While Steven Universe is a show aimed at kids, the cartoon’s attracted many adult fans because of its mature themes. Tackling LGBTQ issues, mental health and domestic abuse, Steven Universe masterfully breaks down taboos and encourages positive conversations. Steven himself is a great role model for breaking gender roles; the bubbly protagonist is the emotional heart of his family while also playing a healer/defender role on the battlefield.
Steven Universe is known for its nuanced villains and heroes, and Jasper is one of the show’s most complicated antagonists. A perfect Gem physically, she’s brawny, tall and extremely durable. However, she is a bully and narrow-minded, only caring about power. Even after her “redemption,” Jasper continues to exert a negative influence over Steven. Jasper’s entire character arc in Steven Universe and Steven Universe: Future explores the idea of toxic masculinity and how harmful it is to subscribe to its standards.
Toxic masculinity is a set of beliefs revolving around suppressing emotions, appearing hardened and communicating through violence. A common misconception is that toxic masculinity is criticizing masculinity in general. Those who criticize toxic masculinity are merely pointing out masculine behaviors that are over-exaggerated to the point of harming everyone involved. While toxic masculinity is based in patriarchal gender roles, the problems of toxic masculinity can affect people of any gender. So though Jasper does not identify as male and comes from a matriarchal society, some of her behavior can be related to toxic masculinity in our more patriarchal society.
Jasper’s only purpose in life is to fight, and only sees an individual’s worth in how powerful they are. She doesn’t acknowledge anyone weaker than her. When she’s upset, she channels her anger by destroying the individuals and environment around her. At her core, the Quartz soldier harbors insecurities about her identity. Instead of voicing her uncertainties, Jasper walled herself off and built her self-esteem on dominating others. Jasper’s focus on winning led to her downfall when she decided to fuse with a corrupted Gem to prove her superiority. In Steven Universe: Future, Jasper is no longer a villain, but she still refuses to assimilate into Little Homeschool and confines herself to uselessly preparing for war.
After Steven tries to get her to open up, Jasper lashes out and plants the first seed of doubt into the troubled teen. Steven only starts having problems with swelling and turning pink after talking to Jasper and it’s in reaction to her calling him weak for relying on his friends. The fact that Steven, a character known for resolving problems verbally rather than through force, was baited into a physical confrontation shows the negative influence Jasper is beginning to exert. Steven does win the confrontation after unleashing his Diamond powers but it’s not a victory as it’s an uncharacteristic show of rage. When he apologizes for hurting her, which is the right thing to do as they’re not enemies, Jasper actually praises Steven for showing his anger in such a violent manner. After receiving this positive affirmation, Steven mistakenly believes that he should learn more of this aggression from Jasper.
Steven’s problems only escalate, as, unlike before, he’s reluctant to open up to his father, Connie and the Crystal Gems. He’s taken Jasper’s verbal jabs to heart and doesn’t want to talk about what’s bothering him because he doesn’t want to worry them and feels weak relying on others. Though everyone should be self-sufficient, Jasper and Steven take it to unhealthy levels where they get in over their heads and refuse to ask for help as they drown. Jasper let herself be corrupted before accepting Steven’s help and Steven swells to concerning levels while brushing off his friends’ concerns.
Although Steven doesn’t try as hard as Jasper to act tough, he puts up a brave front that keeps others from connecting with him. In Steven Universe, a younger Steven freely admitted when he was scared and cried as a healthy way to release his negative emotions. Jasper was the complete opposite in that she never admitted her insecurities and fully leaned into her role as a ruthless soldier. Steven follows this example and pushes his friends away with shields and a cringeworthy false bravado. Instead of admitting that he needs help, he either reacts like an injured cat when probed or tries to deflect onto the other person.
One of Steven’s most troubling changes is how he feels the need to yell and stamp to get his point across. Steven has gone through a distressing amount of trauma, so his turbulent emotions are understandable. However, this does not excuse how he lashes out at his friends and yells at others during unprovoked outbursts. Even Yellow Diamond, rather hypocritically, remarks that Steven’s temper has grown worse. Again, we can trace this deterioration to Jasper, as she was the Gem who first baited Steven into an angry confrontation.
This gets worse later on when Steven decided to go to Jasper for comfort. Jasper dismisses all of Steven’s attempts to open up and solely blames his problems on his physical weakness. She tells Steven to channel his anger and to forget his restraint and his concerns for others by fighting. Their training unleashes Steven’s dark side, which revels in his power and physical dominance, ultimately shattering Jasper. While he is able to reverse his action, Jasper doesn’t even blink at what was essentially murder and rewards him with her loyalty. This moment is a perfect parallel to how toxic masculinity excuses amoral behavior as it holds strength as an individual’s defining trait.
Jasper and Steven are among the most powerful characters on the show, but their toxic masculinity harms them and others. Due to her arrogance, Jasper became corrupted and lost the ability live in a more nuanced existence. In Future, Steven desperately tries to help others but ends up leaving a trail of destruction because of his unrestrained power. He becomes the monster he feels he is due to bottling up his emotions and letting his anger build up to unhealthy levels.
KEEP READING: The Anime That Influenced Steven Universe
Even though Jasper is a reformed villain, she represents toxic masculinity and how this harms herself, Steven and those around them.