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#GirlMath and the Double Standard of Frivolous Spending

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The Girls Who Get It, Get It

The girls who don’t, don’t! If men were baffled by women rallying around their shared taste for snacks at dinnertime (#GirlDinner), then they’re absolutely flabbergasted by what one TikTok user dubs #GirlMath. Business Insider describes #GirlMath as a “humorous trend” that “has users breaking down purchases into their smallest possible units to justify them.” @mchennaelianna illustrates how women subconsciously excuse their spending habits by sharing their own list of financial loopholes. Take a look: 

  1. Anything under $5 is free.
  2. Anything I buy with a gift card is free.
  3. If I buy something but then I return it, I’ve made money.
  4. Going to an event or a concert is free because I purchased the tickets so long ago that it doesn’t count. 
  5. I load my Starbucks app in advance, so Starbucks is free.
  6. Anything discounted more than 50% is free, and I’m losing money by not getting it.
  7. If I’m paying someone back for dinner and I have money in Venmo, that dinner is free.
  8. If I don’t buy something — like if I don’t buy a pair of shorts — for $50, then I’ve made $50, and I can go spend that $50 on something else.
  9. If my husband buys something with his card (even though it’s with our joint bank account), then it’s free.

Is #GirlMath real?

Trends like #GirlDinner and #GirlMath highlight a common experience among women that we can bond over. We know that a handful of almonds isn’t a meal and that buying everything that’s on sale isn’t financial advice. The last thing women need is podcast bros mansplaining how to budget because women are having fun on TikTok. #GirlMath is a meme at its heart. Every woman is in on the joke, yet judgmental people are having a field day using the trend as “evidence” for why women should never go near a credit card. 

Unfortunately, anything that centers on womanhood and female camaraderie is attacked as “lesser” in a society that operates on patriarchal stereotypes. While men love to say that “women aren’t funny” or “can’t take a joke,” they short-circuit when women poke fun at themselves. For them, any joke that centers on women is a serious reflection of society’s ills. But how about we spotlight men’s spending to spice up the conversation?

Men Do #GirlMath, Too

In the wise words of Stefanie O’Connell, “If #girlmath is ‘frivolous,’ what is #boymath?” 

O’Connell — a NYC-based writer for Bloomberg, CNBC, Glamour, and Newsweek — posted an in-depth analysis of #GirlMath on Instagram. There, she points that men are equally guilty of engaging in retail therapy. “Men are statistically just as likely to spend money on a splurge as women. And when men do treat themselves, they actually spend more on average.” In fact, O’Connell highlights multiple studies that prove both genders are capable of handling their own finances — including splurges. 

Tropes paint women as “shopaholics” when they splurge on a new skincare routine, yet praise men for investing in their hobbies after dropping a band on golf clubs. She states that “65% of money-related articles targeted toward women characterize them as excessive spenders. Meanwhile, 70% of money-related articles targeted onward men emphasized making money.” Built-in societal bias automatically associates men with stacks of money and women with stacks of bills…

Even technology is sexist: when asked to generate 1,000 images of people who are “good with money,” A.I. generated just 2% of images featuring women. In reality, men are just as likely as women to impulse buy and typically make bigger dents in their accounts when they do. 

One user (@nyhem_familia) in O’Connell’s comment section agrees, stating, “I believe that this is also related to the trope that anything women are interested in is automatically less important or valid. If a man spends large sums on courtside seats to basketball games, he’s a dedicated fan, which is not seen as a negative. But a woman spending an equal amount to see Taylor Swift is somehow less valid. It’s cool to spend money on video games but frivolous to spend money on makeup. I could go on.”

Are Women’s Interests “Frivolous”?

What makes a man’s interests more worthwhile than a woman’s? Are watches and iPhones inherently “better” than luxury handbags and home decor? When you compare gendered merchandise, there aren’t many categorical differences. Cologne vs. perfume. Sports jerseys vs. Taylor Swift merch. Video games vs. Romance novels.

When women make their own money and fund their own interests without masculine influences “guiding” them, suddenly, their purchases are frivolous. Why? Because women are expected to take care of family instead of themselves? Because of harmful stereotypes that women either don’t earn money based on their own merits or simply mooch off of male family members? Perhaps, as O’Connell writes, it’s the “devaluation of all things stereotypically associated with femininity.” Bingo.

At its heart, #GirlMath is a humorous justification of materialism and a lighthearted commentary on how enticing capitalism can be. Believe it or not, women are capable of balancing their own budgets and earning their own money. If people think women can’t be trusted with their own finances, then who should be in control? The government? Their husbands? Be careful with your answer, or you’re telling on yourself… Women know how to save money, but when inflation keeps inflating, housing is unaffordable, and companies refuse to raise wages, then what’s the point? Ladies, buy that silly little $7 coffee. And throw in a Target candle for good measure. Anything to keep the demons at bay.

Last modified on December 11th, 2023

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