Where are the Empowering Emojis?

When we think of dresses, bows, and the color pink, girls come straight to mind. In Keywords for Children’s Literature, Jacqueline Reid-Walsh says, “‘The doll is the special plaything of the sex. Here the girl’s liking is plainly directed towards her lifework. For her the art of pleasing finds its physical expression in dress…’” (p. 93) in her essay on “girlhood.” She discusses one of girlhood’s root meanings being dress or apparel showing girls’ connection to frivolous appearances and superficiality. Girls have been historically represented as inferior to boys and having less active interests and hobbies, such as playing with dolls.

In Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, society at this time taught that women needed to get married in order to support themselves. Men were responsible for providing for the family and women were responsible for taking care of the domestic space and the children. The March girls, besides for Beth due to her passing, all conform to this standard and end up getting married. As Jo says, “‘If I was a boy, we’d run away together, and have a capital time; but as I’m a miserable girl, I must be proper, and stop at home’” (p. 213). This quote shows how girls felt very restricted and limited during the time of this novel. They were not free to do everything and did not have the same opportunities as boys.

The most recent video created for Always’ #LikeAGirl ad campaign, entitled Girl Emojis, has girls discussing the way they feel emojis represent them. There are only stereotypical images of girls featured and male characters are used to portray most activities. One girl says, “Girls love emojis but there aren’t enough emojis to say what girls do. That’s just how things are.”


The video goes on to show the girls describing the type of emojis that they would like to see. Some that are mentioned include a female wrestler, soccer player, cop, lawyer, detective, and musician. The video drives home the message that girls are capable of achieving whatever they set their mind to. Although the stereotypes of girls being limited to certain activities as shown in Little Women do exist in emojis, society has made much progress. Women today are able to have any profession and are not dependent on marriage for financial support. The emojis need to catch up with what really exists in the world and portray the strong, independent women that are today’s reality.

7 thoughts on “Where are the Empowering Emojis?”

  1. I love that you referenced the “Like a Girl” campaign! I really agree with what you are saying here, it is unfair that something as small as an emoji can have a negative effect on the self-esteem of girls. The lack of female representation and the fact that almost all of the few female emojis are stereotypical was something I never even noticed until I saw this video. Everyone deserves equal representation, even if it is through something as trivial as emojis! 🙂

  2. I totally agree that emojis should reflect women in the same ways that they do men. However, I love that the emojis now come in different skin tones. Allowing people to pick the color of skin for the different emojis helps close the racial gap. Especially since emojis are a world wide phenomenon and people using emojis everywhere are of different races and ethnic backgrounds.

  3. Your post really resonated with me. I think this is a great topic to discuss. Why do girls feel this way about the emojis and why does society still put these expectations on women and girl? Children’s Literature at a young age brings up these topic and expectations. I believe if we had more books, movies, and debates about this topic many things would change. Do you think if children’s literature made a shift and took out these expectations and what girls were “supposed to do” that these expectations and these emojis would be different?

  4. This was such a great connection between a current trend (emojis) and the expectations of the past as mentioned in the “Girlhood” essay and Little Women. I really enjoyed reading it! I agree with you that the emojis need to catch up to meet modern day ideas of girls. I am surprised that there is not already a wider variety of emojis to portray girls and would hope that it is in the works. I understand that something as small as emojis may seem silly, but just like dolls, it leaves an impact on girls who dare to do something different.

  5. Hi Rachel,

    I think pointing out a lack of representation of minority groups (e.g. women, POC, etc..) is always a good thing. We can also see inherent racism or sexism in the way that people react to better representation (e.g. Clorox’s ‘bleaching’ tweet after the new diverse emojis release http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/clorox-racially-insensitive-tweet-emojis-article-1.2181523). We should also ask ourselves who gets to make those kinds of decisions about emojis (it’s actually a really weird and complicated process, but I will bet good money that the Unicode Consortium members (http://www.unicode.org/consortium/members.html) are not exactly representative of the diversity we should expect in our emojis.

  6. I think this article/ad campaign brings up some really interesting topics. As an avid emoji user, I frequently find myself getting frustrated with not having an emoji that represents what it I am talking about. However, prior to watching this video I never really noticed the underrepresentation of female emojis or largely stereotypical ones that do exist. I’m surprised that this hasn’t been changed or updated yet. I wonder with them recently adding all of the different skin tones to the emoji collection, if a wider portrayal of women is next.

  7. Hi Rachel,
    That is an interesting argument, that I have never really considered much about. Though I find myself constantly saying “where the heck is the ___ emoji?” or “why isn’t there a ___ emoji,” I’ve never really considered the lack of female representation. It is true in emojis like the hair, nails, and even dancer, that these activities are gendered activities of women. I also find it interesting in modern activities of women, there is no representation of gender (i.e. schoolbooks, lab equipment, even the anguished emoji.) I do believe the company is trying, but still the athletic emojis are not tailored to women either so it could go either way in that argument.

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