Did you know that there is an Emoji Sub-committee? There is an organisation that (Unicode) which is responsible for approving all new emojis and makes sure the symbols are compatible across platforms. So that what you send on your Android phone is the same as what your friend sees on their iPhone.
So there is a sub-committee. Naturally. And these little symbols and images, billions of which are sent each day, are more important than you think. They are little culture setters, each telling a little story. They might be Gender-neutral but they’re not value-neutral. But creating gender-neutral emojis is easier said than done. They kept coming up against a significant problem. Hair.
Paul Hunt, a designer on the aforementioned sub-committee, “found that when working with such a small image, hair became the most significant gender identifier. His Women had longer hair, his men short hair, and his gender-inclusive emojis sported wavy hair that flared just below the ears.”1
In a split second we can, by looking at a little drawn character with hair, know which gender it is supposed to be. Hair, of different lengths and styles, is the most significant signifier, the most critical symbol.
Which is pretty much what Paul argued 2000 years ago. The sex binary is nothing, if not stubbornly rooted in the human DNA.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.1 Corinthians 11:13-16
There is a rootedness into nature and the foundation of Genesis 1:27 that is important to preserve and try as progressives might still works incredibly well. It is, it seems, all in the hair.
If we can still do that, if we can still tell at a moment’s glance the gender of a person then we can, without too much difficulty continue to observe the principle Paul outlines here. Instead of becoming strange and confusing it becomes helpful and illuminating. As Andrew Wilson explains,
Back to 1 Corinthians 11, and we first need to ask the question: what did the physical symbols Paul is talking about represent in first century Greco-Roman culture? And although there are all sorts of suggestions, the most likely answers seem to be that the symbols in question – covered heads for women, uncovered heads for men – indicated three things: (1) that gender distinctions were preserved, with men looking like men and women looking like women; (2) that both sexes had appropriate regard for their “head” (so, men honoured Christ and women honoured their husbands); and (3) that married women were not sexually available. Within first century culture, the symbols Paul is talking about in this chapter “meant” some combination of those three things. And failing to dress this way risked bringing dishonour to others, a distraction to the angels, and dishonour to God.
So, to live under the authority of God in Scripture requires symbolically translating Paul’s instructions into our own cultures. In much of the Middle East, that will mean doing exactly what Paul told the Corinthians to do: women covering their heads, and men not covering their heads. In the UK today, though, women use their attire to indicate femininity, honour for their husbands and sexual fidelity in different ways (so if my wife Rachel is praying or prophesying in a church meeting, she doesn’t have to look like she’s walked out of Pride and Prejudice, but she shouldn’t look like she’s walked out of Ibiza Uncovered, either.) And for men in my world, looking like Bob Marley doesn’t mean you’re undermining God-given gender distinctives; looking like Eddie Izzard, on the other hand, probably does. So in the church I’m part of, men can pray and prophesy if they’re wearing a cap or a hat – but not if they’re wearing lipstick or a dress.
Symbolic translation means changing the sign to preserve the thing signified. 2
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