The Problem with Emojis

Like most people, I usually utter a frustrated groan whenever an advertisement appears before a video I’m trying to watch online. However, recently an advertisement popped up that I eagerly watched, delighted by its overall message. As part of its #LikeAGirl campaign, the brand Always has created this advertisement called “The Only Profession Girls Emojis Represent Is Bride.” The premise of this advertisement is to expose the stereotypical gender roles perpetuated by emojis, which are seen by phone users across the globe.

bride-with-veilAs this advertisement points out, the vast majority of emojis involving girls portray them doing stereotypically feminine things, such as cutting or flipping one’s hair and dancing in costumes. A large portion of the girls in emojis are also wearing pink, thereby furthering the notion that girls must be associated with this traditionally feminine color. In contrast, only males are shown in the emojis depicting any type of sports or athletic activity. This has girls wondering: Why aren’t we represented equally, even as far as emojis are concerned?

Lucy Walker of Pulse Films says it best in her comment that:

“Society has a tendency to send subtle messages that can limit girls to stereotypes. As someone who has studied sociolinguistics, I know the kind of impact even seemingly innocuous language choices can have on girls. It was so interesting to hear these girls talk about emojis and realise how the options available to them are subtly reinforcing the societal stereotypes and limitations they face every day.”

The message of this advertisement ties in with two important and fascinating aspects of our culture that we’ve been discussing in class: gender and language. This problem is similar to the one presented in Dude, You’re a Fag by C.J. Pascoe in which the use of language– specifically the word “fag”– largely contributed to the stereotypical image of how a heterosexual male student should behave, dress, speak, etc. Likewise, these emojis are evidence of the stereotypical gender norms that our culture often endeavors to emphasize, and it is a problem that should have been remedied long ago. By suggesting that girls cannot be athletic, strong, or dislike the color pink, emojis are preventing both girls and boys from accepting gender equality. It produces the concept of gender as though it is a dichotomy– boys vs. girls, blue vs. pink, independent adventurer vs. dependent bride– when in reality gender is a vast spectrum with numerous different possibilities and variations. Similar to the way the “fag discourse” in Pascoe’s ethnography limited the behavior of male students to certain accepted parameters, these emojis limit girls’ perception of what they are capable of achieving.

Moreover, in this technological age of smartphones and texting, it is clear that emojis are becoming a new form of communication, albeit a unique one. Nevertheless, the fact that it sets such obvious limitations for the ways in which girls can express themselves is highly problematic. A girl should not have to rely on an image of a male biking to represent herself, nor should a boy have to rely on the image of a girl to depict the act of getting one’s hair cut. These stereotypically gendered images are extremely restrictive and serve to communicate only a narrow, unprogressive view of our culture.

Creating a wider variety of emojis that encompass what both girls and boys are capable of is one small step we can take towards a more accepting culture concerning gender equality. Girls certainly do more in their lives than become brides– why shouldn’t their emojis express that?


Driscoll, Brogan. “These Girls Are Tired Of Sexist Emojis.” The Huffington Post UK. The Huffington Post UK, 03 Feb. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.



One thought on “The Problem with Emojis”

  1. Hi Holly, I thought your post was super thought provoking- I never realized there were so many gender stereotypes found in the emojis. One passage that stood out to me was “a girl should not have to rely on an image of a male biking to represent herself, nor should a boy have to rely on the image of a girl to depict the act of getting one’s hair cut.” Even though we live in such a progressive society, stereotypes associated with gender limit a person’s ability to express themselves. Men are depicted in traditional, powerful positions, such as in the emojis of the policeman and construction worker. Both professions are stereotypically male-dominated and this subtle reference sends the message that females do not have the capability of obtaining those positions. Instead, like you mentioned, the female emojis are shown as brides and dancers. In the last year or so, more skin tone options were added to the emojis, providing more racial diversity. Hopefully the creators of the emojis do the same and decide that they need to change the way that they depict males and females.


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