The lesbian feminist movement has lost one of its staunchest yet most controversial figures, with the death of Mary Daly on January 3.
Trained in theology, Daly became a prolific feminist writer (Beyond God the Father, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism and The Church and the Second Sex, among others) and was a vocal advocate of lesbian separatism.
After coming out in the 1970s, Daly wrote extensively about the limitations of male-generated and defined terms for gay and lesbian relationships, and sought to create new terminology. In her Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, she defined ‘Lesbian’ (the capital ‘L’ was obligatory) as “a woman-loving woman; a woman who has broken the Terrible Taboo against Women-Touching women on all levels and rejected false loyalties to men in every sphere”.
Working alongside other self-defined radical feminists, Daly’s often extreme views made her a contentious figure within the women’s lib movement at a time when lesbian feminists were being relegated to the sidelines of the movement and labelled ‘the lavender menace’.
Once asked what she thought of men, Daly bluntly responded that she neither thought about them, nor cared about them, and explained that she considered that the next necessary evolutionary process should include a massive reduction in the male population. It was a view she put into action years later, while teaching a feminist course at Boston College from which she banned male students. The scandal cost her tenure.
Her views on transsexuals, who she considered “contrived and artificial”, were no less divisive and caused women’s groups to splinter over the issue. The debate reached its peak at the Michigan Womyn’s Festival in 1976, which employed a “womyn-born-womyn” policy prohibiting transwomen from the event.
Detractions aside, Daly’s role as a pioneer of the feminist movement cannot be denied, nor can her influence on countless other theorists and women in general, who found her exploration of the themes of the gender binary, religion, and the reclamation of language by women, both challenging and empowering.
On hearing of Daly’s death, feminist theorist Mary Hunt issued a statement expressing how grateful she was for her words and work.
“Her contributions to feminist theology, philosophy and theory were many, unique, and if I may say so, world-changing. Even those who disagreed with her are in her debt for the challenges she offered,” Hunt said.
“She always advised women to throw their lives as far as they would go. I can say without fear of exaggeration that she lived that way herself.”

Lesbian feminist author Mary Daly has died.

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