A 1950s-style image of a woman cooking

Column: TikTok’s ‘Tradwives’: feminist nightmare, or left-wing utopia?

A new trend has taken over social media. Many users’ TikTok feeds are flooded with videos of women in flowery dresses making cereal from scratch or tenderly tending to an immaculate garden, with kids happily running amok in the background. These videos appear innocuous, and indeed quite idyllic and tranquil, at first glance.

But beneath this façade lies a darker truth. These videos are part of the ‘tradwife’ trend, which refers to ‘traditional housewives’: stay-at-home mothers in heterosexual marriages who forgo their careers to raise children and manage the home. Their husbands are the breadwinners and heads of the household, wielding absolute power over the financial and lifestyle decisions of the family. What started as a niche lifestyle choice has since morphed into a full-blown movement, comprising women who advocate a return to traditional gender norms by submitting to their husbands and promoting domesticity.

An obvious problem of this ‘tradwife’ lifestyle is that it is simply financially unviable for most. Hannah Neeleman of Ballerina Farm, who gained widespread fame thanks to her aesthetic videos on homesteading featuring eight children, conveniently neglects to mention her father-in-law’s airline business. But even just sustaining a family on a single salary in a global cost of living crisis is wildly unrealistic.

A slightly more worrying aspect of the ‘tradwife’ lifestyle is its association with the alt-right. For example, its occassional unholy alliance with white supremacy can be frightfully transparent — tradwife Ayla Stewart started a ‘white baby challenge’, encouraging her followers to have as many white babies as possible. Less extreme tradwives are peppered across the ‘crunchy to alt-right pipeline’, where passionate beliefs in homeschooling and organic foods can descend into a slippery slope of anti-vaxxing and bewildering conspiracy theories.

The thorniest question, though, is what feminists should do about tradwives. The current wave of neoliberal feminism supports women’s choices, shying away from the moralising and relatively patronising second wave which denounced pornography and sex work. But to what extent can any ‘choice’ be supported?

The reason why the lifestyle is so alluring is because it advocates a return to a slow, simple, intentional way of life, away from the capitalist rat race.

Arguably, the fact that being a tradwife extensively limits one’s autonomy means that it may not be supported even under a ‘choice feminism’ framework. For example, one key aspect of being a tradwife is wholly submitting to one’s husband and giving up a career to become a stay-at-home housewife. This entails no work history and no financial access. Such complete dependence on a man is incredibly risky: what if he cheats? What if he wants a divorce? What if he passes away? What if he is abusive, and you can’t leave because you have become financially beholden to him? Opting into such a lifestyle thus leaves women with precariously few options.

But the ‘tradwife’ trend might expose a simpler truth. What if the problem isn’t with feminism, but instead with capitalism? The reason why the lifestyle is so alluring is because it advocates a return to a slow, simple, intentional way of life, away from the capitalist rat race. In a burning world filled with ecological catastrophe, wars and genocides, skyrocketing inequality and crumbling democratic institutions, being a tradwife is a pretty seductive option.

Perhaps the question we should ask is: why don’t more women want to be tradwives? Why don’t men? Is the reason why some feminists (including me) are diametrically opposed to this brainwashing trend because we secretly want this life? After all, we have been sold the myth of being a ‘girlboss’, of ‘having it all’, but the disillusioning reality is that the ‘motherhood penalty’ exists, women still have to work a ‘second shift’, and structural workplace sexism is as stubborn as ever. Perhaps tradwives’ dream of ‘feminine leisure’ holds extraordinary radical and liberatory potential. Remove the heteronormativity, the whiteness, the misogyny and the submission — turns out the tradwife life is actually a left-wing utopia. Bad news for the alt-right tradwives out there.

Image: James Vaughan via Flickr