The new period emoji is as prudish as it is pointless
The organization in charge of approving new emojis has added one for periods — and not the kind that separate sentences. The symbol that will from now on denote menstruation is a single glistening red droplet.
The bloody character was dreamed up after a poll by children's rights charity Plan International U.K. found that half of women ages 18-34 thought an emoji could help them talk more comfortably about periods to friends and partners.
It's undoubtedly true that there's still a very real and ridiculous stigma around menstruation. There's no more sure fire way for a woman to make her male colleagues recoil than by mentioning the "P" word. But I'm not convinced that an emoji — especially one so non-specific it could just as easily be referring to tears of blood, spilt wine, or murder — is really the thing to tackle our societal discomfort.
While looking to technology to ease the burden of embarrassment around bodies is a logical modern workaround — I wonder how many people regularly opt to ask Alexa about their worrying medical symptoms rather than consulting a doctor — it's not a real fix. Amazon's creepy voice robot doesn't know what the blotchy rash on your butt is. And if you need to tell your boss you're going to be late because you've got period pains, then I'm not sure how texting a pictogram makes that task any less embarrassing.
No walls are being broken down by the addition of this to an emoji stable that includes close to 3,000 symbols depicting everything from basic moods to six weightlifters with different combinations of skin and hair color. If anything, the period emoji is giving people a way to further avoid talking about periods with actual words. It's our tech age equivalent of referring to menstruation in hushed, shameful tones as a woman's "time of the month."
Taking a closer look at the symbol itself, it is cringingly prudish. As anyone who has ever had a period knows, a shimmering red droplet is about as representative of what actually goes on during those bothersome three to eight days as the image of a bikini-clad, rollerblading supermodel in a Tampax ad. Maybe this is what magically emerges from Barbie's smooth undercarriage once a month but real women have a different story to tell. In fairness, Plan International U.K. did submit a bid for a period underwear emoji but it was turned down. The sanitized blood droplet was the compromise that made the cut.
But if society is still stigmatizing periods, then coming out with such a sterile symbol that merely hints at the truth rather than meeting it head on is at best pointless and at worst adds to the problem. And the decision by the pictogram police not to at least go with the panties proves that we are still far too buttoned up about periods, and that their perceived grossness still outranks every other bodily function.
I'm pretty sure all but a niche group prefer not to talk openly about their bowel movements — probably far more than feel awkward discussing periods. And yet we have an out and proud poop emoji! It's even spawned a hit film and enough character merchandise to fill a dozen sewers. If we can merrily personify feces, why can we not simply throw some friendly eyes on a sanitary towel and call it a day? The fact that some people (men) might find this uncomfortable is surely all the more reason to do it.
Still, the underlying idea that any kind of period emoji will help women have more comfortable, fulfilling, or informative menstruation dialog is laughable. I showed my nearly six-year-old daughter the period emoji and she thought it was a cute upside-down heart. So when she's ready to learn about periods, should I just WhatsApp her a few of these red droplets? That's the same as a conversation, right?
Emojis should not ever be tasked with doing society's job, which in this instance is doubling back to finish off the task of removing, once and for all, the stigma around periods.