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  • Juana Ramírez de Asbaje sat before a panel of prestigious theologians,

  • jurists, and mathematicians.

  • The viceroy of New Spain had invited them to test the young woman's knowledge

  • by posing the most difficult questions they could muster.

  • But Juana successfully answered every challenge,

  • from complicated equations to philosophical queries.

  • Observers would later liken the scene

  • to “a royal galleon fending off a few canoes.”

  • The woman who faced this interrogation was born in the mid-17th century.

  • At that time, Mexico had been a Spanish colony for over a century,

  • leading to a complex and stratified class system.

  • Juana's maternal grandparents were born in Spain,

  • making them members of Mexico's most esteemed class.

  • But Juana was born out of wedlock, and her father – a Spanish military captain

  • left her mother, Doña Isabel, to raise Juana and her sisters alone.

  • Fortunately, her grandfather's moderate means

  • ensured the family a comfortable existence.

  • And Doña Isabel set a strong example for her daughters,

  • successfully managing one of her father's two estates,

  • despite her illiteracy and the misogyny of the time.

  • It was perhaps this precedent that inspired Juana's lifelong confidence.

  • At age three, she secretly followed her older sister to school.

  • When she later learned that higher education was open only to men,

  • she begged her mother to let her attend in disguise.

  • Her request denied, Juana found solace in her grandfather's private library.

  • By early adolescence, she'd mastered philosophical debate, Latin,

  • and the Aztec language Nahuatl.

  • Juana's precocious intellect attracted attention

  • from the royal court in Mexico City,

  • and when she was sixteen,

  • the viceroy and his wife took her in as their lady-in-waiting.

  • Here, her plays and poems alternately dazzled and outraged the court.

  • Her provocative poem Foolish Men

  • infamously criticized sexist double standards,

  • decrying how men corrupt women while blaming them for immorality.

  • Despite its controversy, her work still inspired adoration,

  • and numerous proposals.

  • But Juana was more interested in knowledge than marriage.

  • And in the patriarchal society of the time,

  • there was only one place she could find it.

  • The Church, while still under the zealous influence of the Spanish Inquisition,

  • would allow Juana to retain her independence and respectability

  • while remaining unmarried.

  • At age 20, she entered the Hieronymite Convent of Santa Paula

  • and took on her new name: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

  • For years, Sor Juana was considered a prized treasure of the church.

  • She wrote dramas, comedies, and treatises on philosophy and mathematics,

  • in addition to religious music and poetry.

  • She accrued a massive library,

  • and was visited by many prominent scholars.

  • While serving as the convent's treasurer and archivist,

  • she also protected the livelihoods of her niece and sisters

  • from men who tried to exploit them.

  • But her outspokenness ultimately brought her into conflict with her benefactors.

  • In 1690, a bishop published Sor Juana's private critique of a respected sermon.

  • In the publication,

  • he admonished Sor Juana to devote herself to prayer rather than debate.

  • She replied that God would not have given women intellect

  • if he did not want them to use it.

  • The exchange caught the attention of the conservative Archbishop of Mexico.

  • Slowly, Sor Juana was stripped of her prestige,

  • forced to sell her books and give up writing.

  • Furious at this censorship, but unwilling to leave the church,

  • she bitterly renewed her vows.

  • In her last act of defiance, she signed them

  • “I, the worst of all,” in her own blood.

  • Deprived of scholarship, Sor Juana threw herself into charity work,

  • and in 1695, she died of an illness she contracted while nursing her sisters.

  • Today, Sor Juana has been recognized as the first feminist in the Americas.

  • She's the subject of countless documentaries, novels, and operas,

  • and appears on Mexico's 200-peso banknote.

  • In the words of Nobel laureate Octavio Paz:

  • It is not enough to say that Sor Juana's work is a product of history;

  • we must add that history is also a product of her work.”

Juana Ramírez de Asbaje sat before a panel of prestigious theologians,

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    ktyvr258 posted on 2019/11/23
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