Inside the conversation at The Good Men Project.
We talk about a lot of really serious subjects on our weekly conference calls with Good Men Project evangelists. We’ve talked about mass murders, depression, suicide, race, mental illness…
So today’s topic is seemingly light. Silly even. It’s not something that would seem to be deserving of a rant. But to me—-what we discuss today gets to the root of why it is SO difficult to overturn harmful stereotypes when it comes to men and women.
And the topic of the day is…..Emojis.
Let me back up and tell you a story of what happened this morning.
I was sending a text to my ex-husband. It’s his birthday today. We had a lot of trying times when we first separated years ago, but now are in a good place. And I wanted to say to him “Hey, I remember your birthday and want you to know that I remembered, and I also want you to understand that I still feel a lot of love for you but it is the exact appropriate love coming from someone who couldn’t make the marriage work.” But of course, I didn’t want to say exactly that, so I went to my emoji’s on my phone. And I sent him a text that said happy birthday, and a few stars, and a happy face that is blowing a heart so it’s kind of like a kiss but not a romantic kiss. And to me—-that said exactly what I wanted, and because I have known him for so long, I knew he would understand. I used emoji’s to text a paragraphful of emotion.
And then, literally two minutes later, I saw an article in The New York Times titled: “Should Grown Men Use Emoji?“
My first thought was: “Ok, great. The New York Times is implying that men shouldn’t use Emoji. And, I’m a CEO, and as a CEO it means that I am expected to ‘act like a grown man’. So does that mean I am going to have to closet my use of Emoji’s from now on? I mean, I don’t want it leaking out that I am doing something grown men wouldn’t do.” I had taken one look at the title and started policing myself.
That was when I started getting mad. And then I read the article. And after reading the article, I was furious. Because not only was it rife with sexist stereotypical beliefs, it was full of ageism as well.
Here are some of the concerning parts of the article, and the stereotypes they reinforce:
John McWhorter, a linguist who teaches at Columbia University, said that some men shy away from emoji because, as he put it, “Women use them more.”
[Reinforcing the stereotype that things that women do are somehow not appropriate things for men to do.]
“Women tend to be more overtly expressive in language,” he said.
[Reinforcing stereotype that women are more overtly expressive in language]
“But something women start in language has a way of making it to men. Men would benefit from using emoji more.”
Ok, that’s a solution. But then it says…..
“Mr. McWhorter, 49, does not use emoji himself, citing his age.
[Now you are reinforcing the stereotype that new, cutting-edge technology and communication styles is something the youngun’s do and god forbid older people decide they want to be on the cutting edge of technology too. No way, they are too old, they should “act their age”—in addition to the fact that they SHOULD—and this is the word the New York Times uses as the very first word of their headline “act like a man”.]
“In a discussion that appeared last year on Yahoo Answers, one anonymous poster said of emoji: “They’re fun but I just find them emasculating!”
[Reinforcing the stereotype that not only are Emoji emasculating, but that there are things in this world that are emasculating. And if you want to chime in in the comments, I’d love to know what ELSE you find emasculating. Because this is the core of what the Man-Box is. The Man-Box says ‘only certain things you do are acceptable as a man and anything else is emasculating.’]
“Certain men embrace emoji while holding them at a remove. Gil Schwartz, a CBS executive who writes under the name Stanley Bing, called himself a ‘rare user of ironic emojis.’ He said he is partial to the pig and the horse. ‘I use them because I think they’re stupid,’ he said. ‘At some point, texting is kind of stupid.'”
[Ahhh, ok. If you are a highly intelligent man—so intelligently that you are able to use emoji’s ‘ironically’ — then, that is ok. You can bring emoji’s into the man box as long as you are able to use them ironically.]
“He has no fear that using them may somehow put a dent in his masculinity. ‘For a moment you’re Taylor Swift,’ said Mr. Schwartz, who is 63. ‘If you’re confident in your manhood, you can certainly lapse into Taylor Swift-hood momentarily.’
[What this is saying is ‘If you are secure in your manhood, it’s OK to get out of the man-box momentarily. The implication, of course, is that it’s OK to get out of the man box for a short time as long as you jump right back into it. It was simply an acceptable lapse.]
And women? What do women say about men using emoji? SPOILER ALERT: If you think women are more evolved and accepting of men outside the man-box, this will be disappointing:
“Amina Akhtar, the editorial director of TheFashionSpot, a website, isn’t buying it. ‘If I’m seeing a guy, and he emojis, I feel uncomfortable,’ said Ms. Akhtar, 37. ‘We’re too old to be doing this. To have a man in his 40s and 50s using emojis is uncomfortable to me.'”
[This is a woman saying ‘men, act like a man AND act your age. because otherwise, it makes us women uncomfortable.’]
Here’s another woman:
“Katey Nilan, a 29-year-old writer and tech consultant in San Francisco, said: ‘If Drake can emoji, anyone can emoji. He’s pretty hard.'”
[Not sure if that is meant to be a double-entendre, but I’m just going to leave it at that.]
‘She added that, while she is pro emoji , there are limits. Like Ms. Karlin, she finds the winky face tongue-wagging emoji troublesome, especially when it is sent by men trying to flirt. ‘It seems like that’s the go-to if a guy can’t come up with something else to say,’ Ms. Nilan said.’
What does she do after she receives that one?
“Ghost,” she said.
Meaning, she replies with the ghost emoji?
“No, no, no,” she said. “Ghosting is when you stop texting.”
[So what this woman is saying is—-if a guy uses and emoji and god forbid he uses it WRONG — then she will just cease all communication. That is a really healthy way of breaking down the barriers of between the sexes, right? Just stop talking to men who are trying to be expressive but don’t get it right on the first shot.]
Now — by the time I’m this far down in the article, I’m literally thinking — hey, maybe The New York Times ran this as an April Fools article! Maybe I’m just late to the game and that this is satire. But no, the date is April 3rd. This is in fact how they kicked off their new “Men’s Style Section” which our Executive team had such high hopes for.
I’d like to open this up to the group now.
Rick Gabrielly: Guy friends I talk to feel shy about using emoji—if they use a heart with a woman it might suggest a romantic interest. I use them freely, it is just one more form of open communication for me. A female friend of mine tells me some men use them inappropriately. By the way, I just Googled “Men and Emoji use”, and I’m wondering if the NYTimes article is in response to the huge amount of these types of articles: Time Inc: People Who Use Emojis Have More Sex, Mashable: People who use emoji have more sex than those who don’t, DailyMail: Single people who use emojis have more sex, study finds. This article could be in regard to that trend. Finally I’ll say that emojis are just a form of emotional symbolism.
Lisa Hickey: That’s actually part of the problem. That when men do use emoji’s they are seen as using them to ‘get more sex’. It’s another way of demonizing men for their sexuality.
Rick Gabrielly: Just as an example, a man I know will use an emoji heart at the end of his communications with a single girl, but will not use it when he is communicating with a married one.
Mark Sherman: I never used an emoji in my life, not because I’m an older guy, but just because I didn’t know what they were for the longest time. I do use emoticons, which I guess is the poor cousin of emojis. But I’d like to talk about stereotypes—stereotypes are based on averages. So it might be that women on the average are more expressive than men, just the same way that boys tend to be more active than girls. It may be statistically accurate, but when we assume all of the people in a group are like that, it becomes a stereotype. Also, I foud it really interesting that you are a CEO and you think that means you should act like you’re a grown man. I do know that woman in high level or corporate positions do tend to adopt a male way of doing things. This troubles me. Diverse workplaces tend to be more productive and do more than non diverse ones. So if women did exactly the same things as men, what would be the point?
Brent Greene: When I think of emoji, I think more broadly in terms of symbolic communication. Symbolic communication has been in our lives since the dawn of advertising. The Nike Swoosh can be seen as an emoji. A Harley Davidson bike rider with tattoos covering his body—those are emojis. An emoji is just a way of synthesizing and simplifying communication into a graphic context. I’ve also read that the under 18 crowd is increasing in it’s use of symbolic language like emoji exponentially. It’s not that men don’t use symbolism—but when they do it’s often used to make them symbolically more masculine. They use symbolism like UnderArmor, or they communicate using Sports symbols for example. They look for inherently masculine ways of communicating.
Mike Patrick: The thumbs up emojie is my way of approving a statement that another person has made. I don’t know why people are reading all of these things into a statement other than to make a point. It’s like when someone uses three exclamation points when the purpose of an exclamation point is to explain. It’s what I see as part of the dumbing down of America.
Steve Harper: Fascinating and great conversation. I use emojie a lot. I’m a gay man in a relationship with another man who lives in another country, so together we use them a lot. I’m always surprised when my straight friends use them, especially hearts and stuff, but I’m surprising myself by even saying that. My partner and I often say “we text like high school girls.”
Eirik Rogers: I’m gay too. Do you have the impression that gay men would use emoji more than straight men?
Steve Harper: I’m not comfortable making grand pronouncements about gay vs. straight groups. So this is from my own personal experience. But there is an emotional fluidity to the men I know. For me, sending hearts to straight friends seems more dangerous than sending them to my gay friends.
Eirik Rogers: I agree. It’s less easy to do when I’m communicating with my straight friends. Maybe because it makes me feel a little queer about my emotions.
Rick Gabrielly: Across the board it seems safer to use images than to use body language such as a hug. For me, I simply want to communicate more openly. I’m running around the earth with my heart wide open. Do people judge me because of that? Sure. But I’ve seen some of the hardest, most closed up men open up because of it. And I believe if we want to communicate more openly, we need to use every form of communication possible.
Mike Patrick: I read an article that said that only 7% of communication is verbal. I don’t understand why people are having trouble communicating their emotions in any way they can.
Mark Sherman: I am one of the 130 people in the United States that is not on Facebook. We do appear to be evolved to use language. Mike is right about non-verbal communication—tone of voice, body language—but I still think the richness of language is important. With my son, I’ll use a smiley face to say “I’m kidding.” On the phone, I could just ask him “are you upset”. But the smiley face is the bridge to get him to communicate more if something really did upset him. Also, I was reading in The New Yorker how teens can now text into suicide hotlines and that has been helpful. So all of these various forms of communication help when communication is difficult. Also, I’d like to comment on the statement that guys who use emojis more get more sex, and that combined with the insight that sometimes men’s emoji use is seen as inappropriate. I wonder if it is that guys who risk being inappropriate are the ones who have more active sex lives. This goes way back to when I was in high school—the guys who were more vocal about sexuality and therefore “seemed inappropriate” were also the guys that had more sex. Unlike me, who cowered in a corner for fear of being seen as inappropriate. I wonder if that is the reason emojis are linked to better sex lives.
Mike Patrick: I am just blown away about how technology has replaced actual communication. When I see two people walking down the street and each of them is talking to some other person on the phone.
Rick Gabrielly: I make an effort to get out and sit with people face to face. There’s a huge movement to unplug. There are new apps and software that ironically get people to unplug. But like any good cycle based on drivers—people who want connection will drive it back to more connection.
Kozo Hattori: Getting back to the original article—It surprised me that much of the policing of masculinity is being done by woman. There was that woman in the original article who said “I’m going to ghost this person because they are not communicating properly. I see it with stay at home dads, where it is the other moms who see them as slackers or lazy for staying home with their kids. I even see it on The Good Men Project with women writing articles or commenting—it’s women telling men what to do, sometimes to tell them what to do in order to get sex. Women are policing masculinity.
Rick Gabrielly: There are different levels of expression, and symbols have different meaning to different people. If I say ‘I love you’ to a stranger, they might think I’m coming on too strong. Emojis are the hieroglyphics for 2015.
Mark Sherman: The thing that leads to major changes is people sharing their experiences and then other people will pick up on it. If it feels good, then share it.
More “Inside the Conversation”:
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photo: billstrain / flickr