Bodyform “Femoji” Period Emoji Attempt To Destigmatize Menstruation, But They Miss The Mark In Some Major Ways
So, here’s a thing that’s currently happening: UK-based menstrual product company Bodyform has created a set of period emoji they’re calling “femoji.” The “femoji” consist of six specially-designed emoji depicting the menstruation-related ideas of bloating, cramps, pads, stained underwear, breakouts, and PMS. Are they goofy? Yes. Are they a good idea? Well... that’s a little more complicated. While I think the emoji set is a good idea in theory, I also think it misses the mark in some pretty major ways — and ultimately, those missteps seriously undermine the entire project’s goal.
First, a few details: According to a Change.org petition started by Bodyform to campaign for the inclusion of their emoji set in the Unicode standard, the idea behind the "femoji" is to make having conversations about periods a little easier. Reads the petition, “There are currently no emojis on the emoji keyboard that represent the important things in life, like our periods. There is no way to express ourselves in this new universal language. We want to change that.” The petition continues:
Here's what these emoji look like:
At the time of this writing, over 12,000 people have signed the petition; Bodyform’s goal is to have 15,000 signatures before they take their proposal to Unicode on March 21. But while I appreciate where Bodyform is coming from — there are definitely a lot of taboos around periods that need to be broken down, including the fact that we still feel the need to use euphemisms to refer to them the vast majority of the time — there are definitely some issues in the execution of the idea.
The first issue I have with the “femoji” set is the way they perpetuate gendered stereotypes. While I can definitely dig, say, the period underwear emoji — pretty much everyone who’s ever had a period has been there, and depicting it as unapologetically as it is here does accomplish Bodyform’s goal of breaking down the taboos associated with menstruation — I find the PMS emoji enormously troubling. Yes, PMS is real. Yes, it kind of sucks. But representing it with an image of a two-faced woman who is angry on one side and weepy on the other simply reinforces the notion that women on their periods are irrationally emotional. It’s true that mood swings can be a part of the PMS experience; however, contrary to popular belief, people remain capable of making rational decisions while menstruating. Menstruating individuals don't just turn into oozing piles of nonsense. The bottom line is that the PMS emoji isn’t doing anyone any favors; in fact, it might even be causing active damage.
The second issue is no less problematic, but it might be even more insidious: The emoji set ignores the fact that women aren’t the only people who get periods. Some trans men do, as well — and yet, the three “femoji” which feature people depict only women. I realize that the intention behind the emoji design likely wasn’t meant to be exclusionary, but it’s just one more example of the trans erasure which is already rife throughout our culture. What’s more, it’s trans erasure that could have been avoided if a little more thought had been put into the issue. Even the name — a portmanteau of “female” and “emoji” — implies that the emoji set applies specifically to women, rather than to all people who get periods.
Bodyform is far from the only company to suffer from this pitfall, but the fact that so many do shows just how far we have to go for trans inclusion. The way companies respond, however, matters just as much — and as Bustle’s Lara Rutherford-Morrison pointed out back in November, this is why period underwear company THINX’s reworking of its ad campaign is so notable: Originally bearing the slogan “For Women With Periods,” the campaign was later revised in direct response to people writing to them and pointing out that women aren’t the only humans who menstruate. After taking the time to educate themselves about the issue, THINX overhauled the campaign to be trans inclusive, with a new slogan being their touchstone: “For People With Periods.” In the vernacular, that's "doing it right," so here’s hoping other companies notice and follow THINX’s lead.
More issues remain with the Bodyform “femoji” set, as well. For example, it’s unclear whether the emoji are compatible with the skin tone modifiers which allow for racially diverse emoji; if they’re not, then they appear only to represent white people (well, pink women, technically, but the designs as they stand depict light-skinned people with light brown hair). Also, the name “femoji” has already been used before — back in May of 2015, MAKERS dubbed their set of feminist emoji “femoji.” All of these things? They add up, and the picture they create isn't terrific.
I do think a period emoji set might be a nice thing to have. Even if people don’t actually use them, their presence alone could stand to do a whole lot of good when it comes to destigmatizing menstruation. As Bustle’s Julie Sprankles wrote recently, emoji might seem trivial — but they matter, because how we communicate matters. Our language reflects our societal norms, and emoji, like it or not, are part of our language now. If our emoji vocabulary includes unapologetic period-related symbols, it goes long way towards normalizing periods as a whole.
But although I generally like the idea of a period emoji set, I don’t think Bodyform’s set is the one we need. It just doesn’t go far enough. One that’s intersectional, trans inclusive, and free from gendered stereotypes, though? Now that’s something I’d like to see.
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (2)