Empowered new emojis have been proposed by Google. (Photo: Unicode)
Using emoji while texting certainly feels adolescent. But I know plenty of women north of 40 (ahem) who use them with gusto. They’re so colorful! And cute! But, alas, are they sexist?
They certainly skew to manpower, as Amy Butcher pointed out so perfectly in a recent New York Times opinion piece. When she couldn’t find an appropriately feminist emoji to text to her friend who had just received tenure, she sent a unicorn. But then she questioned her choice.
“She was markedly a woman. She was by no means a unicorn. Where was the emoji for her? I began to scroll through the emojis on my phone,” she wrote. “Yes, there were women’s faces and tiny women’s bodies. But for the women actually engaged in an activity or profession, there were only archetypes: the flamenco dancer in her red gown, the bride in her flowing veil, the princess in her gold tiara … Where, I wanted to know, was the fierce professor working her way to tenure? Where was the lawyer? The accountant? The surgeon?”
They were not to be found — but may be, very soon, thanks to a small team of Google employees who just presented a new empowerment plan to Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit software developer that writes emoji language. The proposal cites as influences Butcher’s piece and Michelle Obama’s tweeted suggestion that there be a “girl studying emoji,” among other recent articles. And it offers new emoji options that would depict “a wide range of professions for women and men, with a goal of highlighting the diversity of women’s careers and empowering girls everywhere.”
The professional fields include business, health care, science, education, technology, industry, farming, food service, and music, with that last one featuring a lightning-bolt-on-the-face shout-out to David Bowie.
“We believe we can have a larger positive impact by adding 13 new emoji that depict women across a representative sample of professions,” writes the Google team, which aims to make the new emoji a reality by the end of 2016. “We believe this will empower young women (the heaviest emoji users) and better reflect the pivotal roles women play in the world.”
And the team is not stopping there. The end of the proposal notes: “We recognize the importance of having an inclusive representation of all people in emoji, whether they identify with a specific gender or not. We believe an egalitarian, sensitive, and compelling representation of gender in emoji is extremely important.” Still, while this current presentation has a single focus on women, the team points out, why not shoot for some transgender emoji love in the future? “We would encourage other members of Unicode to join us,” the teams writes, “in creating a system of emoji design that can accommodate a broader gender spectrum.”