Jane The Virgin is a treasure trove bursting at the seams with intelligent characters and storylines. With three strong Latina women at the helm, the show smashes stereotypes and proudly represents the Latina community. Jane The Virgin also gives voice to virgin characters in popular culture. The title character of the show, Jane Villanueva, provides a fresh characterisation for virgins. And when I say “fresh characterisation,” I really mean Jane’s virginity has nothing to do with her characterisation.
Virginity is commonly portrayed in popular culture as something to be ashamed of, an indication that the character is intensely conservative, or has not been presented with the opportunity to cash in her V-card, but wants to ASAP. A departure from these caricatures is long overdue. Writers commonly over-emphasise a character’s virginity to the detriment of their more interesting qualities and traits. Even though there is nothing relatable about these caricatures, popular culture is littered with examples.
My friend made me read 50 Shades of Grey a couple of years ago. I managed to stick with it until I reached the end of first sex scene at which point I was too offended to continue. Christian Grey, the prick at the centre of the trilogy, meets Anastasia, an innocent, journalism student who happens to be a virgin. He finds her intriguing. But in order to introduce her to his secret sex dungeon he needs to “fix” her first, a.k.a get her virginity out of the way. He relishes the opportunity to be the first man to bravely introduce her to the wild sexual frontier. Yet, the novel fails to explore whether Anastasia sees this as something in need of fixing. Instead, the novel merely acknowledges Anastasia feels embarrassed in Christian’s presence.
In The Big Bang Theory, Amy is another virgin depicted in a less than flattering light. The writers make Amy’s sexual frustration a punchline at every possible opportunity. Her readiness to jump at any willing or unwilling person to rid herself of sexual frustration is a dominant part of her character. Instead of letting more interesting parts of her personality drive the story, such as her work as a scientist, her sexual experience dictates all facets of her character. This is emphasized by her idolisation of more “experienced” women and her ghastly wardrobe.
In Lena Dunham’s Girls, Shoshanna has yet to have sex during the first season. While her representation is not as melodramatic, she is an uptight character who becomes slightly easier to bear once she has sex.
Most girls, whether they have had sex or not, would fail to identify with the women outlined above. The lack of representation means virgins continue to be seen as an outlier in popular culture. Maybe if virgins were not represented as crazy conservatives or socially incompetent introverts, people might be less inclined to act so damn awkward around them.
When I visited the doctor when I was 19, I had to disclose I was not sexually active. To say my doctor was shocked is an understatement. She barely resisted the urge to uncover why my life was unfolding in such a strange manner. Her reaction made me feel uncomfortable and ashamed: two feelings you do not want to experience in a doctor’s office. I momentarily felt my life choices were wrong due to her awkward reaction and nearly apologised for them. I still find it hard to believe my doctor could not handle this information more gracefully. However, it has helped me reach the opinion that a better standard of representation in popular culture would be one small step in the right direction to make this topic less awkward.
That is why Jane’s characterisation is important. It shows there is nothing abnormal about virginity. It does not constitute an actual characteristic. It does not impact your personality or change your disposition. It is simply the absence of an event. While Jane’s virginity status is explicitly mentioned in the title of the show (and is entertaining because she is a pregnant virgin due to accidental artificial insemination), the way characters respond to her and how she conducts herself demonstrates it is nothing extraordinary. It is simply a personal choice Jane believes in strongly.
Unlike the characters above, her virginity does not manifest itself as her sole personality trait. Instead Jane is depicted as a normal 23-year-old who has boyfriends, harbors a dream of being a romance novelist, goes to college and thinks about sex, as the narrator says: “After all, Jane was a virgin, not a saint.”
Jane has personal reasons for not having sex that are respected by all of her friends and family. The men in her life respect her decision and do not pressure her. When she contemplates having sex, everyone acknowledges it is a decision that warrants serious thought. No one proclaims, “At last! Welcome to the land of the sexually liberated!” Her choices are not reduced to a punch line. She is not treated as a prude. Even her outfits are fashionable and cute. Imagine that?!
While Jane does not have sex scenes or one night stands, she still has romance in her life. In fact the romantic dynamics surrounding herself and her love interests comprise some of the steamiest and romantic on television. At last we have writers capable of writing a love story that is not dependent on clothes being scattered across a room and a raunchy montage to inject romance into a storyline.
Most importantly, the show clearly shows Jane’s decision not to have sex is HER decision. Her grandmother did encourage her to remain a virgin for religious reasons when she was younger. However, Jane chooses to adopt these reasons as her own when she is older. Religion is not portrayed as a brainwashing force robbing women of their right to choose. Instead, Jane is an intelligent woman in charge of her own mind and sexual choices. As such, she decides she wants to remain a virgin for religious reasons and because of her relationship with her grandmother. The show casts no judgment on the validity of these reasons, and does not belittle the faith of Jane or her grandmother. Thus, representing the choices of women of faith in popular culture.
Sexual choices are hard enough to navigate without dealing with harmful stereotypes in popular culture. It must be remembered these stereotypes are not isolated to their fictional stories. Instead, they influence our thinking and treatment of others. Thank you to the writers of this show for giving us an intelligent, young Latina woman, in charge of her own mind, who is relatable and interesting to watch. At last television has inclusive, intelligent, representative storylines thanks to a virgin we can all relate to.
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