Promoting Feminism With Emojis

Though currently limited to ? or ?, women will soon be able to ? or ? too.

We’ve seen skin color gradients for emojis expanded to include various races other than the default yellow, but we have yet to see an improvement in gender equality among emojis. As far as the options for various emoji occupations, those such as police, detective, construction worker and so on are only available as male emojis, while female emojis are limited to princess, bride, flamenco dancer or… haircut recipient. As the Guardian summarized, “When it comes to women and emojis, it can feel a bit like the 1950s got trapped in your keyboard. The ‘femoji’ are all girly girls; they get their nails done ?, get haircuts ?, get married ?, and dress up as dancing Playboy bunnies ?.. Meanwhile ‘menmoji’ are policemen ? , construction workers ? and cyclists ?.”

To counter this problematic emoji inequality, various other emoji keyboards have been made in attempt to supplement the all-too-limited default emoji keyboard. Celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian with her Kimoji app, have created humorous and more specific emojis. The less-famous have also responded, such as Gina-Lee with her EmoGi app, a direct response to Kimojis and the need for more realistic and relatable emojis.

Tamara Shopsin for the NYT
Tamara Shopsin for the New York Times

Now Google has taken notice as well, recently having created 13 new professions for female emojis in an attempt to help close the emoji gender gap. The existing professions—currently nearly all male, if you don’t include the princess or flamenco dancer—will also be expanded so that both male and female options will exist for an emoji, in the same way that various skin tones now exist for an emoji. According to Google’s emoji proposal, their intent is “to create a new set of emoji that represents a wide range of professions for women and men with a goal of highlighting the diversity of women’s careers and empowering girls everywhere.”

Google’s proposal—which has now been approved—also cited a video from earlier this year by Always (the Proctor & Gamble sanitary pad brand) as part of their #LikeAGirl campaign. In the video, as one girl notes, “There’s no girls in the professional emojis unless you count being a bride a profession.” As the campaign argues, the lack of emojis representing females in the professional sphere subtly informs gender norms regarding male versus female occupations—and more generally, what girls can or can’t do. “72% of girls feel that society limits them by dictating what they should and shouldn’t do. Sometimes, these limiting messages can be found in unexpected and subtle places – like on your phone.”

Are Google’s upcoming emoji occupation improvements a small step for emojis, or a giant leap for gender equality in social media? Of course emojis seem trivial and inconsequential in the grand scheme of gender inequality issues, but the subtle transmission of norms make emojis an important part of this grand scheme as well. As innocuous as they are, emojis are important, so it’s about time for expanded and more inclusive emoji choices.