“Jane The Virgin” Handles Unplanned Pregnancy With Humor, Respect & Realism

When I was very young — eight, maybe — I remember walking out the back door of my family’s house with my mom. I had probably just asked for a cookie or something, and my mom’s response was this: “You know, if you keep eating sweets so much, people are going to think you’ll be an alcoholic one day.”

She contends this never happened, but I remember it clear as day. That was when I decided not to drink. It seemed expedient: I could keep eating sweets, and it wouldn’t matter what people thought about my future drinking habits, because I’d know that I wasn’t going to drink and therefore wasn’t going to become an alcoholic.

So the scene in the CW’s new show, “Jane the Virgin” (which premiered on Monday night), in which the heroine’s grandmother tells a pre-adolescent Jane not to lose her virginity, speaks to me. I know that feeling. That is Catholic guilt. Apparently, I don’t even know the half of it — my mom is good at guilt-tripping, but my aunt tells me that my grandmother’s ability to discipline via shame was downright masterful. In fact, my mother even harnessed some residual power from her mother’s guilt-tripping expertise by telling me a few times over my childhood, “Your grandmother would be so disappointed.”

If I approached “Jane the Virgin” from a solely feminist point of view, I would probably dislike it — there’s some slut-shaming; there are tropes about gender that I’m not totally comfortable with; there are male redemption narratives that are just sort of trite. But I’m also a woman who comes from a Catholic background, theologically and ethically (even if I’ve left faith behind by now), and I’m a woman who has abstained from a lot of different things (sex not being one of them).

I’m also a woman who has struggled for most of my adulthood with the question of what I would do in the case of an unplanned pregnancy. I’m the product of an accidental pregnancy; like many women, I’ve taken Plan B; and I’ve known women who elected to have abortions and I know women who elected to carry their unplanned pregnancies to term despite being in circumstances that weren’t ideal.

The premise of “Jane the Virgin” is that Jane, who’s been successfully guilted into abstinence-until-marriage, has been accidentally artificially inseminated with her boss’s semen. She lives with her mother and grandmother and has been dating her boyfriend for two years. Everyone in Jane’s life has an opinion on what Jane should do with the pregnancy, which is how it goes in real life, too, of course. Some of those opinions are selfish, some of them are sentimental, and some of them have mild moral underpinnings — but everyone leaves it up to Jane, and everyone therefore has to make some kind of emotional compromise in order to support her decision.

It’s a show that’s halfway preposterous, and yet at the same time I see so much in it that I’ve seen in real life: Modern Catholic women who define the morality of abortion on their own terms, not the Church’s; a young woman who just wants the best for herself and doesn’t know what that means when she’s unintentionally pregnant; men who don’t want a woman to have an abortion because they want a baby; men who do want a woman to have an abortion, but for their own comfort. And it’s funny enough to carry the theme without it turning into a morality play or getting wrought or hand-wringy.

“Jane the Virgin” doesn’t waffle over the strict morality or immorality of abortion and doesn’t fetishize pregnancy or motherhood. It allows diverse motivations and ethics to exist without asserting that one is greater than the others. It’s refreshing to see a network sitcom portraying women as self-determining and morally complex.

Watch the pilot episode here.

[Image via CW]

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