Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy
By Mary Daly
Beacon Press (1984)
Pure Lust* is about the systematic psychological indoctrination of women that occurs under patriarchy.
Daly’s approach to her subject is both historical and etymological. Historically organized religion has assumed primary responsibility for indoctrinating women. Daly focuses mainly on the Catholic religion, particularly the cult of the Virgin Mary and how this doctrine was used to trap women in subservient roles. After identifying clear parallels in the Jewish and Muslim religion, she examines how judges, lawyers and other male-oriented institutional roles have replaced priests in modern secular society.
Women’s Oppression Embedded in Language
The book has a heavy etymological focus, with an exhaustive examination of ways in which women’s oppression is embedded deeply in contemporary culture and language. Women who wish to fully liberate themselves must learn to recognize how language itself oppresses us and, where necessary, invent our own (as Daly does throughout most of the book).
Daly maintains this indoctrination has caused women to become separated from our “elemental race,” which is rooted in harmony with the natural world. Many women sense this – that they have been blocked of their capacity to conceive, speak and act in their own original words. They simultaneously sense their energy is being systematically drained for male use.
According to Daly, the lot of women under patriarchy has been the sacrifice of their personal needs and ambitions for children, husbands, aged parents and “just about everyone else.” This is especially true of poor and minority women.
The Origin of War, Racism and the Rape of the Environment
Simultaneously, unbridled male sexual aggression (a condition based on an obsession with impotence that Daly refers to as “phallic lust”) translates into war, racism, imposed poverty and famine, the rape of the environment and the insidious spread of the drab ugliness of a man made environment that systematically deadens minds.
Sensory Deprivation and “Potted” Desires and Emotions
Within male-dominated “sadosociety,” women aren’t allowed a self – all their experiences must be mediated by men. Daly views the modern commercial building – consisting of square, flat spaces with rigidly uniform decor, hermetically sealed windows, homogenized sound environment and constant light – as the perfect archetype of this mediated environment. The end result is a state of chronic sensory deprivation.
Under patriarchy everything women hear, touch, feel and understand about the world has been processed for us. We live in a society dominated by the mass production of “potted” (ie artificial) desires and emotions. The result is the killing of consciousness and integrity in many women, allowing the routine abuse of the poor, minorities, and so-called enemies to go unnoticed and uncriticized.
Daly also examines the complex dynamics that enable men to recruit women (eg Hillary Clinton) to be token oppressors of other women, ethnic minorities and third world people.
*The title Pure Lust refers to “elemental female lust,” which Daly defines as women’s intense longing for the “cosmic concrescence that is creation.”
Thanks, Dr. Bramhall. I’ve added Daly’s book to my Must Read List. I’ve just found and downloaded Daly’s work on Beyond God the Father.
No worries, Rosaliene. To be honest I found Pure Lust a little rough going at first – mainly because daily invents so many words, but once I got into it I found I identified with many of her ideas.
Please don’t take any of what I’m about to say too personally or too seriously. But it is my honest reaction, with the emphasis on “reaction:”
“According to Daly, the lot of women under patriarchy has been the sacrifice of their personal needs and ambitions for children, husbands, aged parents and “just about everyone else.” This is especially true of poor and minority women.”
When I read this statement, I read an outlook that I can very easily ascribe to a segment of American society that is both highly privileged and bourgeois (read, capitalistic) in its outlook.
There is, for instance, an undeniable emphasis on the satisfaction of the desires — “the personal needs and ambitions” — of the individual, only in this instance the individual at hand happens to be a woman. Anything that detracts from that individual’s “personal needs and ambitions,” be it children, husbands, aged parents and “just about everyone else,” is depicted as an encumbrance or unwarranted imposition on, indeed, a “sacrifice” of the person who happens to be a “woman.” Community, therefore, or what is in the last instance the same, institutionalized forms of worrying or caring about someone other than oneself, is prefigured and assumed as a curse.
But isn’t this attitude quintessentially “American,” “capitalistic,” and even at bottom archetypically “neo-liberal?”
Life should be about “me,” the statement declares, although in this case “me” as a “woman,” exactly as under “capital,” life should also be about “me” if I happen to be a “man.”
The needs of others, whether they are children, women, men, or aging individuals are to be discounted, and how convenient such an attitude happens to be in a society where working class people, the poor and especially minorities, pretty much have to dedicate all of their personal time and physical and mental energies to earning a wage or making ends meet — ironically sacrificing their personal desires and ambitions in the present in order to chase the realization of their promise in some distant and indefinite future that never arrives – and are therefore pretty much constrained as a matter of course to neglect the needs of both their immediate dependents and those of any others they might have helped.
That you are forced to live a life in which you are obliged to neglect everyone who really does depend on you, especially your children, is “liberation,” see, freedom from any obligation to anyone and, conversely, of course, everyone must be under no obligation to you, for otherwise you’d really be enslaving them. And so it is that there are schools to raise and care for your children in your stead, although, especially for minorities, it doesn’t really manage the job very well; and so it is that there are nursing homes for the discarded and warehoused elderly who receive “care” from overworked and underpaid and indifferent caretakers, a situation making profits for the nursing home franchise.
So what is “potted,” here? Wanting to care for your children and the people you love or the idea that wanting this is a false desire implanted in your head by “sadosociety?”
Of course, such a desire is not necessarily gender specific and it may well be that a society prescribes which of the two genders should “naturally” feel this way, as it happens, just as patriarchal cultures do.
But nevertheless, I think the “impulse to care” is a great deal less “potted” than the American notion that “not caring” is both a higher and more liberating virtue.
Of course, I don’t much care for patriarchal cultures, that is, cultures that subordinate women to men only “just because.”
But I also don’t much care for that culture which denigrates necessary human ministrations to effectively create a screen behind which to hide from everyone, especially from its working class victims, a purposely disintegrated sociality that is the misery of countless millions.
To this are we really to add the insult that the last bastion of “patriarchy” is the working class family, wherein according to an American bourgeois feminist stereotype, the working class woman is the slave of the working class man, “his” children, and both his and her aging dependents?
For the truth is that not all relationships are patriarchal even if a wife is a stay at home mom; and not all women become submissive, whatever the attitude of her husband might be.
Now I suppose that I should go and read Mary Daly, and I’ll be damned if she doesn’t at some point recommend that women should form their own exclusive communities, away from men, to escape from and cure themselves of patriarchy. For that would actually clinch the point that I’m driving at.
Now that I got that off my chest, I feel better.
Pure Lust is the first and only book I’ve read by Daly, and according to my reading the focus is primarily on the psychological indoctrination women experience under patriarchy – namely how this circumstance arises historically and how it alienates women from their authentic and true selves.
Daly seems to regard nurturing, of children or otherwise, as part of women’s authentic nature. The “potted” emotions she describes are more in line with women’s fearful subordination to male standards of beauty, sexual attractiveness and femininity.
She makes a number of recommendations about how women can get more in touch with their authentic selves – they seem to revolve mainly around deeper female friendships and involvement in women only groups. She doesn’t mention living separately from men.
I really think you would like Pure Lust.
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One of the great books of US (second-wave) feminism. I had read so many distorting comments and reviews of Daly’s work before I ever read it myself that I was pleasantly surprised by how basically sensible and reasonable her observations are.
What I find really sad is how little has changed in the 30 years since she wrote Pure Lust. I particularly appreciated her emphasis that civilization’s hatred and war against nature being rooted in patriarchy – I had never really thought of it this way.
I have just skimmed the surface of some of her more important observations. I really think this is the kind of book you need to re-read every 5 years – if only to check whether things are improving or not.