Sophia Kaufman: Let's talk about (a lack of) sex

Monday, September 26, 2016 - 5:28pm

“Jane the Virgin”

“Jane the Virgin” Buy this photo
The CW

 

The first time I heard the premise of “Jane the Virgin,” I rolled my eyes. A virgin gets artificially inseminated with some guy’s sperm? That sounded like it would be hard to take seriously. Then I hit finals week before Christmas vacation and needed a new show to help me procrastinate. It was on Netflix, and I needed to practice my Spanish anyway, so I figured I’d give it a try.

It instantly became one of my favorite shows. A few weeks ago, I finished the second season.

I love “Jane the Virgin” because it never allows people to make snap judgments about the role feminism plays in it or in the lives of its characters. It’s one of the most nuanced shows regarding intersectional feminism, specifically as it deals with sex, virginity and religion. Today, thanks to feminists and time, women can now have sex — even premarital sex! — without worrying about ruining their entire reputation, or you know, their lives. Yes, it’s still complicated and there are social consequences, and it isn’t the same everywhere in the world, but it’s inarguably better for women now than it used to be.

But as more people — specifically women, as virginity is a much more weighted symbol for women than for men — recognize virginity as a social construct, we’re seeing increasing backlash the other way. It often has less to do with the semiotics of sex and more with the sex-obsessed and exploitative media industry. Either way, virginity is now something people actively try to leave behind on their college campuses. The possession of it is ridiculed in popular media, in stories about high school, college and even real adults. Sometimes sex positivity is taken too far and used as a tool to shame people — again, especially women — who aren’t having sex, for whatever reason.

When this reason is religion, discussions about feminism get even more complicated. There are some feminists who, forcefully rejecting the sexual suppression of women, are so sex positive that women who choose to wait until marriage or the “right person” or whatever can be subject to their condescension, disdain and ridicule.  

“Jane the Virgin” pokes holes in that brand of feminism (there’s a penis joke in there somewhere, I’m sure, let me know if you find it). I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take me a minute to get over the virginity thing — not that Jane Villanueva is a virgin, but that she’s a virgin because her abuela told her firmly when she was younger to “protect her flower” because once she’s lost it, she can never get it back. I immediately mentally recoiled at that part while watching this show for the first time. I was raised Catholic — Irish Catholic, not Venezuelan Catholic, but the ideas about virginity are the same. I went to an all-girls Catholic school and loved parts of it, but by the time my friends and I hit 10th grade, we were starting to wonder about things, like why women’s virginities were being sold by their fathers to passersby and things like that. (Then we learned about the misogyny inherent in the Bible and several girls in my grade became atheists, but I digress.)

So there was a day or two where I asked myself if the show was as feminist as I first thought, if part of the premise revolved around an antiquated value placed upon virginity. It’s a valid question, but any single-word answer is bound to be incorrect. As this show reminds you over and over again, agency is more complicated than that. The show offers everyone another fresh and different perspective on virginity while still being a sex-positive and anti-slut-shaming show. By complicating the narrative, it broadens our scope and forces us to remember that feminism means respect for all people, and all women, both those who have sex whenever, wherever, and those who decide to wait — for any reason.

And the writing of the virginity plot isn’t the only reason “Jane the Virgin” is such a feminist TV staple. While there are love triangles — most notably the triangle with Michael and Rafael, who are both basically good guys — the true love stories in this show center around the Villanueva women, Jane and her work and Jane and her son. And maybe it’s because it’s a telenovela, or maybe it’s because the writers decided that it’d be nice to have a happy ending for once, but at the height of conflict between Jane’s love life and her work life, she gets to have both. The show also devotes a story to the often faceless issue of deportation. I’d bet that this show has done more to make people empathize than any liberal pundit on the news.

Incidentally, I was reading random blog posts about “Jane the Virgin” a while ago, and read a self-proclaimed conservative feminist’s praise that “Jane the Virgin” was pro-life. But it isn’t. It’s pro-choice, because it isn’t anti-choice. When Jane first finds out that she’s pregnant and is sent into a tailspin, her mother seriously asks her if she would consider an abortion. Pro-choice doesn’t always have to mean abortion; it simply means women get to choose. I love this show because it affords women respect, no matter what their sexuality status or beliefs.  

Given our current political situation, it can be hard to forget that it’s never as simple as “liberal” or “conservative,” pro-life or pro-choice, even virgin or non-virgin (not that that one should matter, but in some ways regrettably it still does). People aren’t composed of checkboxes, and like sexuality, ideologies lie on a spectrum. Few shows right now encapsulate this as perfectly as “Jane the Virgin.”