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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Tok the Talk: The emergence of tradwives

In a post-COVID-19 world, many women have romanticized a return to traditional gender roles.

Tok the Talk Column Graphic

Graphic by Molly Sullivan

“I chose the trad lifestyle because I believe that women have drifted far from our roots,” Estee Williams, a Tiktok creator and self-described “tradwife,” recently stated. Taken from the name “traditional wives,” “tradwives” are the latest Western aesthetic involving a subculture of women who believe in advocating for ‘traditional values.’ More specifically, they believe in the institution of traditional gender roles, which involves women becoming stay-at-home mothers: cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and raising children. The tradwife aesthetic has gained significant traction since 2020, with many of these wives using social media as a tool to romanticize their lifestyles. TikTok, especially, has seen a wave of tradwife influencers promoting a 1950s housewife aesthetic. Williams, who has amassed over 150,000 followers on TikTok, explains, “the hustle culture was not appealing. Being a wife, mom, making delicious home-cooked meals for my family and keeping up a warm, inviting home is what truly spoke to me.” At the outset, her content seems harmless. After all, isn’t she just a woman sharing her life online?

Arguably, it’s much bigger than that — the issue many have is with what these women represent. Many critics of the tradwife culture argue that these influencers are glamorizing a 1950s housewife aesthetic that never truly existed. Others criticize the subculture for its associations with white nationalism and its embodiment of ‘toxic femininity.’ Critics have even suggested that tradwives are pushing a conservative agenda that caters to those who believe that women’s rights have overreached.

Interestingly, the tradwife culture has blown up in the post-COVID-19 era, in which women’s rights are increasingly in peril. Writer and critic Caroline Burke suggests that the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022 may be connected to this recent rise in tradwives. Specifically, she argued that it cannot be accidental that “in the two years where [women] have lost more reproductive rights than in decades previously, all of these tradwives have been gaining insane traction online.”

Williams, on the other hand, suggests that this tradwife trend has taken off due to a post-COVID-19 work/life balance burnout that many women are facing. She believes that “[working outside of the home] is also the cause of burnout for mothers.” There may be some truth to what she is saying — in September 2020, more than 860,000 women quit their jobs compared to a mere 216,000 men. Some experts suggest that this is due to the additional work of child-rearing and homeschooling that women had to take on. Furthermore, studies have revealed that women are more likely to be burned out due to the significant unpaid domestic labor they do in addition to their jobs. This could explain why many women are fully embracing the tradwife lifestyle rather than working what is essentially two jobs.

Either way, it is evident that the recent emergence and popularity of the tradwife aesthetic raises important questions about the intersection of gender roles, societal expectations and individual choices in our current climate, ultimately begging a larger question: What are the implications of romanticizing an aesthetic that subverts modern feminism?