By Chris Howard-Williams
So, I’m going to ask you to indulge me a bit this week. Normally, I write blog posts that deal with being a male feminist and what I can do as an ally to best support the cause of feminism. I’m going to take a break from that this week to talk about cartoons. Well, I want to talk about one cartoon in particular, a small offering from the Cartoon Network called Steven Universe.
During the July 4th week, Steven Universe became the first children’s animated series to showcase both a same-sex proposal and marriage. Responding to questions about this decision, Rebecca Sugar, the show’s creator, said that we must absolutely tell LGBTQ+ children that they belong in this world and deserve to be loved. “We cannot wait until a child grows up to tell them they deserve to exist and that their story matters,” she went on to say. “I am overwhelmed with emotion thinking of the years of tireless work from all of us on the crew leading up to this moment.”
While this alone is pretty phenomenal, it’s just one more thing on the checklist of amazing firsts and highlights that Rebecca Sugar has woven into the show. Here are some other groundbreaking facts about Steven Universe:
- It’s the first animated show on Cartoon Network to be fully created by a woman.
- It has a diverse voice cast featuring many women of color. Deedee Magno, Michaela Dietz, and Estelle voice the three main female protagonists (Pearl, Amethyst, and Garnet, respectively).
- It seeks to fight against gender norms, offering us a male main character who is empathetic and regularly shows his emotions, many strong female characters, and even an androgynous character who is openly admired by both male and female characters in the show.
- It has characters who represent many different kinds of sexuality, including straight, gay, and bisexual characters. There is even a character that Rebecca Sugar has confirmed represents a polyamorous relationship.
- Finally, it presents all of this as normal within the contexts of the world it has built, allowing us to see a world that could exist if we keep fighting for gender and sexuality rights and equality.
So, why does it matter? Quite simply, representation matters! As one article put it, when underrepresented populations don’t see people like themselves in media, they get the message that they are invisible, that they don’t count. In short, they start to feel that there’s something wrong with them. Even more important is a genuine representation of themselves in media and not a “one-dimensional” characterization of themselves. And this is exactly the kind of portrayal that Rebecca Sugar is striving for with Steven Universe.
And she has achieved it. How do I know? Because the representation has mattered to me personally. As a gay man watching with my partner as the first ever children’s show featured a same-sex marriage, I cannot express how validated we felt as the union was treated with respect, with dignity, and with love. I will admit a few tears were shed as we grabbed each other and commented about how beautiful it was to see our personal lives represented in some form on the small screen. I can only imagine how others have felt watching the show over the years … the girls being shown that they can be strong warriors, the boys being shown that they can be empathetic and find peaceful solutions to conflict, and the many LGBTQIA+ people being shown that our love is just as valid, just as worthy of respect. We can all be Crystal Gems, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about there, I have a show that you need to watch!