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No Man's Land

An interview with Mary Daly
by Susan Bridle


Mary Daly

"Even if I were the only one, I would still be a Radical Feminist!" proclaims the feminist revolutionary Mary Daly in her latest book, Quintessence. Described as both "a prophet" and "the grande dame of feminist theology," Daly has, for more than three decades, committed her every waking breath to a single purpose: seeing, naming and dissecting the structures of patriarchy in order to liberate women's minds, bodies and spirits from its oppression. One of the most revered visionaries of the contemporary women's liberation movement, Daly, who holds six graduate degrees, including three doctorates in religion, theology and philosophy, lectures throughout the world, is the author of seven groundbreaking works of feminist philosophy, and has taught much-debated women-only courses in women's studies at Boston College since 1974. No stranger to controversy throughout her illustrious career, Daly is making headlines this year because Boston College, now under pressure from a conservative Washington, D.C., legal foundation, is demanding that she begin to admit male students into her classroom—or retire. The Boston Globe described Daly's latest stand against the Jesuit-run institution—from which she is not budging—as "a battle of principle, a fitting finale to a career that has sought no less than to alter the course of world civilization."

Six months ago, when we first started working on this issue of WIE, we knew we wanted to speak with someone who could bring a penetrating feminist perspective to the subjects of women in religious traditions and the role of gender identity on the spiritual path. We soon found that while much important research has been done in this field over the past thirty years, if you want to speak with someone unrelentingly passionate about liberating women from the confines of patriarchal institutions and unabashedly zealous about establishing a feminist spiritual vision, all roads lead to Mary Daly.

The radical nature of Daly's work infiltrates the very groundwater of the consciousness of patriarchy and attempts to unearth what holds it in place—and what is so close and so taken for granted that most, before encountering her ideas, never consider questioning. She speaks the unspoken, cataloging with razorlike acuity and freight-train force the history of ritualized oppression and violence against women, and drawing clear causal connections to patriarchal religions and gods with male names and male faces. Lauded as "a demolition derbyist of patriarchal 'mindbindings,'" she has penetrated into the structures of language, thought and image; she tears away veils upon veils; she confronts, rattles, inspires—and demands that the issues she raises be dealt with. "I came to see that all of the so-called major religions," she writes, "from buddhism and hinduism to islam, judaism, and christianity, as well as such secular derivatives as freudianism, jungianism, marxism, and maoism—are mere sects, infrastructures of the edifice of patriarchy. . . . That revelation continues to work subliminally, inspiring my humor and stoking the Fires of my Fury not merely against the catholic church and all other religions and institutions that are the tentacles of patriarchy but against everything that dulls and diminishes women. Through me, it shouts messages meant for all women within Earshot: 'Tell on them! Laugh out loud at their pompous penile processions! Reverse their reversals! Decode their "mysteries"! Break their taboos! Spin tapestries of your own creation! Sin Big!'"

I was naïve enough to think, when I first approached Daly for an interview, that she would be eager to have a platform to express her views in a respected spiritual magazine dedicating an issue to the subject of gender. I couldn't chave been more misguided. When she saw the word "enlightenment" on the cover of the sample issue I'd sent her—and even worse, when she saw a photograph of the Dalai Lama—she immediately pegged the publication as a cog in the machine of patriarchy and wanted nothing to do with us. Furthermore, the idea of gender includes "men"—a word she is loathe to utter—and even the word "spiritual" is to her but another trapping of the patriarchal ideologies she left behind long ago. But after numerous telephone conversations in which I pleaded our case, she finally relented, partially through the force of my persistence and partially because she knew that I had been affected by reading her books; she sensed in me a fledgling feminist who could perhaps be "saved."

When I eventually met Daly in person, in her small, cluttered apartment near Boston College, shelves, tables and hairs tumbling with books, radical feminist manifestos and posters inciting revolution curling off the walls, wide desk piled high, I met a woman who is every bit the radical feminist separatist she is renowned to be. Fierce, unbound by convention, and willing to risk everything for the sake of her mission, she is a woman who has gone so far with her ideas and her commitment to them that she truly seems to have stepped outside of the world as we know it. Championing deep identification as woman with distinctly woman's experience, she seeks to invoke an "other reality" and establish a "homeland of women who identify as women."

Thrilled to finally have the opportunity to speak with her, I came armed with some challenging questions that were sure to be provocative and sure to shed light on that delicate territory where spiritual liberation meets (or doesn't meet) women's liberation. I was also very curious to find out if she really believed, as it seemed from her books, that the cause of every possible problem in this world, both inner and outer, is the evil of patriarchy, or, in other words, men.

Meeting Mary Daly, if you are a woman, is meeting a muse, a Siren, who beckons you to step through the mists of time into an enchanted, gynocentric other reality, an Avalon of only women's making. If you are a man . . . well, hold on tight.

For Mary Daly is still, at age seventy, a labrys-wielding force of nature who will not rest until the world as we know it is turned upside down. As she writes in her philosophical autobiography, "There are and will be those who think I have gone overboard. Let them rest assured that this assessment is correct, probably beyond their wildest imaginations, and that I will continue to do so."


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This article is from
Our Gender Issue