“There is nothing to hint towards what’s in my pants”: Grace Dent on why we need ‘femojis’ to break period taboos

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Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's regular column tackling issues on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st century context. This week, the journalist, broadcaster and self-confessed emoji addict, Grace Dent, discusses why we need to back Bodyform's new global campaign launched today for ‘femojis’ to be added to the official Unicode keyboard. These period-based emojis aim to blitz the taboo around all aspects of menstruation – something Dent argues is long overdue…

Feminist Grace Dent says:

I love emojis. I am so completely, 100% ‘laughing cat with heart-shaped eyes’ about them. They’re just so beautifully handy.

Yes, I may make my living by writing, so you’d think finding the perfect, succinct word to nail how I feel would come easy. But, if you take a peek at the WhatsApp chats bubbling away on my phone or my Twitter timeline, you’ll find it reverberates with my glorious little emoji chums. It’s a sea of party poppers, windy gusts, glasses of red wine and of course, ripe purple aubergines which symbolise everything from a Tom Hardy photo session to the reaction I hope my new bra causes.

My favourite emoji, right now, is the ‘puzzled’ smiley man. He’s clutching his face with one hand pulling a look of utter bamboozlement. I say ‘his’ face because emojis, to me, seem rather masculine.

Even if I do use them all day long to chat with girl friends.

I tell them ‘I’m running late’ or ‘Leave me alone I’m busy!’ with the little sprinting man in blue jeans. If I’m staying in on a Friday night avoiding Prosecco and being sensible I use the man’s brown leather brogue emoji. If I need to say to friends ‘Can’t make it, I’ll be working’ then job-wise I have a male detective or postman to choose from. It’s not ideal.

Emoji’s two female professions appear to be ‘princess’ and ‘bride’. Sadly, I have long since accepted that Prince Harry will not be turning up with a ring begging me to give up the 9-5. I’m not really princess material anyway.

Oh, I love you emoji but some useful ‘femojis’ wouldn’t go amiss. There is an emoji girl – a compliant-looking type wearing a soft pink jumper – but her main concerns seem to be needing a trim or a head massage.

When I want to symbolise myself – a real-life woman who rarely wears pink, or smiles coyly – I use the emoji of the man in a traditional Buckingham Palace-style bearskin. From a distance it looks like my beehive.

And although I am thrilled and grateful for emoji’s long, ripe, phallic aubergine, as of yet there is nothing to hint towards what’s in my pants. Or, more crucially, what’s inside around 50% of the world’s knickers too.

And yes, it’s not as if I frequently need to go around shouting loudly about my vagina or my latest period – which has inevitably just arrived on the London Underground 11 stops from the nearest Boots – but that’s the point of emojis isn’t it?

The femojis I need are not for shouting loudly. They would be wonderful for saying things quietly, in a tiny tap of a button, that we might not want to say out loud. I would love an emoji that hinted gently towards anything to do with periods.

It's insane that women can use one single emoji to say ‘Can I borrow your lipstick?’ or ‘Are you wearing heels tonight?’ but the question ‘Has anyone got a spare pad?’ is impossible.

Seriously, I have tried to buy tampons in Buenos Aires, Dubrovnik and Dusseldorf and – as my language skills let me down and my slightly X-rated gesturing got me nowhere – I’d have given anything for a universally recognised ‘help me out with a tampon’ femoji.

On a long trip around rural Northern Ireland, where chemists were thin on the ground, I once tried to hint to colleagues I needed to borrow a pad by using the ‘peach emoji’ (looks maybe slightly like a vagina) followed by an emergency symbol. It just looked as if I was flagging up a food intolerance. Far from ideal.

And if I’m asking for femojis as a big, brave, grown-up writer who is perfectly used to saying awkward things in public, then I am absolutely certain young women all over the planet would love a way to communicate about periods.

Menstruating shouldn’t be embarrassing. It really shouldn’t. It’s merely nature doing its thing. Not one of us would be here without it. But somehow, periods still make many of us tongue-tied. Telling your mother, your father, your school friends or even your teacher that you’re bleeding – particularly if you’re a shy person – can be one of the most excruciating things ever.

In the long term, young women who are unable to communicate what’s happening within their bodies suffer from real anxiety. It erodes their confidence. It stops them learning how their bodies work and allows others to make their decisions.

Worldwide, there is still so much taboo, mystery and plain old-fashioned nonsense surrounding women and the plain fact that we bleed. The only way we can consign this to history is by talking. And if we can’t quite face saying things out loud, I want a femoji for that.

To get the ball rolling, Bodyform has started a petition on Change.org, encouraging women to sign up to encourage Unicode to include six new femojis on the emoji keyboard, including icons depicting pads and periods as well as cramps, bloating, PMS and spots.

It goes live today, and you can sign it here: change.org/femojis-uk

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