Pink sweaters, girls dancing in bunny ears: are emoji sexist?

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Amy Lewis

The pink sweaters, the girls dancing in bunny ears, the bride (there's no groom), the tiara wearing princess - are emoji sexist? Have we been too busy trying to determine just which icon means sushi, and why there are so very many trains, to really take it in?

A new survey carried out by Always, as part of the brand’s #LikeAGirl campaign, has found that 70 per cent of girls feel emoji fail to represent them doing activities outside of stereotypical interests, such as getting their hair cut, or having a manicure.

A further 60 per cent were all in agreement that the current lineup of emoji icons implies the idea that girls are more limited in what they can do, compared with boys.

Girl Emoji

“There are no girls in the professional emojis, unless you count 'bride' as being a profession,” notes one participant. And she’s right - the police officer, the detective, the runner, the swimmer; all male.

“Society has a tendency to send subtle messages that can limit girls to stereotypes,” says filmmaker Lucy Walker, who has created a mini-documentary to accompany the findings.

“As someone who has studied sociolinguistics, I know the kind of impact even seemingly innocuous language choices can have on girls. It was so interesting to hear these girls talk about emojis and realise how the options available to them are subtly reinforcing the societal stereotypes and limitations they face every day.”

The team ran workshops with over 1000 girls aged 16 to 24, asking them how they used emojis in their day to day communications, and also how they felt about the way in which emojis represented what they wanted to say.

“Girls love emojis but there aren’t enough emojis to say what girls do, that’s just how things are,” notes one teen in the video.

Always Girl Emojis

The #LikeAGirl campaign has been set up by Always to tackle issues surrounding the confidence of young girls, following earlier research which found that during puberty, those confidence levels tend to plummet.

“Ever since we started our journey to stop the drop in confidence girls experience at puberty, we have been deepening our understanding of this critical stage,” says Michele Baeten, leader of #LikeAGirl.

“We know that girls, especially during puberty, try to fit in and are therefore easily influenced by society. In fact, we found that 60% of girls even felt that society limits them, by projecting what they should or should not do, or be.

“The girls in emojis only wear pink, are princesses or dancing bunnies, do their nails and their hair, and that’s about it. No other activities, no sports, no jobs… the realisation is shocking.”

This isn’t the first campaign to tackle the under representation of women on the emoji keyboard, however.

A petition launches today, led by Bodyform, to request the Unicode includes six new ‘femoji’ - female-specific icons depicting everything from periods to PMS and sanitary pads - in its offering.

Details have also been released about Unicode’s potential plans to make all its 'human-looking' icons customisable in terms of gender, as well as hair colour, skin colour and the direction in which they’re facing.

Though yet to be confirmed, reports suggest that the team at Unicode are currently working on how these customisations could all be implemented, and if successful, could be rolled out later this year.


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Amy Lewis

Amy Lewis is a freelance writer and editor, a lover of strong tea, equally strong eyebrows, a collector of facial oils and a cat meme enthusiast. She covers everything from beauty and fashion to feminism and travel.

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