My friends tell me that I’m too political when I write, and that those who don’t know me as a person would never understand me to be the awkwardly funny and dynamically strange person they see every day. They challenged me to write this week’s column on something apolitical, something “fun” and “light” that many students could relate to. The Golden Globes were a convenient excuse for me to tap into my “mainstream” interests, and share my thoughts on popularized cinema and television in America.
My new favorite show is “Jane the Virgin.” I think it’s brilliant, and apparently so does the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. It’s a mix of “Ugly Betty” quirk and “Gilmore Girls” sentiment, but better. Last night, Gina Rodriguez (a.k.a. Jane) won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy, beating television veterans and icons like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Taylor Schilling.
On this new CW series, Rodriguez plays the show’s protagonist, a 23-year-old “virgin” who is artificially inseminated by accident and decides to keep the baby, partly because her pregnancy is the father’s only chance at biological parenthood. The show is a balance of deep respect for religion with a realistic and admirable depiction of the varying factors that accompany all reproductive health options when it comes to carrying a pregnancy to term or terminating that pregnancy.
But without intention or effort, I watch Jane through a critical framework that deconstructs the meaning behind every interaction, theme and decision made by this fictional family onscreen. And while I think this show is brilliantly executed and has done a fantastic job portraying varying and diverse Latino/Latina narratives as well as tons of queer and empowered women, the show still has just one element that irks me, and that’s the name.
Jane is not a “virgin.” She is just a 23-year-old who has not had a penis in her vagina. Virginity is a social construct. In America, virginity is rooted in the historic commodification of women and a religious precedent of male ownership. The concept of virginity is meant to make people, especially women and non-heterosexual individuals, feel badly about their sexuality and sexual experience. This social concept is a way of policing other people’s bodies and classifying a sexual social ideal. The virginity of a female body is impossible to prove unless an individual declares and labels oneself as having engaged sexually before. But there, too, is an issue, seeing as no formal sexual act defines virginal status from non-virginal status. It’s socially understood that unless a penis penetrates a vagina, sex has not been had. This definition delegalizes anal sex, oral sex and other forms of sex as “real sex,” and upholds heterosexual norms. So while I love Jane, I do not love the title so aptly given to her simply because there has never been a penis inside her vagina.
I truly adore this show and Rodriguez, and I think that the show itself begins to challenge the dangerous social construct that is “virginity.” As Jane gradually continues to acknowledge that her worth as a human being is not tied to her sexual activity (or lack thereof), every Monday night at 9 p.m. we get to watch the deconstruction of this historically oppressive concept. I think that’s pretty cool.
Carly Manes can be reached at email@example.com.