Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably already heard it: there’ll be a period emoticon. Finally! Emojis already exist since 1997, so it took more than two decades for the ‘menstruation ideogram’ to gain right of existence. An earlier appeal by Plan International UK was rejected, but now the Unicode Consortium, the body that regulates emojis, has given the go-ahead. A red droplet will be the symbol of menstruation. Reason for a red party? Or shouldn’t we start celebrating just yet?
Why we should celebrate
A period emoticon is super practical and might make talking about periods easier. Menstruation isn’t a rare phenomenon. There’s a chance you’d want to discuss the subject. After all, you’ll spend around 2,500 days of your life menstruating (that’s if you don’t use hormonal contraceptives or get 15 children).
The chance you’d want to use a period pictograph in your communication is a whole lot bigger than the chance you’ll need a symbol for a diya lamp or an oyster, two of the 230 new emoticons that have been added to the list this year. Other important updates in 2019 include emojis for people with various disabilities and people in all gender and skin colour variations holding hands.
Why this isn’t reason for a party
A drop of blood? In the medical category? Since when has menstruation become a disease? And why isn’t it an exclusive symbol? The red droplet doesn’t just represent ‘menstruation’; it also stands for ‘donating blood’ and ‘medical’ and thus has a shared meaning.
Why? The symbols for oyster and diya lamp are exclusive, as are most other emojis. Ideograms with a shared meaning are rare, it seems. Just take a look at the list. OK, the symbol for ‘small’ (two fingers indicating the size) is also open to other explanations. No, this is not the appropriate pictogram to indicate ‘small penis’.
The story behind the droplet…
As it turns out, the red droplet is a compromise. Actually, Plan International UK proposed a period pants design, the winner of their vote contest. However, that one got turned down. That’s when Plan UK decided to partner with NHS Blood and Transplant. Together, the organisations succeeded in getting the drop of blood emoticon. Good news for the Japanese flag emoji – often used as a symbol for menstruation because of its red dot – which can get back to being just the Japanese flag. But menstruation also deserves a unique symbol.
Emoticons are meant to make communication easier and quicker. How’s a symbol that can be explained in different ways going to help with that? What are you saying when using the red droplet in your feeds and apps? I want to cancel our appointment because: A. I’m on my period? B. I’m donating blood? C. I’m medical? Have a guess. Or can the receiver pick one? Confusion alert.
Dear people of the Unicode Consortium. Next year, could you please also add a tampon and a menstrual cup and a sanitary pad to the list? Because those symbols will really normalise the conversation about menstruation. And they’ll make typing a shopping list for your partner/father/brother a lot easier. ‘Suddenly <menstruating>. Buy <tampons>’. Period!