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One Small Step for Woman

Can emoji be anti-feminist? Media strategist Florie Hutchinson challenges perpetuated stereotypes of the virtual type.

Florie Hutchinson with her four children.

 

Florie Hutchinson is an icon for the digital age. First she took on the red stiletto emoji by proposing the more inclusive, less sexualized ballet flat, which was designed by Aphee Messer and approved by the Unicode Consortium last year. Then came her campaign against the teeny, busty polka-dot bikini with a bias-free one-piece alternative, which was approved in early February and will be rolled out in late 2019.

 

What exactly ticked you off the day you decided to take on the red stiletto emoji?
I realized that day that all three of the women’s shoes had high heels. I probably would have taken less of an issue if the boot had been a flat boot and the mule had been a flip-flop. It’s just that there’s this visual reminder that there’s an assumption that women tread the Earth in high heels. And here I live in the crucible of technology, which in my head had always been category-breaking, forward-thinking and the future. Yet there’s the same stereotypical expectations of women in this throwback to the ’50s from a vehicle that I thought was in the 22nd century.

The path that led you to the Unicode Consortium was the halfway point between the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement. You were riled up.
I’m a mother of four daughters. I was very much primed. My third daughter was born [on election night] in November 2016. I went into the hospital in labor thinking I would be exiting the hospital with a history-making election result and that did not happen. In January, there were so many women marching, and I just didn’t make it out onto the streets because I had a 2-month-old; and then there was the famous Saturday Night Live sketch, during which Tina Fey was like, ‘If you don’t know what to do, just eat a sheet cake.’ Making an emoji was my version of eating a sheet cake.

Are the fire-red stiletto and skimpy bikini passe in a post-2016 world?
I still wear a bikini when I’m not heavily pregnant! But it’s about choice. It’s about inclusion. It’s about challenging the expectations that women are held to. And, for the record, in the same proposal I submitted for the one-piece bathing suit, I also included men’s swim trunks and a men’s swimming brief because men have no way of communicating swimwear. There’s only the bikini.

Some of your critics, including coders Michael Everson and Andrew West, members of the International Organization for Standardization, mocked your one-piece emoji. What don’t people get about your crusade?
I think the criticism comes mostly from people who have a singular worldview and haven’t taken the time to put themselves in other people’s shoes who are reminded frequently, with visual symbols that are both virtual and analog, of expectations that are bestowed upon them and are exclusionary. It would be awesome to have a whole lot more women and diverse people sitting on that committee, as well as on the design teams that are rolling out emoji.

 

Originally published in the March issue of San Francisco 

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