The word girl is carrying a lot on its back these days, endlessly tacked onto other words to make them cute, empowering, and sociologically meaningful all at once. There are so many girls to be, and so many things to girl. Now that we’ve burned through clean girl, cold girl, and girl dinner, it’s onto the next feminine urge: girl math, a loosely defined financial concept that women have recently deployed to explain our spending habits.
Generally, girl-math rules favor fiscally questionable behavior that is risky but mostly harmless in the big picture: taking advantage of sales when you don’t need anything; rewarding one second of financial self-control with a splurge; and constantly treating oneself. Under the dictates of girl math, anything you pay for in cash is free; opting out of a two-for-the-price-of-one sale is losing money; and buying a fancy bottle of wine to drink at home, instead of shelling out for several glasses at a trendy bar, basically amounts to a second income. Thank you, women in STEM!
Plenty of girl-math principles sound sensible to me, like the notion that, if you put $25 on your Starbucks app last month and you spend $10 of that on an iced caramel macchiato right now, that is a free caramel macchiato. Or if you buy a pair of $700 boots but wear them upwards of seven times, they are really just $100 boots at most. But if you care about gratuitous details like data and hard facts, girl math is murky. It bears streaks of bimboism, the suggestion being that, oops, we women are so harebrained we think spending money is saving money! It arguably also plays into the old stereotype that women don’t understand numbers. And at the same time, it’s not that deep: Girl math is deliberately unserious. It is merely a fun way to justify buying silly things while the world burns.
At least, it was fun, until a wave of anti-girl math sentiment sent the entire concept spinning off its meticulously drawn axis. As you may have guessed, girl math presents an insurmountable challenge for many male-leaning brains. If you watch assorted husbands and dads of TikTok try to wrap their minds around girl-math theorems, you will find a sea of furrowed brows, baseball caps being wearily removed, and heads buried in hairy hands. Some men have called these straightforward feminine calculations rude names like “delusional” and “wrong.” Though the confusion is understandable, there’s no need to be a grinch about what is ultimately a joke. The dismissal seems to have ticked off some girl-math scholars, who hit back with an insidious rejoinder: boy math.
If girl math was a simple equation of A + B = C, boy math is quantum mechanics. It applies to both divorce proceedings and toxic masculinity. It manifests in dating-app faux pas and run-of-the-mill fuckboy behavior. Every stupid, asshole-like, or genuinely sinister thing a man has ever done has now been channeled into one improbably popular field of study. A formula that automatically adds several inches to a man’s self-reported height? Boy math, which may also be responsible for Elon Musk’s ill-fated Twitter purchase, the 2008 recession, die-hard sports fandom, and the sorry state of so many male apartments. In a sure sign that things have gone too far, AOC and Ilhan Omar evoked boy math to make some (admittedly correct) points about their conservative colleagues’ spending policies and general clownery. Boy math is everything and nothing, a term liberally employed to make men feel stupid for not letting us enjoy our own system of logic.
And so here we are, fully grown adults with no homework or worksheets to speak of, voluntarily talking about math like a bunch of nerds. Regardless of what it means to do “math,” I think we can all agree that buying oneself treats feels good. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.