Foolish Men

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

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Foolish Men Summary

Foolish Men” is a late-seventeenth-century poem by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz about the logical errors and moral failings of men.

  • Sor Juana’s speaker directly addresses the eponymous men, whom she accuses of placing undue blame on women.
  • The speaker argues that men tend to cause the frustrations for which they blame women.
  • Finally, the poem fiercely indicts men’s arrogance, noting that it contains something of the devil.

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Introduction

“Foolish Men,” sometimes translated as “You Foolish Men,” was written by Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana in the 1680s. As a poet, she is referred to primarily as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. The poem is originally written in Spanish and explores ideas of gender and frustration regarding the treatment of women by a patriarchal society.

Summary

The poem begins with the speaker directly addressing the audience of “foolish men.” These men, the speaker says, lay guilt on women yet fail to see that they are the cause of the actions they so despise. They blame women and make them feel poorly, but do not see the errors of their own ways. Sor Juana’s speaker says that men invite women’s disdain with a desire that knows no bounds. It doesn’t make sense, she continues, that men want women to be well-behaved when men stir up or encourage “bad” behavior. 

Contradictorily, men push against female stubbornness and then say it was their frivolousness or lack of depth that caused the disagreements. They attribute cunning and guile to themselves while diminishing a woman’s intelligence. Sor Juana’s speaker exposes the disconnection that men foster between what has actually transpired and the narratives they tell about women. It is this illogical behavior, the poem continues, that makes men seem like children. Men act like young boys who play the very “bogeyman” of which they are afraid. Many of their concerns appear to be self-imposed. 

So arrogant and foolish are these men that they hope to find a woman like Thais—a sex worker known to accompany Alexander the Great—in their courtship but a Lucretia—a Roman noblewoman who committed suicide after being raped to protect her family’s reputation—once formally or physically involved. These two expectations of archetypal women are opposed, the speaker suggests.

Men seem to create problems and contradictions for themselves and then express dissatisfaction. Sor Juana’s speaker gives an example of this odd-minded behavior: men may as well be misting a mirror and then complaining about its lack of clarity. In the following quatrain, Sor Juana builds upon this. Men favor and disdain women in equal amounts. They will complain if they feel they are mistreated, yet mock women if the men feel they are treated well by those women. There is no way to win: mockery is inevitable regardless of behavior. 

Sor Juana further explores this double standard in the next lines. Women do not win the esteem of men, the speaker says. If a woman is modest and refuses to be involved with a man, she is ungrateful. Yet if she does agree to a physical connection, she is “loose.” Men draw unfair conclusions from these two polarized options, and the speaker says this makes men foolish. To blame one woman for being cruel and blame another for being easy does not make sense to the speaker. 

In the following quatrain, Sor Juana’s speaker wonders what the temperament of this supposedly controversial woman must be. If she offends when she is ungrateful yet exhausts when she complies, this is a confusing woman, indeed. Angry and aggrieved, men complain and tell women “good luck” when they do not reciprocate their interest or love. 

Sor Juana focuses next on the sexual elements of this hypocrisy. In having sex with women, men make them “bad” or tarnished somehow. Yet when they seek women, they expect to find them “good” or pure. Drawing on this good–bad parallel, the speaker wonders who takes more blame in these sexual encounters, referring specifically to prostitution: is the woman who is sought after at fault,...

(This entire section contains 767 words.)

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or is it the man who pleads for the sexual encounter in the first place? Both appear to be in the wrong, but again, the speaker is suggesting that one is more at fault than the other. The woman “sins for pay,” whereas the man “pays to sin.” 

The speaker asks why these men are outraged at the guilt that they cause, as it is in their own hands. They leave no room for women to exist without their presence. Women are either to be “had” as men make them or thus made into what men want. Why woo these women, the narrator wonders, when men can simply blame the “passion” of prostitutes or lovers entering their courts instead? Male arrogance is obvious and fights with various weapons. The poem concludes that men join the world, the flesh, and the devil together in their egotism.

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