The Rules of Engagement

This blog post is a plea for guidance.

Like so many people my age, I am swimming in uncharted waters.   Norms have changed.  There are rules of engagement, but I no longer know them.   There is a whole new set of symbols and signifiers, brand new to me at midlife.   I have no choice but to deploy this new language, but I know I do so at my peril, constantly at risk of miscommunication at best, of giving offense at worst.

I am talking, of course, about emojis.

Some time ago, my children patiently explained to their dotty mother that the emoji eggplant is a phallic symbol.  Eggplants, botanically speaking, are fruits:  that is, mature ovaries.   How was I to know this?   When I was a girl, if you were looking for produce to represent the male member, you were pretty much limited to bananas or cucumbers.   True, bananas and cucumbers are also fruits (and to further confound the metaphor, culinary bananas are technically sterile).   So much for botany as a guidestar.   

From an emoji perspective, though, I can see why the eggplant fits the bill:

While the banana does not:

The cucumber emoji is even less evocative as a phallic symbol:

Unless you’re trying to evoke Lorena Bobbitt.   

I have also heard that one of the smiley face variations conveys sexual desire.  But which one?   I believe it involves an exposed tongue.   Is it this?  

Or this? 

I think it’s probably this:

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find this image to be all that arousing.  Forgive me if that’s too much information.

Then there’s the kiss-blowing emoji:  

People in my world use this one all the time.  Certainly, the range of people with whom one is allowed to exchange kiss-blowing emojis is a much broader than the range of people to whom one is allowed to blow kisses using one’s actual lips.   On the other hand, in real life, I’m willing to discuss eggplants with just about anybody.

My brother is fond of using the Shrugging Guy emoji:

A while back I pointed out that Shrugging Guy has significantly more hair than does my brother.  To which my brother responded:

It is not clear to me the extent to which I am expected to capture my own physical traits in the emojis I choose.   For most of the fact and body part emojis, we are offered a range of skin tones from which to choose:

The default is a color best described as “Goldenrod.”  I have never met a human who is actually Goldenrod.   But figuring out which alternative “Thumbs up” shade to use is kind of like choosing foundation at a makeup counter:   you have a choice between not quite, not quite, not quite, or not quite.  And how important is this choice?  How would people react if I chose my thumbs-up from the right side of the spectrum?   Would this be considered offensive, an act of identity appropriation?   

Maybe the Goldenrod default is the safest option.  Though I’ve occasionally wondered if Goldenrod isn’t the most provocative choice of all, over-the-top racist in the manner of the Mickey Rooney character in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

As for Shrugging Guy, the emoji universe in fact offers us 18 different shrugging person options.   They come not only in a range of skin tones, but also in male, female and gender-neutral.   The man has a more angular face, short hair, and a blue shirt; the woman has a rounded face and long hair, and her top is a feminine purple; and the non-gendered version has a somewhat rounded face, a neutral gray shirt, and a bob.

My modest proposal: instead of adding a string of pronouns to the bottoms of email signatures and Zoom screen names, we should all just choose a Shrugger.    If you’re someone who believes in communicating your identity up front, the options are all there!   And if you’re someone who doesn’t, the Shrugger is a sign of humility.   Because who among us isn’t really clueless, when you get right down to it?

Until next time, my friends --