Connie Mahswaran And Feminism in the Animated Series ‘Steven Universe’
“Steven Universe” is an animated series on Cartoon Network created by Rebecca Sugar and is the first series on Cartoon Network to be independently created by a woman. The show revolves around the titular character Steven Universe, a boy who is half-human, half-gem (alien species) who goes on adventures with The Crystal Gems and to help to save the world.
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The Crystal Gems are three women: Garnett, Amethyst, and Pearl. They each have different body types, skin colors, identify as lesbians, and have different personalities. The trio has allowed the show to receive high praise for how it depicts intersectional feminism.Many times in an animated television series, female characters are one-dimensional, play a subservient role in the show, or serve as a love interest for the male character. It defies the Smurfette Principle, which refers to female characters in animation being greatly outnumbered by male characters, which, yes, is named after the Smurfs.
Steven himself as a character has broken traits of traditional masculinity and is a positive influence on young boys. Most boys are taught to hold back their emotions and be aggressive, and that they are weak if they don’t do both. Steven is shown to cry and be nurturing. He also looks up to the Crystal Gems, aspiring to fight like them one day. To many people, the very idea that boys and young men look up to women solely for their strength and leadership capabilities is unthinkable; but for gender equality to be established, young men and boys should not have to feel embarrassed by looking up to powerful women.
There are also other recurring characters of color who are not represented in a negative, stereotypical manner: the Pizzas, an African-American family who run a local restaurant. And then there’s my favorite, Connie Maheswaran, Steven’s best friend and Indian-American girl who is a bookworm with a vivid imagination and introverted personality. Like most desi girls, she has overbearing parents, and her mom is a doctor. However, her parents don’t act traditional and do not use their culture as a reason to control her, acting as any worried parent would instead.
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As a lover of animation, I felt somewhat disheartened there were never any animated characters who looked like me. And if there were, they were always these nerdy boys who sounded like Apu from the Simpsons. Hence, I was nearly in tears when I saw Connie.
I was a lot like her growing up: I loved to read, didn’t have a lot of friends, and my parents were very overprotective of me. Younger brown girls now have a character who looks like them and who is portrayed in a positive manner, something that I never got to have growing up. Steven Universe is beautifully animated, has anime-esque features, strong female characters, and can be enjoyed by all ages. Be sure to put it on your binge-watch list!
Aatika Siddiqui lives in suburban Chicago, IL and is currently a senior at DePaul University, majoring in Information Systems. She loves listening to rock music, reading, and binge-watching. She enjoys drawing, writing, reading, baking desserts, and skateboarding.