One of the major reasons I don’t like radical feminism is the virulent transphobia that was espoused by the quartet of Sheila Jeffreys, Janice Raymond, Germaine Greer, and the woman who died on January 3, Mary Daly.
While Daly was a brilliant thinker, she was controversial, to put it mildly.
She once advocated that only ten percent of the men on planet Earth should be left alive, and refused to allow men in her women’s studies classrooms at Boston College.
She was called out by womanist Audre Lorde for her racism in Lorde’s famous May 6, 1979 Open Letter To Mary Daly.
Lorde criticized her for failing to address race or acknowledge the stories of women of color in Daly’s 1978 book Gyn/Ecology. Daly never responded to Lorde’s letter.
Daly’s transphobia was in full effect in Gyn/Ecology as well when she referred to trans people as “Frankensteinian” and living in a “contrived and artifactual condition”.
“Although the resistance Mary Daly’s feminist theology offered to patriarchal oppression is commendable, a spirituality that elevates one’s own kind by demonizing an ‘other’ – as hers did for transgender/genderqueer folks – is ultimately one for which I have no sympathy,” said transgender activist and historian Dr. Susan Stryker. “Her moralistic condemnation of transsexuals as death-loving Frankenstein monsters was a powerful impetus for my own efforts to reclaim the transformative power of the monstrous and refute its stigma for trans people.”
Another bone of contention for many trans people of my generation is that Daly was the faculty thesis adviser to the transgender community’s bitter public enemy of the 80’s and early 90’s, Janice Raymond. Daly supervised Janice Raymond’s PhD dissertation, which then morphed into the notoriously transphobic 1979 screed, The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-male. The book argued that transsexual women were agents of the patriarchy infiltrating women’s space. This disco-era book is the underpinning for much of the haterade spewed by current trans-despising radical feminists such as Julie Bindel.
Mary Daly was a complex individual who unfortunately took some problematic positions, and, as far as we know, refused to change her mind about them. For good and ill, she was undeniably a major influence on radical feminist thought, particularly wherein her writing on religion was concerned. One can only hope that her writing on trans people, however, will largely be forgotten.