A Much Needed Feminist Emoji Makeover Is Coming Soon

A Much Needed Feminist Emoji Makeover Is Coming Soon

Ever since they were integrated into Apple operating systems in 2011, emojis have grown in popularity and changed the way we communicate.

Created in Japan, where they were popular for decades before bursting onto the American texting scene, emojis are now used across platforms and operating systems. The characters are designed by the Unicode Consortium, a collective that includes individuals from companies that use emojis, like Microsoft, Google, Apple, and IBM.

Since their rise to popularity, emojis have been subject to some scrutiny because of their lack of diversity. For instance, the set of emojis that depicts people includes graphics of women getting their nails done, dancing, and getting a massage, while the athlete, doctor, and police officer emojis are all men.

In her article for CNN this March, journalist Kelly Wallace reports that almost 6 billion emojis are included in texts, tweets, and other forms of communication on a daily basis — and that many of the billions are typed out by young women and girls. Wallace draws on one of the #LikeAGirl campaign’s most powerful viral videos, in which young girls comment on the way emojis depict women and then have a chance to pose as they wish emojis could allow them to be seen. Girls stand with their muscles flexed, holding their calculators, and with their lacrosse sticks by their side.

Wallace also cites a survey (conducted with Always at the helm) that found that, “fifty-four percent of girls 16 to 24 years old believe that female emojis are stereotypical.” Half of the surveyed girls think emojis don’t adequately depict what women are involved in.

This summer, though, things are getting a much needed shake-up.

Officials at Apple announced last week that when you update your iPhone’s operating system to iOS 10, you’ll also get some brand new emojis — this time, they’ve undergone a long overdue diversifying makeover. Now, you’ll see emoji ladies fighting crime, surfing, sprinting, and conducting experiments. There will be male emoji characters getting their hair cut, standing with their children, and performing other at-home tasks. Finally, it seems, when you scroll through in search of the perfect way to punctuate your text, the emojis you’ll see will more accurately depict the society we live in.

Google’s emojis have undergone a similar freshening up after officials at the company asked for greater gender equality in the small characters. This May, they announced 13 working women emojis, showing women as detectives, technicians, professional athletes, and more.

Sure, emojis are just tiny pictures that pop up on all of our screens, but the unveiling of newly expanded options is more significant than it may seem.

That so many of 1,000 girls who participated in Always’ research reported feeling underrepresented or inadequately depicted by the current selection of emojis is evidence enough. How girls are represented matters hugely; the way young women see themselves is intrinsically influenced by the ways in which society sees and paints them. Girls who open their iPhone keyboards to tap out a message deserve to see pictures of women – not just men – who are being brave, who are winning awards and running meetings and climbing mountains.

In a piece for the New York Times’ Sunday Review called “Emoji Feminism,”Amy Butcher says, on looking for an appropriate emoji to send to a recently-tenured friend, “how [is] there space for both a bento box and a single fried coconut shrimp, and yet women [are] restricted to a smattering of tired, beauty-centric roles?”

For the first time in history, girls across America get to turn on the TV and catch sight of a woman’s extremely successful presidential campaign. Never before has a woman made it this far. So, isn’t it about time our culture — and the things like emojis, which, for better or worse, make up a large part of our day-to-day interactions — reflect that world and that sense of glass-shattering-barrier-breaking opportunity?

Image courtesy of Getty Images.