On March 7, the night before International Women’s Day, the Villanueva women confronted the issue of slut shaming in front of about one million viewers. The family, which consists of three multi-generational ladies, is the central focus of The CW’s “Jane the Virgin” (JTV). Consisting of a religious abuela, a mom who got pregnant as a teenager, and her innocent virgin daughter, the characters on the show play into stereotypes about Latina women. At the same time, these characters constantly destroy Latino stereotypes through their complexity, and deal with real issues through a modern lense.
“Jane the Virgin”, loosely based on a Venezuelan telenovela, follows the life of Jane Villanueva, a young woman who was accidentally artificially inseminated with the sperm of an old fling and, despite being a virgin, becomes pregnant (it’s a long story). She lives with her mother and grandmother, and even though her father is later introduced, it’s clear that the Villaneva women don’t need a man to get by. The show follows Jane’s love triangle with her sweet first love Michael and her sexy baby daddy Rafael, as well as the lives of her parents and grandma, and the complications that follow when members of Rafael’s family turn out to be crime lords. But JTV is so much more than its dramatic plot lines.
The discussion on yesterday’s episode came from a very prominent theme in the show: virginity. Alba, Jane’s grandmother, has always taken virginity very seriously. It is because of her that Jane decided to save herself until marriage. Jane’s mother Xiomara, however, didn’t take Alba’s advice. As a young lady she had sex with many men, and at 16 got pregnant with Jane. Alba always gave Xiomara a hard time about her multiple relations, so when it was unveiled that Alba herself had had sex before marriage, Xiomara was shocked. She became very upset, calling her mother a hypocrite and yelling at her for making her feel like a slut all these years.
Initially, Alba dismisses her daughter’s feelings. But later in the episode, Alba and Xiomara have a moving conversation. Not only does Alba apologize, she explains where her actions came from. Alba herself was shamed by her entire town for having premarital sex, and she didn’t want her daughter to experience the same thing. Finally, she apologizes to Xiomara for causing her to feel the same shame that she felt.
This is classic “Jane the Virgin.” It is one of the most progressive shows on air, never shying away from issues that affect real people. When Jane gave birth to her adorable son Mateo, she felt pressure to quit school and stay at home with her baby. Ultimately she decides to follow her heart and stay in school, crushing gender roles in doing so. In another episode, Alba was in the hospital, and Xiomara was informed that her mother faced possible deportation because she was seeking medical help. Medical repatriation has sent hundreds of undocumented immigrants to their countries of origin, and the show took a political stance on the issue by displaying “#immigrationreform” on the screen.
The show’s characters also reflect reality. Jane may seem like sugar, spice, and everything nice at a glance, but the viewer quickly becomes aware of her complexity. The multiple sides of Jane’s personality shine through in “Amélie” style fantasies. Rafael initially seems like a playboy, but we see a softer side of him when he deals with being a father, and what that means to him. His half sister, Luisa, is a lesbian, but every plot involving her doesn’t revolve around her sexuality. JTV steers clear from one dimensional characters who are defined by their stereotypes, and instead develops all its characters to be complicated, just like real people.
And on top of it all, “Jane the Virgin” has a predominantly Latino cast, allowing for representation that has been absent on network television. The show doesn’t take a colorblind approach, but instead plays the Latino culture of its characters into every episode. It’s so important to have a show that embraces diversity instead of muting it, and it’s refreshing to have characters that people of all backgrounds can connect with. Part of the reason Alba’s character makes me laugh so much is that she reminds me of my own abuela, as opposed to the cliché white grandmas that knit and bake cookies (although those sure do remind me of my other grandma). JTV cleverly plays into stereotypes that are true for some Latinos, such as strong Catholicism, by viewing them through a new lense and exploring how they would affect the lives of modern Latino Americans.
“Jane the Virgin” normalizes aspects of life such as homosexuality, virginity, and single motherhood that so frequently define network television characters. Although the plot lines can be a little absurd, they touch on such a variety of real life problems. In a nation comprised of people with all types of complexities and differences, we are aching for more shows that embrace diversity head on. I think everyone could learn a few things from the Villanuevas.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS