Emojis have evolved quite a bit from their original simplicity of yellow faces conveying basic emotions, to various jobs and activities, foods, and even poop. I love using emojis. It’s a quick way to get my point across, and let’s face it, they’re fun to use.
Texting before emojis lacked emotion. It can be hard to read the tone of a text message and emojis certainly help convey many feelings we have. Imagine the fights that are avoided simply by adding the winking emoji! But alas, even emojis are not immune to political correctness. Over their relatively short history, major changes have been rolled out to make emojis more “inclusive.”
Gay emoijis were added to couples and family pictures. A wide array of skin tones was created so your emoji could look more like you. Gender changes have been made. Why is the construction worker a male? There are female construction workers too! Ok, female construction worker has been added.
Last year, the gun emoji was replaced with a green water gun. I’m sure that has had a major impact on gun violence. What a perfect opportunity for the ‘eyes rolling’ emoji!
All liberals were appeased, right? Not so fast. Here we are in 2017 and the next big change for emojis is the ‘genderless’ emoji. Apparently the transgender population felt they needed to be represented as well.
“Last week, Unicode—the international body that approves and encodes all new additions to the pictographic canon (duh)—released its latest version, which of course means new emoji. And Version 10.0 doesn’t disappoint. In addition to the emoji you’ve always wanted (“face with open mouth vomiting,” “dumpling”) and the ones you never knew you wanted (“merperson,” “sauropod”), there are three that Hunt has spent the last year and a half working on in his capacity as a member of Unicode’s Emoji Subcommittee. Dubbed simply “child,” “adult,” and “older person,” they’re the world’s first genderless emoji.
Thought some emoji were already genderless? Not so much. Even those winking, frowning, cry-laughing yellow blob-faces scan as male. As Hunt learned from conducting online surveys, he says, “there’s a tendency in our culture to view things as masculine by default.” On the other hand, emoji explicitly meant to represent women and girls are overly gendered—doe-eyed, lipsticked, and hairstyled to the point of reading as feminine caricatures. So for people who don’t believe gender is either-or, or don’t identify as a particular gender, there weren’t great options.
At a Unicode meeting in Redmond, Washington last fall, Hunt debuted his first sketches to other committee members. The works in progress hewed to his personal notion of androgyny—pageboy haircut, thin lips, no eyelashes—but his colleagues still only saw male faces.
So Hunt spent months researching gender biases, incorporating his findings into each new iteration of his designs and talking about them with gender-nonconforming friends and colleagues. A more tousled look, maybe? Nah, too boyish. So add some length? Yeah, that’s closer. Finally, he hit on something that seemed to work: short pieces of hair peeking out from behind the ears, kind of like a pixie cut. He adopted versions of it for child, adult, and older adult emoji, and in November, Unicode voted to include them in Version 10.0.
Inclusion had been Unicode’s goal all along. When it first introduced its standards for human characters back in 2010, they weren’t supposed to read as male or female. But Apple—which, like every provider, is free to iterate on top of Unicode’s baseline designs—wanted something more personal. So for iPhone users, “information desk person” became “information desk lady,” and “construction worker” became “male construction worker.” Customers seemed to like these better, so Google (and everyone else) made similar tweaks.
But later, as these companies scrambled to build out a more representative character set—adding skin colors and letting women be police officers too—they ended up creating a hyper-binary keyboard. For the 50 percent of people under 35 who don’t believe in a dualistic conception of gender, not seeing themselves or their friends in their emoji can be difficult, even harmful.
“If there are no good options to represent yourself in our emoji system,” Hunt says, ‘it’s harder to get people to empathize with you.’ ”
Well, there you have it. It can be “harmful” for a transgender person to not see themselves in their emojis. I can’t wait to see what the next generation of emojis has in store for us.