Battle Hymn from the Archaic Future: Mary Daly leads the way

Mary Daly

Mary Daly

Next week we are reading the fierce, lusty, self-proclaimed Pirate Crone Mary Daly in my Women Write the World class. It’s actually the first time I’ve ever dared to share Daly with students, partly because it took me a long time to get myself up on to her energetic wavelength. She talks about how important it is that “radical feminists” like her “magnetize” other women, in order to grow a movement for change—but unfortunately, until recently I felt so repelled by her Wild Woman energy that I could not bring myself to actually read her.

Then, at the end of last summer, something changed in me. I think it had to do with finishing my memoir and allowing myself to feel the rage (Daly would call it Righteous Rage) that I had suppressed over the past 20 years as my life rolled along with what have come to seem like entirely normal frustrations and disappointments: the mommy tracking at work, the lack of respect at home, the endlessly deferred pleasures that could have been mine if I had been properly compensated for my hard and excellent work as a scholar and teacher.

No one besides Daly, in my experience, had had the courage to call out our culture itself as a perpetrator in the on-going inequality and undermining of women like me. And she could do so using the Master’s Tools—no less than three doctorates (in religion, theology and philosophy) and decades of experience as a Boston College professor and scholar working in the heart of what she called the phallocracy. She chose to stay on at Boston College despite the administration’s repeated attempts to oust her, because she felt that her message was especially needed there. The problems she saw throughout her 33-year tenure there have only gotten worse as we’ve advanced into the 21st century.

Unknown-1It’s fascinating to read through Daly’s oeuvre and see how, over the years, she transformed the master’s tools of language and rhetoric to make them uniquely her own. She even created her own dictionary, the Wickedary, in which she retooled old words to make them serve her radical feminist purpose.

And what would that radical feminist purpose be? While Daly says that each of us will find our own path, what “radical feminists” have in common is that we serve as conduits for the creative energy of the universe, the life force she calls “biophilia.” Biophilia is the opposite of necrophilia, which preys violently on the planet and its denizens, sucking out and destroying life on Earth.

Daly’s cardinal crime is to Name (capitalization hers) patriarchal culture as the perpetrators of the ongoing violence against women, animals and other life forms on the planet, and to single out Wild Women (again, capitalization hers) as heroic resisters.

This stance has gotten her into a lot of trouble. Men don’t like to be called out on their patriarchal privilege, and excluded by virtue of their biological and cultural baggage from the ranks of heroic resisters that Daly is trying to conjure. I am curious to see how the young men in my class respond to Daly.

When I read her closely, it seems to me that although she does elevate Woman as a category, she is actually reinventing that word too. Not all women would deserve to be included in her radical feminist confederacy of Wild Women. And it’s possible that some men—feminist men—would be welcomed, although Daly herself remained a firm lesbian separatist to the end of her life (in one of her last books, Quintessence, she imagined herself traveling to a utopian “Lost and Found Continent” in the year 2048, which was fiercely and proudly all-female).

I think Daly, who died at the age of 81 in 2010, would have been pleased to see the militant environmental group Deep Green Resistance proclaiming itself a “radical feminist” organization. DGR was founded by two men and a woman (Derrick Jensen, Aric McBay and Lierre Keith) and in their guiding principles, right up there with respect for all life, is respect for women.


Here is DGR’s fifth guiding principle, in full:

  • Deep Green Resistance is a radical feminist organization. Men as a class are waging a war against women. Rape, battering, incest, prostitution, pornography, poverty, and gynocide are both the main weapons in this war and the conditions that create the sex-class women. Gender is not natural, not a choice, and not a feeling: it is the structure of women’s oppression. Attempts to create more “choices” within the sex-caste system only serve to reinforce the brutal realities of male power. As radicals, we intend to dismantle gender and the entire system of patriarchy which it embodies. The freedom of women as a class cannot be separated from the resistance to the dominant culture as a whole.

And here are principles one through four:

  • The soil, the air, the water, the climate, and the food we eat are created by complex communities of living creatures. The needs of those living communities are primary; individual and social morality must emerge from a humble relationship with the web of life.
  • Civilization, especially industrial civilization, is fundamentally destructive to life on earth. Our task is to create a life-centered resistance movement that will dismantle industrial civilization by any means necessary. Organized political resistance is the only hope for our planet.
  • Deep Green Resistance works to end abuse at the personal, organizational, and cultural levels. We also strive to eradicate domination and subordination from our private lives and sexual practices. Deep Green Resistance aligns itself with feminists and others who seek to eradicate all social domination and to promote solidarity between oppressed peoples.
  • When civilization ends, the living world will rejoice. We must be biophilic people in order to survive. Those of us who have forgotten how must learn again to live with the land and air and water and creatures around us in communities built on respect and thanksgiving. We welcome this future.

I can just hear the spirit of Mary Daly rejoicing at these fierce words from what she would call the “Archaic Future.”

She herself called for “even more than the ‘subversion’ of the present order and more than ‘dissolution’ of the whole existing social compact.” Truly changing the world, she said, “requires the Courage to participate Positively in bringing forth…many New Forms (political, social, philosophical, aesthetic) by multitudes of creators who do not necessarily know each other consciously” (Quintessence, 103).

It is this subterranean radical network of grassroots co-creators that I hope to tap into with blog posts like these.  Are you there?  Shall we create that joyous Archaic Future together?

Leave a comment


  1. I will be curious to hear how your students respond.

  2. Mary Daly is still one of the best voices in creating a post patriarchal world. I am not talking about men. A system which does grant some men privilege, but takes far more than it gives. I like Deep Green Resistance. They are not looking for sustainability but a complete overhaul.

  3. As you know, I go way back with Mary Daly. I was the first and only female in her theology class in 1967. The male students who facilitated my enrolling in her class were budding feminists, though not yet aware of their own patriarchy. I remember one of them saying to me, “You are the smartest girl I know.” I answered, “I think you mean, smartest person.” I didn’t really think I was the smartest person he knew, but I knew I was as smart as he was and he knew that I was not allowed to take the same intellectually challenging courses as he. To his credit, he and two other male students did their best to enroll me in as many “men only” courses as they could. Some of the professors were delighted to see me in their classes. Some were angry and a few were embarrassed, but I always had a note from the registrar (obtained fraudulently) to prove that I could stay.
    Mary Daly, of course, was delighted to have a female student and I learned a great deal from her about how to navigate patriarchy. Unfortunately, it is no easier now.
    p.s. My second husband is a feminist.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  April 27, 2014

      My students will be interested to learn that once upon a time Mary Daly had to teach men-only courses! She is much more (in)famous for not allowing men in some of her upper-leve courses. But this must have been later, after her career as a radical feminist was more established. It’s interesting to me that she chose to stay at BC when it was such a hostile environment. She seemed to relish the fight in some ways, but it must have been a drain on her energy, too. I think I have something to learn from her in this regard….I tend to shrink from ugliness and hostility, rather than diving in and sticking up for what I believe. I hope to overcome this “shrinking violet” tendency in the coming years….

      • I can’t speak for Mary, of course, but I think she stayed at BC because of the support from the students. Many of those males who were in her classes during the early “male only” years supported her bids for tenure and rallied to her cause and also rallied to the cause of allowing women to take courses in the College of Arts and Science and the College of Business Administration. When I entered BC in the fall of 66, women could only enroll in courses in the School of Education and the School of Nursing. (Even the naming College vs School) used to irk me. I spent 4 years taking courses in A &S, but only because I had male friends who helped me enroll by doing everything at the registrar’s office for me. Being named Jan helped, I am sure.
        Looking back it is hard to believe, but true. I think women were first allowed to apply to the College of Arts and Sciences in 1970 – the year I graduated. Despite all the institutionalized sexism, I never experienced BC as a hostile environment. Then again, I was pretty naive in those days.

  4. leavergirl

     /  April 30, 2014

    Hmmm… that takes me back. Her Gyn/ecology was a revelation. She is truly one of my Foremothers.
    Her lesbian separatism was a turn of, though. I met her with a friend, and we were basically rebuffed because we were straight.

    To fantasize about a world without men is to fall into that same fallacy racists fall into — if only we were all one color, or if only there were no Jews, we’d have utopia. It’s the perennial problem: how do we sort the goats from the sheep? How do we sort the good people from the bad people? I say we sort them by their fruits. Not by what they have between their legs.

    Btw, is anything happening with the DGR folks? Last I heard, they were in the middle of an anti-trans conflict. Sounds like they should pick their wars with greater care…

  5. leavergirl

     /  April 30, 2014

    P.S. — If there is a subterranean network, I hope they are smarter than outing themselves on a blog. Tee-hee!


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