Sor Juana

By Ashlyn Karre

Who was Sor Juana?

Sor Juana was a remarkable woman in Mexico. To begin with, she taught herself to read and write Latin by age 3. She taught herself math at age 5. When she was 8 she wrote her first poem. By age 13 she mastered Greek philosophy and was teaching Latin to young children. At age 17 her knowledge was tested by the viceroy. He invited theologians, a jurist, philosophers, and poets to test her. She had to answer questions regarding sciences and literary subjects without any preparation.

She was raised in the church and would hide in the church in order to read because reading was forbidden for girls to do. When she was 12 she asked her mother if she could disguise herself as a man to attend the university but her mother said no, so she continued her studies in private.

Sor Juana decided to become a nun that way she could continue her studies without interruption. Sor Juana wrote a critique of a 40 year old Portugese sermon, which ended up being published without her knowing under the pseudonym Sor Filotea. In response she wrote a letter defending the right to education for women.

Foolish Men

Sor Juana wrote a poem called Foolish Men, in this poem she criticizes the Machismo of society of her time and makes fun of the hypocrisy of men who condemn prostitutes, but use their services. She calls men foolish for blaming womankind for the faults they are responsible for. Sor Juana uses a contrast to make note of the faults men assign to women's behavior, stanza two highlights this contrast, as well as stanza five. Stanza 2 says

"After you've won by urgent plea

the right to tarnish her good name

you still expect her to behave--

you, that coaxed her into shame."

Stanza 5 says "Presumptuous beyond belief,

you'd have the woman you pursue

be Thais when you're courting her,

Lucretia once she falls for you

The machista expects the women to be pure, but they lure them into sin. The machista also destroys the women's purity and virtue when they make the women sin. Sor Juana states that nothing can satisfy the machista, lines 27-28 say "You whimper if you're turned away, you sneer if you've been gratified" Sor Juana speculates who is more to blame in lines 55-56, "The woman who sins for money, or the man who pays money to sin?" she also advises men to "Either like them for what you've made them, or make of them what you can like" (lines 59-60). If a man makes a woman sin, then he has to stay with her; but if a man wants a virtuous woman, then he should keep her that way until they get married.

Sor Juana writes that the machista is like a spoiled child who is quick to judge and doesn't know what they want. Sor Juana compares men's arrogance to a mixture of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Some Notable Images