Growing up in a Mexican household, sex was never talked about. It was considered common knowledge that good daughters don’t do “it.” So while watching the premiere of Jane the Virgin last night, it reminded me of my family and childhood.
The new comedy series stars a young Latina, Jane Villanueva, who is saving herself for marriage. But after a Pap smear gone horribly wrong, Jane finds out she is miraculously pregnant. Although I was in no way saving myself for marriage, I related to the black-and-white image of virginity and sex presented to Jane’s character as a young child. Jane’s abuela warned her that virginity is like a flower: Once crumbled, it can never look new again. I remember similar lectures given to me as a young girl by my tia. The lesson was always the same: Young women who decide to have sex before marriage are impure, used and crumbled.
Such messages, common within Latino culture, perpetuate centuries-old ideas about women’s virginity. As a result, young girls believe that their worth is tied to sex. Jane the Virgin highlights this with its Virgin Mary-esque protagonist in the modern world.
Jane is the epitome of the good girl. She has her life planned out. Her timeline roughly goes like this: school, boyfriend, teaching career, marriage, lose virginity, baby. As a daughter of a teen mom, her plan is to do everything “right,” unlike her mother. But Jane is impregnated when distracted gynecologist Dr. Luisa mistakenly believes Jane is there for an insemination appointment. Jane’s mother thinks it’s an immaculate conception until Dr. Luisa spills the frijoles about the Pap smear fiasco. To make matters worse, the sperm belongs to Jane’s boss! Talk about a true telenovela.
Jane is now faced with the choice of whether to carry out the pregnancy. While discussing her options with her boss/sperm donor, Jane explains, “Its not the plan, I’m not ready,” yet feels guilty for wanting to end her pregnancy. Her boss and her abuela gently urge her to follow through with the pregnancy, but her fiancé suggests she terminate the pregnancy for the sake of the relationship and their future.
Jane the Virgin is entertaining and attempts to show Jane’s range of choices in a light-hearted, comedic manner. Yet it fails to pinpoint many issues that seem relevant to the story, such as vulnerability, economic stability and power dynamics. Jane is a hotel worker; her boss is a rich and successful businessman. Although he isn’t pushy, he does offer to adopt the baby if she decides she is not ready to be a mother—and someone in Jane’s position might feel compelled to comply with their boss’s wishes in fear of losing their job or other consequences.
Also, almost nothing in the storyline shows Jane as a victim of medical malpractice or illuminates what her rights would be in that regard. If Jane decided to sue, her expenses for an abortion, pregnancy or support of her child could be compensated. Instead, Jane faces the pressure of finding the answer to a blindsided pregnancy on her own. If she gets an abortion she is a bad girl; if she stays pregnant she may sacrifice her fiancé and future dreams, but remains a good girl.
At first, Jane does not consider adoption until she finds out it may be her boss’s only chance to have a biological child (due to his history of cancer). At the end of the episode, she eventually warms up to the idea of adoption, assigning her boss and his wife as the legal parents. Jane also gets her fiancé back in hopes of starting a new life as soon as the adoption is finalized. Jane feels she made the right decision—or so it seems. The show indicates there will be a lot more secrets and twists to come that may change the plot entirely.
Photo courtesy of Jane the Virgin Facebook Fan Page.