Why is a Smiley Face important?

7 October 2016

emojisWhat’s currently the fastest growing language in the world? I was shocked when I learnt but I promptly updated my iPhone so I could communicate better with M, who’s fluent in this emerging and sometimes confusing language. I’m not talking about teen speak, ‘street’ or slang, but emoji.

If you’re over forty, like me, you might sporadically use the occasional smiley face or cake emoji when you text, but as I’ve discovered, M and her friends seem to text almost exclusively in emoji and I even heard one of her friends say recently ‘OMG smiley face’ when M told her good news.

I met up with friends this week, all who have teenagers of various ages and we talked about emojis and their relevance. We left the coffee shop agreeing to disagree but all felt the new gender equal emojis were a good thing. For those of you who don’t have an iPhone (why not!) or haven’t updated to the new Apple update of iOS 10, the new operating system has a huge new range of emojis which smash the gender stereotypes previously seen on most emoji platforms; workmen and doctors depicted in a male gender and nurses and hairdressers depicted as female. There’s also a new flag; the gay rainbow flag and in a time when the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) movement are fighting for equal rights and recognition across the world, this can only be a good thing.

M is obsessed by the new update, and is sending me endless emoji texts with precursors of ‘look at this one’ or ‘this is my new favourite’ and without fail, they have all been gender affirming female emojis, representing women in a strong role.

Emojis represent the world around us and I’m surprised that it’s taken so long for Apple to climb into 2016. I live in the suburbs and in the same road as me live two gay dads with their children, and I’m good friends with a female gay family who’ve been fostering for several years. My best friend’s daughter is transgender and currently awaiting surgery, but has been living as a woman for two years. I’m not unusual and most people are comfortable with people living the life they choose, with the people they choose, regardless of gender. The same with skin colour. Apple responded much earlier to requests for emojis of varied skin tones and the individual emojis have a scale of colour from pale to dark, so users can identify with the picture.

The iOS 10 update has enabled emojis for most family situations to be available including single parents of both sexes and as well as some slightly bizarre emojis, for example Geisha Girls, Komodo Dragon and a wild boar. When are we ever going to send a text that needs any of those? The emoji designers have also created a female surfer, female police officer, female detective and various female sport emojis. Some might say this is just a gimmick, but having gender roles represented in something as innocuous as a text message, enters the subconscious minds of young girls and is another step forward for real equality.

This isn’t a blog about feminism or female rights, just an observation of how the new emojis have affected one 15 year old girl. She is able to identify with many of them and is able to express herself without having to compromise. Hubby’s favourite emoji is still the beer glass full of beer and he texts that to me regularly either as a question or as a statement, and my favourite is and always will be the Easter Island Head! Not that I’ve ever had reason to use it but I like knowing it’s there. Now if only Apple would make more UK friendly emojis. How about an iconic red bus, a footballer or a Scottish thistle?

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