• Thu. May 30th, 2024

Are ‘tradwives’ antifeminist or just annoying?

ByKitty Moreno

Sep 28, 2023
Black and white photograph of a woman using a landline phone attached to the wall

Nowadays, the idea of a “traditional wife” brings to mind the Betty Draper-esque figure of
the 1950s housewife, dolled up in a full face of makeup and perfectly curled hair while she lovingly prepares her husband a plate of food. It’s an almost comically outdated image, and one that, largely, Western society seems to have moved on from. Back in the mid-twentieth century, for women who couldn’t legally open a bank account on their own, being a stay-at-home wife and mother was for many the only option for financial and social security. Today, thanks to the work of many generations of women fighting for their rights, women can work, men can stay at home, and the 1950s housewife has faded largely into obscurity. But for some women, namely those who go by the term “tradwife”, that image is an aspirational one, and one that they gladly adopt today.

So, what exactly is the tradwife movement that’s taking over the internet? A tradwife is essentially what it says on the tin – a traditional wife. Perhaps the most prominent tradwife on TikTok is 25-year-old Estee Williams, who defines a tradwife as “a woman who prefers to take a traditional or ultra-traditional role in marriage,” underscored by a belief that a woman’s place is in the home. Essentially, a tradwife stays at home to cook meals, clean the house, and generally tend to her husband and family. She rejects the path of a career commonly pursued by the modern woman.

Fundamentally, Williams, who uses her profile to share glimpses of her tradwife life with her
followers, claims that no one is pushing the movement on other women. She claims that they are not trying to take away what women fought for, and that “no tradwife TikToker is saying that every woman’s place is in the home”. So on the surface, tradwife-ism doesn’t seem that radical or harmful – just as any woman should be able to choose to work or not marry or not have children without judgement, so too should women be able to adopt a more traditional role without feeling bad about it. But while the tradwife movement seems innocuous enough, a closer look reveals deeper questions about the ideology. For some, like Tiktoker ‘Gwen the Milkmaid’, being a tradwife is the choice to “fight the system,” extending beyond just a rejection of a career to a rejection of government, public education and Big Pharma. And there appears to be a big overlap between tradwife philosophy and branches of conservative Christianity ideology: TikToker Mckenna Motley tells her followers that for her, being a tradwife is a calling, and crucially that God made women to be “soft, nurturing, empathetic carriers of life […] their husband’s peace, soulmate and helpmeet.” After a Tiktok deep dive, it seems that tradwife-ism goes beyond just a personal rejection of modern feminism to a movement that encompasses much wider political and religious thought.

So, is the tradwife movement harmful? While I was deep in the web of Tiktok’s tradwife content, I began thinking about girls younger than me being exposed to videos like this on a daily basis. While many tradwifes may claim that they are not pressuring other women to follow their path, we can’t deny the powerful influence of social media, particularly for young girls, and we must consider the harmful effect of the movement suggesting (perhaps even unintentionally) that anything outside the scope of a tradwife lifestyle is selfish, sacrilegious or morally wrong What’s dangerous is when the personal choice to stay at home and adopt a traditionally gendered role becomes a movement, or a so-called form of counter-culture that sets up a home and family-oriented women as a binary to women who choose to work and be financially independent. Thanks to generations before us who fought for the rights of women everywhere, we know that having a career and raising a family are not mutually exclusive.

Image "Bell Telephone ad detail c.1950s by 1950sUnlimited" is licensed under CC BY 2.0