The Herstory of Mexican Writer, Intellectual, and Bad Ass: Sor Juana Inez De La Cruz
by Chelsea ConawayFeminist Wednesday University Ambassador
When we think about bad ass feminists, we tend to forget that the dialogue about women’s rights began very long ago. On the forefront of that fight were women who were pushing the boundaries of extreme, religiously justified patriarchy and oppression. Women like Sor Juana Inez De La Cruz.
De La Cruz was a Mexican writer and intellectual who wrote about sexism, patriarchy, and the intellectual rights of women in the mid to late 1600s. Born a mestizo (half Spanish and half native) near present day Mexico City to unmarried parents around 1648, her love for literature and pursuit of intellectual enlightenment began at an early age. She convinced her mother to let her go to school with her older sister and was even able to persuade a teacher to teach her how to read. She sought knowledge independently by spending time reading in her grandfather’s library. Although she yearned to attend university, she knew this was impossible because only males were considered worthy of higher education at the time. Knowing that women in her culture were forced into marriage and motherhood, she joined a convent and became a nun to escape this fate and pursue her true passion: writing.
De la Cruz gained attention because of her pursuit of secular forms of knowledge: a pursuit unheard of for women at the time. Some of her literary work even got published, which was quite an achievement considering very few female writers in the seventeenth century were taken seriously as intellectuals, much less published. She came under even more scrutiny when she began criticizing the oppression and hypocrisy present in her male-dominated culture.
In 1690, De La Cruz publicly criticized a sermon given by the Bishop of Mexico: Antonio de Viera. The Bishop shot back, under the pseudonym Sor Filotea, denouncing her female intellectualism and stating that women should be allowed to write as long as they remain subordinate to men. In a move unheard of at the time, she responded to him by writing Response to the Most Illustrious Poetess Sor Filotea De La Cruz. In this work she defended her right, and the rights of all women, to pursue knowledge and be respected as intellectuals.
This along with many other brave responses, poems, and additional literary work, is what makes Sor Juana Inez De La Cruz a bad ass early feminist. She recognized the unfair patriarchal culture of Mexico in the seventeenth century, and devoted her life to doing what she was told women could and should not do: write and pursue knowledge. She was not afraid to push the boundaries of acceptable female behavior or to publicly speak out against male leaders. She opened the door for other Mexican female writers and intellectuals to criticize the patriarchal nature of traditional Mexican culture and showed the women of Mexico, past and present, that they are capable of much more than domestic duties. It is because of women like De La Cruz and the women she inspired that I, a Mexican woman, am able to write and pursue knowledge in a serious way.