Mary Daly theorised that women were part of a ‘planetary sexual caste system’ which was patriarchal and exploitative of women. She saw this religious patriarchy as being maintained in a number of ways:
The early Catholic church systematically eliminated religions in which female gods were equal to or more powerful than male gods. It also ‘demoted’ the role of female figures in the historical record: for example, Mary Magdalene, who in reality played a large role in the spread of Christianity, is given less significance than is appropriate, according to Daly.
Churches have also tended to support a type of sex role segregation in society in which women are given a ‘derivative status’. This means that women derive their status not from their own contribution to society, but from their husband. Daly further argued that early socialisation of women into subordinate roles meant that women willingly consented to their inferior status.
Patriarchal religious ideology teaches that patriarchal religious institutions are bestowed by God. This ideology also teaches that the subordinate status of women is God’s will, and that it is virtuous for women to accept such positions.
Much like Simon de Beauvoir, Daly also believed that women encouraged false consciousness. It taught them that the way to redemption was through prayer, rather than concrete struggle against religious authorities in society.
Daly placed particular attention on the role of imagery and language in perpetuating male control and female subordination. For example God is often portrayed as male ‘ which serves to alienate women and places them in an inferior position to men.
In order to liberate themselves from religious oppression, women needed to abolish the male-centered language used by mainstream religions and replace it with a different language. Daly also believed that ultimately women needed to stop relying on ‘religion from above’, and should instead seek ‘spirituality from within’.