I use emojis like it’s my job. In fact, I take great pride in my ability to match any text with three miniature icons perfectly reflecting the message I am trying to convey.
For example, if my friends and I are going to hit the town I normally like to use *salsa girl emoji*, followed by *poppin’ bottles champagne emoji*, and completed with *party hat emoji*. (Yes, it’s an art.)
But shockingly, my life is comprised of many facets that branch out beyond dance routines and birthday parties. So when my cousin kicks ass in court representing her client, or when my bestie aces her medical school exam, or my friend beats her personal half marathon record, I am out of options. Yeah, I can always do the *preach girl, preach emoji* to show my spiritual love, or maybe a *princess emoji* to illustrate their regal status, but as a perfectionist it just doesn’t seem adequate. Where are my female athletes? Why is there no female doctor emoji?
Here’s the thing, the millennium generation uses emojis everyday. Constantly. Say what you like about our dependence upon technology, but we grew up with the latest in gadgets at our fingertips and it has naturally become an integral part of our daily lives. As such, the miniature cartoons provided on a keyboard matter a whole heck of a lot more than one might assume.
Just as for blockbuster movies, children’s books and top ten pop songs, accurate representation is crucial. People need options available to show who they are and to reflect what they actually do.
Currently, the emojis portraying women comprise of pink outfits, brides, dancing bunnies, princesses, and salsa dancers. Emojis show women doing their nails and getting their hair done. That’s it. No professions, no sports, no activities. There is not a single emoji of a woman in a profession, yet there are men occupying roles as police officers, detectives, and students. We’ve got men swimming, running, playing basketball, riding hoses, snowboarding, canoeing, etc. The creators of emojis decided it was important to have a man riding a bicycle without a background AND a man riding a bicycle in front of a mountain but it never crossed their mind that women do more than wear pink shirts and make weird hand gestures.
Of course, as far as societal limitations go, it seems a little excessive to be dissecting emojis. But this is just another example of stereotypical messages, hiding in the most innocent of places, hindering the empowerment of young girls.
Hopefully we are all sufficiently well read to recognize that society bombards women and girls with a narrow range of depictions of female life. Commercials sexualize women eating burgers, fashion ads depict women (physically) submissive of men, pop songs sing about the desirability of obedient women, and movies show women bashing other women or fawning over men. These are stereotypes that loom over us everyday and sexist emojis are just one more kick in the can. If young girls only see themselves in a wedding dress, they are going to believe that getting married is the ultimate life goal. If young women fail to be exposed to confident, successful female professionals, they won’t ever consider such a path as a viable option for themselves.
I’m not telling you anything new here. Stereotyping is harmful. Narrow depictions are harmful. You tell a girl enough times she needs to be skinny, she will want to be skinny. You show a young woman enough photos of mothers, wives and babysitters she will assume her only role is in the home. You can’t expand a person’s worldview without expanding the possibilities you share with that person.
Last year, Emojis took a step in the right direction and became slightly less racist. We finally got some diversity in our keyboards by adding different skin tones to a lot of the human emojis. (We also got some same sex couples, yay!) That said, we still have some pretty racist stereotypes and have yet to see any biracial couples/families.
At the pace of a moving glacier, we seem to be making some progress.
But why is it so difficult? Why wasn’t everyone represented from the very beginning? Is it so difficult to imagine a black grandma or a female athlete? Well actually, it kind of is. When society bombards us with the same images and messages, we become accustom and comfortable with one perspective. When we only see women acting as devout wives and black teenagers selling drugs, we end up being surprised when they break this ‘mold’ that we have been sold in pop culture.
But there may be good news.
Emojis are regulated by the non-profit organization Unicode Consortium, which develops software internationalization data. In a recent post on its blog, Unicode unveiled plans to add female options to existing emojis. So one day, we may just have the ability to transform the running man into a running woman emoji! But don’t get whip out the *clapping emoji* just yet; the initiative is a draft and Unicode is still taking in online feedback.
In the meantime…*solidarity fist emoji”.