An Emoji paints a thousand words

Posted: Monday June 13 2016

By: Abbie Coleman

Learning to read can be a tricky business. Since reading is so visual, it seems logical that we use pictures to help. Maybe that’s why emojis are so popular in text messages – it can be easier to say things with a picture. After all, they paint a thousand words.

An Emoji paints a thousand words

As a child learning to read I remember having some flash cards and words stuck up around my bedroom, alphabetically in fact. A was (and still is) for Apple… B for Bed… C for Car. D was for Doctor, and N was for Nurse. At around age 4 I had these words surrounding me and, as far as a 4 year old can, I knew what they meant. Yet sitting on my bed surrounded by these words and pictures, when my Dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I surprised him with my answer.

I don’t think I surprised him because I wanted to be a Nurse. Nurses amaze me. The dedication and hard work that goes into qualification and practice as a Nurse is phenomenal, and nothing about this story of a 4 year old’s career goals should indicate otherwise. A 4 year old who wants to be a Nurse is telling you she cares about people, and wants to ease their suffering. Core values I’m still proud to have, despite never in fact becoming a Nurse.

My Dad was surprised because my explanation when he asked why I wouldn’t consider being a Doctor was, “don’t be silly Daddy, girls are Nurses, boys are Doctors.” What I remember most is that I believed he was being silly. Joking around. Everyone knew that Doctors were boys. Nurses were girls. Didn’t all the pictures say so?

The NHS Health Careers website lists 62 types of Doctor and 10 types of Nurse. A quick Google search will tell you that they are very different job roles, and that one shouldn’t be seen as higher ranking than the other – in any event, whether Doctors rank higher than Nurses isn’t the point of my story.

They say that our earliest memories can tell us a lot about who we are and why we think the way we think. What I don’t remember from this story is having any notion of the hierarchy of the medical system. What I remember most isn’t that I thought that boys were “better” than girls, or had higher paying jobs, or ranked more highly in any way. I remember being surprised at my father’s surprise. I remember thinking, in the way 4 year olds do, that Doctors and Nurses were the same job, but that the girls wore blue and white outfits with a cross on their apron, and that the boys had a stethoscope. I didn’t feel the injustice of there being different role for boys and girls, because I saw the same role – caring for sick people. What I learned in that 2 minute conversation was that my gender wasn’t relevant to what outfit I wore to work, or what job I could or couldn’t do. I don’t remember how my Dad explained that to me, but I’m really glad he did.

# An Emoji paints a thousand words


My Dad is known to most people as Paul. He’s having a second attempt at running for election this year on the Isle of Man, to the Isle of Man Government, the ‘House of Keys’. I know I’m biased, but I don’t know anyone I would trust more with the future of a country. He is intelligent, cares, and will work harder than anyone for what is fair and what is right. This week I saw a post he’d written on Facebook about some research he’d done which shocked him, and me too. Out of the 836 people who have been members of the House of Keys since 1417, there have only been 13 women, and only ever 3 at any one time.

His view is that

“there are clearly barriers here that are holding back progress” and that “the House of Keys will be more representative, more balanced and stronger for having more women MHKs”. This has got me thinking this week.

As I write in my article on Inspiring Women, we know that there is a 19.2% gender pay gap. There are more men named John leading FTSE 100 companies than there are women, and women are outnumbered 5:1 in the UK’s leading companies by Davids, Ians, Marks and Andrews. The Isle of Man is not alone in underrepresentation of women in government, with current data showing that only 17 of around 200 of the world’s countries are now led by women.

But its not all bad news – we are making progress – UN data shows that the percentage of women in parliament has doubled in the last 20 years and, although there are less female leaders than there have been, it is reported that over half of those currently leading are the first women to hold their country’s highest office. So I don’t doubt that we’re getting closer to some sort of representative situation, it just won’t happen overnight.

This week 2 news stories have caught my eye. The first is that Apple have unveiled 100 new emojis – those little symbols that are increasingly forming part of our written vocabulary (yes, vocabulary… if the Oxford Dictionary 2015word of the year can be an emoji… FYI it was “smiley”, or “Face with Tears of Joy” then it counts as vocabulary for me). The new emojis, which we’ll be able to use from the Autumn, aim to recognise and celebrate diversity, for the first time including more gender options for activities and job roles – female athletes (runner included!) and professionals (lawyer yet to be confirmed but I’m hopeful!) a well as a new rainbow flag, and more family options.

Putting aside the fact that emojis depicting activities and professions have been around, and quite gender biased, for 5 years or so, I love the new emojis. In my previous life I was a lawyer. My business partner was an engineer, and then an athlete. We’re both girls. It makes sense that we have emojis showing us doing these things. And I love that we are living in an era where it doesn’t take too long for someone to remember that diversity should be celebrated, and give us an overdue software update.

What we need is more of this attitude. Our company runs a holiday camp for girls called “Running Like a Girl”. One of the first things we do is ask our group of 7-11 year old girls is what that means. The 11 year olds know it is an insult and think of lots of clever comebacks because “it’s what boys say when they want to be mean”. The 7 year olds will tell you it means you run “fast”. Always is currently running a campaign with a similar theme, using the hashtag #likeagirl, and were one of the first, along with Google, to call on emoji creators to introduce gender equal characters. Whilst I wish they weren’t needed, campaigns like these are brilliant for highlighting the things we don’t notice. The things that might influence how a 4 year old sees herself and the options available to her.

On another summer camp only last week we were using puzzles to demonstrate the value of failure and learning from our mistakes. The girls we had on the camp had decorated their puzzle pieces with well known emoji faces and were moving them around the puzzle saying “he goes there… he moves here… he goes over there”. All it took was for one of our trainers to move one of the pieces asking, without emphasising the change in wording, “where does she go?” for the use of he and she to become interchangeable in the game, as well as future rounds later on. It’s not always about the obvious, sometimes it’s as simple as using both “he” and “she” without it being a big deal.

That said, sometimes a big deal is what it takes. The other story that caught my eye this week was some research data released by Girlguiding. This found that many girls in the UK feel they are excluded from certain sports because of their gender. This isn’t okay. Specifically, 1 in 3 girls aged 11 to 16 do not feel they have the same choices as boys in school sport. 34% of those involved in the research said they were not taught cricket, football or contact rugby at school, although their male classmates were. Without more detailed research, and feedback from UK schools, it is unclear whether this is about a lack of opportunities, or a perception about what girls should and shouldn’t be doing, by the girls themselves or by their teachers. Whatever the reason, it is unacceptable for 34% of girls to feel that they are restricted by their gender in the sports they can play. They need to know that it’s okay to play football, rugby and cricket. It’s also okay to be a dancer or a gymnast. Boys need to know that too. They all need to know that they can be a Nurse or a Doctor. They can do anything they set their minds to.

We are making progress, but we have a long way to go. In developing school programmes and in talking to girls about how they feel, whether it be in sport or their chosen career, we need to make sure we aren’t ruling anything out. Our gender should not define the careers available to us. Nor should it define the sports we play. So when the new emojis finally make their way to our texts and Facebook pages this Autumn, I’ll be proud to get using them. In fact, they can have a (gender neutral) thumbs up from me right now…

thumbs up

Natalie Jackson

Totally Runable Co-Founder

# An Emoji paints a thousand words