Since I am a mother with daughters, it’s hard not to notice that the “grievance culture” has reached a new level of absurdity. Sometimes it seems like everywhere we turn there is the message that society treats girls—and eventually women—unfairly.
Toy stores are biased against girls because they presume girls might like dolls. Schools are biased against girls because some girls like creative writing more than chemistry. Business is biased against girls because girls need feminine products, and they’re spending more than boys on personal hygiene and cosmetics.
We now have a new gripe to add to the list: sexist emoji—small, digital pictures or images that represent a feeling or idea. They’re everywhere: our smartphones, email, social media. Users add these little smiling, crying, frowning faces or symbols to messages to signal how they feel about something.
Bummed about a bad grade? Add a sad face. Stressed about a big test? Add an emoji pulling out its hair. Excited about a new boy? Slap on a heart. (Feeling overwhelmed by our grievance culture? Add three wine glass emoji and hit Send.)
Try Focusing on Real Problems, Not Fake Ones
But today even these lighthearted digital pictures are taken by feminist culture warriors as a symptom of the prejudice against girls and women in America. The feminine product company Always has tapped into this supposed injustice with a new video and #LikeAGirl campaign, which laments the scarcity of emoji that resonate with women.
According to Always, “girls send more than a billion emoji a day,” and the new devastating concern for these gender crusaders is that these digital pictures don’t represent girls adequately. The company complains the current state of emoji feeds into the pretty and pink culture. One young girl on the video remarks that too many emoji are “pink or like a girl” (clearly we don’t want that). Then, of course, there is the more “serious” concern about the shortage of girls in the “profession emojis.” (Uh, profession emoji?)
A cursory review of my own emoji options reveals that most of these miniature icons are “gender neutral.” Still, what’s more striking than the potential underrepresentation of female emoji is this image of young girls and women engaged vacuously in social media, rather than using their imaginations, spending time outdoors, or doing anything more substantive.
Get Your Heads Out of Your Phones
If we’re concerned with girls’ confidence, perhaps we ought to spend more time encouraging truly gratifying activities like reading a book, practicing an instrument, playing a sport, or pursuing a hobby.
Always claims that “at puberty, girls’ confidence plummets” and somehow makes the absurd leap that sexist emoji exacerbate the problem by reducing girls to “stereotypes.” That’s why the company wants to “make emojis as unstoppable as the girls they represent.”
But perhaps better than focusing on creating digital characterizations of female wrestlers, bikers, lawyers, and detectives, Always can draw attention to some real-life women who have pursued different careers, interests, and lifestyles—of which the examples are endless.
When I was a girl, my teachers taught me to show, don’t tell. So why don’t we show young girls today that we have three women serving on the Supreme Court. Why not introduce them to the rising number of female CEOs, many of whom have become household names like Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, Virginia Rometty, and Indra Nooyi.
If female surfers are important to young girls, as Always suggests, then direct girls here. Perhaps throw in a few other “commonplace” moms and women working part-time so they can also appreciate the many, important roles that women take on both inside and outside the home.
Women Aren’t Helpless Victims
The premise behind campaigns like #LikeAGirl is that girls are consistently mistreated and lack access or encouragement to achieve educationally, professionally, and financially. It implies girls lack agency to make serious decisions about school, work, and relationships. It also reinforces the false notion that girls and women consistently trail behind boys and men. (Tell that to male medical researchers, veterinarians, and financial planners, for example—all of whom their female counterparts outnumber today.)
If girls should have any grievance, it’s that campaigns like #LikeAGirl pit them, once again, against boys and men. It ignores all the hard work, choices, and accomplishments women have made in their lives. Even worse, it suggests the female psyche is so fragile it will be crippled by a dearth of properly gendered emoji.
My daughters also have a brother, whom they care about and want to see succeed, too. While they may exhibit different ways of learning or expressing themselves, they all deserve an equal opportunity to succeed. It’s my job as a parent to make sure they have the skills and confidence necessary to live happy lives. No number of girl-focused emoji can compete with that.