Monday, May 16, 2016

See It, Be It, Emoji It

A few years ago, I took my daughter to see a really excellent documentary about how the media does — and does not — portray women. Miss Representation did an extraordinary job explaining why images of women (objectified, sexualized, marginalized, diminished) affect how and where women see themselves.

"You can't be it, if you can't see it."

How does a little girl grow up thinking she can become a doctor or a director, a lawyer or a supreme court justice, or president of these United States, if she doesn't see women in those roles. In movies. On TV. And, in advertising.

This is why, despite the profusion of pink, Barbie has actually been on the right track for some time. Okay, are most women pilots built like Barbie? (Then again, are any of us built like Barbie?) No. Do most women pilots wear pink uniforms with matching pink high heels? No. But, at least Pilot Barbie existed, along with Veterinarian Barbie and Teacher Barbie, Astronaut Barbie and Aerobics Instructor Barbie. At least Barbie had career options in addition to the cute boyfriend, cute convertible and cute townhouse. 

All pink, btw.

We may have grown up with Barbie (and my own teenage daughter had plenty of them herself once upon a time), but today's girls covet other, more digital, playthings. Like smartphones. The message still matters though and this week, I was happy to learn that Google has broadened its emojis of women. Until now, girls could choose from a sweet selection of female angels and brides, princesses and dancing girls. If they wanted to choose an emoji representing a particular career (other than dancing or getting married), their options were male, male, and male. 

“Isn’t it time that emoji also reflect the reality that women play a key role in every walk of life and in every profession?” Google is asking.

Uh ... duh.

The proposed new emojis (not available yet but in the works) include a lady welder, a lady chemist, lady doctors, farmers, chefs, computer engineers, teachers, executives and a female Bowie-esque rockstar.

Some credit for the overdue emoji additions is being given to a film made by the Always feminine products company in which young girls complained about their under-representation in emoji-land. (Hmmmm, does invisible really count as under-representation?) Amy Butcher, a professor from Ohio Wesleyan University wrote about it in a New York Times op-ed piece this spring: “How is there space for both a bento box and a single fried coconut shrimp, and yet women were restricted to a smattering of tired, beauty-centric roles?” Even FLOTUS has piped in; Ms. Obama encouraged Google to create an emoji girl studying.

This isn't the first time Google has updated its emojis in answer to customer calls for diversity and inclusion. You can now select different skin tones for basic emoji humanoids. And, there is a veritable rainbow coalition of families: one man plus one woman and children, two men and children, two women and children ... you get the idea.

News flash: the world is more than straight white men! Sheesh. Even in a society that's trying to catch up to the way real people look and act and love, women seem to be the last to the party.

But, it's reassuring to know that Google has finally caught up with Barbie.

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.      

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