly (A Passion for Transcendence: Feminism, Theology, and Modernity in the Thinking of Mary Daly). Kampen: Kok.

Kristeva, Julia. 1979. “Le temps des femmes.” 33/44: Cahiers de Recherche de Sciences de Textes et Documents 5 (Winter): 5-19.

Lloyd, Genevieve. 1993. Being in Time: Selves and Narrators in Philosophy and Literature. London: Routledge.

Maïr Verthuy. “Hélène Parmelin and the Question of Time.” In Forman 1989a, 94-107.

Stephen P. Jenkins (review date June 2001)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 684

SOURCE: Jenkins, Stephen P. Review of The Gender Division of Welfare: The Impact of the British and German Welfare States, by Mary Daly. British Journal of Sociology 52, no. 2 (June 2001): 354-5.

[In the following review, Jenkins praises Daly's “succinct and seductive” examination of modern welfare states in The Gender Division of Welfare, but laments the work's lack of post-1990 references.]

[The Gender Division of Welfare: The Impact of the British and German Welfare States] makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the nature of contemporary welfare states, their relationships with families, markets, and outcomes for individuals. Distinctive features include reviews of earlier approaches, a new conceptual framework based on gender differentiation combined with a cross-national perspective, and the combination of theorizing and empirical work. The writing style is succinct and seductive.

Part I conceptualizes the relationships between gender and the welfare state. There is an useful critical survey of earlier frameworks, and persuasive argument in favour of a gendered approach and a cross-national perspective. Daly's own conceptual approach is a coherent development and integration of elements of earlier research rather than a radical departure. I concur with her desire to move away from typologies of welfare states towards better integration of micro-level outcomes, and her preference for two-country rather than many-country comparisons. Part II provides a comprehensive picture of the key characteristics of the British and German welfare states viewed through the lens of the conceptual framework. This focus is on policies for families and caring, risks covered, eligibility criteria, treatments of those entitled, and cash transfer systems. Part III examines the role of the welfare states (and the family) in the context of income redistribution, poverty, financial relationships within marriage and marital breakdown. It would be unfair to summarize the empirical findings in a few sentences (though there are no great surprises!). Indeed, pointing out “messy and stubborn practices encountered in social reality” is a part of the book's message—one with which I sympathize. The book concludes with thoughtful reflections on the utility of a gender approach to comparative welfare state analysis.

The enduring legacy of this book may be the analytical framework rather than the specific application. The main focus is on the mid-1980s, i.e. before Thatcherite and subsequent “reforms” to the British economy and welfare states, and before German reunification in 1989. (The discussion of later periods in the concluding chapter appears somewhat of an afterthought in comparison.) The introduction acknowledges this, stating none the less that “the mid-1980s suggests itself as an appropriate period from which to take stock of … postwar welfare state models.” This may be so—but investigation of the impact of more recent changes (or whether things have in fact really changed) is likely to be of greater contemporary interest. Moreover there are few references later than the mid-1990s. Some unpublished research that is cited has long since appeared, and some notable recent research is not cited. One specific date issue: Daly's German sample—and hence empirical inferences—refer only to native Germans, i.e. “guestworkers” are not considered despite their importance in German society (they are over-sampled in her data source, so data availability is not an issue). It is important to note that the potential for quantitative cross-national research has markedly improved over the last decade, with substantial extensions to the collections of comparable data comprising the Luxembourg Income Study and the Cross-National Equivalent Panel Data File ( The latter also reminds me of an unwarranted side-swipe. Daly refers to “the latest fashion in poverty research, which searches after duration and movement … However none of the recent work on the dynamics of poverty gives cause to assume that the structures of poverty uncovered here would be any different to those found by dynamic analyses.” One of the lessons of the last decade is indeed that, if one asks different questions, then one does get different (and complementary) answers to the standard cross-section-based approaches.

Overall, and despite some specific reservations, I thoroughly recommend this book as a worthwhile purchase for researchers, teachers, and students.


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