By Maya Salgado Swabey
There is a growing movement on TikTok, videos captioned #tradwife featuring pretty, young women in 1950s style pinafores exclaiming the virtues of baking cupcakes while waiting for your husband to come home. Housewives have existed for a long time but this new trend has given cooking and cleaning an appealing facelift.
Tradwifery is showcased as the alternative to the relentless stress and instability of modern life through nostalgically retreating into imagined 1950s gender roles. However, beneath the soft sexual aesthetics and harmless cooking content tradwives are promoting housewifery not as an economical or logistical choice but as an ideological one, and their content sits as an access point to a much darker and more sinister network of white supremacists and misogynists.
Tradwives go further than finding pleasure and meaning in serving their family and husbands. They espouse the joys of submitting entirely to their husbands, to whom they are completely financially dependent. They will ask for permission before leaving the house. Neither partner may have friendships with those of the opposite gender. By embracing ultra traditional gender roles, housework and submission become the only expression of femininity.
This trend is so disconcerting because TikTok tradwives who tend to be young white women, concentrated mainly in the UK and America where at least basic gender equality is guaranteed, are using the victories of feminism to undermine the very movement that fought for them to have such agency. TikTok tradwifery, as a technologized, aestheticized movement allows young women to experiment with anti-feminist right-wing politics and sugarcoat fascist and extremist ideology without facing serious consequences.
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This movement relies heavily on a romanticised nostalgia of an imagined simpler time. A strong factor in the rising interest in this lifestyle is the uneasy place of women in the neoliberal world. Tradwives have identified that neoliberal policies have made working and motherhood almost impossible to achieve, paid maternity leave is not guaranteed, the gender pay gap still exists,and domestic labor is not appreciated or compensated for. Thus, tradwifery is sold as an escape from the increasingly unstable, anxiety inducing world, where women are caught between the contradictory demands of family and work life.
However, rather than attempt to negotiate the contradictions of modern life or confront neoliberal feminism, tradwives create a false dichotomy between feminism and femininity; in their world both ideas become narrowly defined and opposed to each other while feminine identity is qui defined by housework and submissive obedience.
Tradwife TikTok makes all this palatable, with their floral prints and pastel color schemes this young attractive woman leans heavily on a 1950s aesthetic that never truly existed. Throughout history this idealised version of the housewife has only really existed for wealthy women, as historically the vast majority of women have always worked, alongside their husbands in factories, in the fields and markets and in trade.
Their content of course does not depict the daily drudgery of doing the same chores everyday in isolation. Instead lifestyle is shown as one of domestic leisure and cosplay. Tradwives falsely claim that care, security, and stability are achievable through total devotion to husband and family. While it’s true that reciprocal and authentic care will free you, in the case of tradwives, the power imbalance inherent within these relationships means women are totally dependent on the male provider.
This idea of finding security and care by retreating from the world and relying totally on a single provider, is also concerning as tradwives are isolating themselves in their homes. By drawing on a very specific 1950s suburban aesthetic, their idea of the ‘traditional family life’ is in fact very individualistic and isolating and is composed for a male and female unit rather than including the wider community.
The climate crisis and resulting eco-anxiety is also perhaps a surprising factor in the rise of the tradwife as it overlaps with ‘cottagecore’; another recent and growing online trend. ‘Cottagecore ‘is a romanticized vision of agrarian life, it’s simply a dream of the ‘good life’, owning a house, growing their own food, living simply and with nature. There is a connection between the simple dream of escapism in creating a close-knit community somewhere far away while the world burns and the Tradwives.
As Dr. Eviane Leidig, a researcher on the Far Right, gender, and online radicalization, explains in a 2020 Impakter article, “From Incels to Tradwives,” young men and women are attracted to far-right ideologies because “these extreme movements simplify an increasingly complex world, one that is easy to retreat into through chat rooms and algorithmic recommendations. The nostalgia for a mythic past in which gender norms are dictated by a clear division of labor, or the reinforcement of social status according to biological masculinity and femininity, becomes appealing.” Therefore, for modern young women in wealthy liberal countries they may not feel rebellious by embracing the rigid relationship structures of a fundamentalist lifestyle, but also freed from the burden of participating in an increasingly complex and fatalistic society.
While neoliberal policy and increasing instability may drive interest in tradwives, their content is connected to deeply regressive movements with this link often being made through the word or hashtag ‘traditional’. This word or hashtag in online content networks will act as a bridge and in a sense cross pollinate tradwife content with far right misogynists, reactionary, and religious fundamentalists. This will in turn often bleed into the conspiratorial edge of the internet, specifically the depopulation agenda, anti vax, anti abortion and transphobic spaces.
This is because tradition will always invoke notions of heritage and nationalism and the Tradwife movement supports and appeals to an infrastructure of white supremacy, making it a fertile ground for racist ideology while not necessarily being racist in of itself.
However, women have routinely made up an essential part of white supremacist movement either as victims of predatory Black and brown men, or for their ability to produce more white babies. TikTok tradwives are also particularly useful for these movements in recruiting members through promoting seemingly healthy and comforting ‘traditional family values’ which can lead their followers often unknowingly into a ‘red pilled’ reddit rabbit hole. Being ‘red pilled’ means being ‘enlightened’ to social realities like male oppression and biological realities like female hypergamy. Tradwives are able to insidiously soften the gateways into these neworks.
Ultimately the 1950s housewife is a construction of idealized femininity that actually led young wives and mothers to feel so isolated and constrained that a whole generation of women turned to opiates, to deal with the frustration and monotony of finding meaning in housework. Young women’s fears about work and motherhood are valid but neither neoliberal feminism nor rigid gender roles provide real solutions. The tradwife ideology is at the worst a thin disguise for proud white supremacist and misogynist movements and at the best will trap women in a life of isolated servitude.
In order to address why there is an increasing trend in online spaces of a ‘traditional’ lifestyle, we need to address the anxieties that are making the tradwife so attractive. Neither neoliberal policies nor the strict gendered division of labor offer a real solution to the uneasy position of the mother in neoliberal capitalist economies. Instead, a different interpretation of ‘traditional’ parenting should be evoked, one in which families raise their children within and with the support of the wider community.
Cooperative traditions need to be revived, free childcare collectives and child friendly community centers would allow families to share responsibility, creating a secure and cheap form of childcare which also creates a community of parents rather than isolating them in homes. Easing regulation on home based business, for example, would allow women to remain at home while being financially independent. Not only are these solutions viable, but they show that the tradwife movement does not have a monopoly over our understanding of ‘tradition’.
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