In the world of reproductive health, last month’s news highlight was Plan International’s announcement: the period emoji will be made available across mobile devices by March 2019! Organizations and people working in the field of menstrual health hailed it as a victory for women almost as if to say, One small step for woman, one big step for womankind. Let’s take a look at what this news means for conversations around menstruation and breaking the taboo about all things period.
The Truth about Visuals
The idea of using visuals to communicate a thought is an age-old one. From our cave-person days, we as humans have been using various means of visual communication – be it cave paintings, drawings or diagrams in our school textbooks. Comic books have always been a favourite among children because comics use illustrations to make reading fun and interesting. Similarly, whenever we as menstrual health educators have used the board to illustrate concepts, it has always been of major help. This is especially true in the case of reproductive health sessions where there is some discomfort in the room despite our best efforts at using effective ice-breakers. Taboo topics like women’s external reproductive anatomy and conception can be explained a little more comfortably with the use of figures/representational images. Along with this, what helps dissipate the awkwardness is the effective use of humour. Once everyone has had a good laugh about the “emotional outbursts” and “recklessness” during adolescence, the air in the room is not so heavy.
What about Emojis?
With the social media boom in the last five years, emojis have undergone a drastic metamorphosis in their nature of use, availability, the extent of use, as well as their purpose – all beyond what seems obvious. First introduced in Japan, emojis rode the wave of success, recognition, and constant innovation in the last decade or so. It is extremely popular among the younger generation.
The good news about emojis is that they have not remained stagnant; they are changing with the changing times. The recent slew of emojis have been more inclusive in representation – of gender, race, and the latest trends.
The Period Emoji
The Period Emoji has been in news ever since 2017 when Plan International decided to work on erasing the shame and taboo around menstruation-related conversations. People were asked to choose between 4-5 options related to periods that would be turned into emoticons. After going through a choosing and vetting process, the emoji zeroed in was the drop of blood. Simple and elegant in its design, the drop of blood comes to represent not just period blood, but it also helps in raising awareness around blood donation and even blood transplantation.
Our Thoughts on the Period Emoji
As key stakeholders in the field of periods and period products, we welcome and appreciate the new period emoji. We love how the simple emoji can be used to convey a variety of meanings and situations. We are also happy that the period emoji has, indeed, generated quite a bit of conversation from both those who are working in the field and from others.
It would also be a great tool to use as a conversation starter in our menstrual hygiene management sessions. Often, when menstruation is in the news, for whatever reason, the boys and girls have already spoken about it; thereby, making it easier for the facilitators to broach the subject. We also agree that the emoji will help in normalizing the conversation around periods among young men and women who are digital natives.
Our only grouse with the emoji is its very clean design – clean, in terms of not having anything too “risky”. It couldn’t have been an emoji of a uterus or period products. These are actually what women would use in everyday conversations. The drop of blood feels too metaphorical and esoteric for use in simple situations. In fact, Plan International had proposed some other options in its initial poll; these included a uterus, a calendar, a pad, and a pair of period pants. Though the pair of period pants’ emoticon won the poll, Unicode decided to not use it. In our opinion, any of the other suggested options were far more realistic and true to women’s lived experience than the enigmatic drop of blood. We believe in demystifying the process of menstruation; a more vivid period emoji would definitely aid us in this journey.
All images courtesy, Plan International UK