Feminist Reader #3 – Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz “Reply to Sor Philotea”
This column focuses on commentary focused on feminist texts, starting with documents from the Middle Ages all the way to contemporary writings. Here’s the second one…
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz – “Reply to Sor Philotea”
Sor Juana is recognized as one of Mexico’s top intellectuals and poets—and this piece is among the top evidence for that honor. The most outstanding point of the essay remains as important today as it was centuries ago: that no one should meddle with inspiration and thinking. Sor Juana makes the argument, of course, from a theological perspective—no one should meddle with them because thinking and inspiration are divine gifts, God-given talents that ought to be used in order to honor God. Therefore, education and the pursue of knowledge should be accessible equally to men and women.
Philotea (the pseudonym used by a critic of Sor Juana’s writings) had argued against the education of women because teachers back then were only men, and according to Philotea, the interaction of men with young women always corrupts both, way more than ignorance ever could. The assertion itself is sexist equally (by assuming men are corrupted by women and that women’s purity must be ‘controlled’); Sor Juana provides an easy solution: let women be teachers, too, and the threat of corruption would cease to exist. Of course, centuries later and after education has flipped to be a field tagged as ‘more appropriate’ for women, the fact that there’s still debate about how much education should be pursued by women suggests the problem was not the threat of corruption in the end.