Jane the Virgin starts off as a pretty simple story about a young woman Jane (Gina Rodrigez) who is accidentally artificially inseminated whilst at her doctors for a routine pap smear test. Throw in a few murders, a criminal drug lord, a love triangle to rival Twilight, another artificial insemination, break-ups, make ups, race, gender and the fact that our Jane is a virgin saving herself for marriage – well you can see it becomes a lot more complex.
Aside from it being possibly the best narrated comedy show ever (a technique which it absolutely utilises in every way and is not just a quirky add-on), Jane The Virgin also happens to have a great social commentary on many, many different topics. From immigration to abortion, from postnatal depression to relationship breakdowns – Jane the Virgin wants to discuss and explore these often taboo topics and give people a voice who maybe haven’t had one before. Jane, her mother Xo, her grandmother Alba and her recently discovered father Rogelio live in Florida, but have roots in South America. Rogelio’s involvement as an actor in the telenovelas that the three Villanueva women watch adds another dimension to the show. The narrator often comments on how similar Jane’s life is to a telenovela, which of course is the joke. Jane’s life is a tv show, and a dramatic one at that. Being from a minority background, becoming a single parent and trying to keep her life together provides some wonderful opportunities for Jane the Virgin to comment on those ‘taboo’ topics.
Not just a mother
Though Jane faces different issues and problems whilst she is pregnant, it is not until Matheo is born that she really begins to realise just how difficult navigating motherhood is. Jane begins to attend a parent and baby class, and whilst it is somewhat helpful it also confuses her more. There are so much differing advice to new mothers – to breastfeed or not to breastfeed, to go back to work or be a stay at home Mum or even whether to actually take advice from other people. Jane’s first dilemma is whether or not to go to college – a dream she always wanted fulfill. Many of the mothers in her parent-baby class are surprised to learn Jane is considering leaving Matheo so early to go to college, but it is revealed that they are surprised because many of them want to do the same. When Jane is contemplating not going to college (after the traumatic process of actually getting in), Xo reminds her that she isn’t just a mother. She can be Matheo’s mother and go to college – the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Jane struggles with many aspects of being a mother, not just the work-life/mum-life conundrum, but one of the greatest moments is when she accidentally weans Matheo off being breast fed. At first, Jane is distraught and is certain that this will be terrible for Matheo. She then realises that she is actually quite relieved, and that breast feeding or not breastfeeding doesn’t signify whether or not you are a good parent.
The issue of home/work/baby life comes back around when Petra gives birth at the end of series 2. Jane and Petra are slowly becoming sort of friends (well, you can’t not be friends with someone who helps you give birth to twins right?) and Jane senses that Petra may not be connecting with her babies. Petra rushes straight back to work and seems more cold and unemotional than usual, only days after the twins arrive. When Jane approaches this with Petra, she doesn’t judge her or tell her what she should be doing. There is an understanding that childbirth and motherhood is hard and everyone deals with it differently. There is no right or wrong way to be a mother. Even more than this, becoming a mother doesn’t mean that’s all you are now. We see Jane go through this struggle and the series feels hopeful that Jane might help Petra pull through it too. If there’s one thing that would be great to see is the almost-friendship that they currently have evolve into something a little more solid.
Jane the Virgin is also incredibly realistic in its portrayal of the complex issue of immigration – particularly the different difficulties that first and second generation immigrants face. The only TV show which matches it in the representation of this issue is ‘Master of None’ with the episode ‘Parents’. Jane the Virgin, though, manages to continually talk about this issue throughout its two season arc – and does it incredibly well.
One of the most emotional narratives in the show is Alba’s coming to America narrative. Jane’s grandmother is technically an ‘illegal alien’, having moved to Florida without a green card, to provide a better life for her soon to be born child (Jane’s mother). At Matheo’s christening in season 2, Jane reads a speech which Xo read at Jane’s christening, the same speech which Alba wrote and read for Xo’s christening. The passing down of the speech is symbolic of passing down culture and heritage to both Jane and Xo. Most importantly though, Alba wrote the speech she gave at Xo’s christening and as our Jane is a (struggling) writer, this becomes about even more than tradition and culture. Alba has passed a gift onto Jane, a gift which Jane is using to fulfil her life ambitions – to be a writer. It also adds some kind of gravity to the things which Alba went through in order to give Jane and her mother a better life, and consequently a better life for Matheo too. It’s notable that Jane’s grandfather (and until recently, father) do not feature in this passing down of traditions, culture and essentially talent. is a female orientated show – despite the comedic love triangles.
The show also utilises it’s self awareness to point out hypocrisy and injustice in the immigration system. When Alba gets pushed down the stairs by Petra’s mother in season 1 (so much drama!), she is treated at their local hospital. It soon becomes apparent to the authorities that Alba doesn’t have a green card, and once she is well enough to be moved, will most likely be deported. The show’s writers use this opportunity to flash up a caption stating “Yes, this really happens. Look it up” and a hashtag for immigration reform. By breaking the fourth wall (as it often does to make a point), Jane the Virgin goes beyond just being a television show and attempts to educate its own audience about these injustices in the system. As someone who doesn’t live in the States, this was new and shocking information to me – as I am sure it is for many of people, even those who live in the USA.
Abortion. Just say it.
The A word is kind of taboo on mainstream television. Even in television series where they really should be talking about abortion, they don’t (The Walking Dead, I am so looking at you right now). It’s never portrayed as a viable option, even when the situation best calls for it. In Jane the Virgin, we have a very unique scenario. Jane, who has never had sex and therefore never expected to end up pregnant, becomes accidentally artificially inseminated with the sperm of a man who recently recovered from cancer. Meaning that (as far as he knows) his only chance at having a child was that sperm sample, the sperm sample which has impregnated Jane. The issue becomes a little more complex than it being just an unwanted pregnancy, because it is (both at once) a very wanted and unwanted child.
Jane never expected to become pregnant, and so her immediate thought is that she should have an abortion. There is a lot of discussion between her mother, grandmother and herself about abortion. Whilst Jane, in the end, decides to keep the baby, abortion is still seen as a perfectly reasonable option under the circumstance. No one judge Jane for contemplating it. In fact in the second 2, when Petra inseminates herself and becomes pregnant – Xo’s first reaction is that Petra should definitely have an abortion.
Jane’s initial conflict about having an abortion is mainly concerned with allowing Raphael to have shot at being a father. Her religious concerns come into it afterwards, but the main reason why Jane decides to go ahead with the pregnancy is because she knows that Raphael may never have another chance to be a father. Initially, she decides to give the baby over to Petra and Raphael once it is born, but when it becomes very apparent that the two of them are not in a good place relationship-wise, Jane makes the difficult decision to keep the baby and raise it herself. It’s an interesting allegory about paternity rights and the rights of a woman over her own body.
In addition to the aforementioned, there are many other things that make Jane the Virgin one of the best television series around at the moment. It has a particular focus on dissecting and critiquing aggressive masculinity; Rogelio as a character does most of this just by himself. On the one hand he tries to remain unemotional and aloof (something he forcibly attempts to get Michael to also do, with disastrous consequences), but he has absolutely no shame in getting a spray tan or dressing in pink. Rogelio embraces the aspects of femininity and masculinity which he prefers – without a care about which gender they are traditionally ‘assigned’ to. Frequently, conflicts are easily resolved by the characters talking to one another. When Jane is upset about leaving Matheo, and also in turmoil about Raphael and Michael, she ends up spilling her life story to her group at the writers retreat. Suddenly, everything becomes a little clearer for Jane. The power of communication and talking about feelings (which is traditionally something only women do) is held up as the first and foremost way to solve your problems.
Jane the Virgin provides laughs, tears and positive role models for both men and women. The female friendship and support by the Villeneuve women is uplifting to see on television, so frequently we are bombarded with the images of women tearing each other down not lifting each other up. Jane the Virgin manages to be funny, candid and relevant – whilst also remaining relatable for viewers. I love it!