Girl Math, Girl Dinner, & the Ms. Norbury of It All: The Central Lesson to Take Away from “Mean Girls”

“Well, I don’t know who wrote this book, but you all have got to stop calling each other sl*ts and wh*res. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sl*ts and wh*res.” -Ms. Norbury, Mean Girls

Maybe such epithets are no longer en vogue, but it is only because today’s young women have traded them in for a new form of bizarre female discourse that centers on the paradox of simultaneous misogyny and self-justification—that’s right, I’m talking about “girl math,” “girl dinner,” and any other form of childishness and intellectual laziness, the damaging effects of which are seemingly ameliorated by slapping a gendered prefix in front of it. 

Now, for those uncorrupted by the lingo of the chronically online, “girl math” refers to the justification of irresponsible behavior (typically spending) through increasingly ridiculous mental gymnastics. No, that $1,000 handbag you can’t afford wasn’t a bad purchase, because if you use it every day for a year, that’s less than $3 per day. No matter how you dress it up, you still aren’t making rent. But I guess that’s just on being a silly girl, right? On the other hand, there’s “girl dinner,” which usually involves eating a nutritionally deficient conglomeration of snack foods for dinner. But that’s just how girls are!

These phenomena are behaviors of which, undoubtedly, we’re all guilty. Everyone, male or female, has experienced buyer’s remorse, and certainly no twenty-something escapes the decade without having made some questionable meal choices, but the operative word here is guilty, because this is childish behavior. Cheating yourself out of financial security and even basic nutrition isn’t cute, it isn’t fun, and it definitely has nothing to do with being a girl. 

This is the central issue with “girl math” and “girl dinner,” which may have originated in highly satirical corners of the internet and once supplied a good laugh, but now have morphed into an unhealthy cycle of online collective self-justification and the incentivization of poor choices among women. It is bad enough to encourage self-destructive behavior, but putting that on your sex as a whole is the epitome of misogyny; it is the soft bigotry of low expectations. How else are we to categorize the clear contempt for women’s intellect and decision-making abilities? This is no longer a niche joke among female social media users; we’re seeing the phrases “girl math” and “girl dinner” bleed into the cultural lexicon. It is now inevitable that they will be used against us by those who wish to discredit our capabilities and choices. As Ms. Norbury said in Mean Girls, girls and women have to stop speaking of ourselves negatively, because people learn how to treat us based on how we treat ourselves. If we as women continue to so brazenly diminish our minds and dignity, how are we to expect men to treat us? 

Women have spent centuries fighting the notion that they are “weak-minded” or bad with money, and yet sexist stereotypes about women’s cognitive aptitude are still pervasive (it should be noted that research shows women and men are equally good at math and there is no such thing as the “male math brain”). Thus, when a woman throws around a phrase like “girl math,” she is not-so-subtly legitimizing the idea that women require their own make-believe system of computing; “girl dinner” implies a grown woman is incapable of constructing a nutritious meal. Women are better than “girl math.” They are better than “girl dinner.” If we want others to recognize our intellect and dignity, we must first recognize it in ourselves. We need to listen to Ms. Norbury.

Unless, one day, you want your male co-worker chalking up your computational mistake to your “girl” mind.

This blog post was written by Darien Barrera, NeW Fall 2023 Communications Intern.

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