Sor Juana’s Appeal to Feminist Scholarship

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz is often regarded as having written the first feminist manifesto and as the first feminist of the Americas. So, what about her work and life is appealing to feminist scholarship? A lot, really! This is one of the topics discussed in Rachel O’Donnell’s essay “Gender, Culture, and Knowledge in New Spain: Sor Juana’s “To the Gentleman in Peru”” published in Women’s Studies.

According to O’Donnell: “Sor Juana articulates her belief that reason has no gender, in addition to defending her inclination toward learning. She includes in her poems long lists of famous female writers, writes of her admiration for St. Catherine of Alexandra, a learned martyr, and praises the learning of St. Teresa: “For what were they all but learned women, who were considered, celebrated, and indeed venerated as such in Antiquity?” (Arenal and Powell 1994, 79). She also defends her right to secular learning, writes that intelligence is not the privilege of men, and advocates the universal education of women.”

Another reason Cruz is important to feminist scholarship is due to the idea that she may have been a lesbian. It is widely known that she was very close to the Vicereine, although there is no evidence of a relationship, just speculation.

O’Donnell also discusses how Octavio Paz, Cruz’s biographer, suggested that Cruz knew that being a female was a barrier to her education from a young age, referencing how she asked her mother as a child to dress her up as a boy so she could go to school. Cruz was aware of the disparity between genders, perhaps that why she was able to circumvent many of the obstacles other women faced like marriages at a young age.

  • O’Donnell, Rachel. “Gender, Culture, and Knowledge in New Spain: Sor Juana’s ‘To the Gentleman in Peru.’” Women’s Studies, vol. 44, no. 8, Dec. 2015, pp. 1114–1129

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