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The humble ballet flat might be approaching its zenith.
A proposal to create a woman’s flat shoe emoji is up for a vote by the Unicode Consortium’s Emoji Subcomittee on October 23rd. If approved, it would add a blue ballet flat to what — besides a gender-neutral brown oxford and a white sneaker — are currently only high-heeled emoji.
It would also signal another step forward in the efforts to mitigate sexist and gendered imagery in what has become the international visual language.
According to Jennifer 8 Lee, who is vice-chair of the ESC and a co-founder of the Emojination organization, which helps people propose new emoji, the likelihood that the woman’s flat shoe will “make it through” — meaning be approved to become a new emoji in June 2018 — “is pretty high.”
This comes at a time when dressing up (or down, as the case may be) can be a polarizing, or downright controversial, decision. Witness Melania Trump tiptoeing toward a hurricane-bound helicopter in August, or Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Ivanka Trump reading to schoolchildren while wearing vertiginous stilettos in July.
That’s in contrast to Gal Gadot, who in May wore flats throughout her Wonder Woman press tour, and Kristen Stewart, who spoke out the same month against the Cannes Film Festival’s dictum against women wearing flats: “People get very upset at you if you don’t wear heels or whatever,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “If you’re not asking guys to wear heels and a dress then you can’t ask me either.”
The pushback against what can be an uncompromising, restrictive dress code is right up there with wearing a pantsuit as a nod to feminist activism. To wit: Evan Rachel Wood’s year of red-carpet suiting. “I myself felt pressure a lot of times that I had to look or dress a certain way, especially growing up in the industry,” Wood told Vanity Fair. “I thought I would go the other way and reach out to a little girl who is like me, possibly.”
This follows Google’s May 2016 call for a more balanced representation of genders and professions in emoji, and the introduction in June of three non-gendered emoji (a child, an adult, and an elder).
Lee, who is to thank for the dumpling emoji, helped fast-track the ballet flat emoji proposal after receiving an email from Silicon Valley’s Florie Hutchinson, who is an independent publicist for Bay Area art and design organizations.
Hutchinson had noticed that the word “shoe” on her iPhone suggested a red heel, but she craved an emoji that more accurately reflected her shoe-wearing habits, which often include a pair of Church’s brogues, nude leather car shoes, or Repetto ballet flats.
“I wanted to choose something that isn’t sexualized or associated with seduction or actual harm,” said Hutchinson, who began seeing the high heel cliché everywhere, from instructional airport signage to ad campaigns. In her proposal, Hutchinson wrote that the addition of the ballet flat would fill a notable gap in the current emoji set, as “the brogue is a classic men’s style and the trainer/sneaker is undeniably sporty.”
“Once you realize there is a course correction to make, you see the omission everywhere, she says.
She also began considering the impact of digital symbols on the minds of her three young daughters. Young woman use emoji the most, according to a 2015 report from Emogi. It found that 78 percent of women are frequent emoji users, and 72 percent of people younger than 25 frequently use emoji.
In her research, Hutchinson found that the original “ballet flat” was designed to be non-gender specific. “Its global ubiquity — geographically and socio-economically — is undeniable,” she wrote in her proposal, adding the shoe image she suggested “is perennial, democratic, inclusionary and non-ageist.”
The Unicode Consortium will announce the results of the vote in early November, Lee said. It is among 67 other proposed new icons. But even if her feminist footwear isn’t adopted, Hutchinson, who had been asking herself if she was a “sideline feminist” after the election, says she will have shown her daughters that they can act. After seeing Tina Fey’s “sheetcaking” Saturday Night Live skit, which encouraged people to eat cake after violent protests in Charlottesville, Hutchinson asked herself, “Is this how Silicon Valley sees things? Is my motto to keep calm and make an emoji?”