MARY DALY TEACHES theology at Boston College and is the author of two earlier, inconoclastic, feminist works -- Beyond God the Father and The Church and the Second Sex . Now, in Gyn/Ecology , she gathers and presents ideas that have rumbled through the feminist community for years. The importance of the book is not so much that it is saying something new but that for the first time these thoughts have been put on paper.
The opening section of the book, "Processions," pretends to restructure language by reclaiming negative terms such as "hag," "crone," and "harppy," and giving them positive meaning. Really, though, it is an elaborate defense to ward off criticism. To my mind, Mary Daly doesn't need to justify what she's doing; she need only write clearly what she thinks.
One thing she thinks is that men are the enemy. true women, ot, as she, "wrenching back some wordpower," refers to them -- Hags, Crones, Harpies, Furies, Spinsters -- represent life. Men are death. In this system of thought "the basic Sin of Phallocracy is deception -- the destruction of process." While this, like many of her other neologisms, is not adequately explained, one assumes she means the blurring of connections between events.
Nonetheless, Daly, in her righteous anger at the total rape of womankind, still does not address the question of why so many women comply in their own "living-death." By way of explanation, she writes "The Myth Masters [that is, men] are able to penetrate their victims' minds by seeing to it that their deceptive myths are acted out over and over again in performances that draw the participants into emotional complicity." However, explaining patriarchal technique does not answer the question of why women go along with it. Gyn/Ecology ignores the mechanisms of economic/military/political power and how such power was achieved. It takes more than a myth to conquer half the world.
This curious disinterest in three-dimensional power is also reflected in the author's proposals for solutions which will lead to the final triumph of women. The first thing she demands is that we recognize the insidious power of language. Next, that we renounce "cosmetics" and manifest our "Original Moving Selves." (This same concept of the woman defined by her own needs was stated in 1970 in the "Woman-Identified Woman" paper, which became a turning point in the women's movement. One welcomes Daly's readdressing independence and self-recognition, whether under a new or old name.)
According to Daly, if we can only find our "True Crone Selves" we can refuse to be destroyed. And if we can break away from male rituals and wars we will hear "the healing harmony of Hags, the cacophony of Crones." This is wishful thinking. Many a woman did break away from her past only to find not harmony but discord in the feminist movement. She also found herself out of work. If a woman doesn't gain male approval on some level she doesn't get a job. After all, the author herself had to be accepted by the men at Boston College in order to eat.
At present, feminists have developed no economic support system for themselves. (Constructing one would be a colossal task, so they can't be too severely criticized.) But continually to ignore economic necessity subtly condemns women both to seeking male approval and to feeling traitorous for doing so. Viewed in this light, Daly's benediction follows a long tradition of hollow blessings: "Out spiritual and physical deprivation/poverty nourish and support each other."
One thing that is helpful and vivid is her description in the last section of the book about the way token women are used to destroy feminists. Of such "spooks," Daly states, "Politically she is and is not functioning as a woman." At that point, we arrive at the crucial test of feminist ethics: who defines who is functioning as a true woman? Without clear definition, without structured accountability, the search for the true woman can be the excuse for Inquisitorial behavior. Simply saying women won't behave as wickedly as men is no protection, although it is a comforting delusion. More self-indulgent is the attitude, exemplified by Daly, that the true woman is beyond linear thought, beyond words. That's perilously close to the Christian concept that faith alone shall save you. It encourages irrationality masquerading as inspired knowledge.
Daly assures us that an "Amazon Atgosy" will get us to the "Otherworld": life, creaton, celebration. Feminist spiritualists believe that women's psychic energy is so powerful it transforms all around it. May question is: how can this gathered energy confront the Pentagon, Exxon or even a wife beater; What is missing, then, in Gyn/Ecology is urgent political strategy. There are moments when the book resembles a gynecological ghost dance. Like the Indian ceremony, the ritual of imagined strength is intoxicating but the white man is hardly dislodged from his supremacy. He can laugh off this book's message, dismissing it as worship of the Great Tampax in the Sky, and merbomb and other expensive boys' toys. Which is not to say Gyn/Ecology is not a vital book, it is, and that's what makes the lack of bread-and-butter tactics all the more glaring.
Gyn/Ecology insists that the reader seek out the Minotaur in the labyrinth of her own mind. If you're not a feminist the book forces you to ask questions you've never asked before. If you are a feminist it forces you to return to territory you though was familiar only to find new questions growing over the old ones. That's the incredible beauty of the book. The equally incredible danger is that for some, Gyn/Ecology may be a map leading to a feminist Guyana.