We’ve all been there: bent double, breathing deeply, riding that day two crimson wave like a champ. All you want is some social media solidarity (and for the ibuprofen to kick in). So you open Twitter, Facebook or Insta, type a little moan and then flip to the emoji keyboard to find the right image to express your agony.
But there’s nothing. A syringe dripping with blood 💉, sure, a couple of devils 👿👿, a red dot 🔴, but it’s all a bit opaque.
There isn’t a single emoji that explicitly transmits the message I’M HAVING MY PERIOD AND I HATE IT, SYMPATHY PLEASE. (Or even YAY PERIODS, MY REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM IS WORKING AS IT SHOULD, if you want to be all body positive about it).
Why is there no period emoji?
Whether it was an accidental lapse or a purposeful omission, it’s another side-effect of a society where women’s bodies are too often treated like gross oddities, especially in male-dominated fields like tech.
It’s a cliché to say that if the majority of men menstruated, we’d all have paid period leave, but it’s true. And if cis men menstruated or if women had more power in Silicon Valley, we would almost certainly have a plentiful selection of period emojis.
What was the campaign for a period emoji?
In 2017, Plan International, a charity focused on children’s welfare and improving opportunities for girls, launched a campaign for a period emoji. They believe that the stigma around periods could be reduced if there were a way for girls, women, and anyone else who has a period to be able to communicate about them in the global language of our time: emoji.
They came up with five designs, including a uterus and a pair of underpants featuring a couple of small blood drops, and put them to a public vote. Fifty-five thousand people voted, and the underpants won.
Plan then submitted their design alongside a proposal about why it mattered to the Unicode Consortium, the organization that decides which new emojis should be added to the existing inventory. The underpants emoji wasn’t chosen, however, losing out to such essentials as a peacock and a lacrosse stick. (Eyeroll emoji.)
Do we really need a period emoji?
Shame about periods runs deep. According to Plan’s research, 70% of women aged 18-34 were uncomfortable talking to male colleagues about their periods while 75% of schoolchildren couldn’t discuss it with their male teachers.
This can have consequences beyond simple embarrassment. According to Plan, 28% of girls in Uganda don’t go to school when they have their period and only 12% of girls and women in India have access to sanitary products. Period stigma is holding girls and women back from access to educational opportunities that could change their lives.
And yes, we need to change a lot more than internet language to subvert that. But alongside better reproductive health education, a period emoji would help normalize periods and be a way to communicate beyond words that periods aren’t dirty or wrong or any of the other misconceptions people still have about them. Of the women they spoke to, Plan found that 45% would like to use a period emoji and would use it to communicate with their partner.
There’s also a simple argument for bodily function equality: there are emojis that represent poop, vomit, and even exploding brain matter, why can’t we have one for bleeding out of our vaginas? It’s 2018. There are 2666 other emojis. It’s time.
What’s next for the period emoji campaign?
Plan are going to try again, with a different design this time. It’s a simple blood drop, which (sadly) probably has a higher chance of success as it’s not period-specific.
Fingers crossed, the Unicode Consortium will get over their squeamishness about women’s reproductive systems and give us the means to express our feelings about our periods in the same medium we can talk about our meals, our illnesses, and (of course) our many, many lacrosse matches. We might not always enjoy that time of the month, but we should be able to emoji it.