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Sunday, March 13, 2016


After having gone a few days without much time on the internet, I was catching up with my friends in the web world. I was pleased and surprised to be tagged in a post by my friend Pacino. He had shared a video and asked for opinions from Terry, my favorite Canadian chef, and me about the content of the video.

This video was produced and sponsored by a manufacturer of feminine hygiene products and was essentially a couple of minutes about a dialogue which they had started among adolescent girls. It seemed to me that some representatives from the company had sought out young females who were absorbed in using their smart phones rather than socializing or studying or actually interacting face-to-face with other humans. What did the company do? They pointed out to the girls that there were not enough female emojis. Their premise is, apparently, that this contributes to the drop in self-esteem experienced by girls when they enter puberty. After commenting at length about the video, I told Pacino that I felt a blog post coming on, and here I am writing. 

Adolescence is, by definition, the time after the onset of puberty when one transforms from a child into an adult. Now, I've never given birth to or raised any children, but I am a female who went through both puberty and adolescence and still remember some of the trauma involved for me and my friends and schoolmates. We didn't have cellphones in those days, but I tend to doubt that having female emojis would have made it any easier to navigate the devastating wasteland known as adolescence. What we really needed were caregivers that were supportive and positive. 

When I began to approach that magical age of transformation, the process of menstruation and its assorted symptoms were treated in a very secretive manner and meant to be hidden. In fact, I waited eagerly for Gram to have "the talk" with me about the changes that would soon happen to my body. I finally pushed her into the discussion because I had stumbled upon a book in the library that actually used the word menstruation. 

Although my classmates and I were all eager to begin the physical transformation, it wasn't talked about much. The attitudes almost hearkened back to the Old Testament. It wasn't clean, and therefore we weren't clean. I still remember the day in seventh or eighth grade when I had to sit out of gym class for some reason I have long since forgotten. I was unhappy to be sitting through class because we were playing basketball, and it was one of the few things I was almost good at doing. I was sitting with another girl and must have asked her why she was sitting out as well. She looked miserable and told me that she was on her period and hated it because she knew that she smelled bad. I remember telling her that she didn't stink as she claimed, but she refused to believe me. Even at that young age I seemed to know that she had been told that it was a dirty, nasty, smelly thing, and something to be ashamed of. I felt sad because I knew that she didn't smell but I couldn't convince her otherwise. She had learned her attitudes toward this function from the adults in her life, as had all of us girls. She was convinced that I was just being polite to her and remained miserable.

I can only imagine that the various changes that happened in the boys' bodies, from nocturnal emissions to various and sundry other changes like voices that changed their key in the middle of a sentence, were equally difficult and traumatizing. The few kids that seemed to go through this stage without lasting damage had parents that approached these subjects differently. They removed the mystery and dispelled the darkness with open and matter-of-fact communication. This lessened the stress their kids experienced. Yes, the adolescent experience was still tough, but at least they could speak openly about it with their parents.

Would female-centric emojis have had an impact on my self esteem had they been available in those days? I tend to doubt it. It was the words, attitudes, and actions of real people that were most formative for us. Like a seedling in a garden, we needed sustenance to help us in our processes of Becoming. The nurturing we did or didn't receive helped form us into the adults that we are today. I didn't need a picture of a doctor or teacher or writer to know that I could become one if I wanted, I just needed someone to be proud of me and tell me that I could. I think that the lessons we teach and learn about our selves and our abilities create far more important images than the electronic ones.

Postscript: I'd like to mention that the observations of the emojis were flawed by assumptions. Just because an emoji or person has short hair doesn't automatically make them a male, nor does long hair automatically identify one as female. Just a little extra food for thought. 


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