Biography: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

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Juana Ramírez de Asbaje, most widely known by her professed title Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, was born and raised in seventeenth century modern-day Mexico, then the colony of New Spain. She was a nun, literary genuis and defender of women’s rights. She was also widely known throughout Spain and Mexico for her intelligence, wit and beauty. In feminist circles, she is remembered for her fervent defense of women’s right to education and her passion for knowledge. Her passionate love of truth, which she defined as a favor bestowed on her by God, did not change the reality that in her social context, women who wrote were a serious threat to the hierarchy, associated with the devil. Throughout her life Sor Juana would have to balance her inclination to learn and the power of the Inquisition, which during her time-period investigated, accused and killed seventy-five percent more women than men for heresy. Unlike most nuns, Sor Juana was politically engaged in the two powerful institutions of her times, first as lady-in-waiting in the vice-royal court, later as nun within the jurisdictions of the magisterial church. As a woman and writer she was a target and threat the Spanish and ecclesial order. Despite the threats this brought to her life, she continued to critique the gendered social codes of her time, as well as the mass violence men imposed upon women reinforced by patriarchal values. Scholars affirm the uniqueness of her voice which gave a new perspective of a newly emerging Mexican nation and the challenges this state endured under Spanish colonial rule. Upon her death, the church sought to erase her memory by burning the books she had written and were published in Spain by her friends in the vice-royal court.  At the time, the church did not acknowledge or recognize Sor Juana’s contribution to this world. Rather, it would be her kindred spirit, secular leader and friend Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, who would say in his eulogy in honor of her: There is no pen that can rise to the eminence that is hers. During her life-time, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz modeled both exemplary faith and leadership with the Roman Catholic Church. Throughout her life and to the present she has been given numerous titles such as the last great author of Spain’s Golden Age, Tenth Muse of Mexico, Mexican Phoenix and First Feminist of the Americas, North and South. Today she shares with many feminists the common concerns of race, class and gender and how these three variables influence and oppress not only women but all other marginalized individuals.

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