• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

TikTok’s “Girl Math” fails to add up

Audrey Hepburn with her head turned towards the camera

“I’m pretty when I cry”, Olivia Rodrigo (ironically) croons in the opener to her new album, GUTS. In a similar vein, on TikTok, we see young women singing jokingly about their ‘girl dinner’ consisting of a can of diet coke and twelve pieces of plain pasta, or cackle whilst discussing ‘girl math’, a trend where girls share their reasoning for making less than responsible financial decisions. One search on this godforsaken app will have you seeing edits of films depicting so-called ‘female rage’ (with options varying from a blank stare and a single tear rolling down a very attractive woman, or a similarly attractive woman in a blind rage, screeching).

These videos all have one thing in common: they are an attempt for femininity or girlhood to be defined in very specific margins. Of course, TikTok also features women calling themselves ‘trad wives’, glorifying a lifestyle akin to a 1950s housewife. We could argue until we are blue in the face what it actually means to be a modern woman, or what the ‘right’ way to be one is – these conversations get us nowhere. But I also think that flooding algorithms with content like this is very telling: Gen Z and Millennial women are still victims of the patriarchy, and their trying to limit their identities like this only exacerbates that.

If you find yourself relating to one of the posts you see on TikTok, obviously this is not a bad thing: it means the app’s algorithm (or ‘For You Page’) is working in its mission to deliver you specifically-tailored content. And I’ll admit, there are videos I see that are like this that I find very attractive. The ‘girl dinner’ trend, for example, arguably began as a way for girls to show their dinners that probably wouldn’t fly at a restaurant, but nonetheless were nourishing and tasty. Of course, like many things, that trend got hijacked by a branch of the internet that revolves around young girls showing off their ‘dinners’ that are really highlighting the lack of food they deliberately don’t consume.

To me, both ‘girl math’ and the newly-popular ‘roman empire’ question – where men are asked how often they think about the historical period – are subtle ways young people are finding themselves slipping into a dangerously patriarchal rhetoric. Why is it called girl math? Do young men never make stupid financial decisions? The example of a friend of my friend that bought a £500 jacket with no way of paying it back would suggest otherwise. Are we really suggesting that various times in history are studied more and thought of more by one gender? Why are we doing this? For a generation that claims we see patriarchy and other oppressive structures everywhere and are constantly trying to deconstruct them, the ones we find on TikTok not only seem to pass us by, but we continuously seem to add to them.

I understand that most of this could be written off as harmless and a bit of fun, but is it? If it truly was just fun, I must ask why some girls are so ready to share their disordered eating or add to the ‘bimbofication’ of their own gender on TikTok.

1966 … Mel Ferrer and wife Audrey Hepburn” by x-ray delta one is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.