Emoji Gender Bender

This article first appeared on Tech.Mic, written by Sophie Kleeman. mic.com

female emojis

This year, Oxford Dictionaries got creative with its Word of the Year. Instead of picking an actual word, it chose a familiar little yellow face. Upturned mouth, tears of joy streaming down its cheeks, eyebrows tilted in laughter: an emoji, precisely the one you’d add to a retweet of something that was so funny you cried. The decision was yet another example of how commonplace the small digital characters created by Unicode have become in daily life.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, use of the word emoji more than tripled between 2014 and 2015. Their ubiquity is undeniable. They’re popular with grandparents and teenagers, in Bangkok and Bel Air. There are pages and pages of them on smartphones, enough to suit a broad range of everyday texting situations. Yet despite their abundance, there’s an area of life that isn’t properly represented.

Where the hell, we ask, are all the emojis for professional women?

What options exist? As it stands, women who want to use something other than a neutral female emoji have the following options to choose from: a princess, a bride, twins that resemble Playboy bunnies, a dancer in a red dress and a series of “information desk person” characters.

Male emojis, on the other hand, have the following non-neutral forms: Santa Claus, a man wearing a turban, a man wearing a gua pi mao (a type of hat), a policeman, a guardsman, a male detective, a male construction worker and a male angel. There’s also a series of male athletes: a male horseback rider, a man bowing, a man walking, a man running, a man golfing, a man swimming and a man floating.

Ambiguously gendered figures with long hair and visible sideburns can be found playing basketball and surfing.

Besides the sheer difference in numbers, the occupations of these characters is telling. Men get the “serious” professional roles, and women get the “girlie” ones. Even the “information desk person” emojis have become better known for their seemingly sassy behavior: The woman holding out her hand, for instance, has been re-imagined as the hair-flip emoji.

“Every day we’re seeing this subtle message that there are these emojis of men doing jobs, but women are just dancing and getting their hair cut,” Niniane Wang, CEO of Evertoon and a former engineering manager at Google, told Mic. “It [has] an effect.”

Before men’s-rights types start screaming about political correctness gone haywire, no, this isn’t the most pressing feminist issue of our time. We shouldn’t necessarily throw all other causes to the wind and spend their days and nights fighting for equal emoji representation. There are myriad problems for women around the globe – violence, sexual assault, pay inequality and access to reproductive services, to name a few — that are far more threatening to women’s lives.

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.

“I think it’s a symptom of a detrimental system — the patriarchy — that reinforces stereotypes (the bride, the princess, the dancer) that don’t represent the many layers of what it means to identify as female,” Kendall Mackey, 28, told Mic. 

Wang first noticed the lack of professional women emojis while developing Evertoon, an app that allows users to create avatars. “Emojis are a huge part of our product, and I’ve spent many hours of the last year of my professional life staring at [them],” she said.

Kelly Byrd, 29, theorized that the lack of emoji ladies in professional roles comes from a fear of representing women badly.

“They didn’t want them to come across as being totally stereotypical,” Byrd told Mic. If Unicode had chosen traditionally female-dominated — and thus easily identifiable — jobs, like nurses, teachers or secretaries, the backlash likely would have been powerful. Wang agreed, noting that it was possible Unicode didn’t want to do “the wrong thing.”

Still, both said they were dissatisfied with the emoji universe’s inadequacies.

“I’m definitely disappointed that there’s a big discrepancy,” Byrd said. Though she said she won’t be beating down the door of her local congressperson over the issue anytime soon, she emphasized that it’s still important to see herself represented properly.

“[Emojis have] become part of our cultural language,” Wang said. “That’s why I don’t think it’s silly. Lots of people communicate with emojis, and texting is such a pervasive part of how we communicate with each other. If we’re all texting, and all using emojis, then doesn’t it make sense that they should represent us?”

It doesn’t have to be a giant shift right away. Unicode can’t represent every single profession out there. But it should be aware, as Mackey put it, that there are different layers to what it means to be female — and that means acknowledging that women make up roughly 40% of the global workforce.

They could start, for example, by adding female versions of the male professions, and vice versa. That means including female construction workers, grooms, male information desk people, and so on. (They could also stand to experiment with more genderless figures.)

Eventually, other occupations — businesswomen, doctors, housekeepers, scientists, singers, cooks — should have a place. (As well as some other key roles.) Wang said she’d like to see a female engineer or a female CEO.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Though Unicode can seem like an impenetrable and distant fortress from the outside, recent updates to the emoji catalog have proven that change certainly isn’t out of the question. Although BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel describes Unicode as “a deeply technical and somewhat secretive organization.” (Unicode has not responded to a request for comment for this story.)

Racially diverse emoji finally made their way into Unicode’s updates in 2015, and on Friday, a Kickstarter campaign to add a dumpling emoji surpassed its goal. Jennifer Lee, the co-creator of the campaign, previously told Mic that beyond getting the dumpling emoji approved, she wanted to use the Kickstarter funds to help diversify Unicode’s voting bodies and make the proposal process more inclusive to the public.

The organizing body she intends to use to see this goal through, Emojination, will help tackle problems like the lack of professional women emoji, and it will start by adding to the ranks of people who participate in the process in the first place. Emojination is a “nonvoting associate member” of Unicode.

Engineers, for example, make a good portion of the membership, which Lee believes needs to change. “The skill set of engineering is not robust enough to address the demands the emoji world is putting on the system,” she told Mic earlier this week. “You need someone, ideally, who understands how to plug in to systems to gauge desire. The emoji subcommittee itself would benefit from a richer range of skill sets.”

Then again, there’s a much simpler solution to all of this. As Mackey put it, “Can’t we just have an emoji that’s of a woman smashing patriarchy?”

A excerpt from Jonathan Franzen’s review of Sherry Turkle’s new book titled ‘Reclaiming Conversation’

Our digital technologies aren’t politically neutral. The young person who cannot or will not be alone, converse with family, go out with friends, attend a lecture or perform a job without monitoring her smartphone is an emblem of our economy’s leechlike attachment to our very bodies. Digital technology is capitalism in hyperdrive, injecting its logic of consumption and promotion, of monetization and efficiency, into every waking minute.

 

Migration & Mobiles

Disturbing but not unexpected narratives are circulating about migrants and refugees traveling to Europe, centered on nationalist fears, job losses and worst of all – skepticism about the severity of refugee plights. Some narratives find expression in social media memes circulating on Twitter and Facebook like this one…

Australian Body builder not refugees

Vice.com

Props to writer Philip Kleinfeld and Vice.com for exposing the paranoid bullshit content of these memes – which are often blatantly falsified.  The image above has nothing to do with European refugees, in fact it were taken in 2013 on Christmas Island in Australia.

Some narratives have centered on the crippled logic that smartphones are a sign of prosperity and are in conflict with refugee life. While the veracity of memes cannot be trusted, the content of these narratives – specifically the relationship between people and technology and what this signifies – are still incredibly interesting to analyse, succinctly done by the blog Everyday Analysis:

Migration Meme

The horrible meme makes out that fleeing a war zone and the traumas associated with that is not enough to deserve our sympathy if you have a Samsung phone. Possess a symbol of capitalist success and modernity, manage a smile of relief and, in our unforgiving political climate, a traumatised refugee is be deemed a fraud….in the eyes of the British right, why should a refugee not have a mobile phone? …why should a refugee not take a selfie?

In the end this meme shows us three things. First, it quite simply and obviously shows how much hateful fascism there is in our society. Second, it shows how these structures are still supported by a colonial ideology that sees the passage to modernity as the natural course of events and does not want to admit that this trauma and devastation is a modern problem that our own brand of modernity is responsible for. Third, it warns us of the danger of our preconceptions and expectations when it comes to refugees and shows us how deeply ingrained in right wing ideology some of our assumptions may be.

everyday analysis See the full feature on Everyday Analysis.

Producing Desire

Selfie at Oscars 2014

Above is the most reTweeted image in history, taken at the 2014 Oscars and indirectly conceptualised by Samsung (without the caption).  This is marketing masquerading as “incidental” selfie.  Have we just witnessed  the Samsung Galaxy affect? The passage below is a brilliant piece from Australian cultural theorist Claire Colebrook titled The Death of the PostHuman: Essays on Extinction, Volume One, that offers come commentary on this…

We are suffering, today—here and now—from hyper-hypo-affective disorder. We appear to be consuming nothing other than affects; even the supposed material needs of life—food, sex, sociality—are now marketed affectively. Branding relies on irrational attachments or ‘lovemarks,’ while politics trades in terror and resentment. Affects themselves are marketed: one can purchase games of horror or disgust, and even the purchase of a cup of coffee is perhaps undertaken less for the sake of the caffeine stimulant and more for the Starbucks affect. This is what led Michael Hardt to theorize a new era of affective labor. But this over-consumption and boom of marketable affects is accompanied by affect fatigue, as though there were an inverse relation between the wider and wider extension of affective influx and the ever-diminishing intensity of affect. It is not surprising then that cultural diagnoses of the present observe two seemingly incompatible catastrophic tendencies: a loss of cognitive or analytic apparatuses in the face of a culture of affective immediacy, and yet a certain deadening of the human organism (ranging from Walter Benjamin’s observation of an absence of experience in an information age to Fredric Jameson’s claim for a ‘waning of affect’ in a world of over-stimulation, in which there is no longer a distinction between experiencing subject and external object, no other person, for whom one might feel empathy).

It’s Funny Cause It’s True

Original Article courtesy Gawker

In a clarion call that will likely rival his insta-legendary “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” diatribe delivered nearly five years ago on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, comedian Louis C.K. explains — to Conan, once again — exactly why he dislikes the culture of smartphones and why he would never get one for his kids.

C.K. starts off by suggesting that smartphone usage is the reason kids today are meaner:

I think these things are toxic, especially for kids…they don’t look at people when they talk to them and they don’t build empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it’s ’cause they’re trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, ‘you’re fat,’ and then they see the kid’s face scrunch up and they go, ‘oh, that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that.’ But they got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write ‘you’re fat,’ then they just go, ‘mmm, that was fun, I like that.’

From there, C.K. moved on to expound on the larger issue: The negative emotional effect that smartphones have on grown-ups.

While C.K. agrees that smartphones can help create a sense of community, he believes that therein lies the problem:

You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.

And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…

That’s why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.

Finally, C.K. brings it all together with an anecdote about the time he was in his car listening to a Bruce Springsteen song (“Jungleland“) that made him really sad:

And I go, ‘oh, I’m getting sad, gotta get the phone and write “hi” to like 50 people’…then I said, ‘you know what, don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness, stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck.’

And I let it come, and I just started to feel ‘oh my God,’and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments.

And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness. It was such a trip.

The thing is, because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone or a jack-off or the food. You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product, and then you die. So that’s why I don’t want to get a phone for my kids.

Waiting for the “now now now”

“Facebook amplifies the newness of what has happened recently by displaying this information first and by allowing older items to flow off the page. Nowness is encouraged on Facebook, so much so that individual moments transform into overall flow  – a feel of now now now.” – Ian Bogost, in Facebook and Philosophy: What’s on Your Mind? by D.E. Wittkower.

mobile phone zombies

Life of a Stranger Who Stole My phone

Recently found (thanks Robin Kelly): a Tumblr blog sharing “the inspiring story of Hafid from Dubai,the douchebag who stole my phone”. Who knows if it’s real, but as the blog says Hafid “forgot to switch off the camera upload function, that’s why we will enjoy a deep insight into his life.”

life of a stranger who stole my phone

Blog caption: “salam again, the summer heat doesn’t keep creative hafid from exploring new locations and posing the shit out of them.”

The blog is interesting for a couple of reasons:

It’s not a “deep insight” into Hafid’s life at all, it’s the commentary of a crime victim laying bare the naive and sometimes banal life stream of a supposed thief. And now it’s gone viral. So why do we find this so entertaining?

There’s something simultaneously unnerving and entertaining about having access to a strangers’ life without his consent or knowledge. When was the last time you had full access to someone else’s photostream? It’s voyeurism at its most culturally intimate. It also opens spaces for fantasy, humour, bitterness and total misinterpretation. In many of the images the blog author incorrectly identifies “Hafid” in the picture. Maybe all Arabs look the same to the author? Maybe all Arabs are called Hafid anyway? The author labels a video of Hafid’s friends/brothers/cousins “dancing” when they’re wrestling (maybe that’s a joke). Either way, what we’re doing is looking at Hafid through his own eyes. This is what he sees! We can be him for a day or two! We’re both participating in his life and making fun of him by doing it. But, some things we’ll never know: is he really an aspiring fashion designer? Is he happy? Are those his brothers or lovers? Some things we know for sure though: he’s having chicken for lunch.

Seems like mobile photography techniques suffer less from cultural relativism…Hafid’s photos have all the built-in cliches of mobile culture:

The experimental selfie triptych.
natalie dixon affetc lab

natalie dixon affect lab research

natalie dixon affect lab research

the filtered food shot

natalie dixon affect lab research

the person-in-the-palm-of-my-hand shot.

natalie dixon affect lab research

If it’s real then this kind of surveillance at a distance is mind blowing. Even if the blog is the work of a bored creative (or a researcher, even better) the narrative speaks volumes. There’s the microcosm it provides for western views on the “other.” now I’m making assumptions. Maybe the blog author isn’t western – they never identify themselves. The author  uses  Arabic in the captions – which are funny, sarcastic and mildly derogatory. This could have been left out, but to be honest the blog is nothing without it. So we’re having a laugh at a person, using his own tongue. Again, it’s entertaining, but why?

Hafid has the obvious naivety of someone  using a smartphone for the first time. He poses like a newbie in cliched places (the rocks! the ocean!), filter experimentation gone wrong, under-lit selfies, and shot composition minus heads. This is overlaid with the owner’s derisive Western commentary, someone familiar with smartphone technology. Anyone who has been to Dubai will know the incredible opulence it celebrates. I think Hafid’s mobile stream speaks less about his lack of creative capacity and more about our new global dividing line in consumer culture – defined by the phone you own.

The Selfie: To Live is To Be Photographed

mobile behaviour
Images captured from Instagram using #phone

Susan Sontag, On Photography

To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge – and therefore, like power.
As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure.
…dependence on the camera, as the device that makes real what one is experiencing….

Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs. Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to an experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on.

Jose Van Dijck, Mediated Memories in the Digital Age

Whereas their parents invested considerable time and effort in building up material collections of pictures for future reference, youngsters appear to take less interest in sharing photographs as objects than as sharing them as experiences. [p.114]

Digital photography is part of this larger transformation in which the self becomes the center of a virtual universe made up of informational and spatial flows, individuals articulate their identity as social beings not only by taking and storing photographs to document their lives but also by by participating in communal photographic exchanges that mark their identity as interactive producers and consumers of culture.
From the above observations it is tempting to draw the conclusion that digital cameras are moving away from their prime functions as memory tools, instead becoming tools for identity formation, communication, and experience. If photographs were always a medium for remembering scenes and objects from the past, digital cameras particularly encourage users to imagine and invent the present.[p.116]

Sherry Turkle, Alone Together

Gradually we come to see our online life as life itself. We come to see what robots offer as relationship. the simplification of relationship is no longer a source of compliant. It becomes what we want. Technology reshapes the landscape of our emotional lives, but is it offering us the lives we want to lead? [p.17]

Arms held high; cell phone glint in the sun. People are taking pictures of themselves, of strangers, of friends…The event is a celebration of physical presence, but the crowd reaches out to those who are absent. It is important to have images of the day on one’s own phone. And it is important to send them along. A photo from the inauguration, or a text, a posting, an email, a Tweet – all validate the sense of being there. It used to be that taking a photograph marked participation…But these days, the photograph is not enough. Sending implies being….We are pressed into the service of technologies of remembrance and validation. [p.302]

Sarah Kember & Joanna Zylinska, Life After New Media

Our argument is that events are never merely presented and represented in the media, and that any such representations are always to an extent performative. [xvi]

If indeed to live is to be photographed, then contrary to its more typical association with the passage of time and death, photography can be understood more productively in terms of vitality, as a process of differentiation and life-making. [p.72]

..if we are to think about photography in terms of mediation – whereby mediation stands for the differentiation of, as well as the connection between, media and, more broadly, for the acts and processes of producing and temporarily stabilizing the world into media , agents and relations, and networks – we need to see the ontology of photography as predominantly that of becoming.[p.79]