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Emojis, the Sims and Facebook! How the internet tackles gender stereotypes

Flickr: Brian Solis

The world is anything but black and white. It’s a colorful and diverse place, with a plethora of possibilities. But as technology increasingly infiltrates every aspect of our lives, the world is becoming more and more virtual. As we shift more of our lives online, it makes sense that our virtual world should reflect our real world.

Gender stereotypes can be constraining IRL and in the virtual world. Many apps and platforms ask you to identify your gender, but only provide two options: male or female. Although Tinder has just announced plans to move away from that gender binary, gender-nonconforming individuals, girls, and women still get the shortest end of this stick.

Most digital personal assistants (like the iPhone’s Siri) have female voices and names (case in point: Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samantha from the filmHer). When transferred into commonly used facets of technology they can not only be harmful to people’s perceptions of themselves, but can also further engrain these limiting stereotypes into social norms.

Emojis, which have become part of our daily lexicon, rely on the most basic and traditional stereotypes of females showing them in pink, getting haircuts or massages, or as brides or princesses - whereas male emojis are shown running, surfing, as policemen, and detectives. Girls are subliminally being told that they are limited in their capabilities and opportunities all day long.

As we use these technologies throughout the day, we are constantly receiving tacit reminders that this is how the world works. We are allowing ourselves to be complicit in the reinforcement of this stereotypes -- accepting this representation of our world as “good enough.”

But transferring these stereotypes into the technological platforms we also live in, in a sense, makes them into concrete objects. By limiting gender ideals in emoji form, we’ve taken intangible norms and put them into pixel form, creating a space where you can literally see the dated stereotypes much of society hangs onto.

But today, Facebook pushed back against these stereotypes by releasing a new set of emojis. The new emojis allow users to select different skin tones and, finally, show girls and women in a variety of roles.

The new emojis include female police officers and women as runners and surfers. The social media platform also plans to create more emojis featuring females in other roles. A full list of emojis can be found here.

Facebook is not alone in their effort to tackle and dismantle gender stereotypes. Last month, Google employees created 13 emojis of working women, which they felt better represented reality. Google has also refused to give its “personal assistant system” a name, breaking the trend of giving these features female names.

The latest version of the popular simulation game, The Sims, provides people with the tools to more easily reflect their reality in a virtual world of their creation (i.e. players will no longer be limited to choosing female characters in dresses and make up or male characters with typically masculine features). who are not just princesses or painting their nails).

The new update, available today, allows gamers to modify a character’s appearance, gait, tone of voice, and clothes in anyway they choose -- irrespective of the traditional gender associations of these characteristics. The lead producer of the game, Lyndsay Pearson, said the updates are “a natural extension of...empowering players to be creative” and “accurately reflect themselves.” The game-makers also teamed up with GLAAD to make sure that the new features would be respectful to and inclusive of the transgender community.

As our real and technological worlds meld, we need to break down harmful norms and take steps toward inclusive digital representations of our lives. If we can accept a “smiling pile of poo” emoji, it hardly seems a stretch to have professional women emojis.