Document 4: Mary Daly, Letter to the editor, "Women and the Church," Commonweal, 79, no. 20 (14 February 1964): 603.
The best way to demonstrate the significance of Rosemary Lauer's "Women and the Church" (see Document 3) is to view it through the eyes of Mary Daly, an American doctoral candidate studying theology in Switzerland who shortly became the most prominent feminist theologian in the United States. In this powerful letter to the editor, Daly expressed her gratitude to Lauer for raising the issue of sexism in the Church, and vowed to pursue the subject herself. She claimed that many more women felt the same and would soon enter the discussion. Daly's letter self-consciously prophesies the start of the Catholic feminist movement.
"Women and the Church"
TO THE EDITORS: I was ashamed when I read the excellent article by Rosemary Lauer on "Women and the Church" [Dec. 20] — ashamed that I had not written it, ashamed for all of us who should be articulate about this subject and have been silent. Granted, there are excuses for us, for we have been subtly taught that our semi-human status in the Church — always white-washed, to be sure, but semi-human all the same — arises from the nature of things. And in grade school, high school, and even in college and university we have been told that "God has revealed" that it should be this way. Now, who could argue with that? True, some of us managed to reach the point at which we understood that it is highly questionable that God has revealed any such thing. But it is difficult to shake off the inhibiting effects of myth.
Can anyone of us doubt that it is difficult, especially when divine authority has been called upon to justify ideas which are amazingly incoherent in themselves and to sanction situations which are flagrantly unjust?
But let's not make excuses. There are some of us who did break through the myth, who have thought and said many of the things that Professor Lauer has written. Why didn't we write it then? Professor Lauer has had the courage to say what cries out to be said, and she will be rewarded, with some praise, and also with uncomprehending abuse and irrelevant criticism. All the clichés and platitudes about the nature of woman (which woman?) will rise to the challenge, as they always do in such cases. And, of course, some of the scholastically "formed" will find difficulties with her treatment of St. Thomas and miss the point of the article.
It is only slightly amazing that Aristotle and St. Thomas, inhabiting their respective centuries, thought — and missed — as they did concerning women. What is truly phenomenal is that these ideas persist in the twentieth century. While St. Thomas taught that there is no greater or lesser degree in possession of an essence, there actually are "Thomist" professors teaching now that there is a difference arising from sex in the essence itself and that consequently men and women have "analogous rights." "Analogous equality" — isn't this truly ingenious? But perhaps such subtleties are beyond the grasp of the "feminine mind." A ludicrously large number of times I have met Catholic college women, from schools in various parts of the country, who have described the opening day of a philosophy course, when the priest professor announced: "Women will never understand philosophy," or, "Women will never be logicians," and then illogically proceed to "teach" his course.
What is most astonishing of all about Professor Lauer's article is not even the facts that it relates, but the fact that — in view of the facts — this article is so unique. There should be a barrage of such essays, and of scholarly books which treat the history of the problem.
This much I know: the beginnings of these articles and these books (how badly we need these books, especially!) are already in the minds and on the lips of many of us. And — this is both a prophecy and a promise — they will come.
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