MR
25/02/07

Monthly Review Press

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El sexo imperfecto.
¿Por qué Sor Juana no es Santa?

por Jorge Majfud

Cada poder hegemónico en cada tiempo establece los límites de lo normal y, en consecuencia, de lo natural.  Así, el poder que ordenaba la sociedad patriarcal se reservaba (se reserva) el derecho incuestionable de definir qué era un hombre y qué era una mujer.  Cada vez que algún exaltado recurre al mediocre argumento de que "así han sido las cosas desde que el mundo es mundo", sitúa el origen del mundo en un reciente período de la historia de la humanidad.

Como cualquier sistema, el patriarcado cumplió con una función organizadora.  Probablemente, en algún momento, fue un orden conveniente a la mayoría de la sociedad, incluida las mujeres.  No creo que la opresión surja con el patriarcado, sino cuando éste pretende perpetuarse imponiéndose a los procesos que van de la sobrevivencia a la liberación del género humano.  Si el patriarcado era un sistema de valores lógico para un sistema agrícola de producción y sobrevivencia, hoy ya no significa más que una tradición opresora y, desde hace tiempo, bastante hipócrita.

En 1583, el reverenciado Fray Luis de León escribió La perfecta casada como libro de consejos útiles para el matrimonio.  Allí, como en cualquier otro texto de la tradición, se entiende que una mujer excepcionalmente virtuosa es una mujer varonil.  "Lo que aquí decimos mujer de valor; y pudiéramos decir mujer varonil (. . .) quiere decir virtud de ánimo y fortaleza de corazón, industria y riqueza y poder".  Luego: "en el hombre ser dotado de entendimiento y razón, no pone en él loa, porque tenerlo es su propia naturaleza (. . .)  Si va a decir la verdad, ramo de deshonestidades es en la mujer casta el pensar que puede no serlo, o que en serlo hace algo que le debe ser agradecido".  Luego: "Dios, cuando quiso casar al hombre, dándole mujer, dijo: 'Hagámosle un ayudador su semejante' (Gén. 2); de donde se entiende que el oficio natural de la mujer y el fin para que Dios la crió, es para que fuese ayudadora del marido".  Cien años antes de que Sor Juana fuese condenada por hablar demasiado y por defender su derecho de hablar, la naturaleza de la mujer estaba bien definida: "es justo que [las mujeres] se precien de callar todas, así aquellas a quienes les conviene encubrir su poco saber, como aquellas que pueden sin vergüenza descubrir lo que saben, porque en todas es no sólo condición agradable, sino virtud debida, el silencio y el hablar poco".  Luego: "porque, así como la naturaleza, como dijimos y diremos, hizo a las mujeres para que encerradas guardasen la casa, así las obligó a que cerrasen la boca. (. . .)  Así como la mujer buena y honesta la naturaleza no la hizo para el estudio de las ciencias ni para los negocios de dificultades, sino para un oficio simple y doméstico, así les limitó el entender, por consiguiente les tasó las palabras y las razones".  Pero el moralizador de turno no carecía de ternura: "no piensen que las crió Dios y las dio al hombre sólo para que le guarden la casa, sino para que le consuelen y alegrenPara que en ella el marido cansado y enojado halle descanso, y los hijos amor, y la familia piedad, y todos generalmente acogimiento agradable".

Ya en el nuevo siglo, Francisco Cascales, entendía que la mujer debía luchar contra su naturaleza, que no sólo estaba determinada sino que además era mala o defectuosa: "La aguja y la rueca -- escribió el militar y catedrático, en 1653 -- son las armas de la mujer, y tan fuertes, que armada con ellas resistirá al enemigo más orgulloso de quien fuere tentada". Lo que equivalía a decir que la rueca era el arma de un sistema opresor.

Juan de Zabaleta, notable figura del Siglo de Oro español, sentenció en 1653 que "en la poesía no hay sustancia; en el entendimiento de una mujer tampoco".  Y luego: "la mujer naturalmente es chismosa", la mujer poeta "añade más locura a su locura. (. . .)  La mujer poeta es el animal más imperfecto y más aborrecible de cuantas forma la naturaleza (. . .)  Si me fuera lícito, la quemara yo viva. Al que celebra a una mujer por poeta, Dios se la de por mujer, para que conozca lo que celebra".  En su siguiente libro, el abogado escribió: "la palabra esposa lo más que significa es comodidad, lo menos es deleite."  Sin embargo, el hombre "por adorar a una  mujer le quita adoración al Criador".  Zabaleta llega a veces a crear metáforas con cierto valor estético: la mujer en la iglesia "con el abanico en la mano aviva con su aire el incendio en que se abraza". (1654)

En 1575, el médico Juan Huarte nos decía que los testículos afirman el temperamento más que el corazón, mientras que en la mujer "el miembro que más asido está de las alteraciones del útero, dicen todos los médicos, es el cerebro, aunque no hallan razón en qué fundar tanta correspondencia".  Hipócrates, Galeno, Sigmund Freud y la barra brava de Boca Juniors estarían de acuerdo.  El sabio e ingenioso, según el médico español, tiene un hijo contrario cuando predomina la simiente de la mujer; y de una mujer no puede salir hijo sabio.  Por eso cuando el hombre predomina, siendo bruto y torpe sale hijo ingenioso.

En su libro sobre Fernando, otro célebre moralista, Baltasar Gracián, dedica unas líneas finales a la reina Isabel.  "Lo que más ayudó a Fernando -- escribió el jesuita -- [fue] doña Isabel su católica consorte, aquella gran princesa que, siendo mujer, excedió los límites de varón".  Aunque hubo mujeres notables, "reinan comúnmente en este sexo las pasiones de tal modo, que no dejan lugar al consejo, a la espera, a la prudencia, partes esenciales del gobierno, y con la potencia se aumenta su tiranía. (. . .)  Ordinariamente, las varoniles fueron muy prudentes". Después: "En España han pasado siempre plaza de varones las varoniles hembras, y en la casa de Austria han sido siempre estimadas y empleadas". (1641)

Creo que la idea de la mujer varonil como mujer virtuosa es consecuente con la tolerancia al lesbianismo del sistema de valores del patriarcado que, al mismo tiempo, condenaba la homosexualidad masculina a la hoguera, tanto en Medio Oriente, en Europa como en entre los incas imperiales.  Donde existía un predominio mayor del matriarcado, ni la virginidad de la mujer ni la homosexualidad de los hombres eran custodiadas con tanto fervor.

Una mujer famosa -- beatificada, santificada y doctorada por la iglesia Católica -- Santa Teresa, escribió en 1578: "La flaqueza natural es muy flaca, en especial en las mujeres". Recomendando un extremo rigor con las súbditas, la futura santa argumentaba: "No creo que hay cosa en el mundo, que tanto dañe a un perlado, como no ser temido, y que piensen los súbditos que puedan tratar con él, como con igual, en especial para mujeres, que si una vez entienden que hay en el perlado tanta blandura . . . será bien dificultoso el gobernarlas".  Pero esta naturaleza deficiente no sólo impedía el buen orden social sino también el logro místico. Al igual que Buda, en su célebre libro Las moradas la misma santa reconocía la natural "torpeza de las mujeres" que dificultaba alcanzar el centro del misterio divino.

Es del todo comprensible que una mujer al servicio del orden patriarcal, como Santa Teresa, haya sido beatificada, mientras otra religiosa que se opuso abiertamente a esta estructura nunca haya sido reconocida como tal. Yo resumiría el lema de Santa Teresa con una sola palabra: obediencia, sobre todo obediencia social.

Santa Teresa murió de vieja y sin los martirios propios de los santos.   Sor Juana, en cambio, debió sufrir la tortura psicológica, moral y, finalmente física, hasta que murió a los cuarenta y cuatro años, sirviendo a su prójimo en la peste de 1695.  Pero nada de eso importa para canonizarla santa cuando "la peor de todas" cometió el pecado de cuestionar la autoridad.  ¿Por qué no proponer, entonces, Santa Juana Inés de la Cruz, santa de las mujeres oprimidas?

Sor Juana
Sor Juana InÚs de la Cruz

Quienes rechazan los méritos religiosos de Sor Juana aducen un valor político en su figura, cuando no meramente literario.  En otro ensayo ya anotamos el valor político de la vida y muerte de Jesús, históricamente negado.  Lo político y lo estético en Santa Teresa -- la "patrona de los escritores" -- llena tanto sus obras y sus pensamientos como lo religioso y lo místico.  Sin embargo, una posición política hegemónica es una política invisible: es omnipresente.  Sólo aquella que resiste la hegemonía, que contesta el discurso dominante se hace visible.

Cuando en una plaza le doy un beso en la boca a mi esposa, estoy ejerciendo una sexualidad hegemónica, que es la heterosexual.  Si dos mujeres o dos hombres hacen lo mismo no sólo están ejerciendo su homosexualidad sino también un desafío al orden hegemónico que premia a unos y castiga a otros.  Cada vez que un hombre sale a la calle vestido de mujer tradicional, inevitablemente está haciendo política -- visible.  También yo hago política cuando salgo a la calle vestido de hombre (tradicional), pero mi declaración coincide con la política hegemónica, es transparente, invisible, parece apolítica, neutral.  Es por esta razón que el acto del marginal siempre se convierte en política visible.

Lo mismo podemos entender del factor político y religioso en dos mujeres tan diferentes como Santa Teresa y Sor Juana.  Quizás ésta sea una de las razones por la cual una ha sido repetidamente honrada por la tradición religiosa y la otra reducida al círculo literario o a los seculares billetes de doscientos pesos mexicanos, símbolo del mundo material, abstracción del pecado.

The Imperfect Sex:
Why Is Sor Juana Not a Saint?

by Jorge Majfud

Every hegemonic power in every historical period establishes the limits of what is normal and, consequently, of what is natural.  Thus, the power that ordered patriarchal society reserved for itself (reserves for itself) the unquestionable right to define what was a man and what was a woman.  Every time some exalted man resorts to the mediocre argument that "things have been like this since the beginning of the world," he situates the origin of the world in a recent period of the history of humanity.

Like any system, patriarchy fulfilled an organizing function.  Probably, at some moment, it was an order convenient to the majority of society, including women.  I don't believe that oppression arises from patriarchy, but instead when the latter attempts to perpetuate itself by imposing itself on processes that range from the survival to the liberation of humankind.  If patriarchy was once a logical system of values for an agricultural system of production and survival, today it no longer means anything more than an oppressive, and for some time now, hypocritical tradition.

In 1583, the reverend Fray Luis de León wrote La perfecta casada (The Perfect Wife) as a book of useful advice for marriage.  There, as with any other text of the tradition, it is understood that an exceptionally virtuous woman is a manly woman.   "What here we call woman of principle; and we might say manly woman (. . .) means virtue of spirit and strength of heart, industry and wealth and power."   Then: "for a man to be gifted with reason and understanding does not make him worthy of praise, because having them is his own nature (. . .).  If the truth be told, it is a bouquet of dishonesties for a chaste woman to think that she could not be so or that in being so she does something for which she should be thanked."  Then: "God, when he decided to marry man by giving him woman, said: 'I will make him an help meet for him' (Gen. 2); from whence it is understood that the natural place of woman and the end for which God created her is for her to be a helper to her husband."  A hundred years before Sor Juana would be condemned for speaking too much and for defending her right to speak, the nature of woman was well defined: "it is right for [women] to pride themselves on being silent, both those for whom it is convenient to cover up their lack of knowledge, and those who might shamelessly reveal what they know, because in all of them it is not only an agreeable condition, but a proper virtue, to speak little and be silent."  Then: "because, just as nature, as we have said and will say, made women remain in the home as its keepers, so also it obliged them to keep their mouths closed. (. . .)  Just as the good and honest woman was not made by nature for the study of the sciences or for negotiation of hardships, but for a simple and domestic profession, it also limited their understanding, and therefore it rationed their words and reason."   But the moralizer of the day was not lacking in tenderness: "do not think that God created them and gave them to man only for them to keep the home, but also to console him and give him joy.  So that in her the tired and angry husband might find rest, and the children love, and the family piety, and all of them generally an agreeable refuge."

By the next century, Francisco Cascales believed that woman had to struggle against her nature, which was not only determined but evil or defective besides: "The needle and the distaff" -- wrote the military man and university professor, in 1653 -- "are the woman's weapons and so strong that armed with them she will resist the most prideful enemy to tempt her."  Which amounted to saying that the distaff was the weapon of an oppressive system.

Juan de Zabaleta, notable figure of the Spanish Golden Age, declared in 1653 that "in poetry there is no substance; nor in the understanding of a woman."   And later: "woman is naturally gossipy," the woman poet "adds more madness to her madness (. . .)  The woman poet is the most imperfect and abhorrent animal formed by nature (. . .)  If it were permitted of me, I would burn her alive.  He who celebrates a woman for being a poet, God should give her to him as a wife, so that he might know what he celebrates."  In his following book, the lawyer wrote: "the word wife means comfort more than anything, pleasure the least."  Nonetheless, a man "by adoring a woman takes adoration away from the Creator."  Zabaleta at times goes so far as to create metaphors with a certain aesthetic value: a woman in church "with her fan in hand enlivens with its air the fire that encircles her" (1654).

In 1575, the physician Juan Huarte informed us that the testicles affirm the temperament more than the heart, while in the woman "the organ that is most gripped by the alterations of the uterus, according to all the physicians, is the brain, although there may be no grounds on which to base this correspondence."  Hippocrates, Galeno, Sigmund Freud, and the most fanatical supporters of the Boca Juniors soccer team would all agree.  A wise and ingenious man, according to the Spanish physician, gets a son with opposite traits when the female seed predominates, and no wise son can come from a woman.  For this reason, when the man predominates, even when he is brutish and stupid, a clever son results.

In his book about Fernando, another renowned moralist, Baltasar Gracián, dedicates some final lines to Queen Isabel.  "What most aided Fernando" -- wrote the Jesuit -- "[was] doña Isabel, his Catholic consort, that great princess who, even though a woman, exceeded the limits of a man."  Although there were noteworthy women, "commonly in this sex the passions reign in such a way that they leave no room for counsel, for patience, for prudence, essential parts of government, and with  power their tyranny is augmented.  (. . .)  Ordinarily, manly women were very prudent."  Later: "In Spain manly females have always endured a position for males, and in the house of Austria they have always been respected and employed" (1641).

I believe that the idea of the manly woman as virtuous woman is consistent with the tolerance of lesbianism by the same patriarchal system of values that condemned masculine homosexuality to burn at the stake, whether in the Middle East, in Europe, or among the imperial Incas.  Where there was a greater predominance for matriarchy, neither the virginity of women nor the homosexuality of men was watched over with such fervor.

A famous woman -- beatified, sainted and given a doctorate by the Catholic Church -- Santa Teresa, wrote in 1578: "Natural weakness is very weak, especially in women."  Recommending an extreme discipline for the nuns, the future saint argued: "I do not believe there is anything in the world that could damage a prelate more than to not be feared, and for his subjects to think they may deal with him as with an equal, especially for women, for once they understand that there is in the prelate such softness . . . governing them will be very difficult."  But this deficient nature impeded not only the proper social order but mystical achievement as well.  Just like Buddha, in her famous book Las moradas the same saint recognized the natural "stupidity of women" that made it difficult for them to reach the center of the divine mystery.

It is perfectly understandable that a woman at the service of the patriarchal order, like Santa Teresa, would have been beatified, while another religious woman who openly opposed this structure would never have been recognized as such.  I would sum up Santa Teresa's slogan in just one word: obedience, above all social obedience.

Santa Teresa died an old woman and without the martyrdom proper to the saints.  Sor Juana, in contrast, was made to suffer psychological, moral and, finally, physical torture until she died at the age of forty-four, serving her neighbor in the epidemic of 1695.  But none of that matters for canonizing her as a saint when "the worst of all women" committed the sin of questioning authority.  Why not propose, then, Santa Juana Inés de la Cruz, patron saint of oppressed women?

Sor Juana
Sor Juana InÚs de la Cruz

Those who reject Sor Juana's religious merits adduce a political value in her figure, when not merely a literary one.  In another essay we already noted the political value of the life and death of Jesus, a value historically denied.  The political and the aesthetic in Santa Teresa -- the "patron saint of writers" -- fill her works and thoughts as much as the religious and the mystical do.  Nonetheless, a hegemonic political position is an invisible politics: it is omnipresent.  Only that politics which resists the hegemony, which contests the dominant discourse, becomes visible.

When I kiss my wife on the mouth in a public square, I am exercising a hegemonic sexuality, which is the heterosexual one.  If two women or two men do the same thing, they are not only exercising their homosexuality but also a challenge to the hegemonic order which rewards some and punishes others.  Each time a man goes out on the street dressed as a traditional woman, inevitably he is making a -- visible -- political statement.  I also make a political statement when I go out on the street dressed as a (traditional) man, but my declaration coincides with the hegemonic politics, is transparent, invisible, appears apolitical, neutral.  It is for this reason that the act of the marginalized becomes a visible politics.

We can understand in the same way the political and religious factor in two women as different as Santa Teresa and Sor Juana.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why one of them has been repeatedly honored by the religious tradition and the other reduced to the literary circle or to the secular Mexican two-hundred peso notes, symbol of the material world, abstraction of sin.


Jorge Majfud was born in Tacuarembó, Uruguay in 1969.  From an early age he read and wrote fictions, but he chose to major in architecture and graduated from the Universidad de la República in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1996.  He taught mathematics and art at the Universidad Hispanoamericana de Costa Rica and Escuela Técnica del Uruguay.  He currently teaches Latin American literature at the University of Georgia.  He has traveled to more than forty countries, whose impressions have become part of his novels and essays.  His publications include Hacia qué patrias del silencio (memorias de un desaparecido) [novel] (Montevideo, Uruguay: Editorial Graffiti, 1996; Tenerife, Spain: Baile del Sol, 2001); Crítica de la pasión pura [essays] (Montevideo: Editorial Graffiti, 1998; Fairfax, Virginia: HCR, 1999; Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Argenta, 2000); and La reina de América [novel] (Tenerife: Baile del Sol, 2002).  He contributed to Entre Siglos-Entre Séculos: Autores Latinoamericanos a Fin de siglo, edited by Pilar Ediçoes (Brasilia) and Bianchi Editores (Montevideo) in 1999.  His stories and articles have been published in various newspapers, magazines, and readers, such as El País and La República of Montevideo, Rebelión, and Hispanic Culture Review of George Mason University.  He is the founder and editor of the magazine SigloXXI -- reflexiones sobre nuestro tiempo.  He is a regular contributor to Bitácora, the weekly publication of La República.  Translation by Bruce Campbell.
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