The Tradwife Craze Is About Envy

tradwifes aren't about patriarchy, white supremacy, sexual fetishism, or indoctrination — it's about women staying home, a luxury most can't afford
River Page

I’ve watched with fascination as the “trad” right has grown from a nascent, single voice in the kind of ‘anti-woke coalition’ to a mature, if still yet decentralized social movement. Interests: a classic aesthetic sensibility, faith, nationalism, populism, and traditional gender norms — which brings us to our topic today.

If you’ve spent any time on TikTok over the last year, you’ve likely noticed something called the “trad wife,” an influencer in the space of keeping home and loving it. The hard left has naturally lost its mind in the face of beautiful women who explicitly endorse the “traditional,” which is to say anti-feminist role at home. But what is the “trad wife” really, and what does her rapid rise to prominence and social fixation mean for American culture?

River Page explores.

-Solana

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In recent weeks there has been an explosion of articles covering the “tradwife” trend on TikTok, most of them focused on Estee Williams, a TikToker and former meteorology student. Williams embraces a forward-facing 50s housewife aesthetic, but behind it, a brand-building instinct only a woman who grew up on social media could possess. Her presentation is also more secular than some of her contemporaries. But the tradwife, as we know her online today, did not originate with Estee Williams, or on TikTok, or in the Book of Genesis either. God may have created Eve from Adam’s rib, but 4chan created the tradwife from Wojack in 2019 — a blond woman in a blue floral dress. The tradwife meme far preceded the recent surge in tradwife content on TikTok, which seems to have taken off around 2022. 

The tradwife community is a definitionally conservative one and one that sometimes veers into the hard right. TikToker Madison Dastrup posted a video last September saying she would no longer use the word “tradwife,” because, in her words, “extremists within the community had started taking over,” condoning white supremacy and marital rape. Tribalism and extremism are the end point of virtually all online communities, left or right, so this isn’t really surprising. Yet, the media has latched on to the white supremacy narrative hard. Vice published an entire article documenting the trad movement’s “sinister connections to right-wing extremism.” Given the ubiquity of this framing, the public might be surprised to learn that Hannahlee Yoder, a black TikToker from Georgia who frequently posts tradwife content, boasts over 820,000 followers on TikTok, nearly 10x as many as the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Estee Williams’ 87,000. Reactionary as the aesthetics of Yoder’s content might look, one doubts she seeks to literally return to an age where her marriage to a white man would have been criminalized. In her case, racially charged comments seem to come mostly from other black people. She recently made a video responding to another black woman who said she dressed like a house slave. Like many others in the tradwife community, she is a practicing Christian. Unlike others, she wears pants sometimes. For some in the tradwife community on TikTok, exclusively wearing dresses is a religious obligation. Others just seem to like vintage clothing. For creators in the latter group, of whom Estee Williams is the most famous, their online presence mirrors that of other subcultural cosplayers: furries come to mind — aesthetic obsession and costumes essentialized as identity. All the rhetoric about “submitting” to one’s husband even has some asking whether tradwives should become BDSM feminists (or something). 

Ultimately, the only real thing all tradwife creators seem to have in common is unemployment — they don’t have jobs, don’t want them, and don’t need them. The rise of this community and its viral success isn't due to 50s fashion nostalgia, Christianity, sexual fetishism, or white supremacy, even though various creators might dabble in one or the other. It's about envy. The trad wife subculture reflects the desires of many American women back at them in a highly stylized fashion. For them, being a “tradwife” isn’t in vogue, it is Vogue — a series of glossy pictures, daydream fodder, a glimpse inside an enviable life they can’t afford. Studies have shown that a majority of American women with kids under 18 prefer the role of homemaker, as did 39 percent of women without children under 18. Yet, a majority of households today are dual income. This isn’t by choice but rather necessity. Stagnant wages and the increased cost of living have made housewifery a luxury to be flaunted on social media.

Ironically, it might be that the inability of women to leave the workforce is partly due to their mass entrance into it, along with the unforeseen consequences of some of 2nd wave feminism's most important legislative victories. The most difficult thing to believe about this theory is that it was first postulated, at length, by Elizabeth Warren scarcely a decade before she became a Senator and the matriarch of the Democratic party’s left flank. In her 2003 book The Two-Income Trap, the then-law and bankruptcy professor wrote (along with her daughter and co-author Amelia Tyagi) that because of the 1975 Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which forbade lenders from ignoring a wife’s income when judging whether or not a family could afford a mortgage, she wrote:

By the early 1980s, women’s participation in the labor force had become a significant factor in whether a married couple could buy a home. Both families and banks had started down the path of counting Mom’s income as an essential part of the monthly budget.

Once that happened, there was no going back. Warren and Tyagi found that adjusted for inflation, dual-income households in the early 2000s had over double the fixed costs (defined as mortgage, child care, health insurance, car and taxes) as single-income households did in the early 70s.

What tradwifes have, and what the women who watch them want, is not just a single-income household. It is specifically a single-income household in which the man is the provider. This isn’t surprising at all. A Pew Research study found that 71 percent of men and 72 percent of women said that a man needs to be able to provide financially for his family in order to be a good husband/partner. The same study found that only 25 percent of men and 39 percent of women thought that a woman needed to provide for her family financially in order to be a good wife/partner. Women think men should provide, and men want to, but they can’t. Given that, it's not surprising that an increasing number of Americans can’t even bring themselves to shack up with a romantic partner, much less marry them. 

Tradwives produce content for women to live vicariously through. They are not “pick mes,” seeking male attention and approval as some — including me when I first encountered them online — think. The majority of those who follow, like, and comment on their content are women. Sure, some of them warn about the dangers of depending on a man, but others express envy — even jealousy. “Honestly, I’m jealous of women who get to stay home and take care of their home, husband, and children, if any. I have to work due to the cost of living,” said one woman commenting under one of Estee Williams’ videos. “I want to be a trad wife but I have no kids,” said another. Articles like “Help, I’m Obsessed With Trad Wife Influencers!” speak for themselves.

It is incredibly dark that housewifery has become a highly aestheticized, subcultural internet phenomenon. No society where women have real options would produce such a thing. It seems that feminism has not achieved its aim of giving women choices. Instead, it has simply herded women from the household and into the labor market. The quashing of the patriarchy might have allowed women into traditionally male spheres of employment — suitable for some — but it also removed the obligations of patriarchy, i.e. that men provide — something a majority of women still want them to do. Progressive aims like losing the dubious “wage gap,” or subsidized child care will do little for women who want to raise their own children, at home, with a man who can support them — a completely normal desire that has become pathologized as white supremacy, sexual fetish, and religious indoctrination. Women who exercised great political will in order to gain access to a fair labor market might live to see their granddaughters march for the option to leave it. Until that happens, we can continue to expect millions of women to scroll through their phones on coffee breaks, living vicariously through bread-baking women dressed like lady wojacks.

-River Page

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