Double or Nothing: Infertility in Jane the Virgin

Curator's Note

A pregnant virgin. That’s the basis of the hit television show Jane the Virgin. Jane’s immaculate conception, however, was not miraculous, but rather the result of a medical mistake. Long story short, Jane was at the doctor’s office for a routine visit. Petra was at the same doctor’s office for artificial insemination because she was struggling with infertility. Jane was accidentally inseminated instead of Petra. Rafael is Petra’s husband, the sperm donor, and now the father of Jane’s unborn child. The premise makes for an entertaining show overall, but the way in which Petra’s infertility is addressed is problematic.

Jane’s pregnancy pits Petra against Jane and Petra against Rafael. In fact, Rafael’s desire for a family is so strong that he ultimately leaves Petra to be with Jane. Petra then becomes Jane’s antagonist. She is jealous, bitter, and resentful. This dynamic plays into a common yet dangerous media trope of pregnancy vs. infertility.

Petra eventually becomes so angry and fed up that she artificially inseminates herself with Rafael’s sperm in a desperate attempt to win him back. She does so by hanging upside down and using a turkey baster. Again, we see another common yet problematic media trope that connects infertility with humor. Petra’s ridiculous insemination plan actually works and she becomes pregnant with Rafael’s twins.

After giving birth, Petra and Jane become closer and their antagonistic relationship becomes a friendship. In fact, Jane refers to Petra as her family, and Petra and Rafael’s spark is rekindled. It is, however, important to note that Petra only becomes family after she gives birth. The three eventually learn to co-exist to raise their children, but is this fair?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, infertility in the U.S. is common. Why, then, does the media still portray infertility as something to be scrutinized or used for comic relief? The media has intense power over cultural norms, and so a more responsible depiction of infertility would help to destigmatize it in society. Women suffering from infertility deserve support, not sneers or laughs.  



This is the stereotype of the infertile woman. Just add in irrational and you've got everything. Athough I suppose that is impled in the word "woman".

I haven't seen this show (yet), so thank you for your comment on it. Looking forward to watching it.

"Why, then, does the media still portray infertility as something to be scrutinized or used for comic relief?"

I think because it is still seen (incorrectly) as being something that happens to women. (And to an extent there is truth in that, even male factor infertility can have a huge impact on a woman's body if the treatment is for her to have IVF or ICSI.)

Women's stories in media tend to be about judgement - either she Made the Wrong Choice (as in Rachel Williamson's post from yesterday) and must be condemned for it, or she is ridiculous.

Thanks for your post on this show, Stefanie. I think it's engagement with motherhood in general is really interesting. 

Your point about media enaging with infertility via humour is important, I think. Indeed, the comedy works to neutralize or make safe something that is potentially transgressive and unsettling - and what can be more unsettling than the depiction of a woman struggling to conceive in a society that valorizes maternity as the ultimate expression of femininity? A similar thing happens in media representations of 'bad' mothers whose performances of motherhood threaten to topple the cultural maternal ideal - maternal psychoanalytic scholar Roszika Parker talks about this in relation to representations of maternal ambivalence, and the humourous depiction of sexual mothers as MILFs or cougars also springs to mind. 

In defence of Jane the Virgin I wonder if its embrace of melodramatic, ludicrous plotlines and its playfulness in terms of the telenovela format goes some way towards exposing or queering some of the ideological norms around femininty and maternity. Be interested to hear your thoughts!

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