Jane the Virgin: Got MILF?

MILF: a sexually attractive woman who has children (YourDictionary, 2018). This definition by yourdictionary.com further expands on the term by stating that it is for “humorous usage considered vulgar by some.” The slang word is often tossed around in casual conversation by both males and females alike. It can have the intention of being a compliment toward a mother, but it ultimately is another gendered stereotype that lives within our society. Is the judgment of physical appearance upon first glance all that a mother can be to a stranger? And based on how attractive that first glance is, we decide if she passes our standard of appeal?  It is fair to say that appearances on their own do not solely reflect one’s complete identity.  Jane the Virgin challenges the MILF stereotype through its feminist protagonist, Jane, and her story as a young mother who represents “more than just a guilty pleasure” (Nussbaum, 2018).   

Jane Villanueva is a bright, young Hispanic woman who has aspirations of becoming a writer. From the start of the series, the show paints Jane in an innocent light. Her Abuela’s words “a woman is as precious as a flower” echo throughout Jane’s actions in the first season — her virginity is something sacred and delicate. Thus, the truth behind her pregnancy being a medical mistake further supports her character identity as someone that would not dare cross the traditional boundary of having aimless, reckless sex. She is a devout, unsexualized Catholic, and continues to mimic the Virgin Mary.

However, as the plot proceeds, she feels an attraction toward Rafael, the sperm holder of her child. Rafael, an attractive, wealthy young man of Italian descent is tempting and dangerous. His sex appeal draws Jane in, but her purity persists. She embodies the image of a middle class, independent, and a confident curvy young Hispanic woman.  Her ethnic makeup as a lead role sheds light on Hispanic representation in media. She is neither Latinx nor portrayed as a subservient maid, but rather her own person not bound by stereotypes. The show does explore her heritage through scenes at home and quotes in Spanish, but never in a restricting way.  Rather, it complements the playful telenovela style of the series.  This liberating perspective is refreshing, as we are accustomed to Modern Family oversexualizing Sofia Vergara and Maid in Manhattan considering Jennifer Lopez as “the help.”  Typically, such ambivalent dialectics “appear to be opposite but in fact work together in problematic ways” (Ono, 2009). Jane the Virgin avoids the ambivalent dialectic approach often found in media and instead molds Jane into an individual, separate from societal codes and expectations.

Moreover, Jane is attractive in her own way. Neither flashy nor as revealing as the typical MILF, she draws Rafael in with her feminist qualities.  Her passion for writing and drive to take control of her own career are enough to get her prince’s attention. However, she is not dependent on this prince and proceeds to carry out her pregnancy with grace regardless of her current situation with Rafael. Unlike the typical romance genre stereotypes, she does not need him to have the baby — she is responsible and independent enough to do so on her own. Thus, Jane does not follow Casey Ryan Kelly’s concept of traits associated with emphasized femininity where a passive woman submits herself to the hands of an active man (Kelly, 2012); instead, she represents a young, single Hispanic woman with a growing belly bump and a back strong enough to carry it all on her own. 

Jane’s independence is not rooted in itself, however. Her mother, Xiomara, reflects the same ideals of independence and strength from the moment she gave birth to Jane at the young age of 17 years old. Although she is hypersexualized by wearing tight clothes in nearly every scene, she cares for her family and is a capable, competent mother. The so-called MILF by typical standards breaks down the norm by turning away from her tempting telenovela ex and focusing instead on her role as an active mother through Jane’s pregnancy. In other words, behind her stilettos and bodycon dresses, Xiomara chooses to place her own career as a singer and support as a mother above all else — showing true feminine qualities. 

A contrasting character to Jane is Petra. She is originally with Rafael and was supposed to be inseminated with the sample that is placed in Jane. In her truest form, Petra is a sweet, innocent woman that has been impacted by the challenging circumstances of her life. In the show, Jane the Virgin, Petra is often described as a “Do Nothing Bitch.” (McClearen, 2019). She is often portrayed as psychotic, manipulative, and leachy. In the show, she fills the role of the MILF. She is thin, white, and has perfect blonde hair. Of course, like in all television shows she is attractive. Interestingly, the show reveals later into the series that Petra is bisexual. While this offers some representation of the LGBTQ community, it continues to build on this MILF stereotype. Often bisexual women are over-sexualized, whereas bisexual men are much more often frowned upon. In the image below you can see how the male gaze clearly shows her from the waist down in tight clothing, even though she is with another woman.

In the first season, Petra “tries everything to keep Rafael from divorcing her.” (Grobglas, Y.). She is desperately clinging to a man to save her. This degrades the strength she had shown through fleeing an unsafe relationship and immigrating to another country. The show continues to play on her desperateness as they describe  Petra, “trying to frame him for domestic abuse.” This not only paints Petra in a negative light but downplays the severity of domestic violence. Describing survivors as psychotic money-hungry MILFs is an example of women being put down and shamed through the media.

Once you look past Petra’s flaws as a person, you start to see how many hardships have made her into the person she is today. You can see how her character flaws have nothing to do with the fact that she’s a female. Instead, they reflect on how hardships of life affect all people. This forces us to reflect on why this character is portrayed as a female. The casting was deliberate in knowing that our culture truly feels that only women can display such negative emotional habits. 

Unfortunately, in contrast to Jane, Petra fills many characteristics of the MILF stereotype. While Jane is described as a hardworking, independent single mother, she is not the girl Rafael first sees as the kind of woman a wealthy white man should be married to. The pair forms ambivalent dialectics in which both characters have flaws of being mothers. In season two of the show, Rafael tries to kiss Petra after breaking up with Jane. While, “‘Jane the Virgin’ is not a guilty pleasure,”(Nussbaum, 2018) Petra, the MILF, is viewed as an object rather than a person. While the show has some stereotyping throughout, it offers diversity and sheds a spotlight on many underrepresented groups. Jennie Snyder Urman is able to transcend the marginalization of groups in her series through her control behind the camera as a female producer.

Resources

Dictionary & thesaurus: Yourdictionary. (n.d.). Burlingame, CA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Grobglas, Y. (n.d.). Petra. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://janethevirgin.fandom.com/wiki/Petra

Jane Villanueva. (n.d.). Retrieved July 01, 2020, from https://janethevirgin.fandom.com/wiki/Jane_Villanueva

Kelly, C. R. (2012). Feminine Purity and Masculine Revenge-Seeking InTaken(2008). Feminist Media Studies, 14(3), 403-418. doi:10.1080/14680777.2012.740062

Kent Ono and Vincent Pham, p.66, 2009)

McClearen, J. (2019). Chapter 3. In NEW SPORTING FEMININITIES: Embodied politics in postfeminist times (pp. 43-62). Place of publication not identified: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN.

Nussbaum, E. (2018, March 5). “Jane the Virgin” Is Not a Guilty Pleasure. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/03/12/jane-the-virgin-is-not-a-guilty-pleasure

Rafael Solano. (n.d.). Retrieved July 01, 2020, from https://janethevirgin.fandom.com/wiki/Rafael_Solano

Xiomara De La Vega. (n.d.). Retrieved July 01, 2020, from https://janethevirgin.fandom.com/wiki/Xiomara_De_La_Vega

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