Opinions, Column

‘Girl Math,’ TikTok, and Mansplaining the Joke

While TikTok began as a way to escape the realities of our everyday lives, the true reality is that TikTok has wormed its way into every facet of our lives.

One fascinating phenomenon that stems from TikTok is the creation of unique slang and jargon. And this lexicon, born of catchy trends and memes, has woven itself into the fabric of day-to-day conversation. The rise of phrases like “girl walks,” “girl dinner,” and now “girl math” highlight the app’s ability to shape contemporary youth culture. But these popular terms are not always a good thing.

“Girl math” is the newest phrase to rise from the string of “girl (blanks),” such as “hot girl walks” and “girl dinner.” For those of you who have decided not to spend hours scrolling on your TikTok For You page, “girl math” is a particularly intriguing concept. It involves justifying an action, especially spending money, by drawing connections to seemingly unrelated events. 

For example, according to girl math, if I return something to a store, the amount of money I get back would be considered a profit. Or, I justify buying a $100 pair of boots because—as my feet aren’t growing anymore and I will wear them every winter day for at least five years—it will basically cost less than a dollar a day to wear the boots, and that’s practically nothing. So really the boots are free—or so says girl math. 

Only a few weekends ago, I learned this joke is not all that funny. I was out at dinner with another girl and a couple of our guy friends when the phrase “girl math” was dropped in the conversation. Questions and judgment arose, and what started as a comical mention turned into a lecture from the boys on how nothing is free—and that girls are ridiculous for believing in “girl math.”

The “girl math” line of reasoning was an easy and stress-relieving way of justifying certain decisions in life, like eating another sweet treat after dessert. But, in one video after another, small silly decisions spiraled into (mostly) girls justifying objectively large purchases using “girl math” logic. 

While people in on the joke understand that the girls justifying big purchases or illogical decisions are not actually serious, this joke could easily be used as a weapon of sexism. The ideas that “girl math” jokes engender can break down perceptions of female financial literacy—pushing the agenda that women cannot be trusted with money because they just spend it on ‘sweet treats’ or things deemed unnecessary by, traditionally, men.  

Men demeaning and undermining women in the financial sector is an enduring barrier for those in the industry. And “girl math,” which started as a silly little joke created by women, could easily be wielded as a weapon to degrade, break down, or make fun of women in real life. 

With finals season fast approaching, everyone has a lot on their plate, and sometimes, a lavish sweet treat or a spendy study break is exactly what one needs to get through a tough day or a mentally straining class. So sometimes, “girl math” is a good thing. 

But, people should not reference the lighthearted idea of “girl math” to insult the financial decisions and literacy of women. It is simply a joke, and it should be treated as such. 

October 29, 2023