Are female emojis sexist and harmful to girls?

(CNN)My girls will think it’s more than a little bit ironic that I am writing a story about emojis, those characters you find throughout texts and social media, since they believe I’m the last person on the planet to download them on my phone. (I only did that a few months ago!)

It is estimated that 6 billion emojis are sent every day, according to Swyft Media, with young girls believed to be responsible for more than a billion of the daily output. They are so popular that Oxford Dictionaries declared emoji the official word of 2015. Clearly, I am very slow to capitalize on this trend!

    So, as an emoji novice, if there is such an expression, I had no idea what female and male characters were available to choose from until I watched the newest #LikeAGirl video by Always, the creator of sanitary pads. In this latest video, which follows videos in 2014 and 2015 that went viral showcasing how a girls’ confidence plummets during puberty, girls are asked about the emojis that are available to represent them.

    “They’re all mainly pink. That’s pretty much it,” said one girl, as you see a series of girl emojis on the screen, including one of a girl getting a haircut and another of a girl putting her hand up, both wearing pink.

    Said another girl, “There (are) no girls in the professional emojis unless you count being a bride a profession.” (There are also emojis of girls as princesses and what appear to be Playboy bunnies.)

    Girls of various ages and backgrounds note how there are boy emojis for rock climbing, playing basketball and biking, but none for girls doing the same activities. “Except for the surfer. That one’s a girl. Nope, it’s just a guy with long hair,” says another girl in the video before she laughs.



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    An Apple spokesperson referred me to Unicode, saying it develops the standard for emoji characters. I asked if Apple would be pushing Unicode for greater representation of women in emojis, but the spokesperson has not gotten back to me.

    I can already hear the critics who will argue that representation in emojis seems like such a small matter as compared to other issues affecting young women and girls, or the men’s rights activists who will “start screaming about political correctness gone haywire,” as writer Sophie Kleeman put it in a piece titled “Hey, Unicode, It’s About Damn Time We Had Some Emojis for Professional Women.”

    No, it’s not the biggest issue affecting women and young girls, but it’s still an important one based on how intensely girls engage with emojis and how they internalize messages so subconsciously through their media, said Simmons, the author and educator.

    “The lack of emoji options for the working woman is worth examining because it’s a small yet clear example of a social scheme that still manages to reinforce traditional gender stereotypes at every turn — even when the issue is as seemingly innocuous as a tiny digital face,” wrote Kleeman, a staff writer for Mic, which focuses on news for millennials.

    Lucy Walker, an Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker who studied sociolinguistics and gender when she was younger, directed the new #LikeAGirl video.

    “With my background … I’ve always been aware of the important nuances in the ways we communicate and I recognize that language that reinforces stereotypes can have a profound impact on girls’ confidence,” said Walker in an email Q&A.

    Research shows that girls’ confidence tends to drop during puberty. Sixty-seven percent of the 16 to 24 year-olds surveyed by Always said that the available emojis implied that girls are limited in what they can do.

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    There’s an obvious “lack of symmetry” of opportunity for girls in emojis and “clear messages about the things girls should and should not be doing,” said Walker. “And since emojis are so frequently used by young girls and teenagers, whose confidence is already dropping, this is especially regrettable.”

    As one girl said in the video with resignation, “Girls love emojis but there aren’t enough emojis to say what girls do. That’s just how things are.”

    Maybe that will change.

    What additional female emojis would you like to see? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv.

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