Why Are There So Few Facebook Photos Featuring All Women?

by Leigh Anderson
Originally Published: 

When it comes to friendships, men tend to prefer to socialize in groups, while women opt for the heart-to-hearts with one or two good pals, says new research.

Today Health reports on an Oxford University study into the nature of male and female friendships that examined more than 100,000 profile pictures on social networks. They found that men tend to put up photos of themselves in groups or with a celebrity. Women featured photos of themselves in pairs or in small groups. In fact, there were 50 percent more photos of two women than of two men. (The seemingly obvious explanation for that—that men don’t want to look like they’re gay—was debunked in a later study.)

So what is the explanation? According to the Today article, the answer may lie in how relationship formation relates to primal survival strategies: “It may stem from ancient times and the different roles men and women took on to boost survival. The study points out that men were usually responsible for defending a community against attacks, so it was necessary for them to band together and form a coalition. Women, on the other hand, may have developed a ‘unique capacity for intense empathic relationships’ because of their roles as mothers, according to one theory.”

But here’s the most interesting thing: The study reports that, while there were photos of women with a single other person or in small groups, there were almost no photos of large, female-only groups. No snaps of soccer leagues or all-women’s hiking clubs? Why do women seem to want to demonstrate they have a friend or two, but aren’t part of, say, a ginormous quilting circle?

I also wonder if how one chooses to display oneself on Facebook is really an indication of how one actually socializes—women may just like, for whatever reasons, showing themselves in small groups but still have wide and broad networks of friends. Indeed, the study’s authors acknowledge the limitations of using Facebook to draw any conclusions: “We cannot be sure that co-appearance on Profile Pictures always reflects real-life social ties.”

I mean, any frenemy could have told you that.

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