Submission Date


Document Type



Media & Communication Studies

Faculty Mentor

Louise Woodstock

Project Description

A textual analysis of the cartoon Steven Universe, this project takes a semiotic approach to explore anti-essentialist messages of gender identity. I argue that within the mainstream media, the cartoon expresses prosocial messages about gender by representing nonbinary characters and gender fluid themes. Using children’s media studies, queer studies, and reception studies, I investigate how the show portrays liminal identities. In particular, I focus on how lesbian existence and gender fluidity are simultaneously normalized and othered through the text’s visuals and dialogue. Critically analyzing the ways in which the media represents queerness as ‘too adult,’ this study reveals that children’s programming can constructively depict queer identities in a media landscape that otherwise often distances children from queerness. By contextualizing the history of cartoon production, queer representation, and audience reception, my analysis provides insight into the importance of prosocial depictions of gender identity in children’s media.


Presented during the 19th Annual Summer Fellows Symposium, July 21, 2017 at Ursinus College.

Open Access

Available to all.