Once You See This Emoji Problem, You Can’t Unsee It

Reality check: Most adults use emoji more than they (okay, we) care to acknowledge. Silly as they may be, those cartoon suckers have become an undeniable part of our lexicon. For teenagers, emoji are basically a second language. And this video highlights a glaring absence from this "vocabulary." "There's no girls in the professions emojis," says one teenager says in the video, created by Always. "Unless you count being a bride a profession." There are none in the sports section, either. Female emoji are characterized as brides, princesses, dancers and...nope, that's it. Other than that, there's just the basic female emoji, in her bubble-gum pink blouse. She's capable of things like hand gestures and having her hair cut, but she doesn't do anything. Frankly, none of this would be as big a deal if it weren't for all the male emojis who get to do plenty. There are male cops, detectives, cyclists, surfers, weight-lifters, skiers, basketball players, EMTs — freakin' Santa Claus! Again, we know we're talking about a silly phone app that lets you send a poop icon to your friend. But listening to these girls, it's so obvious just how not silly this particular problem is. "Girls love emojis, but there's not enough emojis to say what girls do," says one girl. "That's just how things are." Yikes. Silly or not, no adolescent girl should walk around with a constant reminder of "that's just how things are" in her back pocket. And that's what this is. Teenagers are staring at it, communicating with it, and propagating this tacit message all day long: You are less capable and less important, even when it comes to smileys in your phone. Representation matters, even in this context. That's why it was a big deal when emoji became more racially diverse, and that's why it matters here too. Of course, there are plenty of representational issues that are equally important, if perhaps not as simple to address. (The very definition of gender in the emoji world seems to be mostly based on hair length, after all.) What of all the genderqueer users? Furthermore, what about those with disabilities? Emoji+ boasts at least 45 million users. Shouldn't they make an effort to represent the people using their product to express themselves? For business reasons alone, that seems like an obvious move. Clearly, there's work to be done, and this seems as good a place as any to start. And really, it's just not that hard. Here, these girls asked for things like a female soccer player, a police officer, and a musician. There's your research, folks. Go develop.
Update: This post originally included an error regarding the Hinamatsuri dolls featured in the object emoji category. Thanks to the commenters who pointed this out, and we apologize for the mistake.

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