Is having a lot of male friends a red flag as a woman? A study published in Personality and Individual Differences suggests that other women might think so. This research found that women who prefer female friends distrust women who prefer male friendships and vice versa.
As human beings, our interpersonal relationships are integral to our lives and wellbeing. Both same-sex and cross-sex friendships have been shown to have a myriad of advantages. Same-sex female friendships have been found to be related to support and nurturing, while cross-sex male-female friendship has been shown to lead to romantic and sexual partnering. Being a “guy’s girl” has a certain stigma in society, with women who hang out with predominantly male friends being labeled as “pick me” girls.
On the other hand, women who have mostly male friends may see women who engage in same-sex friendships as jealous or needy. This study sought to bridge a gap in literature and explore the way friendship preferences relate to judgement towards and from other women.
“The current research sought to examine women’s friendship preferences, what predicts them, and their impact on how women are perceived by other women. Guided by past research, we hypothesized that women’s preference for male (vs. female) friends would be predicted by diminished trust in, and greater hostility towards, other women that develops in response to intrasexual competition,” wrote study authors Hannah K. Bradshaw, Katja Cunningham, and Sarah E. Hill.
The researchers conducted five studies to assess these relationships. Study 1 utilized 158 female, heterosexual, undergraduate students to serve as their sample. Participants completed online self-report measures on female-friendship, mating characteristics, identification as a “guy’s girl” or a “girl’s girl,” self-perceived attractiveness, sexual behavior, trust in female friends, hostility toward women, mating success, and demographics.
Study 2 utilized 138 heterosexual, female, undergraduate students who completed measures in the lab on the computer. Participants answered measures very similar to Study 1 with the addition of preference of male vs female close friends and current friendships.
Study 3 utilized 79 heterosexual, female, undergraduate students to serve as their sample. Participants completed the study in the lab in small groups. They were shown a fake profile of a female who was describing either preferring male or female friends and then participants rated the target on trustworthiness.
Study 4 utilized 149 heterosexual undergraduate students of both genders and mimicked the procedure of Study 3.
Study 5 once again utilized female, heterosexual, undergraduate students and consisted of 132 participants. The methodology was a combination of the previous 5 studies and included the viewing of a fake social media profile and measures on hostility, trust, interpersonal liking, sexual behavior, and demographics.
Results showed that women who preferred friendships with men were more hostile and less trusting towards other women. On the other hand, women viewed the female target as not being trustworthy based on the stated preference for male friendships. Additionally, women who preferred cross-sex friendships had more mating success and reported more unrestricted sexual freedom.
“While forming cross-sex friendships was found to be associated with mating benefits, it also appears to carry costs for relationships with same-sex peers,” the researchers noted. The findings suggests a bidirectional relationship “whereby women are targeted by their same-sex peers because of their cross-sex friendships and are also drawn to cross-sex friendships because they are excluded and targeted by same-sex peers,” they added
This study took integral steps into addressing the gap in literature regarding perceptions of cross-sex friendships. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that this study utilized undergraduate students and their attitudes may not be generalizable to the greater population. Another limitation is that the researchers has participants self-identify as either a guy’s girl or a girl’s girl, which may not be truly representative of their same and cross-sex friendships.
“Although these results help clarify the various factors related to women’s preference for male friends, due to the nature of the data, a causal relationship among the factors that lead women to prefer male friends cannot yet be determined,” the researchers concluded. “However, given the mental health problems linked to girls’ and women’s intrasexual victimization, these results may imply a concerning cycle of exclusion and friendship preferences.”
The study, “Known by the company she keeps: Women’s friendship preferences influence interpersonal evaluations“, was authored by Hannah K. Bradshaw, Katja Cunningham, and Sarah E. Hill.