21 September 2018
In The Poet’s Answer to Sor Filotea de la Cruz, Sister Juana battles society as one of the earliest feminists. Sister Juana’s eternal struggles to study and unshakable craving for knowledge and wisdom, from whatever source it may be, support this attribute.
Sister Juana de la Cruz battles for the social and intellectual equality of women. One of the more compelling ways Sister Juana does this is in her argument that women should have the equal right to learn liberal arts and sciences to better understand Scripture and improve their relationship with God. More specifically, she relates the study of rhetoric, Classical language, and both religious and secular history to the comprehension of the Bible. These three subjects are especially significant since Sister Juana also employs each of these disciplines in her treatise to support her goal of equality for women.
In 1648, Juana was born illegitimately in the town of San Miguel de Nepantla, located southeast of Mexico City. She became a Mexican nun and self-taught scholar and poet who wrote literature centered on freedom and women’s rights, was a woman from this era that was criticized for devoting her time to studying subjects outside of theology.
Equal rights for women did not exist in seventeenth century Mexico. Women either devoted their lives to raising their families and keeping their homes, or they instead gave their life to God and became nuns. Up until the Age of Enlightenment, the period from roughly 1660 to 1770 when thinking, reason, and the power of the mind prevailed, the thought of an educated woman had no appeal to the Mexican masses. In response to her critics, de la Cruz wrote a letter entitled Respuesta a Sor Filotea (Reply to Sister Filotea), in which she demonstrated not only the depth of her intelligence, but also her humility and her subordination to God which was under dispute. Indeed, the nun eloquently succeeded in her autobiographical response to defend her own and more importantly, the intellectual rights of those sharing her sex in a manner that proved to be more “far-reaching and profound than any previously offered” (“Sor Juana” 208).
Sister Juana recognized, in her works, corruption and problems in society. She desired to gain knowledge about societal issues rather than to take action on these issues.
The letter begins with de la Cruz graciously thanking Sor Filotea, the pseudonym used by the Bishop Fernandez de Santa Cruz, for “a favor as unexpected as extreme, for having [her] scribbling printed…” (de la Cruz 210). Interestingly, the manner in which the nun addresses her superior carries a tone of masked sarcasm as seen when she addresses the Bishop as “My most illustrious senora, dear lady” (209), and when she emphatically states, “…it is only with the confidence of one who is favored and with the protection of one who is honorable that I presume to address y...