Jane the Virgin and the Modern Woman



Please note I have watched precisely two episodes of this show. Don't spoil it for me. :)

Once upon a time, the height of womanhood was the housewife. A soft figure, she was entirely responsible for running the household, managing her children’s upbringing, and satisfying her husband’s every desire. In return, he would earn his wages in his office with the boys and together, in the nuclear family, everyone knew their place. Some men chafed under the stress of being the sole provider, removed from their children and judged by their income. Other women self-medicated to dull the impulses of an ambition they were denied.

Gender is reaffirmed through performance, actions signalling externally and internally one’s adherence to ever-changing societal norms. The theatre is the world, the audience, ourselves, and the script, fuzzy and familiar. Feminist theory has rightfully deconstructed gender, and yet it persists not because of enduring roles or arbitrary classifications based on various genital parts but because we can recognize it. We can’t say exactly, “This is what a woman is,” but we can say, “I am a woman.” Queer, wrote Judith Butler, emerged as “an interpellation that raises the question of the status of force and opposition, of stability and variability within performativity”. Every time she acts in a way she believes a woman is to be, she is reaffirming her womanhood for herself and for the world. The behaviours of a woman are not random. Empowerment is redefining women past what we’ve seen before, and in every iteration, it is somewhat new, but never less fully feminine than it was before. Queerness, in particular, has defied the heteronormative and brought into the mainstream new opportunities and performances. She, they, he, ze, we are developing vocabulary for identities as rich and varied as the people that claim them.

One vision of progress and modernity is the modern, western woman. She is sexualized and sexual, an object and a player, depending on her mood. She is a mother and a boss, a bitch and a queen, and no longer do these identities conflict. Perhaps you’ll recognize her best with a glass of wine, a blowout, and a trace of daring red on the heels she wears so well with her little black dress. This trope of womanhood is powerful due to its subversion of the housewife. She is openly ambitious because the housewife couldn’t be, sexual because she likes it as much as he does (and maybe more), and in control of her destiny. She chooses the person she fucks and the flowers she treats herself with money, her money.

It’s a marvelous vision of modernity that Jane the Virgin smartly subverts. This modern woman’s inherent independence is fortified through sisterhood, the connection between the multi-generational female support system that is her family, influencing her every decision and encouraging her to new heights. She makes the decisions, after careful analysis and advice from the people she loves best. If woman are independent and don’t need no man, that doesn’t mean they don’t need women, and her household is not so much devoid of a male influence, as she kindly tells her well-intentioned but obviously ignorant boyfriend, but perfectly complete. She is sexually liberated by her refusal to have sex, a choice both traditionally conservative, and just as empowering as her mother’s fling of the week. She shares her faith with her grandmother, and her faith does not constrict who she is; it enhances her.

Still, she fails as the modern woman in the most real way women fail at being tropes: she is not in complete control. She tries valiantly; she has plans, and goals, she is educating herself and cultivating her dreams. When a doctor accidentally inseminates her (it happens), she is faced with a preposterous situation: she is pregnant, despite never having had sex. She can abort or she can move forward, she can keep the child or she can give it away; she is confronted by decisions she did not want to face. Jane’s decision not to abort is a triumph of the pro-choice movement and she keeps the baby.


Despite the modern woman’s best efforts, she is never invulnerable to unplanned events completely uprooting her life. She gets through them with her community—the girl gang, her best friends, her sisterhood, her family. The modern woman is independent. That doesn’t mean she’s alone. 

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Spoiler Review: An Ember in the Ashes

At some point during the introduction of the story I got really exited about this book. Why? Because, Tahir has created a very interesting new society. It has war, conquerors and the conquered. It has revolutionaries, soldiers and refugees. It handles very real human issues of division among races and wars attributing superiority and political powers to certain groups. But mostly, I was intrigued by Elias and the masks (cold-hearted Assassins!!!).

My potential awesomeness radar was at a Howler high (Red Rising by Pierce Brown reference, if you don't get this than go read that book, your welcome!) I could literally taste the opportunity for bromance, for superhuman trust that can only brew from years of being in survival mode together. Unfortunately, (and I'm sad to start my review with this) the Mask were no Howlers. They weren't present enough in the story to leave any imprint on the reader. The main Mask who had enough page space to possibly create a spark was Helene and she was a little too disloyal to Elias for me to buy into their relationship.

Speaking of Helene, I didn't like her at all. Her issue was:

  1. a) the fact that she rubbed me the wrong way and 
  2. b) her blind (and somewhat moronic) faith in her society, the school and the Augurs. 
I don't like people who refuse to think for themselves, she doesn't necessarily have to find something wrong, but by just being open and inquisitive like Elias (which is human nature) we can ensure that society never falls to a deep darkness. I feel like her bullheaded focus on keeping faith just didn't sit well with my own beliefs and my expectation of loyalty to friends. Finally, the ending act with her swearing fealty to that son of a twin-killing gun was disgusting and I refuse to fall into the narrative of making her act appear like the ultimate sacrifice; it was a bullshit selfish cowardly act of a woman who refuses to see the truth of her society, who has flourished in its suppression of others and who has only ever wanted to join the ranks of the suppressors.

I might have digressed a bit. Nevertheless, I liked the plot, it was well thought out and executed though not as complex as I wanted it to be; it was fun. The trials were an interesting addition that i wish were larger and with more bulk, I realize this would make this already giant book even larger, but apparently I don't mind.

Laia's plot with Mazen and the Resistance was cute (I kept internally telling her to run!!!), her attempt to save her brother was very noble and the resilience and strength she showed under such duress was commendable. I want to strangle Mazen for her struggles but also am glad for him because her experiences definitely made her stronger and they let her meet our leading man, Elias!

Let's talk about Elias! I love Elias (didn't you know). I really enjoyed reading from his point of view, his indecision and genuine contemplation of his actions were interesting. After all, he is one of them, he is not being surpassed (tortured maybe) but he is not a slave, yet he doesn't like his life and he wants to change it even though those around him try to break him, and try to dissuade him.

There is definitely more I want to know about him, I would appreciate more information on his relationship with his mom (terrible) and grandfather (I really loved this guy) and even his adoptive family. I feel like they all contributed a lot to his personality and knowing more about them would help the readers know him at a more personal level.

Although, I liked the two main characters on their own and lets be honest, I liked them together as well but their relationship did feel very much written in the start or rather in the cover/title. This book made me think of the YA beautiful female lead syndrome and wish that Laia wasn't one of them. But, she is and that's literally why Elias notices her. Hopefully, in future books their relationship can grow to something less superficial.

Since this review has already been a jumble of ideas and emotions, lets change the formatting to a list, which is hopefully going to be more readable and more concise:

Comments:

  1. 1) I don't give a damn about Keenan and I wish he would disappear because I'm really not down for a 3rd wheel and the drama sequence that is sure to come with it.  

  2. 2) As, I stated before, I'm really interested in Elias' grandfather and his legacy. I want to know more about their family and their house and how Elias' actions is going reflect on them and what their stance is. 

  3. 3) Laia's family sounds amazing! I wonder if Laia will join the revolution and maybe surpass her parent's legacy.
Finally, some predictions and conclusions:

  1. 1) The Augurs are the original scholars that figured out the secret of the jinn and started the whole mess. This would be awesome as it would come back to the fact that this group of scholars are responsible for their own peoples torture and I would be really interested to hear the explanation for it. (I hope it's not that they thought the scholars were to weak to fight.) 

  2. 2) I wonder if Elias' father will show up in the future. I am assuming that he must be a good person to make Elias' witchy mom hate him so much. 

-MARI


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