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Here's What 'Steven Universe' Can Teach Us About Consent

As I’ve talked about before, Cartoon Network’s animated hit Steven Universe contains a lot of valuable life lessons. The show covers everything from standing up for yourself to acknowledging when you’ve done something wrong. But one topic they’ve taken on in a truly unique way is consent.

steven universe dance
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Often, when we are educated about consent, it’s through the lens of a stranger attempting to take advantage of you and “no means no”. Common scenarios include house parties, bars, or first dates. The Stranger in these examples is usually very direct, or at least terrible at being subtle. There is a clear choice and opportunity to say no, followed by a PSA about how “consent is sexy” (a phrase that’s rather problematic in and of itself) and that you should never do anything you don’t want to.

And yet, in reality, it’s rarely the Stranger at the Party compromising our consent. Sometimes it’s friends and people we know. Steven Universe touches on real scenarios and through their examples, provides the tools to recognize when it happens to us.

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For those new to Steven Universe, fusions are when two gems come together to form a larger, more powerful gem. Like sex, fusion is a physical manifestation of a relationship and relies on trust and communication. But oversimplifying fusion as a direct metaphor for sex would be a disservice to Steven Universe. Instead, the show uses fusion to discuss general issues of consent and honesty in relationships.

steven universe fusions
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In the episode “A Cry for Help”, Pearl and Garnet fuse together to form Sardonyx to handle a situation. They fuse several times over the course of the episode until it’s revealed that Pearl lied to Garnet in order to keep fusing together after the first time. “I’m sorry, it’s just so much fun being Sardonyx with you.” Pearl admits to Garnet in the climax of the episode. With honesty being so integral to fusion and Garnet being a fusion herself, her anger is certainly justified. In fact, she’s so upset by Pearl’s betrayal she splits into Ruby and Sapphire, vocalizing the internal struggle to move forward from Pearl’s actions.

steven universe garnet pearl
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Lying to someone to get their consent is a compromise of trust and communication. Pearl’s intentions weren’t malicious; she later confesses that she feels like the weakest member of the Crystal Gems and fusing with Garnet helps her feel strong. Her loneliness is also a major driving force behind her actions. But that lie shakes the foundation of their relationship and it takes a life or death situation for them to have an honest conversation about what happened. The show allows Pearl her motivations and thoughts without allowing them to excuse her behavior. In the end, Pearl apologizes for her actions and she and Garnett are able to move forward, stronger than before.

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Coercion is another method of compromising consent, and we see that in the episode “Jailbreak”, where Jasper essentially bullies Lapis Lazuli into fusing and forming Malachite. Fusions are formed through dance, and Jasper all but drags Lapis through the motions until they come together as the angry and destructive Malachite. Lapis is able to hold Malachite down under the ocean, but it’s later revealed in the episode “Alone at Sea” that the relationship became mutually abusive. This was another example of someone using manipulation to gain begrudging consent from someone they’re close to. Consent without enthusiasm is dangerous territory.

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Which leads me to the episode “Alone Together”. Steven and Connie fuse for the first time to form the androgynous Stevonnie after a sweet, slightly fumbled dance on the beach. This episode is heavy on the consent education with Steven and Connie constantly communicating and making sure they’re both okay with everything they’re doing. Their clear and open communication with each other provides a stark contrast to the harassment they face from Kevin, a douche bag at the rave they attend. Kevin immediately sexualizes the teenage Stevonnie and doesn’t take no for an answer, pressuring them to dance with him. Stevonnie lashes out and ends up splitting back into Steven and Connie. With more communication, the episode ends with them happily dancing together.

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It’s important to remember that consent is mandatory in clear and concise terms. You should never feel obligated or pressured to do anything, and you should always be honest about how you’re feeling. Steven Universe emphasizes the communication between individuals and creates a conversation with the audience. Having a show like Steven Universe encourage discussions about consent and healthy relationships isn’t just important for us; it’s important to impart that knowledge on younger viewers and help move us in the right direction.

Have any thoughts on how Steven Universe handles consent? Hit me up on Twitter and join the conversation!

Contributor: 
Ashley Moon
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