Emoji Inequality

by Kristina Mullen

Last April, the path to greater emoji equality was forged. Users became able to change the skin and hair color of the emoticon people on their iPhones to more accurately depict themselves. While many people hailed these changes as a step towards further acceptance of racial diversity in mainstream culture, these updates failed to address the inaccurate gender stereotypes that the emojis perpetuate. Not only is the emoji inequality illustrated through the number of individual male characters versus female characters (21:14), the featured professions for women provide an inaccurate representation of the wide scope of careers women hold.

For some, the gender inequality in emojis seems extremely trivial. Who cares what emojis are available on iPhone keyboards? Shouldn’t the news be centered on more pressing issues? Though the gender inequality within emojis is not a matter of life or death, many see it as another example of the inaccurate stereotypes that are placed on women regarding their career capabilities. Gender stereotypes are certainly not a new phenomenon. However, it is extremely disturbing that gender inequality still persists in our supposedly modern and advanced society.

Female emoji characters consist of a small range of professions and actions that do not accurately gauge the wide range of capabilities women hold. While the male emoji characters include a fireman, policeman, laborer, guard, athlete, Santa and more, the female emoji characters are significantly more limited. The emoji keyboard suggests that women are either dancers, brides, princesses, or people who like to be pampered (illustrated through the hair cut and head massage recipient). As Amy Butcher so keenly observed in her article, Emoji Feminism from The New York Times, where “was the fierce professor working her way to tenure? Where was the lawyer? The accountant? The surgeon?”

The professions of the male emoji characters include actual jobs that require effort. These professions imply that hard work and determination are an integral part of the male personality. Conversely, the female emojis reek of glamour and elegance, as if to suggest that all women lead easy lives. The female emojis do not account for the difficult and rigorous professions that many women hold. Unlike the fireman or the policeman, the princess and the bride do not inherently suggest a life of hard work. While the facial expression of the laborer emoticon conveys a serious and determined worker, the female flamenco dancer possesses an aura of ease, beauty, and grace. Not to discredit dancers and their profession in any way, but this depiction does not provide an accurate representation of some of the jobs women can possess. These images give further credence to the stereotype that “women (go) shopping while men (write) the checks.” Though it is obvious that this stereotype is highly inaccurate, the limited choice in female emojis serves to ingrain this warped ideology deeper into our society.

However, the desire to add more emojis that depict women in more varied professions is not a suggestion to eliminate the existing emoticons. Every woman enjoys being pampered every once in a while and likes to be a princess for a day. But these images should not define what a woman is or what a woman should be. Emojis were designed to be a fun and easy way to describe a person or situation without using text. But how are we expected to describe a businesswoman or a female engineer when the only option is a bride or a princess? Though they certainly merit the respect that royalty receives, the emojis should more accurately reflect their amazing achievements.