From the Editorial Board
Recent trends on TikTok show women connecting over common things, from a snack for dinner to a quirky shopping logic. It’s great to see girls celebrating on social media, but these trends have quickly turned into something less worthy of celebration.
The “Roman Empire” trend has taken TikTok by storm as millions of women asked the men around them how often they think about the Roman Empire, prompted by a series of videos suggesting the thought is common among the male population.
That in itself is pretty benign, but a secondary trend is flourishing. Millions more women posted their “girl version” of Roman Empire and included footage from Keeping Up With the Kardashians and various romantic comedies. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying this kind of media, the suggestion that the Roman Empire is for men and the “girl version” is reality TV and romantic movies is a gender role straight out of our “pink is for girls, and blue is for boys” past.
At its extremes, one particularly disturbing TikTok suggested that the “girl version” of the Roman Empire dropped out of school and became a club dancer. The woman in the video swore that all women think about doing this several times a week. You heard it here first: Apparently, men can think about history and women can think about giving up their dreams in favor of a nightclub.
Similarly, “girls’ dinner” was all fun and games until users started posting videos of unhealthy meals – ones that lacked all the nutrients and barely had anything on the plate. One of the offenders was a TikTok showing a cookie, some brown flour and ketchup combined with a vape. Another woman was shown biting off a piece of Swiss cheese and throwing it away before the whole piece was gone.
A parallel trend for “lads’ dinner” showed dishes like chicken and rice. Compared to a “girl’s dinner”, this meal is more nutritious and is associated with high protein bodybuilding diets.
What started as a fun joke to show that many women like to combine several snacks into one meal has turned into a slippery slope to irregular eating – if you can even call it eating. Worse, studies like one in the International Journal of Eating Disorders suggest that teens with social media accounts are more likely to exhibit disordered eating behaviors than those without. When we post photos and videos of skimpy meals for the world to see, we’re modeling unhealthy eating habits for impressionable young people, and in this case, it’s specifically aimed at young girls.
Finally, “girly math” has also made the rounds of the app. How is “girl math” different from math? “Girl Math” is, in the words of one creator, “when I buy something from the store and return it … I’m actually making money.” Another creator said: “If there’s money in my Starbucks app and I go buy a coffee and use the app, it’s free. The coffee is free.”
The difference between “girl math” and normal math is obviously the understanding of money. While there’s nothing wrong with having silly spending habits, and it’s true that women tend to shop a bit more than men, it’s important to note that these trends convey the idea that women are less informed and capable. when it comes to finances than men do when they are not.
The problem with “girl math” isn’t really the spending habits themselves, but rather the behavior it models for impressionable social media users. When young girls are exposed to videos that show poor financial management, especially when all girls are assumed to be doing this through the title “math girl,” they are influenced to spend money in a certain way.
So while we’re not telling you to avoid all social media trends that are cute and fun, or look down on others because they like reality TV or romantic comedies, it’s important to examine the implications of trends like Roman Empire, “girly dinner ” and “math girl”.
Women have been trying to fight stereotypes of femininity for decades — stereotypes that say women only like certain kinds of movies, can’t count, and like to shop. In recent years, movies like Barbie and others have tried to show women that they can be anything and do anything. Trends like these, while fun and light-hearted inside jokes among women, can send an unpleasant and counterproductive message.
Here’s the Editorial Board’s Roman Empire: Eating Well, Financial Literacy, and Celebrating Womanhood.