Foolish Men: The Tale of Sor Juana

Written by: Richard Jordan

About Her

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Who was Sor Juana?

Sor Juana, formally known as Juana Inés de la Cruz, was a scholar and woman ahead of her time. Living in 17th century Mexico, Juana challenged the traditional Catholic views of women by choosing knowledge over marriage. She was known as the Tenth Muse, and contributed to the Baroque literary tradition as well as the Spanish Golden Age. Juana remains of the most inspirational Mexican literary figures, and is officially recognized by the government.

Sor Juana's Poem: "Foolish Men"

As mentioned previously, Sor Juana chose knowledge over marriage. Suffice to say, this was not a popular opinion in the time and society in which she lived. Women were not allowed to study, and so Juana joined a convent to do so in peace. She believed in the independence of women to be able to study and to become scholars, a position relegated to men.

Her views regarding men, we can infer, were very strong. In her poem "Foolish Men", Sor Juana expressed her frustrations with the male identity consistently preventing females from achieving success and notoriety. In the first stanza of this poem, she writes:

"You foolish men who lay
the guilt on women,
not seeing you’re the cause
of the very thing you blame;"

Sor Juana recognizes that women fail to achieve because men condition them to believe that they are more worthy of fulfilling the domestic roles of motherhood. She clarifies this viewpoint in the fifteenth stanza:

"Why be outraged at the guilt
that is of your own doing?
Have them as you make them
or make them what you will."

Men have "made" women the way that they are, which Sor Juana, we can infer, does not approve of. Yet, she also highlights in this stanza that the molding of women by men is inescapable, and that if men are to do so, they must be careful about the woman they "create". The poem as a whole speaks to the idea that men have been deluded to think that they understand women and that they unfairly treat women in ways that perpetuate their own diminished feelings of self-worth.

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We can see the origin of Sor Juana's frustrations with men in the film portrayal of her life: "Yo, la peor de todas" (I, the Worst of All) (1990). Juana, portrayed by Assumpta Serna, faces enmity from the Mexican Catholic Church for her worldly views and, we can infer, her spurning of her female duties. In an especially telling scene, Juana is visited by the Archbishop of Mexico in her convent cell, where they enter and argument. Juana is affronted by the Archbishop's declamation of her "theological impertinence", especially because he is doing so because she is a women.

The confrontation comes to a head when the Archbishop, without proper retort, shouts "may God have pity on you", calling her a "bastard" and using her illegitimacy against her, shielding his own contradictory views of women. Juan replies, justly (in my opinion), that [men] are the ones who "bear the devil in their heart", which relates to the final stanza of "Foolish Men" very closely:

"Patent is your arrogance
that fights with many weapons
since in promise and insistence
you join world, flesh and devil."

Men are indeed the devils that have done injustice to women.