Truly the Americas’ First Feminist?
Failing to Set a Precedent
In Estela Portillo Trambley’s play Sor Juana the main character Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was considered to be one of the earliest feminists. Sor Juana’s eternal struggles to study and unshakable craving for knowledge and wisdom, from whatever source it may be, support this attribute. In my opinion however, there are also significant elements of the play that suggest that Sor Juana would not be considered a true feminist. Of these reasons, there are three major ones that I will analyze. The first reason is that Sor Juana gave up her struggle for the acquirement of knowledge from books and settled for reading from religiously accepted writing, essentially giving up what she had been originally fighting for and abandoning her previous ideals. Secondly, Sor Juana only fought for herself and what she wanted to pursue. She did not fight for other women or in other political, economic, or social spheres. Finally, the play fails to identify how Sor Juana set any kind of precedent or example by accomplishing anything that women before her had never accomplished. In the remainder of this essay I will analyze how Trambley’s representation of Sor Juana is that of a woman concerned only with her own desires and also a woman that gave up her struggle for personal
rights that she had once been so motivated to attain prior to setting any precedent for women as a group.
One major reason that I do not consider Sor Juana to be the “Americas’ First Feminist” is that she gave up her struggle for what she originally wanted so badly. In the beginning, Sor Juana went through so much and worked so hard to learn and read and attain knowledge. She seemed so strong, looking past being laughed at and not taken seriously and continuing her quest to study. She began to give in and her original goals started to slip away. ” and the Church will let me learn.” (151). This quote illustrates how Sor Juana joined the convent to be able to learn because she was not allowed to learn otherwise. Sor Juana settled for life in a convent. She was then forced to live a stricter lifestyle and was limited in her reading materials. It seems she complied with little struggle. Then she felt guilty for having used God in the first place to help her achieve her goal. This led to the abandonment of her original purpose altogether. Sor Juana says, “My whole life was sinful” (164), and “They accuse me of loving knowledge more than God.” (171). Both of these quotes show how Sor Juana used the Church to be able to learn rather than to continue fighting for admittance into a university. This whole progression of events is evidence that Sor Juana was never a true feminist. Although she was an assertive and determined young woman earlier in life, Sor Juana learned to accept the way the world was, abandoned what feminist ideals she had had, and devoted her later life to pleasing God and being a good nun.
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, as portrayed in Trambley’s play is only concerned with her own desires. She never shows interest in other women’s rights and she never speaks to other
women about the idea of equal rights. She does not encourage her fellow females to fight to attend colleges and learn. It is like to Sor Juana, there is no such thing as another woman who desires the same things as she. To me this limits the extent to which Sor Juana could be called a feminist. She never, in any way, attempted to fight for the rights of anyone beside herself, and for no thing besides the freedom to study and become learned. It is much more applicable to refer to Sor Juana as one of the first in a sort of evolutionary linearity of what finally became feminism. At the low end of the evolutionary spectrum are characters like Sor Juana. She was forthright and assertive about what she desired, but she lacked the ability or means to organize or extend her struggle to any topic