This post is written in conjunction with the Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue project sponsored by Claremont School of Theology in the Claremont Lincoln University Consortium, Claremont Graduate University, and directed by Grace Yia-Hei Kao.
Lara Helfer is a 3rd year MDiv Student at Claremont School of Theology. She is humbled and excited by the intelligence, passion, and commitment of her classmates and professors, and looks forward their feedback and challenges to her very first blog post.
As an out lesbian for more than 25 years, I have always struggled with the separatist movements associated with radical feminism. For me, affiliating as a ‘woman loving woman’ means just that, I love women. But wait – I love men too! Whom I partner with – and yes, as a lesbian my partner is a woman – is but one aspect of me. Being a lesbian is not all of who I am, by far. I can’t, and do not wish to, imagine my life without men as an integral part of it.
So as a new reader of Mary Daly, I struggle with what feels like a ridiculously radical call for a woman-only world. This seems to contradict the core values that I hold as a “Jewnitarian” (or a Jewish Unitarian Universalist). I have been taught to see and value the inherent worth and dignity of every human being – that is one of our principles. I am not able, or willing, to reject the value of men; for me, to do so would be to reject a part of myself. Allow me to explain – another Unitarian Universalist principle, and one that speaks strongly to me – is respect for the interdependent web on life. We rely on and need one another. We are part one another.
Moreover, if you allow me to conduct a bit of a recidivist reading of Mary, I question her very basic assumptions about the differences between men and women. Yes, like her, I learned a simplistic biology that all that men and women have a chromosomal difference – that the Y chromosome and the resultant testosterone make men different from women. But as scientists will tell you now, female/male binaries are no longer that clear. In fact, in the last few weeks, the Australian government officially recognized an individual as neuter – as not definably male or female. I hope this paves the way for many more official understandings that gender is indefinable and ever-changing, and has as much to do with ‘nurture’ as ‘nature.’ This matters, at least to me, because if we are part of each other, if the gender lines are rather more muddy than clear, then a separatist notion is not only unappealing but indeed unachievable.
Returning to ethics, then, I admire Daly’s tenacity in formulating a language, a culture, and a movement that helped women, tremendously…if in nothing else than discovering our own anger. Anger that we and our mothers used to gain women’s’ rights. And as a classmate said yesterday, Daly set the stage for all that came afterwards; by comparison, if you will, any non-Daly feminist appeared downright reasonable. (Yes, I’m suggested that Daly’s revolutionary tactics, while useful in igniting a movement, were also a bit outside of realistic long-term solutions).
I contend that Daly’s radical feminism is no longer what we need. We need instead to recognize that which binds us, to respect our differences, and to engage, meaningfully, in dialogue that helps our common good. To continue to forge a path towards equality. To my radical feminist colleagues who will undoubtedly object to my position, I wish to reiterate that in this fractured, troubled world, I believe we desperately need voices and mechanisms that bring us together. That is my intention here. From the vantage point of the Jewish High Holy days, I am reminded of the need to build bridges. So at my table and in my heart, there will always be a space for men.