Articles about tradwives have been cropping up all over my social media lately. According to Wikipedia, “a tradwife in recent western culture, typically denotes a woman who believes in traditional gender roles and a patriarchal marriage.” This lifestyle is very much identical to that of the 1950’s where strict gender roles were enforced; a woman’s place was in the home, taking care of her husband and children, whilst the man was the breadwinner and financial provider.
Many Millennial and Gen Z women are taking to social media to wax lyrical about being tradwives. These young women have given up their careers or studies and interests in order to serve their husband’s (sometime boyfriend’s) needs. Seeing these self-proclaimed tradwives is like being transported into the 1950’s. Their videos on TikTok are reminiscent of those 1950’s adverts featuring housewives promoting the latest domestic appliance in an overly cheery voice. One of these TikTokers is a young woman named Estee C. Williams, 24, who claims to spend five hours a day in the kitchen and says her job is “to make her husband’s life easier.” She even dropped out of university to focus on her husband’s needs. She also claims that “women are happiest when they’re at home taking care of the house and their family.”
I beg to differ. Unfortunately, there’s a growing movement of tradwives. Whilst I do belief in freedom of choice, I struggle to understand why these women would choose a lifestyle which has trapped and hindered women for centuries. These tradwives claim to be perfectly happy, but I can’t help but feel that this notion comes out of internalised toxic femininity and in an uncertain and scary world, reverting to tradition and familiarity, which these women mistake for safety and security. These tradwives tend to romanticize the 1950’s era when really it was a dark era for many women which paved the way for radical change.
Growing up in the early nineties and early 2000’s, my family was what you would call “traditional”. My dad went to work whilst my mum stayed at home, but my parents had a very equal relationship. When my dad wasn’t at work, he was at home helping to look after us and giving my mum a break. He was happy to help my mum though she won’t allow anyone to take over in the kitchen because she loves to cook and feed people. My mum didn’t really have a choice to go to work because one of my brothers grew up extremely disabled with extremely complex needs. As with a special needs child, they require more attention and care than children without any needs. My dad went to work as he had a steady career and in those times men still earned more than women. It was an extremely difficult situation, but my mum said that if my brother were born healthy, she would have gone back to work properly and have focused on her career.
Luckily my dad was very family oriented and extremely loving. He was happy to do his fair share of childcare and housework. Despite difficult circumstances, my mum did work when we were older and my brother went to school. My dad was more than happy for her to work and encouraged her. She worked as a journalist and writer, and she had her own interests which she pursued though her career didn’t flourish as much because of caring for my brother.
My mum is also very maternal and was happy to stay at home when we were younger. Although I wouldn’t want to be a full-time stay at home mother, I understand that there are women who do want to do that (though I do think that their partners should help out with childcare and housework). There are stay at home mums unfortunately, who are overburdened and under supported by partners who think that they “have it easy” and refuse to do their fair share. That for me is an example of toxic masculinity. Tradwives enforce these toxic ideals and expectations such as a man not helping out with chores or childcare. Tradwives like Estee C. Williams emphasize that their husband “shouldn’t have to lift a finger.”
I don’t agree with a woman staying at home when she doesn’t have children or when her children are old enough to start nursery or school. A woman is more than just a wife and mother. Enforcing these ideals that a woman’s sole role should be to serve her man and children is dangerous. It undoes all of the changes that feminists have fought for. It reverts back to the days when women were financially dependent on men and had scarce opportunities in the job world. Tradwives believe that women should be financially dependent on their husbands and they claim that their husbands give them “an allowance.”
The idea of a woman having “an allowance” sickens me. It sounds like something out of Jane Austen’s time. There’s no greater freedom than a woman having her own money regardless of how much she earns. You don’t need to be a high-powered career woman to have your own money and independence. I think it’s important for your own sanity to have work, regardless of the hours or pay. Many of these tradwives claims that they’d rather be a housewife than be burnt out working at a job they hate. Again, there’s the wild swing towards idealisation and the grass being greener on the other side. I do agree that the world of work can be demoralising, competitive and frustrating, but surely the solution is finding a job that you enjoy instead of being a housewife? There are different solutions towards finding work that is more suitable and enjoyable (that doesn’t include housework).
Being a housewife isn’t work as you aren’t being paid for your labour. It’s akin to modern day slavery. It’s cheaper for a man to have a woman clean up his sh*t and cook for him for free than actually pay a cleaner or cook. The thought of it enrages me. So in order for a woman to be under the man’s roof for free, she needs to clean and cook for him in exchange? Whilst some may argue that it’s a fair exchange of labour, I beg to differ. Whilst I agree than when you stay with someone especially free of charge you should do your fair share of chores and cooking, you are not indebted to be their slave. It’s the man’s home too; surely he should be responsible for taking care of his own home as well?
Another main reason that traditionalists argue that women shouldn’t work is one that they don’t mention openly. Whether it be conscious or subconscious, traditional men want to eradicate the competition in the work world. The world has realised that women aren’t stupid, emotional and irrational beings that are incapable of having careers or being involved in politics. The world has realised that women are just as capable in fact more so than men and that poses a threat to them. Women rightly demand equal pay and equal job opportunities which mean less money for men and more competition for positions. What better way to remove the competition than by telling women that their places are in the home?
The tradwives refuse to see the pitfall and dangers of this ultra traditional set up that they so worship. Many women in the 1950’s felt trapped and unhappy, hence feminists pushing for change. These women also experienced domestic abuse. This traditional set up gives way for and encourages men to abuse women. Let me remind the tradwives of the familiar stories of the overworked and overstressed traditional alpha husbands who would come home and demand dinner on the table, and take their anger out on the wife and children. Or they would spend little time at home and engage in extramarital affairs. It was difficult for the wife to leave because she had no money of her own. The husband would abuse her not only physically, verbally or mentally but also financially.
The tradwife mentality also enforces toxic gender stereotypes and behaviours such as men being “aggressive”, “violent” and “prone to being unfaithful”. I can imagine tradwives making excuse for their husband’s infidelities or aggression. And trad husbands will see women as “inferior”, “submissive”, “stupid” and “overemotional”. Then the next step will be taking away any semblance of a woman’s independence including financial and political independence; and identity and interests outside of being a wife and mother. It sounds like something out a dystopian story such as The Handmaiden’s Tale or The Stepford Wives.
Studies also show that many tradwives are white, ultra conservative and Christian. Conservative very right-wing American politics and conservative Christianity certainly propagate these traditional views. These views are also evident in the overturning of Roe vs Wade with many states expecting to restrict or ban abortion completely. It’s sickening that white conservative Christian men are controlling women’s bodies and basic rights. It’s absolutely frightening and appalling to watch society regress back to restricting basic rights for women. Although this doesn’t affect the abortion laws in the UK, where I live, I feel solidarity with these American women, and fear that the rest of the western world will take an example from the US.
Traditionalists blame the feminist movement for everything from higher rates of casual sex to lower marriage and birth rates. Traditionalists hate losing control and their fixed distinct gender roles which they want to reclaim. They brainwash impressionable men and women into believing that they are lost and confused about their place in the world because of feminism and lack of traditional values thus enforcing toxic masculinity and femininity. Unfortunately many people share these unconscious and deeply imbedded beliefs for example the vast majority of women still taking their husband’s last name without question when they marry; many women still believing that their sole purpose in life is finding a man and being a mother; believing that mothers are better at taking care of children than men; and shame in identifying as a feminist.
I’ve been laughed at for being a feminist. I remember in my sociology A-Level class at school (an all girl’s school) when my teacher asked the girls in my class to put up their hands if they identified as feminists. Perhaps maybe two or three girls in a class of thirty including myself put up their hands. That’s 10% or less. I’ll never forget the sneers of the other girls as if being a feminist was something shameful and abnormal. Many women are still ashamed to identify as feminists because of the negative connotations and stereotypes- radical man-hating lesbians. I am a feminist yet I am heterosexual, non-radical and I don’t hate men. I think women are just as guilty as men of enforcing inequality and harmful double standards and gender stereotypes. These women allow men and other women to get away with toxic behaviours such as slut shaming (which I find that women are more guilty of than men) and the mommy mafia that relish in criticising and shaming other mothers (never fathers). It’s not just men that need to change, but women too.
Tradwives encourage the already fragile need for gender conformity which then leads right back to women complaining about inequality and wanting change. It’s a vicious circle. These tradwives will soon be complaining about how their husbands don’t lift a finger around the house and use the argument that “he works all day, whilst she just sits around all day with the kids.” Tell me how much you love being a tradwife and what a “choice” it is once the dark reality hits.
The tradwives say that their lifestyle is a choice and no one is forcing them into it, but are internalised beliefs really a choice? OK nobody puts a gun to their head and tells them that they have to be a tradwife, but they’ve subconsciously been brainwashed by society and fundamentalists. What enlightened woman would really want to spend her life blindly serving a man and offspring, sacrificing her own needs and interests? Traditionalists say that women are pressured into having careers and balancing work and childcare, but the same can’t be said for men. So it’s OK for a man not to have that dilemma. There’s so much emphasis on “mum guilt”- mothers who feel guilty for going back to work or having some time for themselves. Yet you don’t have the notion of “dad guilt.” It’s absurd. In that case what is the point of a child having a father if little apart from financial support is required from him? Money isn’t everything- a father’s love, time and attention is precious to a child. I know that from my own experience. I would have loved to have spent more time with my dad if it were possible. I believe that a father should be just as present as a mother in raising the children.
It’s criminal how governments only give men a measly two weeks of paternity leave. Men should have just as much paternity leave as women. The government really needs to come up with a scheme where both parents can work part-time or at home in order for childcare to be split evenly between both parents. Although there have been many great changes much in equal rights for women, there are many areas that are still far behind and the tradwife movement threatens progress.
Feminists sadly are not taken seriously and people tell us to “stop complaining”, but people don’t want to listen to the truth. People are scared of the truth and scared of change hence reverting back to what they know and tradition. Whilst some traditions are positive and enhance feelings of identity, culture and togetherness; some traditions either need to be re-examined or no longer have any place in an evolved and modern society.
If I had a daughter, I would be mortified and extremely disappointed if she wanted to be a tradwife. If I had a daughter, I would raise her to be strong and independent with her own aspirations and dreams. A woman doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist or have a top position in a corporate company to have dreams. I’m not a corporate workaholic career girl; I’m a freelance ESL teacher and writer and perfectly happy with that even if I don’t earn loads of money. I would like to of course, but who wouldn’t. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have aspirations to further my business and writing, but for the time being I’m happy and I wouldn’t give that up to take care of a man child or be a full-time mother.
Another pertinent point is what happens when or if the tradwife’s husband leaves her and trades her in for a younger model once his wife no longer fulfils her purpose? Well some traditional men like the comfort of having a wife to cook and clean for them and serve their needs, and a mistress on the side for sexual gratification. This ultra traditional set-up certainly leads men to think that women serve a certain purpose. Anyway back to the point; say the husband leaves his wife, how will she cope especially when she has to find a job when her husband will no longer support her? Or what will happen when and if he dies and she will be clueless when it comes to having to deal with bills and finances. How will a divorced or widowed tradwife fend for herself especially find a job with little relevant skills or experience? Being a tradwife is not so practical when you’re faced with the uncertainty of life.
I understand that my views may be unpopular and that I come across as the “angry feminist cat lady”, but I’d rather be a single cat lady and be truly free, than be a Stepford Wife trapped in an outdated and archaic institution and have my voice, frustrations and inequalities muted and ignored.