Mary Daly's Gyn/Ecology: mysticism, difference, and feminist history

Clare Monagle*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
258 Downloads (Pure)


The object of this article is to contextualize Mary Daly’s mixed reception within feminist scholarship in order to read her status within the larger project(s) of feminist thought in recent history. Daly is a polarizing figure who inspires enmity, devotion, and trenchant criticism. I track these responses, arguing that they offer an important source for the intellectual history of feminist thought. Daly’s work is mystical and polemical, proudly separatist and essentialist. As such, she has enjoyed the devotion of those who embrace her Wiccan-inspired manifestos. However, over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, Daly’s work received two core critiques. The first came in 1980 in the form of excoriating public criticism from Audre Lorde, who charged Daly with racism. While Lorde shared Daly’s desire to recuperate a goddess tradition for the purposes of feminist devotions, she was perturbed that Daly drew only from the Western tradition in her construction of a new pantheon, neglecting long histories of goddess worship in Africa. As the eighties wore on, Daly also became synonymous with the reductive excesses of what Alice Echols and Linda Alcoff call "cultural feminism," so named because it calls for a countercultural feminine and feminist project devoted to an ideology of reverence for the female nature. This politics, as Alcoff describes it, argues that "Feminist theory, the explanation of sexism, and the justification of feminist demands can all be grounded securely and unambiguously on the concept of the essential female." As a result of these critiques, Daly has been designated as standing for both racism and essentialism. As exhibit A for these perceived sins, Daly’s work has been a site of continual correction in feminist scholarship. This article offers an intellectual history of Daly’s correction, attempting to isolate the stakes at play in each of those moments. The object of this article is not to recuperate Daly’s thought per se but to historicize her reception within a larger story of the making of feminist orthodoxies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-353
Number of pages21
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

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