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  Feminist Teacher Prefers All-Woman Class

Mary Daly
Renowned radical feminist philosopher Mary Daly believes Boston College has deprived her "of my right to teach freely." (AP Photo)
By Pamela Ferdinand
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, February 26, 1999; Page A1

BOSTON, Feb. 26 – Putting her career on the line, a renowned feminist philosopher at Boston College is refusing to accept two male students for a course called "Introduction to Feminist Ethics."

Mary Daly, a 70-year-old tenured associate professor and self-described radical, contends the young men's presence would be distracting and disruptive to female students engaged in emotional and intellectual feminist debates. In the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s, when she began teaching at the Jesuit college, Daly refuses to back down, opting for a leave of absence in the face of an ultimatum from the administration: Teach men along with women or stop teaching.

"Boston College has wronged me and my students by caving in to right-wing pressure and depriving me of my right to teach freely and depriving them of the opportunity to study with me," she said today in a telephone interview. "I choose to stand my ground."

A pioneer in the field of feminist theology and philosophy, Daly has written seven books, all of them used as texts in universities. They range from "The Church and the Second Sex," and "Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation," to "Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism," "Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage" and, most recently, "Quintessence . . . Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto." She has also written a dictionary for wicked women.

"To me, the root of the mess in society is patriarchy," she said. "What I'm trying to do is get at the core of what oppresses women."

According to college officials, two students claim discrimination, alleging that Daly escorted them out of her classroom last semester with the ominous words: "You are not welcome here." Neither of the students could be reached for comment.

One, a senior who belongs to the campus Republican club, received the backing of the Center for Individual Rights, a conservative Washington-based law firm. But college officials say a lawsuit is unlikely because they share the students' concerns and have every intention of complying with Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law designed to ensure both genders have the same higher education opportunities.

The controversy here comes just weeks after Dartmouth College announced it may require that fraternities open their doors to women. But instead of "no men-only," the refrain at Boston College is "no women-only."

In both cases, the message is consistent with a growing unwillingness at universities and other institutions across the country to accept single-sex organizations or groups such as men-only clubs. Radcliffe College, for instance, is now reviewing its policies and considering whether to admit male research fellows to its prestigious Bunting Institute for the first time in 39 years – even though it has never received any complaints.

"It's a fairness issue. It's a righteousness issue," said Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn. "And most important, it's a legal issue involving federal law."

While widely respected for her scholarship, students said Daly is considered a perpetual thorn in the side of the college administration, as much for her radical feminist theories as for her views on Catholicism.

Throughout her career, she has occasionally taken leaves to find shelter from similar storms. Male students protested their exclusion from her classroom in 1979 and 1989. Yet after a period away from the classroom, she managed in both instances to quietly return to her all-female domain, with a slap on the wrist.

She insists she is not a man-hater and laughs at the mere thought of it. In fact, she taught only men when she first arrived on the suburban Newton campus in 1966 – women were admitted only in 1970 – and she fondly recollects how 1,500 men demonstrated on her behalf when she was denied tenure in 1969.

She has offered roughly a dozen male students one-on-one instruction in the years since the college went coeducational. However, she said the senior who wanted to take her class this time had not completed a prerequisite course and clearly had a political agenda.

"I'd rather go on leave than teach with him," she said. "The last thing he'd have an interest in is feminist philosophy."

Fourteen students reportedly signed a letter of support sent to college administrators earlier this month. "I think there comes a point where women need to claim their own space," Kate Heekin, a senior from Greenwich, Conn., told The Associated Press. "If that needs to be a classroom, so be it."

Others disagree, noting that recent court decisions, including the elimination of race preferences at Boston Latin School, have further heightened sensitivity to equity issues.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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