The always-controversial feminist theologian Mary Daly died a few days ago. Word spread through the feminist blogosphere, and eventually obits ran in major media outlets. Melissa McEwan’s Shakesville, a vital feminist blog I read and link to (and which occasionally links to me) ran a brief obit and appreciation of her career. In the fourth comment, someone wrote, “Honestly I am somewhat happy [to hear of her death] considering the transphobic bigotry of hers that I have read.” Four comments after that, McEwan said she wasn’t aware of Daly’s transphobic bigotry, and said that it was totally OK to discuss it in the thread but please refrain from dancing on her grave. McEwan then added an “update” to her post that “Daly’s work was unfortunately marred by a streak of transphobia. Wikipedia summarizes its emergence in her work, including her assertion in Gyn/Ecologythat transgender people are “Frankensteinian.” While we want to honor her contributions to feminist thought, we also want to note the limitations of her brand of feminism, which deemed some women monstrous, a view that Shakesville endeavors quite fervently to counter. Cait and Shaker just_some_trans_guy also note she was challenged on her racism as well.”
Well, of course that lengthy apologia for someone else’s opinions wasn’t enough. Did any of the very opinionated commenters who were so very concerned about Daly’s transphobia offer quotations, or, you know, any actual evidence of her grave sins against humanity? (I mean, aside from citing Wikipedia?) Did anyone do what Mary Daly herself did her whole life–commit scholarship by citing evidence, chapter and verse? No–instead of indicating that they had ever read anything Daly wrote or any level of familiarity with her work, people got angry about one small part of Daly’s writings, and then immediately assumed bad faith not just on Mary Daly’s part but on the part of McEwan, and they accused McEwan of being ignorant because she should know absolutely every detail about Daly’s supposed sins against the trans community before she dare acknowledge the woman’s death. Don’t you just looooove the blogosphere?
I haven’t read enough of Daly to offer an opinion one way or the other, and I certainly don’t know enough to put any transphobic passages in her writing into the larger context of her career. She may have been a horrible, raging transphobic racist. She may have also been a white cis-woman of her generation–and as readers who are familiar with the history of feminism know, it’s a movement that has been rent from the start by race and class, and in the mid-twentieth century, it was rent as well by sexuality and transgender issues. I realize that blogs are not scholarship–not even blogs like this one that are written by scholars. But, it’s so easy to get outraged and leap to fantastic assumptions about the motives and politics and personal lives of bloggers and other commenters, whereas it takes some actual effort to know authoritatively what you’re talking about.
Go ahead. Read the whole thread. It’s a fantastic blueprint for derailing a blog thread that was supposed to be about an important figure in modern intellectual history. It’s almost as if an antifeminist troll posing as someone concerned about trans women engineered the whole thing–because it shut down any fuller consideration of Daly or testimonies about her career as a scholar. I guess all of those non-trans women who concerned Daly don’t have any problems or issues worth considering today.
Is there any other major social justice movement whose leaders and intellectuals are expected to speak for everyone and be everything to absolutely everyone all the time? Or is it just us girls who are expected to take care of everyone and make sure that no one ever feels excluded, ever, from any conversation about feminism anywhere at any time?
UPDATE, 1/7/10: See Melissa McEwan’s post at Shakesville today responding to some of the issues raised by the comments thread described above, and on her vision for the Shakesville community.