Friday, January 27, 2023

“Submissive Wives Have Happy Lives” The Rise of the ‘TradWife’ – Inside the Movement That Wants to Turn Back Time

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Why has the term ‘TradWife’ entered the lexicon? Is it a response to exhausted women deciding they can’t ‘have it all’? Should it be interpreted as a backlash against feminism? And do any New Zealand woman identify with the philosophy behind it? Sarah Lang looks into it.

If you haven’t heard the term ‘TradWife’ before, no, it’s nothing to do with being a wife who is a tradie, or being the wife of a tradie. It springboards off the word ‘traditional’. A TradWife – closely associated with the hashtag #tradwife – is a term used to describe a woman who chooses to focus solely on her family, husband and home, rather than doing paid work or having a career. Harking back to an earlier era, being a ‘TradWife’ is about celebrating and/or promoting that choice. Some TradWives hark back to tradition, some to religion, and some to both.

Being a ‘TradWife’ is not just about being a housewife or a stay-at-home mum (the hardest of jobs), though that’s part of it. Being a TradWife involves taking a position, or even an identity, within a relationship where the male is the dominant figure. By promoting feminine submissiveness and domesticity, the #TradWife movement appears to reject much of what feminism extols. #TradWife has been becoming something of a phenomenon thanks to the many #TradWife proponents on social media.

The most visible proponent of #TradWife is Alena Kate Pettitt, a British author, lifestyle blogger and influencer who has 38.3K Instagram followers. A marketing manager in the beauty industry, she was constantly tired and arguing with her partner, so she left her job.

Pettitt, who is in her mid-30s, runs a website/blog called ‘The Darling Academy’ which offers articles and advice (it’s sometimes called a ‘femininity finishing school’ except unlike those of yesteryear, it’s online). She invites women to join “the Apron Clad Army,” and says “husbands must always come first”.

BACK TO THE FIFTIES

In her etiquette book (yes, that’s really a thing), she writes that “the difference between TradWives and the current-day housewife is that we take the career of a housewife very seriously, and celebrate each other in the community for it”. Pettitt says she’s a feminist, because that means having the choice to live life how you want to. She has also said she “pretended” to be more feminist than she was before she met her husband. 

Pettitt’s position on submissiveness is also a little confusing. In a BBC clip, she says her role is “submitting to and spoiling her husband like it’s 1959”. But she also writes on her website that “a TradWife is not subservient. Though a traditional housewife may submit to her husband, she is not considered of lesser importance to him, or allow herself to be in a position that threatens her rights.”

It is a little ironic that Pettitt’s work as a TradWife influencer, blogger, author, etc surely constitutes a paid job – or at least takes time away from her homemaking. Other TradWife influencers also hold forth on social media (particularly on Instagram, and YouTube, as well as TikTok, and Facebook), on websites and blogs. Some promote ‘trad-wife’ classes, books, and products.  They’re all about making the choice – and arguably, the identity – attractive.

You can also become part of The Tradwives Club: @tradwivesclub on Twitter – and instagram.com/thetradwivesclub on Instagram with its 19.6K followers. The Instagram introduction is “Reclaim traditionalism. Reject feminism. Embrace femininity. (We like fixing men sandwiches too).”

TRADWIVES V HOUSEWIVESTHE BATTLE OF FEMINISM?

There are different degrees, if you like, of being a TradWife, from ‘hey, I’d like to stay home because that’s what works best for my family” through to more extreme positions. An example of the latter is a woman calling herself ‘’Tradwifeoriginal’. She has a blog and social-media accounts, with 5.3K followers on Facebook, and with 3.2K followers on Instagram (@tradwifeoriginal). Her intro says “Tradwife stands for educated women who prefer a role of feminine and respectful submission”. Her images include “Submissive Wives Have Happy Lives” and ”Stop generalising women!!! Not all women are feminist. Some know their place.”

Often, TradWife proponents favour 1950s-style dresses. One of @Tradwifeoriginal’s Instagram followers, Rosie @traditionalwifeylife, posts images of homes and nature, overlaid with messages in big letters, such as: “If you desire to transition into a more feminine wardrobe… stores are stocking summer dresses which when layered correctly can be worn year-round!”; “Are you putting effort into your appearance? How often are you dressing up for your husband?” and “sex with your husband should happen often, even daily when possible”.

At the less-extreme end is former Miss Canada, Cynthia Loewen, a trained doctor who found satisfaction in being a homemaker. “My husband… felt so much more appreciated and valued.”

There seems to be a disconnect, or even a schism, within the TradWife movement. Some TradWives are saying they’re choosing this path as a feminist act because feminism is about choice – and saying no, don’t look down on us for this decision. Others contend that there is no choice – that living like this is simply a woman’s place (whether that’s down to tradition, religion, or both). However, feminism is about not just choice but also equality – and so the question becomes, if you’re not equal within your relationship, is there a way this position can align with feminism?

A WORLD OF TIRED WOMEN WHO DON’T WANT TO ‘HAVE IT ALL’ ANYMORE

Jo Piazza, an author/host of a podcast about influencer moms called Under the Influence, has some thoughts about the state of things. “The world is a disaster right now in every possible way. And there has been a real trend toward nostalgia because people often find it comforting. The thing is this nostalgia for a ‘better’ time is often obscenely misplaced.”

“Scroll through the #tradwife hashtag, and you’ll quickly see [Alena] Pettitt’s words come to life. Your feed will be flooded with images of smiling women, frilly aprons, and optimistic quotes in cursive about the joys of homemaking. Looking through those images, you might wonder what harm these women could be doing to anyone outside their home – and as it turns out, it might be quite a bit.”

“The world is a disaster right now in every possible way. And there has been a real trend toward nostalgia because people often find it comforting. The thing is this nostalgia for a ‘better’ time is often obscenely misplaced.”

“As with any trend, there’s no one-size-fits-all description for every woman who identifies as a tradwife. With that said, it isn’t hard to see why those who cover the movement often point out that these women are celebrating regressive beliefs in women’s rights, and argue that the trend is decidedly anti-feminist, not to mention exclusive of the queer and trans communities.”

Submissive womanhood is becoming a thing, based on religion and tradition. Allison Theresa just wrote an article for cosmopolitan.com about Sadie Robertson Huff – “reality star, mega-influencer, and America’s foremost spiritual ambassador for feminine submission”. With Christian lifestyle brand Live Original, Huff also has books, a podcast, a social-networking/content-platform app, a merch line, a music label, and goes on speaking tours.

Theresa, watching on at Huff’s annual conference, wonders “how is it possible that an all-female network of surrender not only exists but is growing in 2022?” As she adds: “it’s easy to side-eye Huff’s messages as oppressively anti-feminist, strange, even dangerous… which one could argue is accurate. But being here has, I have to admit, nudged me toward a deeper, less smug realization: Once you peel back the Jesus jargon, Huff’s regressive pitch can feel uncomfortably comfortable – because in certain ways, millions of us seem to be opting in on passive self-preservation. I gaze around at the 3,500 Sisters in this huge hall and wonder how many women in the U.S. would secretly relate: huddled in existential surrender, doing our best to just get through it all, hoping someone in charge swoops in and saves the world. Maybe LO Sister isn’t a fringe movement. Maybe it’s a mirror.”

Maybe we’re all exhausted. Maybe some of us are sick of trying to ‘have it all’, juggling a career and a family. There’s also the Covid factor, where more people want to recalibrate their approach to life, which may mean spending less time at work and more time with their families.

A 2020 story in Prospect magazine  has the title ‘Why the rise of the domestic “tradwife” tells us more about modern work culture than feminism’.

The authors – university professors Catherine Rottenberg and Shani Orgad – have a considered take. “Rather than simply a backlash against feminism,” they argue, “the tradwife phenomenon needs to be understood as a symptom of – as well as a reaction to – the increasing insecurity of our times. Tradwives often use the language of choice. They describe their decision to step off the treadmill of work as a ‘true calling’ to be homemakers, mothers and wives.

“Many of the women in tradwife groups discuss the strain of working in demanding jobs and the difficulty of coming home to, what the American writer Arlie Hochschild has famously called ‘the second shift’.”

The authors argue that “the current toxic always-on work culture must be understood as a key factor facilitating the rise of this retro-movement…. Combined with entrenched gendered social norms, the burden of care disproportionately falls on women. Even relatively privileged women therefore find it difficult to live up to the popular feminist ideal of ‘work-life balance’. So although at first blush the Tradwife movement may seem profoundly at odds with our times – particularly in the wake of movements likes MeToo and TimesUp – it is very much a product of the contemporary moment.”

A KIWI WOMAN’S PERSPECTIVE

We asked Te Kaunihera Wāhine o Aotearoa – National Council of Women New Zealand (NCWNZ), a feminist organisation, about its position on the TradWife movement.

NCWNZ president Suzanne Manning tells Capsule that “its position is that feminism is about women being able to determine their own lives and make their own choices, without being discriminated against because of their gender. Our organisation represents many different viewpoints, some of whom share aspects of the views promoted by The Darling Academy.

“I myself could fit into the category of “traditional wife” in that I dedicated myself to parenting and homemaking, rather than paid employment, for about 20 years during my children’s youth. My wonderfully supportive husband had to iron his own shirts, though, because apparently my efforts weren’t up to his standards! (Don’t tell him that was deliberate…)”.

It’s hard to know how many TradWife proponents or believers live in New Zealand. But there are certainly some. Sandra Liddicoat from Hamilton follows the Darling Academy regularly. She’s a mother of 10 (yes, really), the youngest being 14. 

Regardless of the number of children, or her Christianity, Sandra always felt as if her calling was to be at home, looking after her house and family. “My greatest passion is actually home-making. I just love creating a cosy home like my Gran’s was. And it takes away so much pressure of having to work [in paid jobs] and also raise a family.”

The TradWife phenomenon needs to be understood as a symptom of – as well as a reaction to – the increasing insecurity of our times. Many of the women in Tradwife groups discuss the strain of working in demanding jobs and the difficulty of coming home to, what the American writer Arlie Hochschild has famously called ‘the second shift’.

Sandra doesn’t identify with the exact term TradWife; she thinks it sounds a bit like “tradie”. “But I am a wife by trade! Of course ‘trad’ is short for traditional, and the concept of the TradWife is right – I just don’t think they’ve come up yet with a perfect term that describes women whose focus is the home and family.

“When my hubby gets home, he’s exhausted – he’s a builder, and he’s getting older – so I try and require the least amount from him [with domestic duties].”

Financially she’s had to do paid work here and there. “But I’ve never lasted very long in a job because my heart was at home. And I feel my primary responsibility is to tend to my family, and their needs.”

“I think the ideal thing would be for women [married or with children] to be at home as much as possible, as there would be less stress on everyone. Maybe women could do some [paid] work from home if need be.”

“Even though my husband’s got a good income it’s still a struggle [financially] for us. Sometimes women can’t afford to stay at home. If they [women] had the choice, it would be interesting to see whether it would be a 50/50 split.”

Is it about choice? “Yes. Alena from The Darling Academy says we should have a choice. However, I think it [the discussion] comes back to the whole man-supporting-the-woman-financially thing – feminists won’t have a bar of it because they don’t want women to be dependent on another person.”

Sandra also follows other bloggers and YouTubers. “The appeal is how they organise their lives and how they get things done. On YouTube, I watch Faith and Flour, The Daily Connoisseur, and Inspired by Nikki, and other people who have love for their homes, care for women, and want to encourage them where they’re at. That’s more from a practical point-of-view. Alena from The Darling Academy goes more into the philosophy.”

Alena appeals to Sandra because “she’s a young woman who’s chosen to stay at home, and to put her husband, her child and her home first”. Sandra reads to me from the back-cover blurb of one of Alena’s books. “She [Alena] says ‘society has seen generations of young women since the 1960s. The liberalisation of the feminine identity brought about a rapid decline in common courtesy, grace, morality and manners… yet quietly there is an underground movement among young women who are embracing old-fashioned values, and returning to their original dreams after all that exhausting bra-burning and man-bashing.” As Sandra points out, “it’s obviously a lot more than just her view on being at home”.

By following content creators like these, Sandra has found an online community of people who have a similar viewpoint, and feels more supported in her choice. “But having a community of people in the flesh would be nice.”

Sandra also follows @TidyDad on Instagram. ‘He’s in New York City in a small apartment with three little girls. He’s a teacher. He does the cleaning for his wife first thing in the morning. He cooks breakfast, he tidies up with the kids, he plays with the kids.’ (You could perhaps classify Tim as a ‘wife guy’: a man who primarily posts content about his wife or domestic contribution on social media, often in a self-congratulatory way). “I think it’s okay,” Sandra says, “if your partner helps out at the end of the day – one person does the dishes while the other bathes the kids.”

Sandra sometimes hesitates to express her views to other women in case she offends them or they judge her. “My heart wants to encourage other women to be able to make this choice without being frowned upon.”

So what is the future of #TradWife? Does it depend on savvy content creators who find (and effectively get funded by) followers? Is it a litmus test of our times? Is it a fringe thing, or is it gaining more force as a movement? Only time will tell.

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