It Doesn’t Add: Up Girls need math, not ‘Girl Math’

girl math
Girl Math is a community of women and girls who explain their often-unreasonable habits under the umbrella of the female experience.

This article is one of the winning submissions from the New York Post Scholars Contest, presented by Command Education.

“I wear a cute outfit but don’t take any photos or my crush doesn’t see it, it’s as if I never even wore the outfit. It’s Girl Math.”

Within seconds of opening TikTok, this was one of the first sentences I heard. I’ll admit I was initially intrigued—who wouldn’t love to hear trivial justifications for their irrational overthinking? Yet, as the algorithm continued to push more of these videos onto my For You page, I couldn’t help but feel increasingly uneasy.

In essence, Girl Math is a community of women and girls who explain their often-unreasonable habits under the umbrella of the female experience. It was created after a wave of popular girlhood trends like “the girls who get it, get it” and “girl dinner” formed what felt like a tight-knit female community. Considering the overwhelming number of trends—specifically aimed to diminish women—that have cycled throughout social media, this one felt different. Girls were instead able to relate to each other in fun and lighthearted ways.

However, what began as an innocent trend allowing women to share and relate to each other’s experiences has turned into a detrimental narrative with broader implications. Girl Math has since blossomed into a trend where women can justify unhealthy spending habits under the reasoning of being a girl.

“I bought this $200 top for 40% off. I basically gained $80; it’s Girl Math.” Although this logic is humorous, it perpetuates the outdated biases and stereotypes that women are unable to manage money. Beyond merely joking about inherent financial illiteracy, Girl Math blatantly mocks the concept of girls doing math.

Of course, Girl Math was created by the girls, and for the girls, as a lighthearted and enjoyable trend. However, the use of “girl” to describe concepts like silly or illogical math makes “girl” synonymous with those concepts. The notion that “girl” can be used as a proxy of illegitimate math contributes to the aged concept that girls are biologically and intellectually inferior.

It is also without a doubt that Girl Math disproportionately affects women in STEM. In an environment that is already male-dominated, women must work ten times harder to prove themselves as simply equal to the intellect of their male peers. For women in STEM, an already marginalized group, Girl Math adds another stereotype to overcome.

From 1994 to 2020, the percentage of women who represent STEM major students has increased from 34% to 45%. This simple statistic is, in large part, a reflection of increased support by the media—and society more generally—to encourage girls to pursue their interests in STEM.

However, Girl Math’s social media popularity hinders this upward trajectory, instead reinforcing an outdated bias that girls can’t do math. The groups of younger girls on social media platforms who interact with this content can thus feel unseen and discouraged from embracing their STEM interests.

When I asked my sophomore math teacher, Samantha Lehn, about her thoughts on the topic, she immediately recognized the problematic implications of the trend. Lehn finds it especially troubling how the trend encourages girls to think of this illegitimate math as a medium to manipulate their financial decisions, she said. “If we are teaching girls to be strong and independent, they don’t need Girl Math. They need math. And they are capable of doing all math,” Lehn says.

Now, there is also an issue with Girl Math contributing to an already existing misrepresentation of female scientists and mathematicians in the media and popular culture. If I were to ask the average person to name five male mathematicians, I’m willing to bet that minimal effort will be required to do so. However, if I asked for the names of five female mathematicians, the majority of people would struggle to answer.

This gap of recognition for women in science and mathematics has been historically reinforced for years, creating a lack of female role models for aspiring girls in STEM. According to a 2016 MIT study, women made up only 12% of the total doctoral degrees earned at Harvard University that year. In conjunction with such a lack of figures to look up to, the Girl Math trend diminishes their talents, contributing to an uninviting culture for women in the STEM field.

Even worse, we girls are the ones contributing to this narrative. For each Girl Math video shared, thousands of men flood the comments with remarks about its stupidity, giving them more opportunities to mansplain and to reassert their dominance. I don’t blame the girls posting these videos; these biases have been drilled into our heads since the day we were born. Thus, we must be wary of the times that they accidentally slip out.

Why is it that a simple trend meant to foster community amongst girls is also what harms societal perception of us? Time and time again, we’ve seen the media pit women against each other; Girl Math is no exception. We must strive for a healthy balance, building community around our experiences as women without simultaneously belittling them.

An 11th-grader at Horace Mann School in the Bronx, Vukhac wants to be a journalist, preferably in New York.