Sexualized Saturdays: “The Answer”, Fairy Tales, and Heteronormativity

Many of you have seen the Steven Universe episode “The Answer”. Many of you had the same reaction I did which was an unequivocal “this is the sweetest thing ever!” Some of us were surprised (and impressed) that they’d been allowed to “get away” with it, even in a show like SU. But what was it about “The Answer” that was so groundbreaking? It was a seriously cute love story about two immediately likeable characters; a fairy tale romance that was as innocent as it was beautiful. It was also the first fairy tale most of us had ever encountered where the two star-crossed lovers were both female.

the-answer-show-imageIf ever there was an example of innocent (and insanely adorable) love in a cartoon, this was it. It’s a storybook romance about an aristocratic seer and an impulsive soldier falling in love and defying the established order to be together, becoming rebels fighting for the survival of Earth in the process. That is the kind of story that seems like it would be a natural fit for a Disney movie. It’s the kind of story kids are exposed to on a regular basis and it’s considered appropriate, healthy, and even necessary. But none of those stories have queer characters, especially not in the leads.

The fact that Ruby and Sapphire are depicted as women is what made this groundbreaking, even though it is the kind of story most kids grow up watching over and over. By featuring two female characters instead of a heterosexual couple, this episode pushed boundaries—boundaries that make no sense to begin with. I mean, this isn’t an Adult Swim show we’re talking about. We’re not seeing or hearing about anything that could be considered remotely explicit; there’s not even a kiss in the episode! It’s a cartoon that no parent would consider objecting to if it told a heteronormative story with the exact same plot and dialogue. The simple fact that the two leads happen to be women made it seem taboo; or at least “edgy”. It often feels like these stories can’t exist in children’s media.

the-answer-page-shouldnt-exist

But, like all inclusive stories, the people being included gain while nobody else loses. Everyone who watched got to see a fairy tale romance about two of our favorite characters, and girls realizing that they love other girls got to see that their stories are just as beautiful and inspiring and normal as any other. It is precisely the lack of stories like this that give them the air of controversy and sometimes make them feel… different.

That is what Rebecca Sugar and SU’s other creators attempted to address with The Answer and in adapting it to book form, they have taken an incredible (and incredibly cool) new step in that direction.

Continue reading

Sexualized Saturdays: The Crystal Gems

I recently sat down and watched all the existing episodes of Steven Universe, and first of all, let me say that Rin was right: everyone should be watching this show. It follows Steven, a young boy who’s inherited his late mother’s magic Gem. He lives with his mother’s teammates, all skilled Gem-users who are raising him and helping to train him in his new powers.

Steven-universe crystal gemsWithout digging deeper into word of mouth and the multitude of headcanons, the show is a fantastic subversion of gender norms, as it features a trio of diverse ladies with very different personalities and body types working together to save the world, and a little boy who looks up to these women as his ideal role models. The Crystal Gems are excellent examples of how varied a cast of women can and should be on television.

It’s probably Steven Universe’s easy rejection of societal norms that lent veracity to a rumor suggesting the Gems were even more unique than we originally thought. Recently, a post began to circulate on Tumblr asserting that show creator Rebecca Sugar had, during a Women in Animation panel at a recent convention, stated that the Gems were canonically non-binary. Continue reading