1971, Mary Daly writes The Spiritual Dimension of Women’s Oppression

Daly, Mary (USA), “The Spiritual Dimension of Women’s Liberation” in Notes from the Third Year: Women’s Liberation. New York, [publisher?]: 1971
Mary Daly is a name synonymous with the rise of Feminist Theology. She had already at this stage written The Church and the Second Sex (1968) and published the article “Women and the Catholic Church” (1970) in what is still one of the most widely available anthologies of Second Wave Feminism, Sisterhood is Powerful, banned in short succession in Chile, South Africa, and China. In “The Spiritual Dimension of Women’s Liberation”, Daly is writing to a secular audience and introduces the contours of that spiritual dimension as it relates to the struggle inside and outside of the church and synagogue, relating all-the-while that, whether women leave or remain within the faith-tradition and the institution, they live in a society that is shaped by and shaping religious patriarchy and its alternatives. Luckily, online is available the article reprinted in the anthology, Radical Feminism (1973) in pdf format here at feminist-reprise.org.

The reprint’s by-line for Daly situates her teaching and activism: “Mary Daly belongs to NOW and is active in the task force on women and organized religion. She is also active in women’s liberation at Boston College, where she teaches, and is one of the organizers of the Catholic Women’s Caucus. She holds several degrees in theology and philosophy and is the author of The Church and the Second Sex (Harper & Row, 1968) which explores sexism in the history of the church.” It is that early Daly who writes this succinct account of how the church justifies a societal order that justifies the church (and back and forth) in the subordination of women — citing motifs from Genesis to St. Paul, from church fathers to Thomas Aquinas to Pope Pius XII and Karl Barth and even the liberal congregations who recognise but do little about sexism — and what this means for women within that tradition. To take just one example that we might all relate to in some way — and that Daly’s audience must all have related to, religious or not — she discusses the psychological control of patriarchal religion: “Given the fact that the vicious circle is not foolproof, there is always the possibility that beliefs may lose their credibility. For this reason they are often buttressed by notions of “faith” that leave no room for dissent. For example, the believer is often commended to assent blindly to doctrines handed down by authority (all male). The inculcation of anxieties and guilt feelings over “heresy” and “losing the faith” has been a powerful method used by institutional religion to immunize itself from criticism. Women especially have been victimized by this” (Radical Feminism, p. 262).

I was going to write that at this point Daly has not yet rejected the church and theology as hopelessly beyond hope, as she will do in Beyond God the Father (1973), but then I recalled that it was November 1971 that Daly, preaching at Harvard Memorial Chapel (the first woman to do so), invited the women (and men) in the audience to walk away from an irredeemably patriarchal Christianity, and actually left the room with most of the women and some men following her. I wonder now when this article was written. Odds have it as earlier in the year than November, five-to-one, so we can read this article and wonder about how one year can change a person, a theologian and theorist, an individual activist and a movement no less.

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