Steven Universe is a children’s cartoon that started airing in November 2013. It is interesting from a gender perspective because the approach taken towards characterisation and the portrayal of relationships is very different to cartoons that have come before it.
The main characters of Steven Universe are Steven himself and The Crystal Gems; aliens with a gemstone forming the centre of their beings. Steven is half “Gem”, half human. The nature of the gem’s gender has stirred a lot of interest and debate. The entire race is presented as female. They use female pronouns and fashion styles. However, if all members of the alien race belong to the same gender, the question has been raised as to whether or not they truly have a gender. It is possible that they are an agender race or exist outside of our understanding of a gender binary.
The depiction of Steven as the leading male character is also a departure from traditional characterisation. He is sensitive and cries a lot, he talks rather than fights, and he is trusting and warm to those around him, even individuals who can be cruel to him or are his enemies. There is a sharp contrast seen between him and the more common male protagonist trope, often portraying aggression and a marked removal from emotions.
It is quite rare that a television show, aimed at children or adults, would address these themes. As such, the show has gained a large cult following especially among people who identify as being part of a gender minority. While there is debate between the gender of the gems, for every person who is looking for someone to relate to, they can find a character here, even if other people on the internet don’t agree with them. In the end, it is better to allow people to feel included than to reinforce what makes them different.