TV

Steven Universe is the Feminist Animated Superhero We Need

Jasmine Reyes ‘16/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The television industry is slowly making strides in portraying stories that reflect the society in which they take place. Shows like Scandal, Sense8, and How to Get Away With Murder are pulling in huge audiences for their inclusion of characters of color, female leads, and characters of different sexualities. But one show that stands out not only for its strong female characters, but its commitment to breaking down stereotypical gender roles, gender identities, and sexuality is Steven Universe. Steven’s story is one that boys and girls of all ages need to hear.

Steven is a young, half-“Gem”, half-human boy who is struggling to come to terms with his identity and his newfound powers. However, his three “moms” Amethyst, Garnet and Pearl, tutor Steven in the ways of being a Gem. The normalization of not only three women raising a young boy on their own with little to no help from the father, but the hints of romantic relationships or feelings between members of the Crystal Gems, show children and adults alike that family dynamics can take all forms. In the episode, “Fusion Cuisine,” the Gems fuse together to create the fusion Alexandrite so that Steven can feel comfortable bringing his entire family to dinner with his friend Connie’s parents. While his experiment in conforming to society’s expectations of what a “normal” family looks like fails miserably (the Gems cannot hold their giant fusion form together because of their vastly differing personalities) Connie’s parents eventually recognize that while Steven’s familial structure is not what they are used to, it works for them and Steven is a happy and well-rounded and cared for child.

Steven with Amethyst, Garnet and Pearl. Photo Credit: Cartoon Network
Steven with Amethyst, Garnet and Pearl. Photo Credit: Cartoon Network

The fact that all Gems are perceived as female but also all have different gender expressions and identities leads the audience to not necessarily view them in a stereotypical light. Steven Universe, the show, with the exception of human characters, is entirely devoid of gender or sexuality. The Gems are not bound by labels (because they don’t actually have a real physical form) and as such are able to express themselves in a way that enables their full abilities to shine through. However, the romantic relationships in Steven Universe are also very important to explore. Many of the physical relationships in the show are expressed through fusion. Fusion is simply the act of two Gems, or in Steven and Connie’s case a half Gem and a human, becoming one entity. For example, Garnet is the fusion of the Gems “Ruby” and “Sapphire”. In the episode, “Keeping It Together”, Garnet becomes upset (almost to the point of separating into her two sub-identities) that formerly deceased gems are being forced to fuse together. As shown throughout the show, fusion must be done consensually, or else there are disastrous consequences. Garnet explains to Steven that she was created from love, trust, consent, and a commitment to stay fused as one entity forever, which takes an insane amount of courage, love and communication. Definitely not the type of friend or sisterly love that some tried to perpetuate during the first season of the show. Garnet explicitly implies in “Keeping it Together” that her fusion was the result of a romantic relationship and partnership between Ruby and Sapphire because they loved each other so much, they couldn’t stand to be apart from each other a minute longer in the episode. In a way, Garnet is the physical representation of the marriage between the two characters.

The fusion of Stevonnie (Steven and Connie) comes from the two children’s love, respect, trust, and understanding that causes them to form the deeper and previously unexplored connection between humans and Gems, citing that people of different gender or self expressions can still be connected on a deeper level than we can understand. Stevonnie’s relationship stems from their innocence and trust for one another. Their fusion is a physical representation of their rejection of how human relationships between “males” and “females” is supposed to work. Connie’s identity as a young woman of color plays more into their relationship. She has her own expectations of what a woman is supposed to be and acknowledges in multiple episodes, especially, “Open Book“, that society is not giving her the examples of strong independent women of color that she can look up to and aspire to be. Therefore, Connie, much like many young girls of color in real life, has to face her fears and fight her own demons with little guidance. Luckily for Connie, she has Steven and the Gems to help guide her way to womanhood. Regardless, because of the voluntary fusions of Alexandrite (Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl), Stevonnie, and Garnet, it is abundantly clear that fusions are the result of a consensual and ongoing process between two or more Gems/humans that immediately ends once one of the Gems is uncomfortable enough to end the fusion.

Amethyst, Garnet and Pearl. Photo Credit: Cartoon Network
Amethyst, Garnet and Pearl. Photo Credit: Cartoon Network

Pearl’s pining for Steven’s biological/physical mother (Rose Quartz gave up her physical form for Steven to exist) shows that while gender expression is fluid, it is still affected by a singular person’s attraction to any other person at any given time. Rose and Greg Universe, while very different exemplify that people from different backgrounds or ways of life or even gender expression/sexuality can come together and fall in love solely with the person that they are with because of who they are. There is no requirement for who Gems are allowed to love and the relationships just occur naturally. Everyone is allowed to have any type of relationship whether monogamous or polygamous, heterosexual or homosexual, as long as all parties are continuously and enthusiastically consenting to all activities.

Steven Universe has many lessons for audiences of all ages. Tolerance and acceptance are the biggest takeaways from the show. But even more subtly, the show is teaching Hollywood that you can have characters of any shape, size, color, gender identity, or sexual orientation, but as long as you have a great script and storyline, people will watch. More and more consumers are calling for more inclusive media and entertainment and so far, they have been enthusiastically accepting the tidbits the industry is throwing at them. It’s time to reflect back on what the year has brought to the stage and give the people what they want. Luckily, Steven Universe has already started to pave that path towards excellence in inclusion.

Season Two of Steven Universe is still airing on Cartoon Network and the third season was renewed on July 7th.

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One Comment

    1. It’s pretty clear throughout the show that Greg is not a custodial parent. He comes over to visit and he takes Steven on trips. The Gems have more say over Steven though.

      1. Greg admits he has no clue what to make of all the gem magical powers or how to guide Steven. I believe this is why the Crystal gems handle most of the training and guidance in that regard. That said, Greg PERSONALLY built the beach house they live in and is always shown to be there when his son needs to talk. Greg is almost constantly working, or trying to find ways to make some money (which he seems to scarcely spend on himself). While I don’t know how the crystal gems have any money for anything, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is Greg who is fitting the bill for food and clothes (something the gems have no need for). Greg has also put himself in harms way several times for his son! “Little to no help…” makes me feel like they do not respect Greg’s contributions to Steven’s life at all.

        1. I believe one of the creators have said that the Gems don’t have any money and rely on Greg to fund Stevens up bringing. More or less they deal with teaching and helping Stevens gem side grow and Greg deals with the human necessities such as money for food and basic items such as toys and what have you for him.

  1. I agree with most of the article with a couple exceptions.
    The implication that Steven receives “little to no help” from his father is in error and completely misleading.
    Greg doesn’t help with PURELY GEM related issues(for obvious reasons). He is however a frequent help when dealing with Human related issues and is even helping with Human-Gem specific issues. He is probably one of the better, and positive!, examples of a father that ‘doesn’t live with his children’ that Ive seen in media.

    Also I don’t think Steven and Connie’s fusion was about being a “rejection of how human relationships between ‘males’ and ‘females’ is supposed to work”.
    It seem more about caring for each other, mutual respect, innocence, trust, the simple joy of friendship, and(in the specific episode in which it is introduced) how all that can help deal with issues of public anxiety.

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