Mary Daly not allowed to rest in peace

via : Historiann who comments on the shitsorm heated discussion in the comments section of an obituary for Mary Daly posted at Shakesville.  The fourth comment at Shakesville said, “Honestly I am somewhat happy [to hear of her death] considering the transphobic bigotry of hers that I have read.”  There ensued further discussions of transphobia in Mary Daly’s work.  Kittywampus also has a thoughtful discussion of this issue, and also mentions the ways in which creation of a “safe space” at Shakesville also tends to silence those who want to make nuanced arguments.  One of the commentators on Kittywampus, who blogs at Solidaridad, wrote the following in defense of Daly:

“I got to know Mary in the last few years of her life – and of course I had to speak up for my trans friends – I’ll gladly report that Mary no longer held the same trans-phobic views that Jan Raymond expressed in her dissertation decades ago. I cannot report changes about Raymond’s thoughts only because I have not followed up on how her ideas developed. But I can attest that Mary’s own thoughts and perspective on this definitely changed – which only makes sense considering that for her to live is to change and move and grow with the movement of Ultimate Intimate Reality – Goddess is Verb for Mary Daly – there is no way she would have maintained static ideas.

One day I will write more on this – I do not want future generations of feminists, trans friends included, thinking of Mary Daly as their enemy.

She really is an ally. Of course this is not to diminish the harm and effect that any trans-phobic expressions will continue to have. That’s the risk any of us take when we put something in writing – it seems so permanently true. But in reality, all texts simply capture one moment – it is only a reflection of that one moment in ones developing thoughts and theories…”

In the comments on Historiann’s post, I wrote:

’m glad you and Sungold have commented on this issue. This problem isn’t limited to blogs — I saw the same thing happen on WMST-L last year, only in that case it involved a living person whom I know very well and whose work I respect.

Part of the problem is the lack of historical perspective. Daly’s early work was a product of its time — similar to the homophobia and racism in NOW and other mainstream feminist organizations. Women of color and LGBT theorists called them out on this and their views changed over time. Daly apparently also changed her views over time as well. That doesn’t seem to get acknowledged.

I think folks need to give some thought to diversity among trans persons. For example, a few trans men have told me that trans women are not necessarily allies to either trans equality or feminism. Just thought I’d throw that in there.

The same thing happened to Margaret Sanger, who has been picked apart for not being perfectly politically correct according to today’s standards.  Like many individuals across the political spectrum  endorsed eugenics and who reflected many of the race and class prejudices of the era.  This sad fact has been picked up by religous conservatives and used to discredit the entire birth control movement.

Ellen Chesler told me that when writing her biography of Sanger, she struggled with how to handle the issue of eugenics.  In the end, she decided to “give Sanger the biography she deserved” by balancing her obvious flaws with her accomplishments.  Chesler didn’t whitewash Sanger’s participation in eugenics — in fact, she takes Sanger to task for failing to consider that persons with disabilities had a right to reproduce — she also puts Sanger’s work within the “popular craze” for eugenics among key public figures in the early twentieth century,  including, ironically, Helen Keller.

The following quote, often misattributed to Sanger, actually was made by W.E.B. Dubois in article published in Birth Control Review:

“The mass of ignorant still breed carelessly and disastrously, so that the increase among Negroes, even more than the increase among Whites, is from a part of the population least intelligent and fit, so that the least able to rear their children properly.”

As Loretta Ross observes in her essay in Abortion Wars, this quote “reflected the shared race and class biases” of those who worked with Sanger in the Negro Project of the Birth Control Federation.

Ross and other women of color rightly trounced white middle-class women for their elitism and racism in promoting birth control as a solution to the “population crisis.”  As a result, the reproductive rights movement has become more inclusive and mindful of issues of diversity, including differing opinions of women from the same background.    I wish certain blogs written by third wave feminists would do the same.

4 thoughts on “Mary Daly not allowed to rest in peace

  1. Helen Keller wasn’t born disabled. She became blind and deaf after becoming ill. So it’s not really ironic that she supported eugenics.

    It is ironic the W.E.B. DuBois supported eugenics, given the widespread belief of the natural inferiority of African Americans. It’s telling that his support of eugenics has not become the albatross around his neck that it has for Margaret Sanger.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Emmajane. The link I provide discusses Keller’s support of euthanasia of disabled persons. According to Keller, “a human life is sacred only when it may be of some use to itself and to the world.” If Keller’s parents hadn’t been wealthy enough to hire Anne Sullivan (aka “Teacher”), Keller herself would not have become useful to the world, and by her own definition, a life not worth living.

    • Ah, thanks. Eugenics did not equal euthanasia to me. I didn’t go to the link, simply took your word for the summation.

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