New emojis shed gender stereotypes: why tiny toons are such a big deal

Facebook Messenger's latest additions to its cast of emojis include depictions of women and girls in professions and poses that break from traditional gender stereotypes.

Courtesy of Facebook
Facebook introduced a suite of new emoji icons for its Messenger app on Thursday.

Facebook Messenger emojis are about to get a whole lot more diverse.

Beginning Thursday, 1,500 additional emojis will be added to Facebook Messenger with more gender and racial representation to be more representative of the app's users.

Although some Facebook users may see this update as trivial, to others it is a major victory, and one that has been a long time coming.

"It may seem fairly innocuous, but when millions of women and girls with access to a mobile phone or computer pepper their text conversations with emojis on a daily basis, those tiny icons suddenly have huge implications," Karolyn Coorsh wrote for CTVNews in March. "Take a quick browse through the plethora of emojis on a phone and you may see that the ‘female’ emojis typically show women or girls putting on nail polish, getting a haircut or dancing in a bunny outfit, while emojis depicting professions or sports are typically portrayed by males... those emojis can subtly reinforce those societal limitations that have been placed on girls for generations."

The announcement comes less than a month after several Google employees petitioned for more gender parity in emojis, calling for 13 new potential female characters such as a doctor, a farmer, and a scientist. 

"No matter where you look, women are gaining visibility and recognition as never before. Isn’t it time that emoji also reflect the reality that women play a key role in every walk of life and in every profession?" wrote four Google employees earlier this month in a proposal to the Silicon Valley-based Unicode Consortium, a member organization between Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google that oversees the addition of emoji characters. "Our proposal is to create a new set of emoji that represent a wide range of professions for women and men with a goal of highlighting the diversity of women’s careers and empowering girls everywhere."

These new emojis do just that.

"We’re diversifying the genders to create a more balanced mix that’s more representative of our world. Now, using Messenger emojis, you’ll see a female police officer, runner, pedestrian, surfer and swimmer for the very first time, and we’ll keep rolling these out," the company announced in a Facebook post. "In an effort to make the emojis you send a better representation of our world, you will also be able to pick the skin color you prefer. All you have to do is set the color you want your default emojies to be when Messenger launches, and your emojis after that will follow your preference."

And Facebook is also releasing emojis with red hair: a long-time request by emoji users.

Along with the diversity updates, Facebook Messenger is updating their emoji application so the images display correctly for all messenger users regardless of operating platform. Now users on Android, iOS or any other platform will receive the emoji instead of a “broken-looking black boxes" or other error messages. 

Considering 10 percent of all mobile messages sent via Facebook Messenger include an emoji, it’s important that they are representative of users, says Facebook.

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