Monday, July 15, 2024

The Tradwife Movement, Explained | POPSUGAR Family

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On a typical day, Victoria Yost wakes up at 8:30 a.m. and then makes her way downstairs to enjoy a breakfast of homemade yogurt with her 2-year-old son. Following a homeschool lesson, errands, and a PB&J lunch, the homemaker and content creator collects a few eggs from the chicken coop in her backyard and uses them to bake homemade Oreos. Next on her to-do list is a spotless house and a spaghetti-and-meatball dinner for her family. With supper simmering, Yost tends to a load of laundry.

Yost, who posts “day in the life” videos like this one for her 215,000 followers on TikTok to enjoy under the moniker @thymeandtenderness, identifies as a “tradwife.” There are nearly 17,000 videos with the #tradwife hashtag on the platform — and thousands more that don’t use the hashtag but feature the same aesthetic: perfectly curated mommy blogger meets 1950s nostalgia.

In one video with 1.5 million likes, a pregnant woman wearing a cocktail dress bakes cinnamon rolls from scratch for her husband, who is on his way home from a business trip. In another, watched by 181 million people, an attractive young mom makes meatballs and mozzarella — again, from scratch — while her seven children run around in the background.

Like most things on the internet, these videos are polarizing. And with viewers loving or loathing them with equal fervor, they’ve sparked a debate that goes beyond cinnamon rolls and house dresses — and this tension is indicative of a broader cultural clash, between tradition and feminism. What should gender roles look like in the digital age?

Experts Featured in This Article

Jo Piazza is a journalist, author, and host of the podcast “Under the Influence,” about social media and influencer marketing.

Caroline Burke is a writer and media critic who’s covered the rise of the tradwife movement.

What Is a Tradwife?

A tradwife — which is a portmanteau of “traditional wife” — is a “very particular social media phenomenon happening right now where women are highlighting a version of being a wife where the woman is submissive to a man and stripped of her agency in order to cater to his needs,” says Jo Piazza, who hosts a podcast about influencers, “Under the Influence.”

Estee Williams, a buxom blonde with 150,000 TikTok followers who identifies as a tradwife, defines the term in much the same way in a video pinned to the top of her TikTok feed. “A tradwife is a woman who chooses to live a more traditional life with ultra-traditional gender roles,” she says. “So the man goes outside the house, works, provides for the family. The woman stays home and she’s the homemaker.”

Also core to being a tradwife, Williams continues, is the belief “that [women] should submit to their husbands and service their husbands and family.” Dressed in vintage house garments and a smile, tradwives willingly embrace all domestic responsibilities while eagerly prioritizing the upkeep of their appearance — feminine silhouettes, coiffed hair, red nails — to attract their husbands.

Williams, like many tradwives, emphasizes in her content that this lifestyle is a choice — no one has forced tradwives into this position. That being said, the majority of these women are Mormon and attribute their beliefs to their Christian faith.

This emphasis on submission is one of the key differentiators between the tradwife lifestyle and being a stay-at-home mom (or SAHM, in internet-speak). Another, says writer Caroline Burke, is the social-media-fication of it all. The uncanniness of a tradwife’s perfectly curated content is central to the tradwife “movement.”

Breaking Down the Tradwife Debate

Women who exemplify the tradwife ideal have amassed thousands of followers and millions of likes on TikTok. Fairy godmothers of domestic content like Nara Smith, 22, and Ballerina Farm’s Hannah Neeleman, 32, have armies of supporters who find their videos aspirational. (Burke notes that many of these women don’t refer to themselves as tradwives or use the #tradwife hashtag because they’re aware of the controversy surrounding the term. “Their performance of domestic labor on camera is all they need for their content to take off, so why endanger their engagement by adding #tradwife?” Burke says.)

Having the privilege to dedicate themselves to homemaking sounds like a dream for many viewers. Comments like “I would love to stay at home and focus on my home. Sadly, the modern economy won’t let us,” evoke the idea that tradwife content provides some viewers with a wanted break from reality. This lifestyle seems to exist in a fairy tale land outside of modern womanhood where a slower-paced life is acceptable and encouraged.

This escapism that some viewers flock to is jarring for others. “Nara’s just a little too perfect, you know? Which is fine, and there’s a market for that, but she sort of advertises herself as a relatable mother,” says a content creator who wishes to remain anonymous. “Yet the average mom is not cooking three meals from scratch a day like she is. No one has leftover Wagyu in the refrigerator for Sunday meal prep except her. It’s just a little hard to believe it’s authentic.”

“No one has leftover Wagyu in the refrigerator for Sunday meal prep except her.”

Tradwife critics argue that this romanticized content sets unattainable expectations for women (especially younger women) who aspire to embrace the “traditional wife” lifestyle. “I do think that it’s dangerous to promote beautiful imagery linked to women giving up their agency and autonomy, not only because it is a false narrative about what life as a wife and mother is actually like, but because it idealizes a world where a woman has very little ability to survive on her own,” Piazza says.

The tradwife trend, opponents argue, undermines the work feminists have been doing for decades. But content creator and entrepreneur Ebony Mackey, who tells PS she was raised in a household where women adhered to traditional gender roles, disagrees. “Being a tradwife is feminism to me. It’s a woman’s choice, and it’s very powerful to maintain a home,” Mackey says.

But these videos — and this lifestyle — don’t exist in a vacuum. And, according to Burke, it’s particularly worrisome to see the popularity of tradwife videos rise while legislation that limits American women’s reproductive rights is stripping women of their autonomy. If you’re not able to choose this way of life, does the appeal remain?

Is It OK to Enjoy These Videos?

Life is stressful, and everyone deserves a few minutes every day to turn off their brain. If you find the “soft girl” aesthetic of tradwife videos soothing, will that really derail decades of feminist activism?

When it comes to enjoying tradwife videos, it seems, a little dose of perspective goes a long way. Viewers like Paulette (@po.lette on TikTok) acknowledge that these women’s perfect onscreen lives might look different off camera. “Maybe Nara [Smith] really does cook most of her meals from scratch . . . or maybe she’s simply a strategic content creator and knows that filming herself doing so will always go viral,” she says.

Paulette notes that, given our lack of insight into how Smith and her husband, Lucky Blue Smith, manage their finances — a significant aspect of the tradwife lifestyle — the reality of Smith’s household responsibilities is unclear. For all we know, a nanny is taking care of her children all day while she creates content.

In a recent TikTok video, Burke also points out that Smith and Ballerina Farm’s Neeleman come from money. “You need to have money in order to become a successful influencer,” she says. And “money makes childcare easier. Money makes housework easier.”

In the same video, Burke theorizes that social media tradwives, who largely grew up in Mormon households where perfectionism is ingrained from a young age, are “performing” what they believe to be the domestic ideal.

These videos are, ultimately, performances — and it’s important not to lose sight of that. These women in their sparkling white kitchens are making elaborate dinners and picking out perfect outfits not only for the benefit of their families, but to impress us, the viewers.

This is not to say all #tradwives are in it for the engagement (and sponsorships): for instance, Yost tells PS she loves being a tradwife. “Ultimately, my heart belongs to my home, husband, and family, and there should never be any shame in that,” she adds. But, we should keep in mind the ways — whether subconsciously or purposefully — that the tradwife trend is a product of the patriarchal society we live in.

Jillian Angelini (she/her) is a sexual wellness and lifestyle journalist with words in PS, Bustle, Betches, MindBodyGreen, and more. She runs the queer advice column “The B Spot” on and specifically enjoys writing about sex, relationships, and anything involving the queer experience.

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