Representations of Gender-Diverse Characters in Adventure Time and Steven Universe

Abigail S. Walsh


Television is a strong educational and socializing agent for children. Watching television can teach children appropriate language and vocabulary to use, as well as the social norms about gender behaviors or activities. Previous research on gender representations in children’s television has been limited to studying male and female characters because children’s programming has historically presented audiences with cisgender characters (e.g., boy and girls). Recently, television shows aimed at children have provided audiences with nonbinary and gender-diverse characters. This study is the first exploratory content analysis, to my knowledge, to examine the portrayal and representation of nonbinary and gender-diverse characters in children’s television. The current study examined the gender-neutral pronoun and gendered language use toward nonbinary and gender-diverse characters, as well as the portrayal of these characters as leaders, and with special skills in Adventure Time and Steven Universe. Overall, nonbinary and gender-diverse characters were portrayed as strong, positive, characters, and were represented similarly to their cisgender counterparts. This represents a promising shift toward more inclusive and equitable television representation, which may lead to the acceptance and appropriate use of gender-neutral pronouns toward peers by cisgender children, and the feeling of visibility and validation by nonbinary children. Future research should examine the impacts of these characters on viewers.
RELEVANCE STATEMENT: As children’s television becomes more diverse it has the potential to positively impact the lives of cisgender (e.g., boys and girls) and nonbinary children. Because television has the potential to influence young children, gender-diverse representations in children’s television may lead to children developing more accepting attitudes and behaviors toward nonbinary peers.

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Studies in Media and Communication      ISSN 2325-8071 (Print)   ISSN 2325-808X (Online)

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