Black and white image of a 1950s woman crouching over to stack the dishwasher while smiling back at the camera

Anthropology: The Recent Re-Emergence of the Controversial Tradwife Subculture

Recently, the Internet has housed a plethora of articles and social commentary on the ‘tradwife’ subculture. Tradwives are taking to social media to blog about their self-proclaimed superior lives and disseminate messages about a woman’s role in Western society. The tradwives’ historical values are seeping into a modern space, with the #tradwife hashtag currently trending across social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

A tradwife (short for traditional wife) is a 21st-century woman who embraces traditional, conventional gender roles by ‘submitting’ to their husbands, refraining from undomesticated work, and staying home to care for the children. This seems pretty normal, right? What’s wrong with wanting to be a good mother and wife? There are stories of women recounting a time when they were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. Sure enough, some girls dreamt of being a housewife.

So why has there been such controversy around this re-emerging subculture?

The tradwife movement was originally intended to commemorate stay-at-home mothers in a world that favours careers over motherhood. But the problem lies in its exclusionary philosophy. An emerging trend within the tradwife subculture vigorously demeans women who do not follow their strict guidelines, including discrimination against queer women and non-white women. Moreover, many tradwives believe that women simply cannot work and be a mother at the same time. And they argue that the only place for a woman is within her home. You can see how this would spark outrage within communities that recognise the historical battles fought by women to achieve the rights and freedoms they have today.

Pale pink background with a white text box inthe middle that outlines what being a homemaker means to the tradwife
Image Source: @tradwivesclub/Instagram

Researchers say tradwife subculture has dangerous far-right associations

The radical right leans towards extreme conservatism and white supremacist ideologies. It perceives ideas outside traditional values – such as marriage between the same sexes, foreigners and different ethnicities – as a threat to unity. Did you know? Being gay is a crime in 71 countries!

Right-wing extremism is increasingly prominent in the Western world. While men mostly perpetuate violent expressions of this political stance, women can also pose both violent and non-violent threats. Interestingly, despite many of the misogynistic undertones of far-right extremism, many women still participate in and influence this ideology – this is called ‘the woman paradox.

Extremism specialist Kristy Campion outlines six ways women participate in right-wing extremism: violent actors, thinkers, facilitators, promoters, activists and exemplars. Tradwives fit into the ‘thinkers’ category. So what does this mean?

Tradwives, as ‘thinkers,’ heavily involve themselves in the creation and spread of extreme-right ideas. Without engaging in violence themselves, they foster the justifications that allow others to rationalise violent actions. These women often draw on narratives surrounding traditional values like the heterosexual nuclear family and the ‘correct’ ways of being a woman. In doing so, they applaud conformity in a patriarchal system, positioning it as something to be worshipped and appreciated.

For example, YouTube personality and self-proclaimed tradwife Ayla Stewart was alleged to have launched the ‘White Baby Challenge’ to combat what she believed was low white birth rates. While not inflicting any explicit violence, Stewarts’ ‘thinking’ fuelled the extreme far-right’s exclusionary idea pool.

An Instagram post shows four Caucasian girls with their backs facing the camera and the text 'we have all the diversity we need' above their heads. To the right is a column of Instagram comments that express outrage at the exclusionary post.
Image Source: @tradwifeoriginal/Instagram

Mixed reactions on social media

The modern tradwife has equipped herself with social media to advance her views. But some online communities express outrage at the language used. People critique the idea that a woman’s only place is within her home, and strongly disagree that her sole purpose is to ‘serve’ her husband.

A woman with long brown hair stands with her back facing the camera at the sink. A black textbox with the text 'how the tradwife concept may be crushing our individualities' is overlayed
Image Source: (see link for full article)

One Twitter user noted the fine line between being a housewife and being a tradwife:

‘Being a housewife is fine (I am one) what’s not fine is encouraging ideas such as “submit to your husband” and “your husband should always come first”. You do you, but let’s not teach girls that sort of thing is ok, because it isn’t.’

On the other hand, some online users emphasised the choice aspect. Tradwives are choosing this lifestyle; it’s something they desire and want. After all, isn’t freedom to choose a substantial achievement of female liberation?

‘Surely if you have the choice and you choose this lifestyle – your decision should be respected, it seems a shame that a women’s choices are subjected to criticism by others who choose a different path. Same applies to stay at home dad’s…it’s their choice! #Tradwife’

Where is the harm?

A collage picture with a cartoon woman leaning over her husband to light his cigar while he sits in a chair reading a newspaper
ABC/Teresa Tan/Getty Images

If we look at tradwife subculture at the individual level, I think it definitely comes down to choice. Women should be able to choose the lifestyle they want to live without being subject to intense social criticism.

That being said, this movement has broader implications stemming from its dominating social media presence. Bigoted messages that proliferate across online platforms show that sometimes, it is no longer about individual choice. Rather, it is an attack on difference.

Some tradwives with thousands of followers distribute messages like #feminismiscancer, #equalityisforuglylosers, and ‘it’s okay to be white.’

A pale blue background with black text overlayed 'REAL trophy wife tip ... men don't care if you're a boss babe' they care if you're submissive and respectful'
Image Source: @sukkiraine/Instagram

A quick search of the hashtag #tradwife on Instagram leads you into an abundance of images like the one above. In her bio, the user writes: ‘man was not made for woman, but woman was made for man.’

But as Abby Roth notes, shouldn’t marriage be based on partnership, not subservience?

Other tradwives fuel right-extremist undertones by attacking queer people and those from different cultural backgrounds because they exist outside the ‘traditional’ white norm. Kristy Campion notes that the tradwife movement is concerning when it becomes affiliated with these far-right ideologies. It provides a ‘soft face for saying quite extreme things…things that demonise parts of our society.’

Tradwife subculture views feminism as extremist

Feminism is about advocating for equality. If you type ‘feminism’ into Word and right-click to show its synonyms, one word shows up: ‘equal rights.’ Feminism is about advocating for equality. Yet, a common misconception (perhaps fuelled by a few ‘extreme’ feminists) is that feminism is entirely about hating men.

Some tradwives solidify their identities by expressing strong disapproval towards feminism. Ironically, they see their beliefs as ‘normal’ in contrast to ‘extreme’ feminist beliefs. This dispute fuels a binary; that is, it suggests that women have to exist within one extreme or the other.

A woman holds a piece of paper below her face inked with black marker that says 'I don't need feminism because...I am not a delusional, disgusting, hypocritical man-hater!'
Image Source: @trusttheprocesssis/Instagram

Implications of tradwife subculture

Tradwives place incredibly high importance on family. That is, they see family and home life as crucial informers of their identity and place in the world. For them, it is ‘the future is family’ rather than ‘the future is female,’ and the two cannot coexist.

Pale yellow background with the text 'the future is female' the word female is crossed out and replaced with 'family' written in gold
Image Source: @montessoriwithlori/Instagram

Some advocates for women’s rights see this as a huge step backwards from the arduous work done by history’s women to be seen as valuable, important members of society. In other words, the tradwife subculture returns females to their 1950s place as ‘perfect wives in ideal homes.’ And with this, there is a strong belief that women should be restricted in many aspects of their lives.

Pale pink background with illustrations of flowers on the left and text to the right
Image Source: @tradfeminineteen/Instagram

As I said before, I don’t think there’s an issue if this is the way a woman wants to live – it’s her choice after all. But the pairing of the tradwife subculture with social media expounds its inherent danger. Rapid and broad dissemination of these commanding messages from highly followed accounts is likely to reach impressionable young audiences. Very few of the circulating messages and images I found emphasised that this lifestyle was a choice. Instead, they positioned it as the correct and only way a woman should live.

The irony in tradwife arguments

Some messages highlight an extreme irony in the tradwife subculture. Many tradwives argue that marrying, having children and pleasing your husband is a form of ‘rebellion’; a revolutionary act in a world where many women’s lives no longer follow linear life expectations.

Hot pink background with a white rectangualr text box that says 'get married, have babies. That's true rebellion'
Image Source: @tradwivesclub/Instagram

But I would argue that this is the opposite of rebellion. Yes, women are increasingly delaying family lives in favour of careers. And yes, the rising acceptance of same-sex couples in some Western countries challenges the heterosexual nuclear family. But getting married (to the opposite sex) and having children remains a socially appraised ‘norm.’ As you get older, relatives and friends bombard young women with questions like ‘have you got a boyfriend yet?’ ‘When are you going to have kids?’ ‘Why aren’t you getting married?’ ‘Kids are hard work; how will you manage that with your career?’ This tradwife lifestyle satisfies and pleases the social expectations of a woman. That is, to put family first. Most certainly, this is anything but rebellion.

From the perspective of the traditional wife

Tradwives believe in a different story. They seek a simpler past grounded in a neoliberal present. For many, identifying as a tradwife is a means to reconnect with family and nature. Using the language of choice, it is about choosing to invest time in activities like cooking and caring for others while promoting feminine submissiveness. For them, it is a joy

Alena Petitt, a lifestyle blogger who is the face of the British tradwife movement, writes that ‘many women crave a sense of belonging and home and quaintness.’ And a simple way to attain this is to become homemakers where ‘husbands must always come first.’

On her website – The Darling Academy – Petit fosters a supportive environment ‘for those who wish to obtain a little more grace and elegance in their self-identity and lives at home.’

Another appeal of the tradwife life is its vintage-inspired simplicity that is free from modern-day pressures. Many tradwives want to move away from the stress of working arduous jobs followed by ‘the second shift’ of family care upon arriving home.

The tradwife movement may be a way for some women to recoup a sense of control over their busy lives. It is a way of navigating a world where a toxic ‘always on’ work culture persists and gender roles are increasingly fluid.

Pale pink background with a white text box inthe middle that outlines what being a homemaker means to the tradwife
Image Source: @tradwivesclub/Instagram

A critique of the critique

The ABC recently posted an article that critiqued the tradwife subculture; many people disapproved.

Screenshot from ABC's news page shows the top of an article with an image of a 1950s woman in her pastel pink kitchen below
Image Source: screenshot from ABC/image from Getty: GraphicaArtis

On top of the argument that women should be able to choose how they live without criticism, many people argued that the tradwife critique was a way to split women into categories. One person queried why there were no ‘trad-dad’ labels. After all, any father who works full time ascribes to the traditional way of being a man. Yet, no one writes an article about them. Others saw the attack on tradwife subculture as a way to deflect men’s responsibility to care for and raise their own children.

Again, politics comes into play:

‘This article is just another iteration of the right wing cashed-up conservative attempt to cause a ‘divide and fight’ amongst women…It’s not ok and ABC should not be endorsing this propaganda.’

Amongst all the arguments against critiquing the tradwife subculture remained the element of choice:

‘For Goodness sake – we are supposed to be living in a democracy. Let people choose what they want and stop judging.’

Tradwives are not really traditional wives

Responding to the ABC’s article, some people reminded others of why the modern tradwife subculture is not really an accurate representation of how women used to live. By calling themselves traditional wives and endorsing women’s lifestyles of the past, tradwives are also validating the restrictive conditions that came with it; albeit not accurately, since women’s rights are far more expansive today than they were in the 1950s.

Harrington argues that housewifery in the 1950s ‘literally drove woman insane,’ a far cry from the simple, happy lives that tradwives claim to live today. In this way, the #tradwife is anything but a return to tradition.

‘My only criticism is they are not doing it properly. #TradWife in 50s are also not allowed to vote, not allowed to own property [and] not allowed to have bank accounts without husband’s permission etc etc etc’

Today’s tradwife, then, represents an amalgamation of the historical woman and the modern woman. Hardcore tradwives relentlessly advocate for the ‘simple life’ of the 1950s while neglecting the suffering and discrimination towards women that also dominated this time.

Significance of tradwife subculture in anthropology

A black and white photograph of women gathering at a women's rights protest holding signs
Image Source: Photograph by Don Carl Steffen / Getty

The recent critique of the tradwife movement reveals bitter opposition between feminist advocates and women who support the tradwife identity. It raises important discussions about the history of women’s rights and the future of the socially expected roles of women in Western society. The tradwife subculture offers a window into the past (the traditional 1950s housewife), but doesn’t give us the full story. As noted by many critics, housewives of the past often did not have the freedom to choose their lifestyle in the same way the modern tradwife does. In this way, history’s culture merges with the present to create a composite image of the modern woman who is perpetually linked to and defined by her past.

With many tradwives seeking to regain control of their lives, it raises questions about the functioning of our modern society. The toxic capitalist work culture produces the expectation that we must always be productive and always be working. As a result, some women who juggle work both inside and outside the domestic sphere see tradwivery as a solution to their demanding lives – a simple fix for modern social maladies.

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