A tradwife is shorthand for a ‘traditional housewife’. The term is used to refer to a 21st century woman who has autonomously decided to adopt the traditional gender roles of the nuclear family—husband goes to work while she takes care of the children and upkeep of the home. While many women have this life, tradwives are quite different from the modern day housewife. Alongside this basic understanding of what it means to be a tradwife, is an attachment to the sentiments, style and fashions of the ‘good old days’. Tradwives are often seen in ‘vintage’ aesthetics heralding from the 50s, the ‘war wife’ eras and sometimes even further back in history.
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Alena Pettitt—author and founder of the lifestyle blog The Darling Academy—has become what some have called the British face of the tradwife movement and is often closely attached to its hashtag. The Darling Academy is the British “home of traditional family values, good manners, and lifestyle. [It] celebrates the role of the housewife, traditional family dynamics, great homemaking, and shares the beauty of what makes ‘being at home’ truly worthwhile.”
In an interview with the BBC, Pettitt explained how she felt different to her peers in the way she wanted to live her life and found solace in the discovery of this online community who felt the same, “I joined social media and I realised quite quickly there was almost like an underground movement of other women who felt the same. People crave that sense of belonging and home and quaintness and all the traditional aspects.” Ever since this interview in 2020, the community has continued to grow, with #tradwife garnering over 30 million views on TikTok. Yes, 30 million.
While scrolling through the hashtag, you’ll find videos and captions of women cooking and cleaning, filling up lunch boxes and fridges—not going to lie, they’re super therapeutic. We’ve all seen the women that pack impressive lunches for their kids, right? Among this however, you will also find captions like ‘a woman’s place in the home’, #antifeminist and some really controversial takes on the rights of women. In a clip for the BBC, Pettitt explains that the ‘Traditional Housewives’ is a movement of “homemakers of our generation who are happy to submit to, keep house, and spoil their husbands like it’s 1959.”
The tradwife community is all about being traditional, but what does traditional even mean? Traditional to whom? Pettitt explains to the BBC that “it’s almost harnessing the best of what made Britain great […] we can have that again, times are changing so fast and we don’t even know the identity of our country right now.” This idea of what a woman ‘should be’ is defined by the gender binary norms of the west, it is a white-centric idea of gender—there are numerous other cultures who have operated beyond the gender binary for centuries and have family dynamics not centred on the idea of the typical British nuclear unit. Tradwives’ fixation on particular parts of history—both for their lifestyles and aesthetics—have made people look at the community with scepticism.
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Many people have noted that the word tradwife itself originated among predominantly alt-right and white supremacist groups—used as encouragement for women to submit to their husband and bear his children. The vintage aesthetics that the tradwife community idolises have been used by some as a way to promote white nationalist values. Small epithets of this can also be found on Pettitt’s blog with words like ‘Britishness’, ‘English behaviour’, ‘patriotic’ and even ‘true blue Britons’. While this may not be an overt example, these terms have often been described as a dog whistle to whiteness. However, many tradwives have dismissed these claims—Pettitt expressed to the BBC that when she discovered that this specific type of housewife was promoted by the Nazis, she had no idea of its association. Most tradwives also deny this link and claim that the term is now free of these ties.
It goes without saying how imperative it is to support the freedom of choice for women to be able choose the lifestyle that best suits them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a housewife. No woman should be shamed for her choice. However, the tradwife is very different to the image of the modern day housewife and it is not without criticism. Some of the more extreme statements are what fuels a large part of its controversial clash with feminists.
The BBC in its documentation of Pettitt showcased a tweet of hers alongside an article (both are no longer available). The tweet reads, “Why husbands must always come first if you want to maintain a happy marriage…” Some of the elements in being a tradwife include only wearing dresses, asking your husband for ‘permission’, him being in charge of all finances as well as being the ‘decision-maker’ of the family. Pettitt is actually far less provocative than many of her tradwife counterparts, with some having even stronger views. Remember, it’s all about spoiling your husband like it’s 1950.
Tradwife Dixie Andelin Forsyth told Stylist, “We say to feminists: thanks for the trousers, but we see life a different way.” Dr. Ann Olivarius—a lawyer and proclaimed feminist—responded to the statement on Twitter writing, “Not just the trousers, dear. The bank account in your own name, your voting rights and outlawing your husband raping and beating you. To name just a few things.”
Tradwives are not the first ones to be part of an anti-feminist movement, yet they represent more dangers than others we’ve seen in the past, for the simple reason that they’re carefully hidden under a wholesome housewife persona. Forget about alt-right extremists carrying guns at anti-lockdown protests, these ones will pour you a glass of lemonade and offer you a slice of homemade pie while you’re at it.