From Fr. Manfred Hauke's book, God or Goddess?: Feminist Theology: What is it? Where Does it Lead? (Ignatius Press, 1995):
Mary, the virginal mother of God, is a kind of central point at which the main lines of the Catholic Faith come together. Since it is impossible to conceive of sacred history without her, she points in a unique way toward the mystery of Christ and the Church. By virtue of that position, she also becomes a criterion against which new theological conceptions must be measured. Mary's criteriological significance is of supreme value when assessing feminist theology, which puts forward demands for fundamental changes in religious life.
Mary Daly's and other Feminist Critiques of Mariology
The decisive impulse to theological feminism's critique of Mariology came in 1973, from Mary Daly's Beyond God the Father. Already in 1968, Daly published a book on the theme of women, its title and basic content closely tied to Simone de Beauvoir: The Church and the Second Sex. For Daly, too, one does not arrive in the world as a woman, but one becomes a woman. In view of the theory of evolution, we can no longer speak of an "essence" of man or of woman or, likewise, of an immutable God who grounds immutable orders of things. Hence, there are no longer any creation-imposed presuppositions to serve as standards for the transformation of society and the Church, but only the ideal of "equality."
In her 1973 critique, Daly has been inspired once again by Simone de Beauvoir, who had pointed out the contrast between the ancient goddesses and Mary as early as 1949; whereas the goddesses commanded autonomous power and utilized men for their own purposes, Mary is wholly the servant of God: "'I am the handmaid of the Lord.' For the first time in the history of mankind," writes Beauvoir, "a mother kneels before her son and acknowledges, of her own free will, her inferiority. The supreme victory of masculinity is consummated in Mariolatry: it signifies the rehabilitation of woman through the completeness of her defeat."
Daly now sharpens this critique and puts it in a wider systematic context: Mary is "a remnant of the ancient image of the Mother Goddess, enchained and subordinated in Christianity, as the 'Mother of God'." To this attempt to "domesticate" the mother goddess, Daly opposes a striving to bring together the divine and the feminine.
In the later work Gyn/Ecology (1978), Daly abandons the ideal of "androgyny" that she had previously still advocated and becomes the most important representative of the gynocentric "goddess feminism." Mary is a "pale derivative symbol disguising the conquered Goddess," a "flaunting of the tamed Goddess." Her role as servant in the Incarnation of God amounts to nothing other than a "rape." For Daly, the subordination of man to God is something negative, especially when this state of affairs is expressed in a feminine symbol such as Mary.
Mary as a "domesticated goddess" – this basic notion of Daly's is not something original to feminism. The same objection can be found, from another perspective and primarily since the nineteenth century, in liberal polemics against the Catholic teaching on Mary. Particularly, the title "Mother of God" is often explained in terms of the common people's need to worship a goddess. It seems unnecessary to discuss this "unsellable" item from anti-Catholic polemics further here. Whereas, however, the anti-Catholic literature of earlier generations found it important to stress that Mary is no goddess, the feminists emphasize Mary's place-holding function: Mary discloses the female attributes of God that have heretofore been suppressed.
Read more from this section of Fr. Hauke's book. For more about Mary Daly's work, see my post, "Mary Daly, radical elemental feminist, God-hater, man-basher, self-described..." (January 2010).