My third daughter was born on Election Day 2016. Nearly one year ago. For 36 blissful hours, I had the perfect excuse to escape from the realities of a new administration being voted into office. My husband and I welcomed a perfectly formed, absolutely delicious baby girl to our pack of exuberantly wonderful little women.
But coming down from that high, I was profoundly saddened that on the celebratory night of her birth. The glass ceiling I was waiting to see shattered seemed ever intact. It wasn’t until I re-emerged from the newborn vortex a couple months later — coinciding with the inauguration — that I realized the extent to which women all around the world had mobilized and galvanized into action. And I watched it all unfold, with envy.
The Women’s March was the focus of conversation among my group of friends. As we discussed the march, it emerged that not a single one of us had actually attended. We attempted to dissect the reasons: Were the demands of small children too much to participate? Was the distance from California to Washington, D.C.— or even to the nearest local rally — too strenuous? Were we not “the type” to rally?
I had missed a historical moment. I became a Sideline Feminist. A believer who doesn’t do. I am a mother of three girls, and I want them to become independent, assertive women, and yet, I sat in the comfort of my home, not doing anything to change the world for them.
Symbols matter. Minutiae when taken out of context can seem absurd. In philosophical terms, becoming a mother to girls fundamentally changed me. In practical terms, I realized that the verbal and non-verbal language I use as a woman influences three additional women. I had taken a vow to protect my girls from the plague of body image insecurities, from the sense that perfection is the holy grail. I was going to raise negotiators, doers, and women who would welcome obstacles as a fun adventure.
And then, one day, while typing a message to a girlfriend in which I was asking to borrow a pair of shoes, I had a lightbulb moment. I sat there, staring at the red stiletto heel, transfixed by the loaded innuendos implicitly communicated by its position as the default shoe option in Unicode.
I had found my rallying cry. I could play a tiny part in challenging society’s portrayal of women. Perhaps I couldn’t deal with the logistical demands of crossing the country adorned by a pink pussy hat while juggling the mechanics of childcare. But mining through the rabbit hole of how to create an emoji, in the comfort of my own home, while breastfeeding a baby in the middle of the night, that seemed achievable.
Is a blue flat shoe on its own historically significant as an emoji addendum? No. Is the fact that my daughters will not be immediately confronted with a suggestive, absurdly high stiletto in a fire-engine red color as the implied footwear of choice for women personally meaningful? Absolutely.
Do I believe that emoji have a universal power to communicate and influence? Yes.
The non-gendered color choice, blue, as a foil to pink — is intentional. My girls may still ask for heeled shoes one day. But they will know they are not defined by them.
The blue flat shoe is neither exciting nor sensationalistic. And perhaps that is its beauty. The flat shoe should have been there all along. It is a course correction via emoji land. Sometimes, it is impossible to notice an absence until it is pointed out to you. If women all over the world default to a blue flat shoe, perhaps there is hope that the next generation of women will realize that footwear does not make the woman.
Next up: the swimsuit. Because there is no justifiable reason the bikini emoji should be alone.