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Friday, April 19, 2024

Girlwalking back into the 1950s

Hey, sometimes girl math is just math


By GEETIKA MAHAJAN — giamahajan@ucdavis.edu


Being a girl is easier than ever these days; instead of working out, you can go on a “girl walk.” Instead of budgeting, you can just justify your expenses with “girl math.” Over the past few years, the internet has been building a virtual “girl world”: there are categories for what “type” of girl you can be, from a “clean girl” to a “mob wife,” and norms that attempt to define femininity. 

Online, these trends may seem harmless — empowering, even — as content creators advocate embracing these supposed “celebrations” of girlhood to challenge the idea that success requires abandoning feminine qualities. But the widespread acceptance of these trends, when examined on a deeper level, only serves to reify gender binaries and is counterintuitive to the empowerment of women and progressive thinking in general. 

We can make the blanket statement that society rewards masculine traits while deeming seemingly feminine traits as “inferior.” The problem has a very simple solution: display feminine traits while succeeding in a masculine world — patriarchy destroyed. The equation becomes a little more complicated when you begin to think about what is considered ‘feminine’ in society, who constructed these ideas and how much ‘femininity’ is just conflated with conventional attractiveness and ascribing to gender stereotypes. 

The concepts of femininity and masculinity have complex cultural and historical backgrounds, and ignoring how deeply these ideas are tied to the construction of gendered roles can result in “feminist” movements that feel good but don’t really change anything. Dovetailing femininity with feminism can provide some illusion of empowerment — but at the end of the day, it is still just an illusion. 

At the center of any discussion of “masculine” and “feminine” traits is the underlying assumption of gender essentialism, or the belief that there are certain characteristics that are unique to women and men. Whether this takes the form of “girl math” or “embracing the divine feminine,” it contributes a reification of gender roles that is, at best, not empowering and, at worst, actively anti-feminist.

 There’s no actual inherent property that makes girls unable to comprehend basic finances. These categories and conditions for girlhood aren’t based on anything “real”— but they reinforce the idea that there is some ontological property that separates men and women. Essentially, TikTok has girlmath-ed its way back to “pink is for girls and blue is for boys.”

These ideas about the divine masculine and feminine claim to make life easier by teaching women to live in states of “flow” and “receiving.” Guides on attaining a “clean” or “it” girl lifestyle are supposedly encouraging women to become their best selves. But portrayals of femininity require nuance — otherwise, they fall back into perpetuating outdated stereotypes and infantilization. Women who possess traits deemed more “feminine” should not be seen as weaker or less capable than those who don’t — but the solution is not to glorify these traits and cement them as part of the “female experience.” This only serves to further emphasize the idea that there are feminine and masculine personality traits that are inherent within men and women. A truly productive solution would require examining how and why these ideas of “masculine” and “feminine” traits have been constructed — a conversation that may be too complex for a 15-second TikTok video. 


Written by: Geetika Mahajan — giamahajan@ucdavis.edu


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


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