Google recently introduced an enormous new set of emojis dedicated to giving women equal time on the job front. Where before doctors, police officers and others were exclusively men in emoji form, now there’s a choice. However, for many, this took far too long and leaves them asking why equal representation for women wasn’t inherent in the emoji-scape in the first place.
The answer to that simple question brings up a bigger issue. Is gender equality hard to find in the products of tech companies, because gender equality is hard to find in the companies themselves?
Who Creates Emoji?
Computers from two different companies can’t necessarily talk to each other. Smartphones are a good example of this: You can’t put an app designed to run on an Android phone onto an iPhone or vice versa. This is a problem when smartphones need to “talk” to each other, like in the form of sending a text message. Think of the Android phone as a person who speaks French, and the iPhone as a person who speaks Chinese. In order to understand each other, they need a language in common.
That’s where Unicode comes in. The job of Unicode is, at its most basic, to be the “common language” between different types of computers. To your phone, the texts you enter are a long string of numbers that get sent to another phone, which then looks at those numbers and uses Unicode to translate them. This is why if you send a smiley face from an iPhone to your Android phone-using friend, you both see it.
It’s far from a perfect system, but Unicode is generally accepted around the world and makes a hard job easier. And when emoji became popular, Unicode implemented a simple system wherein its codes were gender-neutral. If you wanted a police emoji, Unicode designated a number for a “police officer” emoji. The problem, as Unicode admits, is human error.
Why Did We Need Female Emojis?
In Unicode, the codes for emojis are standardized, but the art for emoji isn’t, which means that two people can send the same codes from two different operating systems and wind up with very different emoji. In its design document, implemented now to allow more gendered emoji, the issue was that, faced with one code to use for all situations, companies generally defaulted to the male version of that job. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t include male and female emoji, because they only had one code for each profession.