• Adriana Montano

The Real Warrior Nun was Mexican

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

Yeap, she was. And she was born 300 years ago. She was so amazing I decided to draw her. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was the first pioneer and revolutionary feminist with published works. The poem “Foolish Men” exposes the inequity and injustice that women are victims of because of our misogynistic society. She criticizes men and their hypocritical, egotistical, and impulsive culture. Even though Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz wrote this poem in the Spanish Baroque Golden Age, it is still relevant today. As long as there is an evident fight on equality, this poem will always be appropriate and an excellent opportunity to inspire change. I drew Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz in different art styles from art movements that have taken place since she wrote that poem. In this painting, I attempted to portray the following art movements: Baroque, NeoClassism, Art Nouveau, impressionism, post-impressionism, pointillism, fauvism, Orphism, surrealism, psychedelic, abstract expressionism, and pop art. Many more art movements have happened since as well, but these are the ones that speak the most to me as an artist since the main reason for them was to push the envelope.

But who was this woman? And how did she become who she was? Here is her story.

Juana Inés de la Cruz was born out of wedlock in San Miguel Nepantla, Tepetlixpa, near Mexico City, Mexico, on November 12, 1651. At the time, Mexico was still Spanish territory. Don’t let the time of her birth and sex cloud your judgment of what kind of woman Sor Juana was.

De la Cruz was self-educated; she taught herself how to speak and write Latin and Nahuatl. At a young age, she inherited a library from her grandfather. As a teenager, De la Cruz became a lady-in-waiting to the viceroy’s wife - The viceroy is the ruler of a colony on Spain’s behalf. Her brains and wit made her famous in the royal court. As a matter of fact, she was tested by forty scholars and granted the equivalent of a university degree - something impossible for a woman to get in the 17th century. She was so beloved by the viceroy and vicereine of New Spain (Mexico) that they supported her and published her works in Spain. Her books were top-rated and circulated in the elite groups of Spain. In 1667, she decided to become a nun because she wanted the freedom to study and answer to no one - a life choice for a woman that was virtually the only alternative to marriage. She moved in 1669 to the Convent of San Geronimo (St. Jerome) in Mexico City. She remained cloistered for the rest of her life, and this is where Sor Juana ran a salon for the intellectual elite of Mexico City.

The relationships she established with the royal couples of New Spain assured her of protection from her critics, mostly clergymen who perceived her works as scandalous and unbefitting a woman, let alone a cloistered nun.

But Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz paid no mind to her critics. After taking her vows, Sor Juana read tirelessly and wrote plays and poetry, often challenging society’s values. She became a strong and early proponent of women's rights and the New World’s first published feminist. Sor Juana is praised for her Respuesta a Sor Filotea, which defends women's rights to educational access. Sor Juana's most essential plays include brave and clever women, and her famous poem, "Hombres Necios" ("Foolish Men"), accuses men of behaving like arrogant predators.

Her satires took on what I call “the puta virgen complex,” the double standard of men who solicit sex outside marriage while insisting on marrying virgins.

In her theatrical comedy, Los Empeños de una Casa (The House of Trials), performed in Mexico City in 1683, Sor Juana puts a man in women’s clothes to experience the degrading treatment women receive from men, revealing the stupidity of the patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Let’s take a pause - Her works sound remarkably contemporary for a woman that lived 300 years ago. How sad is it that we still live in this reality? Let that simmer in your brain for a bit.

The Church eventually forced her to give up her library and writing in 1694 - because the patriarchy has always been disgusting. She died the following year on April 17, 1695.

Today, Sor Juana stands as a national icon of Mexican identity, and her image appears on Mexican money.

Here is my favorite poem from Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz:

Foolish Men

You foolish men who lay

the guilt on women,

not seeing you're the cause

of the very thing you blame;

if you invite their disdain

with measureless desire

why wish they well behave

if you incite to ill.

You fight their stubbornness,

then, weightily,

you say it was their lightness

when it was your guile.

In all your crazy shows

you act just like a child

who plays the bogeyman

of which he's then afraid.

With foolish arrogance

you hope to find a Thais

in her you court, but a Lucretia

when you've possessed her.

What kind of mind is odder

than his who mists

a mirror and then complains

that it's not clear.

Their favour and disdain

you hold in equal state,

if they mistreat, you complain,

you mock if they treat you well.

No woman wins esteem of you:

the most modest is ungrateful

if she refuses to admit you;

yet if she does, she's loose.

You always are so foolish

your censure is unfair;

one you blame for cruelty

the other for being easy.

What must be her temper

who offends when she's

ungrateful and wearies

when compliant?

But with the anger and the grief

that your pleasure tells

good luck to her who doesn't love you

and you go on and complain.

Your lover's moans give wings

to women's liberty:

and having made them bad,

you want to find them good.

Who has embraced

the greater blame in passion?

She who, solicited, falls,

or he who, fallen, pleads?

Who is more to blame,

though either should do wrong?

She who sins for pay

or he who pays to sin?

Why be outraged at the guilt

that is of your own doing?

Have them as you make them

or make them what you will.

Leave off your wooing

and then, with greater cause,

you can blame the passion

of her who comes to court?

Patent is your arrogance

that fights with many weapons

since in promise and insistence

you join world, flesh and devil.

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