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“Girl Math” Doesn’t Compute

The New Rise of Invisible Misogyny
Sam James
Buzzfeed, “You’ve Heard Of ‘Girl Dinner,’ But This TikToker Just Brought Up ‘Girl Math’ And It’s Probably The Most Accurate Thing I’ve Ever Heard”, Image Credits to @samjamessssss / Via

Pink’s a “girl color” again.


Society’s been aware of gender roles for ages, but with the rise of new generations comes their increased awareness of the past and their desire to move away from it. Beginning mainly with the boom of Millennials and “Gen Z”, born 1981-1996 and 1997-2012 respectively, teens and their young adult counterparts have made great strides towards separating themselves from the strict gendered society of years before.

Waves of “girl power”, “fight like a girl”, and simply female empowerment movements have brought women and assigned female-at-birth, AFAB, people’s positions in society way up, especially in western countries. Distancing themselves from the past principles of femininity that consisted of being quiet, soft, caring, and submissive, women have worked to secure their own power in the world. But, as stated above, pink’s a “girl color” again. Or, perhaps, it’s never stopped.

There’s nothing wrong with pink. It’s my favorite color. It’s the best color, actually. That’s not the point, though. 

Have you heard of “girl math”? It’s a growing trend on social media surrounding spending and purchasing habits, specifically for girls. 

Here’s an example: If it’s bought with cash, it’s free. 

Or another: If it’s under $5, it’s free.

Now, these are fun. All of the little rules that make up “girl math” are fun, silly, and known to be a joke. The problem lies in the fact that the basis of “girl math” is women accepting and promoting the idea that women are bad with math and money, a concept that has been used to put down women in STEM fields and women considering STEM for ages. It’s drawn out, overused, and a core component of misogyny. 

This trend hasn’t caused a huge overhaul of feminism or women’s rights, but it does stall the movement even further, which is worrisome as even the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PNAS, has revealed that gender equality in the United States, a country widely regarded as on the forefront of the world, has come to a stall. In a 2020 article, a collection of researchers summarize that “We show dramatic progress in movement toward gender equality between 1970 and 2018, but also that in recent decades, change has slowed or stalled. The slowdown on some indicators and stall on others suggests that further progress requires substantial institutional and cultural change.” This institutional and cultural change can come in ways even as small as jokes.

Along the lines of “girl math” is “girl dinner”, the phenomenon that has been used as both an innuendo towards attractive celebrities as well as a fun term coined for silly, rushed, or eclectic dinner, typically a spread of snacks rather than a full meal.

Unfortunately, this has strong connections to the “mealspo” trend in spaces centered around eating disorders and also popularizes meals that, the majority of the time, do not contain a large enough caloric intake or have healthy levels of nutrients. The trend threatens to normalize insufficient meals such as these, which can be very detrimental, especially in a culture that already has stressors of body image and diet culture, particularly for girls and AFAB individuals.

The phrase “just a girl” has also now gained popularity as a self-deprecating mantra, often used in a light-hearted manner, especially when discussing doing work or a job, asking why they are meant to do it, they’re “just a girl”. It’s a cute phrase and allows young girls and women to express frustration or burnout in a less heavy manner. However, this seemingly innocent expression does have its consequences. By labeling oneself as “just a girl,” individuals may inadvertently diminish their own capabilities and reinforce stereotypes of women as less competent or capable than their male counterparts in the workplace. This mantra risks downplaying the achievements and ambitions of women, and it is essential to promote language that empowers women to embrace their capabilities and reject limiting labels or jokes that undermine their potential.

Minor influencer Addison Seidel, who boasts a following on Instagram, says: “I mean, one time I bought ice cream with cash rather than card, which makes it free.” She does sober up, though, stating that, “But on a more serious note, I use the phrase to poke fun at things. I know it’s bad math, that’s what makes it funny.” She also turns to its negatives, saying, “Despite this, however, I think it’s quite sad that women have fallen back into self-deprecating ways of joking that force negative assumptions about our abilities back onto us, especially in topics like math.”

These trends may appear to be supportive of women, and they are supportive of their emotional struggles, but at the same time, the jokes do edge a bit too close to the misogynistic words that were the norm in the past. While they are not outright sexist, they do point towards an increase in internalized misogyny, with women’s thoughts becoming more and more self-deprecating about their gender and how their actions relate to it. The misogynistic subtext of these jokes is near invisible, which is why they’re able to grow and gain such traction, people simply aren’t aware of how everything can play a role, and scarily enough, the popularity of “girl math” and its counterparts isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

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