Photo Courtesy of Aphee Messer

The Ballet Flat Emoji is Just As Loaded as the High Heel

An emoji can enhance the meaning of a sentence the same way a good shoe can elevate an outfit. Their mirroring symbolism has collided in the proposal of a ballet flat emoji to the Unicode Consortium, the governing body that decides which symbols are universal enough to end up on your smartphone keyboard. In recent years they’ve embraced diversity, introducing a hijabi emoji, a Chinese dumpling emoji and a rainbow Pride flag emoji, but the proposed ballet flat emoji is of a decidedly different tack.

Florie Hutchinson, a mother of three and PR professional from Palo Alto, California submitted a proposal for a ballet flat emoji earlier this year to “help pave the way to a more gender non-sexualized pictorial representation of the footwear category.” The problem isn’t that the high heel emoji exists; it’s that it’s the default emoji when one types in the word “shoe.” According to Hutchinson, the ballet flat is “perennial, democratic, inclusionary, and non-ageist.”

Only, it isn’t. Of all the flat shoes Hutchinson could have picked to replace the default high heel emoji, she’s sure picked one loaded with meaning. Ballet flats are delicate and girly, which makes them as outwardly feminine as the high-heeled emoji.  We associate ballet flats with gamines obsessed with French girl style, which hardly makes them “non-ageist.”

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As an avowed shoe lover, I own at least 30+ pairs of shoes; clogs, brogues, Chelsea boots, combat boots, mules and loafers. I’ve never owned a pair of ballet flats or red pumps.  This shoehorning of women into categories that are supposedly more inclusive is indicative of a specific kind of white feminism that purports to speak for all women but in reality speaks to very few.

Griping about the supposed tyranny of a high-heeled shoe emoji is as tone-deaf as the woman who wrote in Man Repeller that she felt left out by Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement because of her own issues with infertility– sometimes it’s just not about you. (To her credit, she later apologized.) Hutchinson is centering herself in the fight for feminist equality when really she should be championing women who are from vulnerable populations, or less privileged backgrounds.

Ultimately, the campaign for a ballet flat emoji is not just narrow-minded and unimaginative – it fails at its own supposed campaign of eliminating gender bias in cartoon shoes.

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