Tradwives are celebrating a return to traditional gender roles — and want you to celebrate, too.
If you’re a mom on Instagram, or really any person on Instagram, it’s almost guaranteed you’ve scrolled past a few extremely content-looking women who resemble something out of Pleasantville…but in color, and in the 21st century. They’re toting a few kids, maybe baking, tablescaping, sewing, or simply flaunting their happy marriages.
Those women, who you might have stumbled across via social media, could be “tradwives,” a new term that’s a portmanteau of the words — you guessed it — “traditional” and “wives.” And they don’t just live online. These are real women who seem to have traveled through time, having revisited the 50s and brought some elements of that era into the present day, including an insistence on not just old-fashioned homemaking skills but on submission to their husbands, never working outside the home, an avoidance of feminism, and in some cases, extreme conservative political views. They’re a subculture of housewives, and they’re really proud to be homemakers.
The world became familiar with tradwives because many of them celebrate and promote their values through social media channels like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. There, they create communities through hashtags like #tradwife, and use these channels to provide tips, tricks, and explainers about their lifestyle.
It’s hard to say when, exactly, this trend exploded, though it’s safe to say that the rise of social media has allowed it to grow exponentially. Before Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube were available at your fingertips 24 hours a day, it took more time for political or cultural movements to spread. Now, a teenage girl in Ohio can stumble upon a photo carousel offering a series of housekeeping tips from a tradwife in the UK, and all of the sudden, it’s a future she can envision for herself.
To Jo Piazza, author and host of a podcast about influencer moms called Under the Influence, the timing makes sense. “The world is a disaster right now in every possible way. And there has been a real trend toward nostalgia because people often find it comforting,” she tells Katie Couric Media. “The thing is this nostalgia for a ‘better’ time is often obscenely misplaced.”
Piazza compares it to other sweeping trends in media. “We see women who leave big city jobs to work on farms but completely leave out the bone- and soul-crushing realities of working as a farmer to make a true living wage. Similarly, we see nostalgia for the 1950s housewife, a la Betty Draper, that ignores the stifling limitations put on women in the 50s like not being able to get a credit card or having to submit to their husbands without question,” Piazza points out.
The coverage and criticism of tradwives has been slowly increasing since 2017 — a timeline which, perhaps not uncoincidentally, seems to track with a number of concerning online trends, many of which are founded on conspiracy theories and alt-right ideologies.
It’s easy to look at a photo and make your own conclusions about what it represents. But this phenomenon begs the question: What do tradwives think their movement is about? And why do they value these old-fashioned dynamics?
What is a tradwife?
“A tradwife on social media is a type of influencer that espouses a so-called ‘traditional’ form of being a wife and mother,” Piazza says. She says they usually “stay at home and exclusively take care of the children and the home and show off their prowess in the domestic arts.” While they often identify themselves as celebrating a woman’s work and role at home, Piazza says it’s much more than that. “The tradwife tag or label often comes with disparagement of working women and feminist values.”
Those within the movement have a very different opinion. A self-proclaimed tradwife, Alana Petit defines the term on her own website, The Darling Academy, which aims to provide education on proper British etiquette. “A TradWife is not subservient,” Petit writes. “Though a traditional housewife may submit to her husband, she is not considered of lesser importance to him, or allow herself to be in a position that threatens her rights…A traditional housewife chooses her husband based on his ability to care for people, provide for their children, and most importantly upon his integrity and values.” Petitt told the BBC that her role is “submitting to and spoiling her husband like it’s 1959.”
Scroll through the #tradwife hashtag, and you’ll quickly see Petit’s words come to life, with images of smiling women, frilly aprons, and optimistic quotes in cursive about the joys of homemaking. Looking through those images, you might wonder what harm these women could be doing to anyone outside their home — and as it turns out, there might be quite a bit.
Critics of tradwives argue the lifestyle is a gateway to sexism — and even alt-right ideologies
As with any trend, there’s no one-size-fits-all description for every woman who identifies as a tradwife. With that said, it isn’t hard to see why those who cover the movement often point out that these women are celebrating regressive beliefs in women’s rights, and argue that the trend is decidedly anti-feminist, not to mention exclusionary of the queer and trans communities. It’s reasonable to argue that a strictly “traditional” housewife is one who lives in service of her family and/or husband.
For Political Research Associates, Mariel Cooksey, a religion, politics, and conflict MA graduate, defined “tradwifery” as “encouraging women to embrace supposedly feminine characteristics like chastity and submissiveness, and trade feminist empowerment for a patriarchal vision of gender norms…and accepting that women shouldn’t work, shouldn’t have the right to vote, and should fully submit to their husbands and their faith to live a happy life of homemaking.” (She also pointed out that in some circles, being a tradwife also means being a “fundamentalist Christian.”)
But that’s not the only reason tradwives get flak online.
In fact, the concern goes even deeper than boilerplate issues around gender equality: Some experts are actually sounding the alarm about how this movement might be slowly transforming into something far more radical, and potentially dangerous.
Kristy Campion, a specialist in extremist groups, spoke to ABC News Australia about why some experts find the tradwives phenomenon to be particularly concerning — most notably for its crossover with some volatile, far-right ideologies. “One of the key concerns with the tradwife movement, when it’s affiliated with the far-right, is that [it provides] a soft face for saying quite extreme things, quite dangerous things; things that are quite divisive and that demonize parts of our own society,” Campion said.
Cooksey explained this connection: “While not all tradwives associate with white supremacist politics — and not all are Christian fundamentalists — the movement offers an elegant solution for women seeking acceptance in white nationalist factions,” she wrote. “Some popular tradwife influencers are explicit in their connection to far-right ideas, using their platforms to disseminate white supremacist propaganda.”
It’s not hard to stumble upon some of these controversial concepts if you spend enough time scrolling through posts on social media under the #tradwives hashtag. And as you’d expect, some of these far-right comments and behaviors are more obvious than others.
In 2017, a woman with a tradwife Instagram account even set up a “white baby challenge,” citing the falling birth rates of white babies and encouraging other white people to procreate. Per the New York Times, the account, titled “Wife with a Purpose,” wrote in the caption, “I’ve made six! Match or beat me!”
This challenge has since been scrubbed from the internet.
Tradwives claim their lifestyle is “about paying homage to a slower, more intentional lifestyle”
In response to the rising interest in, and ensuing criticism of, the topic in recent years, many self-proclaimed tradwives have taken to their social media accounts to defend their lifestyle choice. Some have even engaged in interviews with the media in order to set the record straight.
One tradwife, Laura, spoke to ABC News Australia about why she initially connected with the tradwives movement: “I was resentful every time I had to leave the house and leave [my son] in someone else’s care, even if it was family,” she said. “So by the time we had our second child, I knew that I wanted to be at home with them full time.”
Laura’s work as a tradwife includes cooking, cleaning, sewing clothes, tending to her family’s vegetable garden, and more. She noted that she did not align with some of the racist ideologies that other tradwives possess, but that she did have a problem with the feminist movement as it stands today. “I do not consider myself a feminist,” she said. “I think the very basic idea of feminism — equal rights for women — is great but it’s very tainted, and it’s very toxic, and even from the beginning feminism was flawed.”
As for Petit, founder of Darling Academy, she gave an interview to BBC recently in which she argued against the criticisms leveled at the tradwife movement. “My role is being at home,” she said. “My job, essentially, is housework.” (Petit didn’t respond to KCM’s interview request.)
Petit also patently rejected the connections others have seen between the movement and alt-right theories. “With the tradwife movement, a lot of people want to label you as something,” Petit told BBC. “I just [feel] like I was born to be a mother and a wife…I grew up in a single-parent household…and at that point in time, I realized that I didn’t want that for my own life.”
Piazza appreciates “that women celebrate their work in the home, which is real work that deserves recognition.” “For too long we have sidelined the domestic arts as something less than what women do in the workplace. And all womens’ work should be valued.” She adds, “the danger of tradwives is that our duty right now as women is to celebrate the myriad choices women deserve to have as to how they live their lives and what work they choose. A woman choosing to focus her energy on her home and her children is powerful. A woman submitted to her husband and letting him take agency over her entire life is a dangerous throwback.”
Will the trend continue to grow?
There’s an argument to be made here that Petit, and other women in the tradwife community, are returning to the 1950s not because they think it was genuinely better, but because the modern world has failed them. Today, women are frequently expected to have a full-time job and also to handle the lion’s share of housework and childcare. In America, a country with abysmal paid parental leave policies and a collapsing and expensive childcare system, we might just see a resurgence of tradwives who are looking for a change.
Cooksey addressed this argument, along with how it might explain why Gen Z girls find the tradwife movement to be appealing.
“We are now in the fourth wave of U.S. feminism — a movement progressively more focused on diversity, intersectionalism, queerness, and openness about sexual violence and assault than earlier waves,” Cooksey wrote. “But for all these positive steps, many women have been failed by the compromises of modern feminism and late-stage capitalism, unable to find a workable solution for the quandary of work-life balance. Gen Z girls have watched their working mothers lean into unequal workplaces only to earn less money in a capitalist system that also devalues their domestic workload.”