Notes from WATERtalks: Feminist Conversations in Religion Series

 “Cerebrating The Mary Daly Reader”

 An hour-long teleconference with

Jennifer Rycenga and Linda Barufaldi 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

1 PM – 2 PM ET

WATER spoke with Jennifer Rycenga and Linda Barufaldi, co-editors of The Mary Daly Reader (New York University Press, 2017)

Mary E. Hunt: Good afternoon, this is Mary Hunt at WATER and I’m happy to welcome you to our July 12, 2017 WATERtalk, Feminist Conversations in Religion. Today we will be “cerebrating”, in Mary Daly’s words, the Mary Daly Reader and we have with us our dear friends, Linda Barufaldi and Jennifer Rycenga, who will be leading us in this conversation

Linda and Jennifer were members of Team Mary: a group of feminist friends that sought to meet the needs of Mary Daly in her later years. The book we’re talking about today is a labor of love on their part and a major contribution to feminist discussion about the life and work of a signal figure in our lifetime, Mary Frances Daly.

Jennifer is professor a of comparative religious studies at San Jose State University. She’s writing a comprehensive cultural biography of the white abolitionist educator, Prudence Crandall. She’s previously edited two books: Frontline Feminism: Women, War, and Resistance, and Queering the Popular Pitch. Her areas of interest include abolitionist history, women’s religious history, feminist theories of music, and theoretical issues concerning philosophy of immanence and panentheism. This is what I call a renaissance women: someone who works in music and philosophy, and she’s a bird watcher, which is perhaps her greatest passion. Jennifer received her doctorate at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. I really think this work you undertook Jennifer, is not just a labor of love, but also an indebtedness to the feminist community to keep Mary Daly’s work alive. I think you’ve done a marvelous job.

Linda describes herself as a lifelong radical feminist activist who has worked in civil rights, women’s rights, lgbtq rights, and the environmental movement beginning in the 1960’s. She founded a wholistic health center and practiced complimentary medicine for nearly 20 years, another renaissance women. She received her M. Div. at Harvard and was a student of Mary Daly’s and a reader and editor of Beyond God the Father and Gyn/ecology. She and Mary were friends for 40 years. Linda is now retired and living with her partner in La Mesa, California. I am reminded of a small facet of your amazing career: the 1977 opening of the amazon sweet shop, an ice cream store where so many feminists gathered to get you started.

I have the pleasure of welcoming you both here and I look forward to you telling us about this important book.

Jennifer: Thank you very much for that gracious introduction and for reminding me of the magic of ice cream. One of the most important things in this book is keeping our heritage alive. Like so many feminists, Mary Daly noticed there was a kind of amnesia from one generation to the next, in which our knowledge of what women had done is lost and has to be constantly rediscovered.

In writing her autobiography, Mary researched her father who had been an ice cream salesman and found a pamphlet he had kept about how to make ice cream. I was reminded of that moment when I saw Wonder Woman. There is a scene where Wonder Woman gets to have ice cream for the first time and she turns to the salesman and says “you should be very proud of what you have done.” This embodies some of the delight Mary brought to us, the delight in everyday things and in the natural world. And the Wonder Woman theme of the desire to save the world, that is also part of what Mary Daly did. In part of the reading for today, Mary writes “Our revolution means life against death, it is not losing oneself for a cause, but living for oneself and therefore also living a cause.” Portraying Mary’s ability to maintain ethical anger and a mystical quest to be one with the life all around us is part of my labor of love in working on this book.

Those of you who had the opportunity to meet Mary Daly know that she was very complex and that is part of what she brought to the movement. I found a description that fits her very well: “She did not speak lies, she met you fairly. Encountering her glance was something like an electric shock…you were at her mercy, but then began the delight of true intercourse. Though she spoke rudely and said startling truths, though she broke down your shams and defenses, you felt exhilarated being found out and even that she cared enough to find you out.” Now that is not actually not a quote about Mary Daly, but about her foresister Margaret Fuller who also got women talking like they hadn’t before. It is still an accurate description of Mary. She would tell you the truths about yourself and society that you didn’t want to face.

When I started working with her on this book, the first challenge was convincing her that we should ever excerpt her thoughts. She loved the integrity of the self, the integrity of the struggle, and she didn’t want to excerpt at all. But if we were going to get people to revisit that moment of integrity, we had to compile her work. I came to her with a list of works I thought we should excerpt for the book, which she immediately amended, including quite a few that had to do with her understanding of the final cause. I came to see her wisdom in doing that. We didn’t edit out anything out she wanted in the book. We did include more from her autobiography, Outercourse, after her death and I want to call readers to those chapters. We looked for the gems in them and you can learn a lot about where she got her strengths and weaknesses in last section of book. It will explain a lot.

Another important part of the book is about the controversy with Audre Lorde. In putting this book together Linda and I were always conscious of the controversies that surrounded Mary, concerning race, transgender people, and the teaching of men in the classroom with women. We have included parts in the book that speak directly to these controversies, neither to exonerate or condemn, but to leave them open for discussion.

What i’m interested in discussing today is that she really did have a philosophic unity to her thought. The integrity in her philosophy goes beyond whatever limitations she herself had. She was always pitting the circular nature of patriarchy against the spiral motion that would be forever changing, forever creating. She was constantly angry at the things patriarchy had done and the ways in which patriarchy had drained us. On page 399 in the Reader, Mary explains this “drain” as a drain on the integrity of the self. She believed it was a drain on a very real life force in nature and in women. We want the Reader to reach those who are thinking about where she fits into philosophy of feminism.  

Linda: Thank Jen and thanks Mary for the kind words. What I’ve been thinking as you have been talking is how lucky I was to jump into this project, because it has been wonderful to go through Mary’s work and to relive the sweetness of the early 70’s and second wave of feminism in Boston. This has been a hard time for activists. I want us to read the “Hall of Mirrors” passage from Beyond God the Father. The chapter begins with “A feminist once exclaimed we are the final cause, and that feminist was I!”

All of my life I have been involved in various liberation movements and then came this time. Talk about drain on one’s self. I have realized when I left the church a lot of meaning got invested in a spiritual practice outside of organized religion but also in my political work. To watch it roll back so quickly is like sticking a knife in my back, have it pulled out slowly, healed, then shoved back in. I said to my partner, “I feel I am living the end of days.” A piece of ice the size of Delaware fell off an Antarctic ice shelf. Things is bad sisters.

Jen and I didn’t know each other as well as the other members of Team Mary. I want to say that that group worked together in the highest feminist tradition in trying to take care of Mary with respect to each other. I got to spend time with Jennifer and as we spent time working on this book we were able to work without the patriarchal sense of ego. We could speak honestly to each other about our writing. We would tell these truths to each with respect and love and we had fun doing it. I think one of the strengths of this book is that it came out of real feminism. Jen was very generous in inviting me into the process. I’m very proud about how we worked together.

I do want to say something about that time in the early 70s. It was a time in my dorm when a group of women would get together and have communal scholarship. I recall when I got to Harvard in 1970 there were 500 people in the Divinity school and only 12 were women. When women are that small of a percentage in a group, men act like you’re not there at all. That was an eye-opener for me. But it was also a magical time for us, you never knew what was going to happen or who you were going to meet. One day I came in and saw Betty Friedan. It was a time when we would go to Mary’s classes and have our minds blown. I want to direct your attention to the part in Outercourse where Mary talks about this time. It was the first time she really had the support of women.

Mary E. Hunt: Thank you. I was up at the Divinity school in May. At a panel on the women’s program there were a number of women from our time and subsequent times telling the same stories as you and paying homage to Mary’s group and talking about you all by name.

Thank you for you opening remarks. The book is available through New York University Press. The selections are from the many works of Mary Daly and the book includes an extensive bibliography. They give a very synthetic explanation of who Mary Daly was and the context of her writing. One could take this book and have a wonderful overview of Mary and her work. Thank you for what you have provided, which is a course on Mary Daly.

Q & A

Q: Mary Daly is work in progress for me. I take her philosophy out into world and use it as tools. Of all feminist philosophers, she is the one that gave us the toolbox. I have seen so many terrible things now, my heart is broken by what I’m seeing with young lesbians getting caught up in the trans cult, the attack on lesbian culture and civilization. Is Mary Daly being taught in school without massive uproar, is it possible to be teaching her philosophy in classroom?

Jennifer: I do teach Mary Daly’s work in my classroom. I have found she is a wonderful toolbox, she wakes students up to a lot of truths. While it is getting on 45 years old, it doesn’t feel that way. For students that know about the transgender and racial conflicts that surround Mary, those things come up. I think it is important when those issues to come up to talk about them and keep having those conversations. I think Mary was coming to grips with some of the changes. The whole thing with Audre Lorde – I depend on both of them, and their contributions. These conflicts are part of our history and we have to talk about them so we can move forward and fight the fights we are facing now.

Linda: It’s not the first time feminists are being attacked, we were under attack from everybody all the time. This is not new. What Mary said about transgender people and the conflict with Audre Lorde was 45 years ago. Being under attack is not new and we have to keep fighting on. The attacks are coming from different people. This is a time politically when there is a circular firing squad in every progressive community. This is a time to avoid that firing squad and fight on. It is heartbreaking. 

Q: How do you deal with it?

Linda: I meditate and I spend time in nature. I do political work and just keep going.

Q: I’m so admire this work for keeping Mary Daly’s work alive. In Canada we had a similar golden age in the 80’s when we got the word “gender” in our Charter of Rights. But we suffer from amnesia too. Much of what we worked for now manifests itself in Canadian politics and legislation. The scholarship from women in religion are not present and not known by young feminists. How have some good effects come without attribution? How do we face the decline of America and the ascent of China and Russia as feminists?

Jennifer: All of us here in America who are progressive are feeling that decline that’s happening on all fronts. It’s hard to know which battle to go to. Mary Daly had anticipated this and felt this decline coming on in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. When I met her I realized I had never met someone so in pain over the state of the world. I don’t know if my anguish now in 2017 even comes close to Mary’s at that time. My students are seeing patriarchy. No one is going to doubt patriarchy now with election of Trump. And while I know in the United States I am not living in any post-patriarchal world, I know that our sisters in Russia and China are in similar and worse situations as us. The world we’re facing is a difficult one and I think it’s important to take Mary Daly’s words with us as we fight on.

Linda:  It’s all been so draining. When someone of the quality of Hillary loses to Trump I realized I didn’t know the half of patriarchy. I thought I knew it all, but it’s all fresh again.

Mary E. Hunt: What are the roots in Mary Daly that gave her the courage and strength to do her work and be who she was? Mary believed she was wanted by her mother and said “my mother wanted one child, she wanted a daughter, and she wanted me.” She was also very joyful and always pushed the question of joy. Tell us more about those things and the roots in Daly.

Linda: One of the things that struck me about Mary Daly was that even when she was young she said she wanted to be a poet and philosopher. People said she couldn’t be both and that women couldn’t be philosophers. But she did. She was always looking to expand beyond the patriarchal limits. Her mother’s affirmation that she was wanted gave her the space to create that a lot of girls did not have and to think big and ask questions. It allowed her to think of herself as a Self with a capital S.

Jennifer: When Mary tried to help with the housework, her mother would always tell Mary to go to her room and do her own work. She always had that acceptance and support for her work. Mary also came from a working class background and as a girl in working class family you knew if you wanted an education you would have to get it yourself. I think her class background contributed to her belief she was going to have to get what she wanted on her own. She also got a lot of support from the natural world.

Diann Neu: I want to thank both of you and Mary Hunt and your other colleagues for keeping Mary Daly alive for all of us. This woman touched our lives and will continue to touch lives for generations. Thank you all for today and all ways you’ve connected your life with Mary Daly’s

Linda: For me, I feel like Mary Daly blew the doors off my mind. I felt I had a debt to her, and now that I have worked on this book I feel I have repaid part of that debt. She changed lives. This book was a labor of gratitude. Once she was gone, it was the one thing I could do for her and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

Jennifer: I feel the same way. I have always been a big fan of Emily Culpepper’s methodological system of Philosophia (the love of the wisdom of women). In the case of Mary Daly we have a woman whose words sparked so many other women. To be able to keep her thought alive and to do this work, is to me a way to make Philosophia real. We can’t allow for the line of female-to-female knowledge to be denigrated, we can’t afford amnesia.

Linda: In my own political life there have been times when we could create and move forward, and then there were other times when all we could do was resist. The create times feel better, but we are in a resistance time now.

Mary E. Hunt: Thank you for the wisdom we need. The work of Mary Daly is one example of the kind of resources we need to do the work of resistance and creation. I think Mary Daly’s work will outlive us all.

WATER thanks Jennifer Rycenga and Linda Barufaldi  for their work. We look forward to further collaboration.

The next WATERtalk is scheduled for Wednesday, September 13, 2017 with M. Barclay.