Jane the Virgin (2014-2019) is an American television show based on a young, virgin Latina woman who is accidentally artificially inseminated which begins the chain of issues for a pregnant woman who is saving herself for marriage. The genre of a telenovela immediately lends the show to gender stereotypes with Jane caught in a love triangle as romance becomes her identity. Jane’s career as a romance writer is a cliché for women in television and film. Lastly, Jane is focused on as emotional; however, she is inquisitive and the events that transpire in the telenovela mock arguably give her cause for changing emotions. Jane does reveal a gender bias, however; although, the show’s central focus on the three Velleineuva women and Jane being brought up in a matriarchal household arguably outweighs this from a feminist perspective. From the outset, then, the audience may expect gender and racial stereotypes of the protagonist, but I will argue that as the show develops, Jane becomes more liberated.
The show subverts the Latina woman’s image gender stereotype through the move to sexual liberation for the religious women in the show. From the artificial insemination with her then boss, Rafael’s, sperm, Jane slowly becomes liberated and plans to have sex with her fiancé, Michael, in chapter three, and tells her abuela (grandmother) unapologetically. Jane’s abuela, Alba, is a devout Catholic having brought Jane up as such after her daughter, Xiomara, had Jane at sixteen. The importance of virginity to Alba is unchanged despite Jane’s circumstances, which is oppressive from a feminist perspective.
Jane is not yet subverted from being doting and obedient because in telling her abuela her plans to lose her virginity that night, she was looking for acceptance, telling her in church in fear of lying which would be another ‘sin’. The Catholic guilt is undeniable and although Jane works to override this, Alba’s shaming influences Jane who similarly disagrees with her mother’s behaviour in the beginning. Jane tells Michael, “my whole life, I didn’t want to end up an unmarried pregnant woman like my mum”, as though a woman’s life is hinged on her marital and child status. Additionally, Jane still waits until after marriage because of plot complications; however, Jane’s realisation that it was not a ‘big bad thing’ anymore to become an unmarried pregnant woman like her mum, subverts the narrative of her previous self that feared this. Moreover, Jane liberates her abuela too, bringing her to a time of third-wave feminism, meaning to take back control and claim power, unapologetically expressing oneself sexually. Alba becomes sexually liberated, transforming from teaching a young Jane about a crumpled-up flower (symbolising her virginity) that becomes damaged and cannot reverse this action, to rejecting a marriage proposal and enjoying singlehood and going out.
Jane even helps Alba create a dating profile in chapter seventy-four, and then takes her to a sex shop. Although Alba initially finds being in the shop embarrassing, and sees using the toys as wrong due to Catholic teachings, she later becomes comfortable enough to advise using a vibrator to Xiomara when she loses her libido after chemo. This discussion of sex between three generations in the family, and the handling of such issues on the show displays a clear subversion of the pure and religious woman from the pilot.
Stereotypes of vain, picture-obsessed women are reserved for Jane’s father, Rogelio, and Jane is the down to earth, and for most parts humble daughter opposing media Latino stereotypes of the verbally-aggressive, and laid back woman. Jane is hardworking and eloquent from her strict upbringing and love of writing. The stereotype of showing cleavage, a voluptuous figure, and skin-tight clothes (Nagi, 2014) is subverted as Jane instead represents a ‘normal’, more relatable figure and wears everyday clothes such as modest dresses, basic tops, jeans and basic shorts as opposed to hot pants. Arguably however, it is not enough to represent Jane in this way for a feminist subversion because although she surpasses the usual media portrayal of Latinas, she is still the pure woman persona and at times, her critical personality that crosses into shame of others shows this. Jane tells Rafael “I’m judgey, you should probably know that about me” in chapter three. Fast forward to season four, chapter sixty-seven, however, and Jane grapples with introducing her son to her new boyfriend Adam, who plays roof ball and takes risks; this is a big step since the death of her husband, Michael. Such experiences shape Jane’s character for not leading the ‘perfect’ life she had planned and from a feminist perspective, shows her independence as not only a single mother with familial support but also a dating mother, rather than being confined to a full-time mother role. From an intersectional perspective, however, this representation is not enough because Jane, Xiomara and Alba are still part of the mixed-race representation of Latinas in the media presented more favourably (Rivadeneyra, 2011), as opposed to the white, black, and Asian Latinos that are underrepresented and uncounted as Latino.
Telenovelas and career-focus
Telenovelas are Latin American soap operas. Typically, the drama focuses on fixing injustices and the protagonists search for the fulfilment of love (Sifuentes, 2014). The genre then lends itself to romantic clichés such as Jane’s career as a romance writer; she becomes a character centred on romance in her career and life. Jane’s career is a cliché for women to be creative, into the arts and a hopeless romantic. Jane’s romantic persona is, however, moulded from being raised on telenovelas with her abuela and mother, a stereotype of Latina women; the melodramatic genre then constitutes an important element of development for women in female representation (Sifuentes 2014). Jane’s first book, ‘Snow Falls’, is based on her love story with Michael, she kicks her leg up when she kisses Rafael under their tree as petals fall to signify he’s the right match, ceiling dust resembling snow, falls when her and Michael have their first kiss after he reprimands her as a police officer, introducing sexist gender roles of authority. Jane then operates in a romance solar system, a woman as metaphor for a prize to be won, until this is redirected to family in the final season.
Rafael is hyper masculine with big muscles, tight shirts, and the owner of his father’s hotel, and Jane is a damsel waiting to be loved that fits into this saviour narrative in the show’s satire scenes. A black and white spoof in a satire telenovela scene in chapter fifty-seven supports this love dynamic; however, these scenes happen in Jane’s mind when building her book’s characters rather than reflecting her reality. Moreover, the telenovela gives space to discuss taboo subjects such as sex (Sifuentes 2014), and addresses female spectators this way, “construct(ing) feminine subject positions which transcend patriarchal modes of subjectivity” (Kuhn, 1999: 148) as Jane is the saviour of Rafael, turning him into a good guy. Jane’s influence on Rafael from her position as a part-time employee at the Marbella Hotel is then empowering with the subverted authority. Similarly, Jane makes decisions based on her happiness. Initially, Jane rejects the ring from Michael since he disagreed with her carrying Rafael’s baby; this decision to choose her unborn child and what she believed in over romance at that time shows Jane’s robust nature. Additionally, Jane confronts gender stereotypes in her life where Alba’s new husband, Jorge, is ‘the man of the house’ and Jane objects seeing her son, Mateo, pick up entitled patriarchal norms. Furthermore, Jane balances her career with being a step-mother to Rafael’s twins with his ex-wife Petra, and a mother herself showing that women can work and be good mothers simultaneously, having also gone through grad school in Mateo’s baby years.
Jane is reliant on her father briefly due to being a struggling author. Sifuentes (2014) observed that the work done by South American women rarely gave them social recognition as they would have no profession but only a temporary underpaid job. Jane, on the other hand, albeit working temporarily at the Marbella whilst writing, chooses to do so rather than live off her father’s money from being a telenovela star. Moreover, Jane’s career as a writer breaks the racial and gender stereotypes for Latina women. In chapter ninety, Jane is angry with Rogelio for intervening with her career by finding out she only got published because he promised to pay her publisher back if ten thousand copies of her book did not sell. Rather than a lack of faith in his daughter’s writing, Rogelio hoped to bring Jane’s spirits up after the death of Michael; her sustained reaction however, shows that she wants to be successful on her own merit, to take control and ownership over her career and self.
Jane as emotional
The cliché of women as overemotional is prominent as Jane’s emotions are forefront, highlighted by the narrator, as Jane cries easily from happiness and sadness. The characters equally find annoyance with Jane’s meddling, which is another stereotype of women as nosey and involved in others’ business. ‘Meddling’ is almost a motherly thing to do, to be relational and nurturing as is stereotypical of darker women in western media (Rivadeneyra, 2011), the show then seems to highlight Jane’s role as a mother and gender stereotype. In chapter seventy-eight, Xiomara grows annoyed with Jane’s meddling in her decision to have a mastectomy as she loves her body but Jane does not think keeping her breast be worth the risk, out of fear for her mother’s health. The telenovela genre, however, arguably gives cause for the focus of Jane’s emotions as the chaotic events that transpire make this just.
The character of Petra shows that the gender stereotypes are just that, because she is the opposite in every way. Petra is colder as a person, positively sure of herself and ambitious to the point of manipulative, as she is purposely artificially inseminated with Rafael’s sperm to stay attached to the money and hotel. Although Petra is not Latino, she still stands to show a different type of woman, and even softens slightly over the course of the show through her friendship to Jane, rather than due to romance. From a feminist perspective, a strong woman’s image is depicted as the unlikely friendship between Petra and Jane is what moves Petra in the end. Female relationships are then centred in the show over Jane’s virginity as an identity.
Jane’s gender bias is revealed in season three, however, expecting women to be more vulnerable and honest (Jones, 2017). Mateo has behavioural development problems so Jane and Rafael get him an aide in chapter fifty-seven, with Jane choosing a woman; this is problematic because Jane’s choice is solely based on the aide being a woman, having passed on a suitable male aide. Rafael simultaneously chooses a male editor for Jane to encourage her writing, which she dislikes. The take away is Jane’s gender bias after becoming accustomed to matriarchal figures in her life, dismissing Rafael on issues saying “you just don’t get it because you’re a man”. The woman aide becomes too comfortable with Jane, reporting school gossip to her concerning the staff and children. Only when Mateo confesses he does not like his aide but that he wanted to make his mother happy does Jane realise her mistake and own bias, and rehire the male aide who was in fact more qualified. Arguably however, Jane using these errors in judgement as learning processes to become more open-minded shows character and ownership.
The show mostly operates in a female gaze, focussing on the three Velleineuva women and not simply their roles as mothers, lovers and wives shown by the emphasis on Jane’s career. There is a problematic favourable representation of mixed race Latinos, but ultimately, the narrative of the pure and religious Latina woman is successfully subverted with the telenovela genre opening discussions on sexual liberation. Despite some of Jane’s initial character traits, her judgemental nature, meddling and gender bias is recognised as she owns her actions and develops herself, subverting the person she was.
Jones, D. 2017. Jane the Virgin subtly – and humorously – gives us a lesson in gender bias. [Online]. United States of America: Medium. [Accessed 11 November 2019]. Available from: https://medium.com/@drewkjones/jane-the-virgin-subtly-and-humorously-gives-us-a-lesson-in-gender-bias-a13ba58fe17a
Sifuentes, L. 2014. Being a woman, Young and Poor. In: Feminist Media Studies. London: Routledge, Volume 14:6, pp. 976-992.
Nagi, A. 2014. Accessed on: https://www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/celebs/advice/a5403/latina-media-stereotypes/
Rivadenerya, R. 2011. Gender and Race Portrayals on Spanish-Language Television. In: Sex Roles. Switzerland: Springer. Volume 65:3, pp. 208-222.
Kuhn. A. 1999. ‘women’s Genres: Melodrama, Soap Opera and Theory’. In: Thornham. S. ed. Feminist Film Theory: A Reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 146-157.
Gill, R. 2007. Gender and the Media. Cambridge: Polity, pp. 1-41.