Before the #metoo or #churchtoo movement, there was Juana.
Juana was born in controversy, and it followed her all her life. She came into this world on November 12, 1651 just outside of present day Mexico City. She was an illegitimate daughter in New Spain, which would suggest her life would be far from easy. Juana, however, showed great promise and great strength; by age three, she could read and write. She spent many hours at her maternal grandfather’s chapel and library. A love of knowledge and God must have developed there. When she was sixteen, she begged her mother to allow her to dress as a boy in order that she may continue her studies at the university. Her mother refused, so Juana continued her studies on her own. She even learned and wrote poems in Nahualt, the Aztec language. She became well known in New Spain because of her wit and intellect; Juana had numerous suitors due to her great beauty, but she refused their advances. She eventually became a nun in the order of Saint Jerome and wrote many plays, treaties, and poetry. She died at the age of forty-four in 1695 after nursing her fellow sisters during a plague.
Throughout her writings, Juana did not shy away from controversial topics of the day—including educating women. Her poem “You Men” (below) specifically addresses the trap women can find themselves in relating to men romantically: to be both chaste and available. Before the Church spoke out against human trafficking and the sex slave industry, Juana was already highlighting the sin of men paying for sex. She unearthed the double standards of her day, giving us Women Disciples the words to voice the double standards we may still experience. Juana knew that if we could not be honest with the sin within ourselves and our community, we can never experience the fullness of God’s forgiveness and healing; sin must come into the light. Her words are sharp and cut through lies. Considering one in four women experience sexual assault at some point in their lives, Juana’s words prophetically echo through the generations and are as relevant today as they were then. Her work reminds us of how far we have come and spark us to continue the race, knowing we’re not done yet.
I admire Juana. She figured out a way to live in her world without compromising who she was. She didn’t give up learning or writing when it was unheard of for a woman to participate in those activities. Her voice among poets and her advocacy for women became another brick for which women have used to build a foundation to advance female equality in the world. Her legacy is far too great and her life too complex to summarize here. The more I learn about her, the more I am intrigued and in awe and in debt. I celebrate Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz this Women’s History Month because her contributions in this world reached far into the future.
Movement Step: Pray for other women disciples who may have experienced sexual abuse in their lives. If this is part of your story, please share it with a safe, Jesus following friend who can support you on your journey of healing.
The Norton Anthology of World Literature
Miguel Cabrera, Portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, c. 1750, oil on canvas (Museo Nacional de Historia, Castillo de Chapultepec, Mexico)
by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
Find more at allpoetry.com
Hombres necios que acusáis
a la mujer sin razón,
sin ver que sois la ocasión
de lo mismo que culpáis:
si con ansia sin igual
solicitáis su desdén,
¿por qué quereis que obren bien
si las incitáis al mal?
Combatís su resistencia
y luego, con gravedad,
decís que fue liviandad
lo que hizo la diligencia.
Parecer quiere el denuedo
de vuestro parecer loco,
al niño que pone el coco
y luego le tiene miedo.
Queréis, con presunción necia,
hallar a la que buscáis,
para pretendida, Thais,
y en la posesión, Lucrecia
¿Qué humor puede ser más raro
que el que, falto de consejo,
el mismo empaña el espejo
y siente que no esté claro?
Con el favor y el desdén
tenéis condición igual,
quejándoos, si os tratan mal,
burlándoos, si os quieren bien.
Opinión, ninguna gana:
pues la que más se recata,
si no os admite, es ingrata,
y si os admite, es liviana
Siempre tan necios andáis
que, con desigual nivel,
a una culpáis por crüel
y a otra por fácil culpáis.
¿Pues cómo ha de estar templada
la que vuestro amor pretende,
si la que es ingrata, ofende,
y la que es fácil, enfada?
Mas, entre el enfado y pena
que vuestro gusto refiere,
bien haya la que no os quiere
y quejaos en hora buena.
Dan vuestras amantes penas
a sus libertades alas,
y después de hacerlas malas
las queréis hallar muy buenas.
¿Cuál mayor culpa ha tenido
en una pasión errada:
la que cae de rogada
o el que ruega de caído?
¿O cuál es más de culpar,
aunque cualquiera mal haga:
la que peca por la paga
o el que paga por pecar?
Pues ¿para quée os espantáis
de la culpa que tenéis?
Queredlas cual las hacéis
o hacedlas cual las buscáis.
Dejad de solicitar,
y después, con más razón,
acusaréis la afición
de la que os fuere a rogar.
Bien con muchas armas fundo
que lidia vuestra arrogancia,
pues en promesa e instancia
juntáis diablo, carne y mundo.
Silly, you men-so very adept
at wrongly faulting womankind,
not seeing you're alone to blame
for faults you plant in woman's mind.
After you've won by urgent plea
the right to tarnish her good name,
you still expect her to behave—
you, that coaxed her into shame.
You batter her resistance down
and then, all righteousness, proclaim
that feminine frivolity,
not your persistence, is to blame.
When it comes to bravely posturing,
your witlessness must take the prize:
you're the child that makes a bogeyman,
and then recoils in fear and cries.
Presumptuous beyond belief,
you'd have the woman you pursue
be Thais when you're courting her,
Lucretia once she falls to you.
For plain default of common sense,
could any action be so queer
as oneself to cloud the mirror,
then complain that it's not clear?
Whether you're favored or disdained,
nothing can leave you satisfied.
You whimper if you're turned away,
you sneer if you've been gratified.
With you, no woman can hope to score;
whichever way, she's bound to lose;
spurning you, she's ungrateful—
succumbing, you call her lewd.
Your folly is always the same:
you apply a single rule
to the one you accuse of looseness
and the one you brand as cruel.
What happy mean could there be
for the woman who catches your eye,
if, unresponsive, she offends,
yet whose complaisance you decry?
Still, whether it's torment or anger—
and both ways you've yourselves to blame—
God bless the woman who won't have you,
no matter how loud you complain.
It's your persistent entreaties
that change her from timid to bold.
Having made her thereby naughty,
you would have her good as gold.
So where does the greater guilt lie
for a passion that should not be:
with the man who pleads out of baseness
or the woman debased by his plea?
Or which is more to be blamed—
though both will have cause for chagrin:
the woman who sins for money
or the man who pays money to sin?
So why are you men all so stunned
at the thought you're all guilty alike?
Either like them for what you've made them
or make of them what you can like.
If you'd give up pursuing them,
you'd discover, without a doubt,
you've a stronger case to make
against those who seek you out.
I well know what powerful arms
you wield in pressing for evil:
your arrogance is allied
with the world, the flesh, and the devil!