Mary Daly's Feminist Alternative to God the Father

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  • 0:03 Who Was Mary Daly?
  • 1:24 Early Work
  • 2:54 Beyond God the Father
  • 5:40 Later Work
  • 6:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Mary Daly's 'Beyond God the Father' is a classic feminist work that remains popular today. Through this lesson, you will learn some of Daly's history and explore some of the themes that she addresses in the book.

Who Was Mary Daly?

Since the 18th and 19th centuries, the feminist movement has inspired women to advocate for themselves, speak out against inequality, and fight for a level playing field in society and culture. Feminism comprises a range of social movements led by women and some men who advocate for equality for women in social, political, economic, and cultural spheres. There have been a number of very influential leaders in the feminist movement, but there are relatively few that have caused as much controversy as Mary Daly.

Feminists actively promote equality for women through, among other things, literature.

Mary Daly was a feminist philosophy professor and theologian (notably, the first female theologian at the Jesuit-run school) who taught at Boston College until she retired in the late 1990s. Despite a long tenure at Boston College (1967-1999), Daly's career was marked with numerous controversies and a handful of lawsuits. Her retirement in 1999 followed her repeated refusal to admit men into some of her feminist and women's studies classes because of her concern that some of the women might not feel free to speak openly with males there. However, Daly did tutor them privately on occasion. Regardless of her reasons, it's against the law to segregate classes, and eventually Daly was forced into retirement.

Early Work

In a general sense, Mary Daly's perspective is not uncommon among feminists of her era. For most of her career, Daly spoke out against inequality and focused much of her attention on patriarchal systems that have marginalized women for centuries. Patriarchy, a social system in which men are dominant authorities, is a theme that's constant in nearly all of her work and was the focus of her activism for her entire career.

In her first book, The Church and the Second Sex (published in 1968), Daly's position on religion is that of an insider. Her intention for the book was to raise awareness of the oppression which exists in and is promoted by the Catholic Church while also advocating for women to have a more equal role in the religion. Though the book focuses on Catholicism and the Church, Daly's larger message for the book was to emphasize how women had been forced into being second-class citizens in nearly every aspect of society. Part of the title, in fact, is derived from Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist work The Second Sex (published in 1948).

You might expect that in 1968 a book challenging patriarchy and the Catholic Church wouldn't have been well-received; however, from many perspectives, The Church and the Second Sex was seen as a valuable contribution to a national discussion. Daly's approach to the subject was measured and included many practical solutions for how women could be integrated into equal standing in the Church.

Beyond God the Father

When compared to her later work, The Church and the Second Sex was somewhat passive in that it made a solid case for equality and offered suggestions to create change. Her second book, on the other hand, was less of a suggestion and more of a demand. In Beyond God the Father, Daly's 1973 follow-up to The Church and the Second Sex, she moves from trying to integrate women into Christian practices to positing that religion is one of the biggest contributors to the oppression of women.

The foundation of Beyond God the Father is the argument that Christianity is an entirely patriarchal institution. Among the more prominent arguments in the book, Daly focuses a great deal of attention on the language of Christianity, particularly the ways in which it celebrates men. For example, Daly offers a compelling argument that God is constructed using almost entirely masculine language. This, according to Daly, is problematic because, ''...if God is male, then the male is God.''

In the first paragraph of the first chapter, she writes:

''If God in 'his' heaven is a father ruling 'his' people, then it is in the 'nature' of things and according to divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male-dominated.''

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