Let’s Discuss Girl Math: Just a Social Media Trend or Something More?
“When we don’t think deeper about what exactly the trend is promoting, we fail to change harmful dialect and discourse.”
If you’re on TikTok often, you might’ve heard the term “girl math”. Or how about “girl dinner” or “girlboss”? These concepts arose from various social media trends. Though intended to be funny and relatable concepts among female viewers, they can be extremely harmful to the perception of women. We hope this piece offers a new perspective by taking you away from your algorithm to look at these trends through a lens of equity and empowerment. Let’s consider the critical effects they have on influencing financial literacy and other important life skills in women.
The connectivity of social media can be an excellent tool to foster female empowerment. The aspect alone of women across the globe being able to connect with each other on ideas, recognized experiences, and storytelling can create strong bonds in the community and help to enable feminist goals and actions. Specifically, with the continued growth of TikTok, more women are sharing stories and advice across the video platform, with the intention to inspire and connect. As members of a global female community, we have the tools to promote female support and empowerment, something extremely unique to this generation of social media users.
We believe that though some may see social media posts as trends, in actuality, it's a way for women to educate each other. The concept of ‘viral’ isn't unique to TikTok, but on the basis of videos spreading globally, the reach of powerful messages shared can have potential to impact girls and women alike. The Social Sheppard shares that females accounted for 57% of TikTok users in past years (TheSocialShepherd, n.d.). The impacts of having a large female presence on a social app can be positive through the connectivity that females create. More specifically, body positivity and ‘girlhood’ trends, as examples, are increasingly popular.
Let’s look at the ‘girlhood trend’. A simple search on the app platform reveals videos of experiences of women that can be understood by other women. This form of education and storytelling create a version of recognized experiences, and the importance of understanding experiences is profound in feminist thought and discourse. Of course, this must be understood through different lenses, specifically with privilege in mind when it comes to different women with varying backgrounds. Let us be clear; we cannot group women into the idea that all have the same understanding and experiences of being female.
With this though, social media has allowed women to connect, perhaps even feel less alone, and this in and of itself is powerful.
So… if we have the tools and the power to create impactful messaging around female empowerment, then why are we so accepting of social trends that inherently continue the harmful stereotypes surrounding women? The principles of social trends' effects on feminism and female empowerment reach far beyond the ever changing social media landscape.
“Girl math is using cash instead of a credit card because cash doesn’t count”. “Girl math is when you make a return to a store, you have more money than when you bought the item because the money is returned to you” “Girl math is rounding down when you see a price to make yourself feel better about a purchase”.
These are just a few examples of the discourse that has entered social platforms over the past few months. The trend of ‘girl math’, started by creators who were attempting to explain how they rationalize spending, has reached a global audience. The original videos have dubbed the term ‘girl math’ in an over generalization that this is how women think about money and purchases. People have continued sharing how they use ‘girl math’ in their everyday lives to guide their decision making and life planning. The evident concern with this trend is the idea that the ‘concepts’ are tied directly to women.
Sure, many people may use different reasoning behind their budgeting and spending, but when you attach a concept that is not mathematical nor financial and coin it as ‘girl math’ it is actively contributing to a stereotype that a) women are bad at math and b) women are not responsible with their finances.
Activists and women have been fighting these stereotypes for decades, including even more recent investments into women joining industries in the STEM and financial fields.
What is continuously shocking is the fast acceptance of trends like ‘girl math’. As discussed above, trends can bring women together over recognized experiences, which could be true with the trend of ‘girl math’, yet in a completely obstructive way to women's empowerment. Seldom do we stop and critique the stereotypes and negative messaging that is being pushed by these trends.
We do recognize that social media trends are often contributed to out of fun, however when we do not think deeper about what exactly the trend is promoting, we fail to change harmful dialect and discourse.
Not all women have to be ‘good’ at math or have in-depth financial skills, but ‘girl math’ should be about sharing the importance of female mathematical and financial literacy skills. All women deserve access to these forms of literacy education which can be shared via social media but viral videos with titles such as “The Only Budgeting Technique you will Ever Need: Girl Math”, are harmful and concerning for the future of women’s empowerment and equality.
“Girl math” isn’t the only social media trend that promotes harmful discourse and unhealthy habits. For the past few months, “girl dinner” has been trending on TikTok. “Girl dinner” is a meal made up of small portions of random assortments of food. It can be used to describe a meal that you want to make with leftovers after a long day, or maybe a mix of all your cravings. However, in some cases, the trend has been used with videos showcasing extremely small portions and snacks replacing meals. In others, the snacks chosen are simply unhealthy and very far from a nutritional dinner. This trend inherently validates unhealthy eating among women, and in some cases, increases the potential risk of female viewers developing eating disorders.
Similarly to both “girl math” and “girl dinner”, “girlboss” is a term coined with the intention to bring women together and support community. It defines a woman who is ambitious and works hard at her career. However, despite the positive intention, the term has faced backlash in the past for being diminishing and denigrating to the authority of women in power positions. It enforces the idea that a woman excelling in the workplace is an exception or an anomaly, versus being the “norm”, in which it is with men (Spratt, n.d.). While it is difficult to see through the spirited and supportive use of the word, these discriminatory undertones can contribute to an increase in imposter syndrome in women and a larger gap between genders in the workplace.
While these “girl” trends possess benefits to women such as community building and humorous relatability, they also promote unhealthy and dysfunctional lifestyles in women, unraveling the work of female activists to equip women with the skills to be independent, empowered, and confident human beings in the world.
Going forward, we encourage you to reflect on the outcomes of these trends and put them into perspective. Before you subconsciously incorporate such terms into your vocabulary and in your social circles, think about how they are contributing to empowering women with financial literacy, healthy eating, and work environments with less barriers. By doing so, we can further contribute to a more equitable and inclusive environment for women to improve their overall well-being.
Lauren Douglas and Ashley Smith
P.S… Check out these women posting educational financial and mathematical content:
@herfirst100k - 2.4M Follwers. Fight the patriarchy. Get rich: Financial Feminist.
@yourrichbff - 2.5M Followers. Ex-Wall Streeter Helping YOU get Rich.
@heatherpulier (Outset Financial) - 18.2K Followers. All Things Money: Offering emotional and practical skills for financial success.
@thefinancialdiet - 800K+ Followers. Helping women Talk About Money + live a better life on any budget.
@thebudgenista - 600K+ Followers. Tiffany Aliche, $ Educator/NYTBestseller Get Good with Money/Owner.
@clevergirlfinance - 350K+ Followers. Personal finance for women.
Spratt, V. (n.d.). Why we must get rid of girlboss culture for good. Why We Must Get Rid Of Girlboss Culture For Good. https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2020/01/9044921/girlboss-culture-women-work
TheSocialShepherd. (n.d.). Social Media Marketing Blog & Insights. The Social Shepherd. https://thesocialshepherd.com/blog