Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
By: Cristiana Guevara Mena
is the flickering flame
At night of the viceroyalty’s stone
- José Emilio Pacheco
Did you know that the first true intellectual feminist, who also happened to be one of the greatest poets of our continent, was a Mexican? For those who do not know, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was known for her brilliance and contribution to Baroque literature, which she closed with a flourish, and was known as "The American Phoenix" and "The Tenth Muse". However, this article will not discuss her sonnets and quatrains. The intention is to show her courage and determination, which were ahead of her time. Why did she represent a threat to large areas of power of the society in which she lived? What is the example that she leaves for all women to follow?
Sor Juana Ines was a sharp poet who defied the religious and political authorities of her day with the weight of her pen. Let’s relocate ourselves in the seventeenth century, to Mexico's colonial era. She was the Hispanic woman in America who rebelled against an oppressive structure that wanted to limit and subjugate her. She confronted the pride and vanity of power that, as always, could not take criticism and was bothered by dissenting voices. Ironically, she was protected by the viceroy, but when he returned to Spain, she ended up at the mercy of the moral blackmail of her own religious brothers. This was the last stab to the heart that ended the life of the intellectual protest symbol of American women, long before any female symbol in the world.
It is said that in our society, machismo mistreats women in all the spaces we know, from domestic violence to wage inequality, and a long list of etceteras. Unfortunately, our culture teaches that women should put up with everything their husbands do because their husbands sustain them - something Sor Juana flatly rejected in her time - or that you need to “marry well" so you can have a good life. This retrograde and colonial mentality is in most women in our culture, from the most humble to the lady of the highest social spheres. Thus, how can we expect the Nicaraguans to create a revolution to free us from a dictatorship, if our women are the first to teach the subjugation and support abuse? If the woman does not convey the value of respect for herself, how do you expect her kids to do so when they face the world?
Women represent the center of the family and society. They share with men the authority and financial responsibility and education of their children. They are the engine of change in any society, for they receive the first impact of bad governance, social abandonment by the dictatorship, the impact of civil war, and lack of education and opportunities for their children. The idea is not to undo families, but to teach women that they do not need a man in order to think or to be autonomous.
We must understand that there will be no social revolution that is not based on women as the planters of freedom and true independence. The role of women goes far beyond being a home caretaker, child breeder, or diversion for men, as Sor Juana reflected in her work. She has the first responsibility of every social change because she transmits life and values towards other human beings. She is capable of delivering an entire society from authoritarian submission by any government with the education she gives at home to her children, and the example she gives in her environment.
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz teaches that women have the power to challenge political oppression with courage, talent, and with what they have at our fingertips, from a paper and pen to the care of an entire family. It’s not necessary to be nuns or live in a convent in the seventeenth century to bring change in our society. Let all of us women be part of a real social change based on the transmission of human values to others, whether it is as mothers, professionals, or as great controversial writers like Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.