Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Kicking Out Feminists

What does it mean to kick someone out of feminism?

Doctormindbeam (DMB), self-appointed Director of Feminist Membership, has removed the late feminist theologian Mary Daly from feminism. Writing at the No Seriously What About The Menz (NSWATM) blog, he says:

"If 'feminism' is 'the movement seeking gender equality with a focus on women,' why not throw out someone whose views are obviously un-egalitarian? What use do we have for toxic ideology? What’s holding people back from putting their foot down and saying 'No, this person doesn’t represent my beliefs even in name?' As feminists with a conscience, as progressive feminists who’ve moved to the point where we can — hopefully — look in the closet and acknowledge our own skeletons that we find there, doesn’t it behoove us to make sure that we’re not dragging along a pile of shit with us, simply because someone had a vagina2 and spewed it out and used the word 'feminist' alongside that verbal excrement?

...You might say, 'But Doc! Mary Daly is a cheap shot!' Yes, yes she is. But she’s also perhaps the prototype of a 'not feminist' who still used the term for herself. Among other ills, Mary Daly was transphobic, racist, and misandrist."

That Mary Daly was a problematic feminist is not a contentious statement. She said some abhorrent misandric and transphobic things. Audre Lorde also famously criticized Daly for not offering criticisms of African myths. (Although, it should also be noted that Daly's area of academic expertise was in Catholic theology, not in African mythology, which might explain that discrepancy).

Do these issues make Mary Daly not a feminist?

The answer to that, of course, depends on how we're defining feminist and whether or not the word "feminist" has one monolithic meaning. Perhaps a more useful question to ask is, what does it tangibly mean to kick someone out of feminism?

Does it mean that, for instance, no one can cite any of her works ever again? Or, do we remove her books from the "feminist" section of bookstores and tell the hive mind that she's no longer One Of Us?

It's clear that male thinkers can be racist, transphobic, and misogynistic/sexist against women and still, within mainstream and academic ciricles, be revered as Great Men, Great Authors, Founding Fathers, Great Theologians, and/or Great Scholars. Indeed, if a man's possession of an -ism was a factor that rendered null his entire body of work, how much emptier would the so-called Great Western Canon be?

Or, maybe it is only women and feminists whose -isms totally negate hir entire body of work?

Is it possible to disagree with and condemn Daly's misandry, transphobia, and possible racism while conceding that she made important contributions to the critique of the male supremacist and misogynistic religion known as Catholicism? Or, do we now reject all of those criticisms too?

I raised that question in the comment section over at NSWATM and, unfortunately, most were unwilling to engage it. Indeed, as I read the comments, I began to get the impression that not many of the Daly critics (including DMB himself) had actually read any of Mary Daly's works.

Commenter "toysoldier," for instance, claimed that "the bulk of her critiques are based around a clear hatred of men" so we had to reject every single thing she said and, further, that Daly's criticisms of sexism in the Catholic church were "just opinion, not fact."

Unlike, I suppose his criticisms of her misandry, which of course coming from his male brain are Totally Objective Observations of Reality.

It was a strange critique "toysoldier" made, because those who have read Daly and know a bit of her biography will note that her work becomes much more radical over time. Her first book The Church and the Second Sex, published in 1968 was, by her later standards, relatively tame. Rather than "the bulk of her critiques" being motivated by misandry, those familiar with her work can see that it was motivated by Simone de Beauvoir's observation that "Christian ideology has contributed no little to the oppression of woman."

If one reads the later 1973 preface and 1985 afterward to the book, one can observe (a) her progression to radical and (b) that this progression was motivated by disappointment in the Catholic Church's failure to seriously address its sexism and misogyny. "Radical feminist" is not a synonym for "man-hater," but it is clear from her writings that Daly did not primarily write her books because she hated men. To suggest that, as "toysoldier" did, is to apply a male-centric lens that ignores how people can have legitimate grievances about institutional misogyny that are distinct from hating men.

Further, DMB's post, if you read it, seems to be mostly pulled from Wikipedia's Mary Daly page- which, like DMB's post, references the Audre Lourde incident, a statement from an interview with Daly on reducing the population of males, and her statement on "transexuals" from her book Gyn/Ecology. Because his post is supported primarily by these incidents and blogposts others have written about Daly, one is left with the impression that he has not personally read Daly's works.

And, well, if one is going to entitle oneself to kick a feminist scholar out of the feminist club, shouldn't one apply more rigor and work to one's case than a sole reliance on secondary sources? Should one actually read the feminist's primary sources?

I have raised a lot of questions in this post because I found much of the conversation among the commenters (who seemed to be mostly men) at NSWATM to be MRA-ish. The tack of pulling out problematic statements by a radical feminist, ignoring 95% of everything else she said, demonstrating little familiarity with her work, and then suggesting we have to ignore everything she's ever written is, frankly, unfair.

We can and should, as feminists, condemn racism, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia in something a feminist (or non-feminist or anti-feminist) says, but there is also room for us to acknowledge that maybe that person also made some legitimate, apt criticisms of misogyny, male supremacy, and sexism against women.

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