The Instagram algorithm recently brought me a new form of content: “Girl Math” videos.
The trend is lighthearted, with women listing off all the ways that money doesn’t “count” in certain contexts. A common rule is anything under five bucks is basically free. “Girl Math” can also be about justifying spending a lot of money on something, like planning to wear an expensive item multiple times to make up for the price.
It’s obviously supposed to be a little goofy. But, that’s what’s so insidious about the trend – if we continue to equate women’s financial decisions to a punchline, society will never take women seriously when it comes to money.
The consequences of “Girl Math” are twofold. First, it undermines the credibility and intelligence of women. Already, the odds are in favor of men, especially white men, when it comes to high paying or powerful jobs.
“Girl Math” repeatedly sends the message that women make silly financial decisions, and from that idea, it is too easy for society to extrapolate that women make silly decisions, period.
Second, “Girl Math” promotes financial illiteracy in women, which will only uphold the patriarchal status quo. Money runs the world: if you don’t know how to use it, that’s the difference between being a homeowner, sending your kids to college, and retiring early or not.
“Girl Math” doesn’t teach you how to contribute to your 401(k). It teaches you that it’s okay to mindlessly spend, which can be a pretty harmful long-term attitude. There’s no incentive to learn more about money when bad spending habits are normalized.
More than the attitude, though, it also confines women to a financial box, as it creates the notion that there are clear boundaries between what women can do with math and finances and what men can do.
If all the elements of math and finances in the videos are “Girl Math” then all that’s unsaid must be some form of “Boy Math” that these videos place firmly out of reach. Calculus, statistics, data science, life skills, high paying jobs, an understanding of personal income — “Boy Math.”
I know that this trend is supposed to be taken as a joke, and I think many of the content creators who participate do as well, but the unfortunate reality of 2023 is that some people don’t.
Consciously or subconsciously, people have negative preconceived notions of what a woman can or cannot do, and “Girl Math” supports those ideas. Society has not yet created an environment where everyone can thrive equally, and it’s stereotypes like these that keep the status quo from shifting.
There are a lot of young kids on social media, and “Girl Math” sets a harmful precedent for them. By gendering terms, we perpetuate the binary male/female world that simply isn’t true.
Poor knowledge of finances is not an innate trait of women, it’s a byproduct of years of subjugation and inequality. Only around fifty years ago, women couldn’t even own a credit card. The things that “Girl Math” talks about aren’t even inherent to women.
I’m sure all of us, of any gender, have spent a little extra on a website to get the free shipping. That’s not feminine: that’s a good marketing strategy from online retailers.
I firmly believe that everyone should be talking more about money. Not as a joke, but having real, serious conversations about it. Money is such a taboo topic and we often hear that it’s not considered polite to talk about it in public, or that we should keep our personal finances private.
But in actuality, having candid conversations about money and salaries can help marginalized or minority groups navigate the extremely difficult world of capitalist America.
Misogyny and sexism have been around for a long time, but social media represents a new way to spread these ideas. We need to think more critically about the trends we consume and participate in. It’s all fun and games until the patriarchy wins again.