Sad is Female, Angry is Male (But Shouldn’t Be)

You can tell a lot from the top results of a search.

I typically go to unsplash or pixabay for the featured images for these posts. Both sites have similar missions, and allow you to search for an image by keyword.

For my last post, I first tried “sad”…. and noticed that the people in the images were overwhelmingly women. Seven out of the first ten on pixabay. Then I tried “upset”, and got similar results. Unsplash was a little better – though the suggested iStock “premium” photos absolutely followed that pattern as well, especially if you only count adult humans.

So I tried a little experiment, and typed in the word “angry”.

And the gendered results flipped.

Seven out of the first ten results were adult men on pixabay, nine out of the first eleven were adult men on unsplash (discounting images of children on both services).

This isn’t an algorithm’s fault. There is no conspiracy, no mustache-twirling misogynist reclassifying pictures.

This is our society.

This is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves.

These are the default assumptions that we do not question.

And these assumptions matter. We absorb these stories without question. We learn what to expect, how to behave from these assumptions.

If we want things to change – for the toxic parts of our society to evaporate away – we must question our assumptions.

We must question the assumptions in the stories we tell ourselves, and wonder if there might be a better way.

It will take each photographer, each storyteller, each advertiser, each writer and director and producer actively checking to make sure they’re not falling into one of these cliches.

And it will take each media consumer, each employee, each member of focus groups demanding nothing less.

Because if we don’t change these unconscious cliches, we aren’t getting rid of bigotry and prejudice… we will only be forcing it to be more polite.

The featured photo is a screenshot from pixabay showing the top “sad” results.

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  1. October 18, 2021

    Biology might in part be responsible: Testosterone. Men fight. Much of human history is men fighting men, even brothers fighting brothers. This is in part why I bias my voting towards women.

    • October 18, 2021

      In some part, sure, but as a glasses wearing person, I’m not a fan of “natural is best, or even desirable”, know what I mean? There was a recent Radiolab about all this which talked about testosterone and female athletes, and the limits of biological determinism. I can find the link if you’d like.

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