The three Villanueva women sit together on a bench that is a staple setting for conversation.

It is a rare thing to come across very potent storytelling for girls and women, although, less rare than it once was. My teen-girlhood was marked by a deep immersion into stories. As I aged, I felt a natural inclination towards narratives that featured girls. I desperately wanted to see a world that centered female characters with unwavering dedication. The first time I watched Jane the Virgin was when it aired weekly on television. I hadn’t stuck to it because I stopped having cable and wasn’t adept with streaming yet. Despite this, I never forgot the show. I thought about it for ages after. Its cast of characters was vibrant, the story was heartfelt, and the women were funny, talkative, passionate, and smart. Their complex characterizations made them feel real and full. 

In 2014, the show received critical acclaim, receiving awards, nominations, and landing on shortlists of best television programs. The year after, Netflix acquired streaming rights for it. I took to watching the show again a few years later, browsing my newly established Netflix account for quality television to become hooked to. Truthfully, I am in love with good storytelling in every format, whether books or television. Jane the Virgin offered a television world informed by rich literary tradition that I could dive headfirst into. 

The show centers on Jane Villanueva, a young woman with a plan for her life and a loving boyfriend. She is close to completing her degree, erring on the side of caution for her career and her future. She has loved telenovelas all her life, influenced greatly by her grandmother Alba’s Venezuelan background and experience migrating to America. Her family consists of three generations of female characters: Jane, Alba, and Jane’s mother, Xiomara. Xiomara was a teen mom, a tension that chafed against their catholic background. As an adult, Xiomara is pursuing her dreams as a performer. Alba raised Jane to be religious, devoted, and hard-working. Meanwhile, Xiomara tried to support Jane’s dreams. Jane is a passionate woman and has been since she was a young girl. The audience follows as she lives in and then exits girlhood. We watch Jane attempt to establish a practical yet vibrant life. This is proven difficult when, despite all her planning, Jane, who has saved herself for marriage, is accidentally artificially inseminated with the child of a man and hotel owner that she kissed once, five years ago. 

Season One opens with a voice-over introducing us to a 10-year-old Jane Villanueva as Alba has her crumple a flower and attempt to un-crumple it–a symbol of her virginity. The voice tells us that Jane’s passions include: her family, God, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Flashbacks such as these are key components of the plot. The show uses flashbacks to consistently tie Jane’s adolescence to the adult version we follow. The narrator constructs the story, establishing connections and motifs that become the show’s central themes. These flashbacks provide narrative consistency and character development, showing us the central three women as young girls shaping themselves. We are introduced to a young Jane as someone who is eager to please her grandmother, stifle conflict between Alba and Xiomara, and above all: write. She loves salsa dancing, struggles with anger issues, navigates young relationships, and reads with pure devotion. She is a diligent student that habitually organizes to extreme extents. These are all characteristics that become central to Jane for most of her life. Regardless of screen time, young Jane is a strong character and consistent voice.

Influenced by the vibrancy of telenovelas and the magical realism literary tradition, Jane’s world is enriched with a romantic tilt. The world around her breathes with life–her heart glows at important moments, billboards talk, snow falls in the middle of summer. Jane imbues her reality with a palpable passion. Jane is an avid reader and aspiring writer and these characteristics become important facets of the story itself–a lover of romance novels and telenovelas sees her own life become both. The twists in the plot tug at your heart and pull you into the highs and lows each character experiences.

Jane the Virgin is unmistakably centered on the three main Villanueva women as we follow them through love, loss, career goals, and even gaining citizenship. They face unimaginable obstacles as an accidental artificial insemination throws them into a world of supporting characters that will undoubtedly change everything they thought they knew. Throughout it all, they remain a tight-knit and loving family. This show offers moral lessons and complications that focuses on young girls and women as creators of their own world. Our characters struggle with “promiscuity”, reproductive autonomy, education, friendships, sexuality, child-care, poverty, among so much more. Their lives through all ages is always in the forefront of the narrative, the vehicle through which we understand their perspectives. The relationships between the female characters throughout the years are regarded above all. Their personalities are rarely faced with stereotypical accusations or judgements and they are never trivialized. 

Passion has been a formidable force in my own life. Early on, I recall being told I was too passionate. It goes together with being considered too emotional. I have struggled with keeping my passion under wraps, stifled, to remain socially small. To avoid dominating a space. This show is something I turn to for comfort. Jane has been a role model. She is a determined writer, a brave girl and woman, a passionate person. She allows herself to feel deeply. This show pushes me to embrace a vivid imagination and pursue my dreams fervently without . It helps me accept the version of me that was, and still is, a young girl. As a bonus, it pushed me to read Jane’s favorite author, Isabel Allende, and I have a passionate love for every book she has ever published–and a deeper love for historical fiction in general. Jane the Virgin appeals to me of every age and I believe this show is a wonderful pillar of female-focused television.

-Siobhan Dougherty
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc. 

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