Feminism with Amy Butcher and emojis

Sara Hollabaugh

Arts & Entertainment Editor

Amy Butcher. Photo courtesy of owu.edu.
Amy Butcher. Photo courtesy of owu.edu.

Amy Butcher, assistant professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan, uncovered the difficulty of assigning an emoji via text message to her friend in her most recently published article in The New York Times.

The article, “Emoji Feminism,” does not only showcase the arduous task of deciding what emoji to give her friend, but how the options of emojis for women are limited.

Within the article, Butcher writes that there are in fact emojis for women, but not any for women “engaged in activity or a profession.”

“There [are] only archetypes: the flamenco dancer in her red gown, the bride in her flowing veil, the princess in her gold tiara,” Butcher wrote. “There was a set of ballet dancers complete with bunny ears and black leotards, their smiles indicating that, gosh, they were so grateful to God and everyone, really, for this opportunity to pose for Playboy.”

Butcher was looking for empowering depictions of women to assign to her friend.

“Where was the fierce professor working her way to tenure?” Butcher wrote. “Where was the lawyer? The accountant? The surgeon?”

“How was there space for both a bento box and a single fried coconut shrimp, and yet women were restricted to a smattering of tired, beauty-centric roles?”

Image courtesy of emojibase.com
Image courtesy of emojibase.com

When unable to find exactly what they were looking for, Butcher and her friend decided on a penguin.

The anonymous friend of Butcher featured in the article is Ellen Arnold, an associate professor of history at OWU.

“I was proud to have been part of the genesis of this article, although it was a bit odd to be featured (anonymously) in such a major news source,” Arnold said. “One thing that I love about the article, though I’m anonymous, [is that] Amy did a really nice ‘capsule’ version of me.”

“What I enjoyed most was going on Twitter after the article was published and seeing happy and congratulatory penguins everywhere. It shows how much Amy’s voice and concerns resonated.”

Butcher said she truly enjoyed writing the article that raised the question of why there is imminent disparity between men and women, even on the “small screen.”

“I really love comedic writing, and certainly the subject of women in academia,” Butcher said. “The place of professional women within our culture more generally is of great personal interest to me.”

Butcher had both supportive and dismissive responses to her essay in the comments section of the publication.

“Although I had great support from male friends and colleagues, a lot of male commenters predictably complained about the trivialness of the issue, minimizing the larger argument altogether,” Butcher said.

“Some even argued that an adult and professor of English shouldn’t be using emojis in the first place, but I find that argument boring, agist and classist.”

Butcher explained that getting written work into The New York Times is not easy.

“My submission went through what we call the ‘slush pile,’ which is the default email address where thousands of pieces are sent monthly,” Butcher said. “Most often, submissions sent in this way are rejected, but this piece was different.”

The opinion page editor liked Butcher’s article and reached out to her the day after her submission to accept the piece.

“The editor really enjoyed my work and sense of humor and has invited me to send new work to her as I write it,” Butcher said. “I have two pieces I’m in the process of drafting for her, and I’ll send them to her in time, but I have no idea if these new essays will be of any interest to her or not.”

Butcher said that those who are not official writers for the publication do not get re-published for another 3 months. As a professor, that time span is somewhat beneficial.

Butcher has taken after her mentor, John D’Agata, when it comes to being a professor and a writer.

“[He considers] himself exclusively a teacher from September to May and exclusively a writer in the months in-between,” Butcher said.

Being a professor requires a lot of commitment inside and outside of the classroom, which Butcher finds makes it hard to write during the academic year.

“Not only lesson planning, reading and grading, but writing letters of recommendation for past and current students,” Butcher added. “And helping students secure internships and polish off graduate school applications, serving on campus committees, attending readings and plays and recitals, and moreover, just being a helpful presence in a student’s life.”

Senior Adelle Brodbeck, who is currently taking Butcher’s magazine writing class, said it’s great having her as a professor.

“It is so refreshing to have an educator that is close to college age,” Brodbeck said. “It’s much easier to relate to her. Also, it’s nice to have a female professor for once. Out of my four years, the vast majority of my classes have been taught by men.”

Brodbeck enjoyed reading “Emoji Feminism,” as well.

“I thought it was light-hearted and fun, but also had an important message,” Brodbeck said. “In this new age of communication, what are the ways in which we can support each other? Especially how can we support and empower women when the majority of today’s tools are created to favor men.”

As Butcher addresses in her article, sexism has long existed before emojis.

“Emoji diversity is a very small issue plaguing women and our culture more generally,” Butcher said. “But it’s representative of an overwhelming cultural and daily accumulation of grievances.”

“Emojis are the least of it.”

To read Butcher’s piece in The New York Times click here.

Professor reads from her new book

By: Katie Kuckelheim, Transcript reporter


Dr. Amy Butcher read from her memoir in the Bayley Room before a crowd of students and faculty. Photo courtesy of Katie Kuckelheim.
Dr. Amy Butcher read from her memoir in the Bayley Room before a crowd of students and faculty. Photo courtesy of Katie Kuckelheim.

Amy Butcher, assistant professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan, recently published a memoir about her own years as a college student, and on Sept. 17, she gave a reading in Beeghly Library.

But “Visiting Hours: A Memoir of Friendship and Murder” is not a typical campus story.

Butcher’s book details the homicide of Emily Silverstein, who was murdered by her boyfriend Kevin. Butcher was close with Kevin, and even walked home with him on the night of the murder.

Butcher’s interest in the nonfiction genre led to the writing of the book. She writes, “I’m drawn to the essay form because it allows me to step into someone else’s shoes, or perhaps to write a reader into them.”

Kevin had struggled with clinical depression his whole life. With her memoir, Butcher hopes to “add to the chorus of conversation on the often taboo topic of mental illness in America.”

When asked how the events of the book changed her life, Butcher said, “I subscribe to the belief that everything that happens to us invariably shapes us, but in this way, I feel this event shaped my everything. Perhaps I won’t feel this way years from now, and perhaps that will be a blessing, but for now, I think the easier question is to consider the ways in which this event hasn’t shaped me. I have a hard time coming with much, frankly. We are molded exponentially by what we know.”

Sophomore Hayley Mandel, said, “I read it last year. It is a piece that you think about very deeply for a long time. I think back to it often.”

Professor Karen Poremski of OWU’s English department said, “I admire professor Butcher’s ability to address difficult issues in a reasonable, calm way.”

OWU professor’s first book is a coping mechanism

Amy Butcher. Photo courtesy of owu.edu.
Amy Butcher. Photo courtesy of owu.edu.

Shortly before the end of her undergraduate career, Amy Butcher went out for drinks with some friends, including a close friend named Kevin. He walked her home, told her a joke about a John Denver song and said goodnight. Less than two hours later, Kevin’s 19 year old ex-girlfriend, Emily Silverstein was dead in his bathroom.

This story is the basis of Ohio Wesleyan University assistant professor Amy Butcher’s first book, Visiting Hours, which was released nationally on April 7, 2015.

Butcher teaches creative nonfiction in the English department.

In her book, Butcher writes about how she coped with losing her friend, Kevin.

“It is taboo to say that I grieved for the erasure of Kevin as much as I grieved the loss of his victim,” Butcher said. “But it’s the truth.”

“Kevin was a history major, the president of the college radio station, a kid who wore skinny jeans and green tennis shoes and form-fitting t-shirts in hipster shades: crimson, baby blue, magenta,” she says. “In short, he was one of the most innocuous and responsible people I knew, and this made the incident all the more horrifying.”

Butcher said she had written him letters every month for three years.

“Because Kevin would not talk to me about any of this – not the crime, not what really happened,” said Butcher, “I eventually drove back to Gettysburg and sought this information myself by way of a request for all public documents related to the case.”

The "Visiting Hours" book cover. Photo courtesy of amazon.com.
The “Visiting Hours” book cover. Photo courtesy of amazon.com.

This is when Butcher learned the truth about what really happened that night.

“I learned Kevin had been trying to take his own life when Emily physically intervened,” she said. “When someone is so overcome with the desire to kill themselves, they kill the person who gets in the way.”

Butcher says she wrote this book not only as way of coping with the loss of her friend, but to open a discussion on mental illness.

“Depression and suicidal ideation is incredibly common,” Butcher says. “In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death nationally for those ages 15-24.”

Butcher said she began writing the book during her third year of graduate school at the University of Iowa.

In her first version of the story, Butcher found, through help from her mentors (Robin Hemley and Meghan Daum), that the book was really about how she was obsessed and traumatized.

Butcher says when she finished the book, “It felt like the most pressurized valve had been turned, and I could breathe again.”

As for what’s next for Butcher, she has three works in progress.

“I’m generally not one to talk about my work until it’s done, because I think it can create a false sense of success that I’ve in no way earned,” she says.

Several of Butcher’s students are encouraged by the amount of success she’s had at her age.

“Butcher’s book inspires me to be an effective writer while still pursuing my own career, just as she has,” senior Lauren Moore said. “To me, balancing both her job search and her personal publishing is an amazing accomplishment.”

Senior Paul Priddy shared these sentiments.

“From a student’s perspective, I don’t know that I can say enough about the value of having a highly recognized and award-winning author as my professor,” Priddy said. “It’s really amazing to have the opportunity to have our work critiqued in as thoughtful and intelligent a way as professor Butcher does.”