On its surface, the whole topic seems a little goofy. I mean, emojis are silly, right? But there may be a new flat-shoe emoji coming soon to your phone, and it's serious business. Here's why.
If you look at images of women in the media, it's a constant stream of young, shiny-straight-haired, dress- and heel-wearing ladies. My reality as a woman most days is so much more diverse and interesting than the images I see representing my world.
In ads and on magazine covers, I see many kinds of men — boyish, skinny-nerdy, bald, tall, in-shape, elderly, beer-bellied, bearded, fresh-faced, muscular, hairy. The circumscribed slice of women shown in media is, some days, genuinely creepy, leading me to celebrate even seeing a woman in an ad with curly hair, for Pete's sake.
Before now, if you wanted to use a woman's shoe emoji, they all had heels. There's a stacked-heel, an open-toed mule, a boot with a heel, and a red stiletto. (There's a unisex sneaker, too.) But if you wanted to choose a woman's shoe, you had to choose a shoe with a heel.
Not only do plenty of people find the expectation of women in heels problematic, there's the more important consideration, to my mind, which is: Does a woman in heels 24/7 reflect the reality of your world? I love heeled shoes and boots, but I still only wear them maybe 15 percent of the time — they're just not terribly practical.
Florie Hutchinson, a Palo Alto-based public relations specialist, was up late at night texting and breastfeeding her third daughter when she was dismayed to find that shoe-that-nobody-actually-wears (the red stiletto) pop up as a substitute for the "shoe" text she had typed into her phone. The sleep-deprived mother stared into her phone "deliriously," she told The Atlantic. Her deliriousness is probably similar to my feeling when I see advertising that just completely fails to resemble the world around me.
“I just think it’s one of those things that, at the time, to whoever designed it, it seemed like a sensible thing that women would immediately gravitate to. But with a bit of hindsight, you realize that this is systematic — and symptomatic of a greater problem,” said Hutchinson. So she did something about it, working with a graphic designer to design a ballet-flat-style shoe.
Language, in any form, matters
Hutchinson thinks emojis matter. And they do, in as much as any language matters and can shape the world in which we live. Our languages reflect who we are and what we value, and how often do we get to get in on the creation of a new one? Emojis are increasingly becoming a recognizable form of communication by people from countries with very disparate languages. They reflect — and project — who we are as an increasingly global people.
In that world, we should have a visual word for a shoe that most of the women in the world wear most of the time: a flat shoe. I mean, there's already an open-toed, stacked heel mule emoji, and when was the last time you wore a pair of those? And red stilettos? I've never owned a pair. (Have you?)
Whatever you think of Hutchinson's shoe, keep in mind that if her entry is selected as one of the new official emojis by the Unicode Consortium (they approve new emojis and give smartphone companies the code they need to ensure that different devices display the same character), she will have, in essence, invented a new word. And anyone can do it — you just have to apply with your idea and get it designed. (Can we please get some curly red hair in there? Or red hair at all? Someone?)
If you think something needs an emoji, you can make up a new symbol for it — and be part of what could turn out to be the universal language of the future.