Despite getting ready to head into a breakdown of stuff I think is wrong with Jane the Virgin, I did actually like it quite a bit. It’s dramatic without being heavy and the narrative style is fun, with a humorous narrator (kind of like in Pushing Daisies) and pop up text messages and typewriter text on screen. So even though I was constantly rolling my eyes, I don’t think the hype is undeserved. In particular, I think the familial relationship between Jane, Xiomara, and Alba is quite sweet — it doesn’t ignore all of their differences, but at the end of the day, they communicate and care about each other, which I would consider one of the show’s strong points.
Also, even though Jane is abstinent for religious reasons, she’s never really robbed of agency; she still expresses sexual desire, and she’s driven career-wise in a way that stops her from being some caricature of a passive virgin. Finally, there’s a diverse cast, with prominent roles for women and PoC, and even LGBT+ characters that aren’t just stereotypes, which is refreshing.
That being said, there was some wildly problematic shit. It’s listed below, in no particular order:
[SPOILER STUFF: This post will be discussing plot points through the end of season 1. Proceed accordingly if you care abt this kind of thing.]
RAFAEL WAS ESSENTIALLY ROOFIE’D, AND NOBODY CARED
There’s a point after Jane and Rafael acknowledge their mutual gushy feels for each other, where Rafael meets a woman in a bar who drugs him and sets things up so the next morning, it looks to everyone like they’ve had sex. (They didn’t.) Jane comes into the room and gets upset thinking Rafael had slept with her, but when he straight up says he didn’t know what happened and didn’t have any memories of the night before, Jane blows it off.
The key thing here, really, is that nobody acknowledged that Rafael very well could have been raped. Nothing sexual happened that night; the woman brought them up to bed and basically set the whole thing up to look like he’d cheated on Jane, but in a scenario like this where someone is confused and having memory gaps and is upset because they think something happened that they didn’t want, saying “oh you cheated on me” is profoundly unhelpful. It is also dismissive of the fact that men can be affected by sexual assault as well as women; Rafael is presented as a “playboy” (gag) throughout the show, which I think was supposed to have added some credibility to Jane thinking he was lying to her, but in all honestly the whole situation was gross.
XO IS CONSTANTLY SHAMED FOR HAVING AND ENJOYING SEX
It is almost a running joke through the show that Xiomara, Jane’s mother, is promiscuous. Like, it’s so frequent that it would be difficult to list here, because it occurs in almost every episode. Jane writes a short story based around her mother that states “she puts the loose in Lucy,” there are constant little quips from other characters, and if I remember correctly, Alba even tells Xo she’s going to hell at one point. There’s a whole damn plotline about Xiomara promising to be chaste until she gets married as a bargaining tool with God, in praying for her mother’s recovery from a coma, and Alba literally uses the “why buy the cow when you can get the milk line.” It’s exhausting, and it should be obvious why this whole thing is shitty.
PETRA FAKES DOMESTIC VIOLENCE FOR PERSONAL GAIN
In a nutshell: Petra accuses Rafael of beating her in order to get him arrested during their messy divorce. (He didn’t.) Even though Petra is pretty wildly acknowledged as a terrible and incredibly selfish character, making this whole situation not-implausible within the confines of the show, it’s still an incredibly cheap move, script-wise. There are so many other ways that Petra could have set Rafael up for something (thus achieving the same character/plot development) without portraying something that reinforces the idea that survivors of rape/domestic violence are making it up for personal gain or attention. So even though it’s in-character for her to do, it’s ultimately harmful to depict faking domestic violence as a legitimate thing.
In fact, the entire depiction of Petra is so heavily reliant on “gold-digger” stereotypes that solely from a narrative (not even feminist) standpoint that it’s just worn out. It’s heavy handed. There are some glimmers of humanity in her with the backstory of her history with her abusive ex-boyfriend Milos, but it quickly just collapses back into stereotypical hell.
THE PORTRAYAL OF LOUISA BEING INSTITUTIONALIZED IS…NOT GREAT
Much like Petra’s character, the entire depiction of the mental hospital subplot rings hollow just based on how heavily it relies on stereotype. From the men in white literally dragging her away to her twitchy anger while inside to the way people don’t believe her once she’s been hospitalized, it feels like a step backwards, since it essentially painted the situation as “oh these CRAZY people doing their CRAZY STUFF.” Louisa is only treated like an actual person again after the rest of the characters find out that she’s “not crazy,” — it’s incredibly damaging not to recognize that people with mental illness are also people, not these completely delusional wild cards, which further serves to stigmatize mental illness/treatment.
Watching the show, it’s unclear if the heavy reliance on stereotype is an artistic decision or not — maybe it’s supposed to be playing off of tropes/themes in telenovelas? My main thing about this show is that the stuff it gets right is currently making up for stuff it gets wrong, and that it’s fun, but truth be told I think that claims that it’s incredibly feminist/progressive are mostly wishful thinking. It’s a mixed bag, but it’s a fun mixed bag, which is why I watched it.