New Facebook Icons: How Appropriate?

In the ‘Friends’ episode “The One With Phoebe’s Dad”, Ross shows everyone his Christmas presents. Phoebe is stunned to find a picture of her father in Ross’s photo frame, but she soon realizes it’s a guy-in-the-frame picture. Later her grandmother Frances reveals to her that she had been lying to her all along. It was very touching to see how Phoebe had been assuming the-guy-in-the-frame picture to be her dad.

How often do we even notice the background pictures in the frames we buy? What we hold dear are our personal photographs on the beach, at Disney, graduation ceremony and so on. The background pictures fade away in no time.

Same is the case with the Facebook icons. They have been around for a long time, beneath our personal photographs or tucked away in the top right corner of the Facebook page. Did we ever notice them? Well somebody did.

Caitlin Winner, a design manager, spearheaded an effort to change the icons. The ‘friends’ icon had a man and a woman, with the woman positioned behind the man, almost in his shadow. In the new icon designed by her, the female is now placed in front of the male icon.

She also changed the icon for ‘groups’ where now the female is in the forefront.

Facebook gladly embraced the changes for desktop and mobile users this week. It is definitely a laudable effort in the gender skewed world that we live in, that somebody was sensitive enough to these minor details that work on our subconscious and shape our perceptions.

But are these changes apt? Does bringing a lady in front of the man symbolize equality? It rather seems to prove a point. Why not place them side by side, equally. Winner mentions in her blogpost on Medium.

“My first idea was to draw a double silhouette, two people of equal sizes without a hard line indicating who was in front. Dozens of iterations later, I abandoned this approach after failing to make an icon that didn’t look like a two headed mythical beast. I placed the lady, slightly smaller, in front of the man.”

Understandably, there could have been technical difficulties, but an equal picture would have been more welcome. Similarly, in the ‘groups’ icon too, placing a woman in the front still doesn’t make it look equal. It looks rather off-balanced, on the other end of the spectrum that is. How about a group of four instead, or a bigger crowd?

Facebook’s New Icons Bring Feminism to Your Friendships, says Gizmodo. Feminism in its literal sense strives for gender equality, not one up-(wo)manship. Often being misunderstood by men and women alike, feminism is not just another hype, but an effort to bring the world to the realization that a woman is ‘human’.

In many parts of the world, she has to struggle to get a basic education, rather to even be born, if not into a society who would discriminate and deny her a dignified life. The Western world has been no exception with the women fighting for abortion rights, right to be ordained or against their objectification.

But while marching ahead, one needs to keep in mind of not antagonizing the other gender. Men too have been at the receiving end and being victimized, be it the custody cases, divorce lawsuits, or domestic violence.

Besides, gender definitions have been rapidly changing. Transgenders may also like representation, and rightly so. Hopefully, Facebook would work on it soon.

But right now it definitely needs to rethink the changes it has made to its stereotypical icons.

Also published here.

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