THE WOMEN IN SOR JUANA’S
Sor Juana who was born Juana Ines de Asbaje y Ramirez de Santillana in November 12th 1648 was a major critic of the idea that women were not worthy of the same intellectual pursuits as men. Sor Juana lived in the colonial era when Mexico was considered as part of the Spanish empire. She is considered as an illegitimate child of Pedro Manuel de Asbaje a Spanish captain and Isabel Ramirez, a Creole woman.
She was born in san Miguel Nepantla a place near the city of Mexico. Raised in Amecameca in her grandfather’s hacienda, Sor Juana is said to have been a devoutly religious child and began reading her grandfather’s book at an early age which was forbidden to girls. Amazingly by the time Sor Juana was three she had already learnt how to read and write. By the time Sor Juana was a teenager she had learnt so much including Latin, the Aztec language and Latin. She even taught Latin to young children. (Romero,2008)
This was an amazing feat considering that she did her studies privately without direction or tutorage from any one. She was later to be sent to Mexico City where after she failed to secure a place in the university came under the tutelage of Vicereine Leonor Carreto. She later joined the convent after declining several marriage proposals even from the vice- royal court.
Sor Juana’s brief history gives some light on her perception of the society. She publicly condemned the idea of the society considering men as wise on the virtue of just being born men. In her view every human being has a right to pursue intellectual outfits as long as you have the will. This is clearly shown by the kind of material she wrote and the manner in which she lived her life.
In 1690, a letter was published attacking Sor Juana’s ideas especially on the sciences. The letter claimed that she was better suited to soft theology. This triggered Sor Juana to write a reply letter which was titled respuesta a Sor Filotea or reply to sister Filotea popularly known as the reply. In this letter Sor Juana strongly defends women’s right to education. She first gives a detailed account of her life tracing back from when she deceived her sister’s teacher or so she thought to teach her also and how she learned so quickly.
Her discipline and desire to learn is portrayed by the manner in which she used to punish herself by cutting her hair whenever she had not achieved her short term goals. In this letter Sor Juana cites forty two women from varying generations. These women include Hannah, Debora, mother Teresa, and Esther among others. In her defense to women’s intellectual capabilities she says that only those women whom God has given a special virtue and prudence and are mature should pursue this sacred vocation of intellectual pursuits.
She continues to say that women should not be considered as incompetent on the virtue of being women and men should not all think themselves as wise by virtue of being men. Both men and women according to her have the same capabilities and that some men can also be considered incompetent. Sor Juana says that Debora a woman issued laws both military and political and governed a country which had so many learned men. (Merrim,1999)
She also cites the queen of Sheba, whom she says was very wise that could dare challenge the wisdom of the wisest men. She continues to give more examples of women particularly in the Bible who possessed such quality values and virtues, which could only be attributed to men. These women do great things like Esther who due to her immense persuasion ability managed to save a whole race from being destroyed.
She cites Hannah whom she says was so much patient and persevered so much as to wait for so long to bear her a child while living under constant criticism from her co-wife.
She also cites women not in the bible. Among this women include Minerva, daughter of great Jupiter who was considered as a goddess in Athens due to her great abilities in science. Polla Argentaria who came to the aid of her husband Lucan to write the battle of Pharsalia, queen of the Plmyrians Zenobia who was both wise and courageous, inventor of the Latin letters Nicostrata and last but not least Aspasia Miletia who was a philosophy teacher among his students being the great philosopher Pericles.
Sor Juana emphasizes on the intellectual capabilities of both the women in the bible and the gentiles. She says that the women possessed immense knowledge that impacted so much on the societies and generations they lived in. why then considering all of this well known women scholars were women still regarded as inferior beings?
Men in their quest to be above the rest of the beings by virtue of claiming intelligence, look down upon women who are also equally intelligent as seen from the women she cites. She says thus that every soul regardless of its gender should be given equal opportunity to pursue knowledge. That knowledge is not a preserve for men but for all humanity.
Romero, Tania and Carlos .(2008). University treasures. Mexico City: Wayne state university press
Merrim, s.(1999). Feminist perspective on sor juana ines de la cruz. Mexico City:Wayne state university press