Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a 17th century Mexican nun and poet of the Spanish Baroque school. A celebrated intellectual, much of her work deals with the struggle for self-expression, respect, intellectual freedom and creative fulfillment, particularly for women. Some of her most famous poems are pointed critiques of patriarchial culture and its double standards, including this one.
Silly, you men—so very adept
at wrongly faulting womankind,
not seeing you’re alone to blame
for faults you plant in woman’s mind.
After you’ve won by urgent plea
the right to tarnish her good name,
you still expect her to behave—
you, that coaxed her into shame.
You batter her resistance down
and then, all righteousness, proclaim
that feminine frivolity,
not your persistence, is to blame.
When it comes to bravely posturing,
your witlessness must take the prize:
you’re the child that makes a bogeyman,
and then recoils in fear and cries.
Presumptuous beyond belief,
you’d have the woman you pursue
be Thais when you’re courting her,
Lucretia once she falls to you.
For plain default of common sense,
could any action be so queer
as oneself to cloud the mirror,
then complain that it’s not clear?
Whether you’re favored or disdained,
nothing can leave you satisfied.
You whimper if you’re turned away,
you sneer if you’ve been gratified.
With you, no woman can hope to score;
whichever way, she’s bound to lose;
spurning you, she’s ungrateful—
succumbing, you call her lewd.
Your folly is always the same:
you apply a single rule
to the one you accuse of looseness
and the one you brand as cruel.
What happy mean could there be
for the woman who catches your eye,
if, unresponsive, she offends,
yet whose complaisance you decry?
Still, whether it’s torment or anger—
and both ways you’ve yourselves to blame—
God bless the woman who won’t have you,
no matter how loud you complain.
It’s your persistent entreaties
that change her from timid to bold.
Having made her thereby naughty,
you would have her good as gold.
So where does the greater guilt lie
for a passion that should not be:
with the man who pleads out of baseness
or the woman debased by his plea?
Or which is more to be blamed—
though both will have cause for chagrin:
the woman who sins for money
or the man who pays money to sin?
So why are you men all so stunned
at the thought you’re all guilty alike?
Either like them for what you’ve made them
or make of them what you can like.
If you’d give up pursuing them,
you’d discover, without a doubt,
you’ve a stronger case to make
against those who seek you out.
I well know what powerful arms
you wield in pressing for evil:
your arrogance is allied
with the world, the flesh, and the devil!