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Lesbian Feminist Theologian Mary Daly dies.

Theology and the church were among the most profoundly difficult areas for feminists to navigate at the beginning of the second wave of feminism. Addressing God, the patriarchy and the role of women in the church seemed far more complicated than the bread-and-butter issue of equal pay for equal work. But Mary Daly changed all that.

No other modern-day feminist influenced radical feminism to the degree that Daly did. Daly was singular even among people like Andrea Dworkin, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Audre Lorde and Robin Morgan.

Daly was raised in the Catholic Church and she attended Catholic schools and universities. When I met her, in the mid-1970s, she was teaching at Boston College, one of the nation's foremost Catholic institutions. Daly understood the workings of the church like no one I had ever met, and for a Catholic girl who had chafed against the church as I had, Daly and her vision were revelatory. I was not alone in that perception. When Daly died at 81 on January 4, 2010, the sheer range of obituaries published about her death showed the impact her work had on theology and feminist theory.

Daly had three doctorates--in religion, sacred theology and philosophy--but she was more than just a theologian who was also a feminist. She was a radical theorist who reinserted women into the dialogue about God and religion from which they had been excised. She took on male theologians and patriarchy, which she would come to call the primary religion of men.

Her early theological writing criticized what she called "androcentrism," a male-centered view of the world. In her pivotal book Beyond God the Father she explored how Western religion changed God into an oppressor of women. In later books, notably Gyn/Ecology and Pure Lust, she broadened her scope to include the patriarchy as a whole, theorizing that men had oppressed women from the beginning of time and had used religion to do so.

Daly's iconoclasm often caused controversy. In 1968, Boston College tried to fire her after her book The Church and the Second Sex was published. In it, Daly asserted that the Catholic Church had oppressed women for centuries.

In 1999, she was forced to retire from Boston College, where she had taught for 33 years, when she refused to allow male students to take her advanced women's studies courses. (She allowed male students into her introductory courses and did offer independent study courses for male students, but felt that even the presence of men in her classrooms was oppressive to frank feminist discourse.) Male students brought a lawsuit against her, ironically citing Title IX, a United States law that ensures equal access to education, regardless of gender. The law was originally enacted in 1972 to protect female students. She lost the suit and the college attempted to withdraw her tenure and forced her to resign. An out-of-court settlement allowed her to retire. Daly wrote about the conflict in her book Amazon Grace.

Daly's radicalism also caused conflicts and controversy within the queer community. She had a highly public disagreement with Audre Lorde over issues of race and another with Riki Wilchens, who is trans and who reportedly called Daly transphobic.

In addition to her work in theology and feminism, Daly was also an anti-war protester, animal rights activist and a lesbian activist. Daly said that women were her primary focus in the world. Her life was devoted to engaging women intellectually and spiritually and to helping women realize their full potential in all areas. Daly believed that the survival of the planet--ecologically, spiritually and socially--was dependent on women.

The New York Times obituary said she left no survivors, but Daly left a generation of feminist followers for whom her work was pivotal and will expand upon her radical feminist theory in all its facets.

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Title Annotation:curvatures
Author:Brownworth, Victoria A.
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2010
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