By Eva Martin
As is the case for many young women today, my social media news feeds are increasingly flooded with videos of other women, mostly in their early 20’s, in floaty 50’s aesthetic dresses, with perfectly done makeup and hair whilst they bake, cook, or carry out domestic chores. These videos are normally captioned ‘a day in the life of a stay at home girlfriend’ or ‘ my life as a trad wife.’ Whether its a ‘day in the life’ video, influencers extolling ‘perks’ and ‘freedoms’ of giving up working and opting instead for financial dependance on a partner, or discussing the liberating qualities to fulfilling a womans ‘natural gender roles’ – tradwife content has taken TikTok by storm.
But what is a Trad wife? In the words of a self proclaimed high profile trad wife, they are ‘a woman who chooses to live a more “traditional” life with ultra orthodox gender roles. The man goes outside the house, works, provides for the family. The woman stays home, and is the home maker, she also takes care of the children – if there are any. Trad wives also believe that they should “submit” to their husbands and serve their husbands, and family.’ Whilst the content of a lot of these videos appear seemingly mundane, the ideology behind the trad wife movement is sinister. The Tradwife narrative plays into the idea that women are the property of their husbands, wholly and completely subservient to them. Trad wife culture is dominated by anti-abortion, anti-birth control, transphobic and anti-sex views.
The ‘tradwife’ has arisen alongside and is a part of a growing sexist, reactionary backlash against the gains of the feminist movement over the last decade, with attacks on abortion, trans rights, and the misogynistic vilification of women who speak out against gender violence and harassment – including figures like Amber Heard and Meghan Markle. There are also links between Tradwife rhetoric and ultra reactionary ideology like evangelical white nationalism in America, and the views of Andrew Tate.
It’s unsurprising and easy to empathise with the longing felt by so many for an alternative, literally any alternative, to the exploitation and discrimination on offer by capitalism. There is a longing for stability, care and security. But the fantasy being sold by ‘Trad wives’ of this idealised past where middle-class women lived the ‘suburban dream’ is exactly that – a fantasy. The post-war era brought with it a relentless attack on the gains of the feminist movement for women in the 30’s & 40’s, which saw a huge rise in propaganda pushing the idea that a woman’s fulfilment was rooted in her ‘innate’ roles: being a housewife and mother. But the figures alone for how many women became addicted to valium and other anti-depressants alike during this time period paints a very different story. The idea that the returning to ‘traditional values’ and rigid gender roles is the antithesis to exploitation, discrimination and alienation, or a logical alternative to the offers of neoliberal/girlboss feminism, is incredibly misguided and harmful.
The co-option of feminist language by the Trad wife movement, framing the decision to become a Trad wife as a liberating ‘individual choice’ to opt out of the labour market and be entirely financially dependent on your partner obscures reality. Because for the vast majority of s women and families, the ‘choice’ to opt out of working has never been a choice. The dire lack of childcare support, particularly in countries like the UK. where capitalism has eroded the welfare state away to the bone, means working class women are often forced out of their jobs in order to take on caring duties for children and elderly relatives. And what of the families who cannot stay afloat without the extra income? Or single parents? They have no choice but to return to work in a cruelly short amount of time after giving birth, and then find themselves stuck in the vicious cycle of working to pay for extortionate childcare costs to stay afloat.
Financial dependency or ‘submission’ to a partner does not come without risk either. Financial and economic control is a key aspect of coercive control, and this abuse seldom happens in isolation. Being wholly or completely reliant on a partner to live opens the door for further abuse.
Socialist feminists fight to build the widest possible movement and uprising of the working class and all oppressed groups for socialist change. We fight for real control and autonomy over our lives and bodies. Members of ROSA and the Socialist Party fight not only for bodily autonomy, against sexism and oppression but for the building of an international, active and organised struggle of women, the young, the working class and poor that can overhaul society.