“I submit and serve my husband. It is a blessing to be his assistant,” explains Estee Williams, a 25-year-old girl from Virginia, USA, in a TikTok video. The influencer, who looks like something out of an episode of Mad Men or the movie The Perfect Women (2004 ), has earned more than a million views on some of his videos. She explains what it means to be a 'tradwife' (short for traditional wife) and how her marriage works, in which her husband is the sole breadwinner and she is a housewife.
The past or, to be more precise, the idealization of a past in which a woman's place is the home, has landed on social networks. The hashtag
Some of the influencers who identify with this label - such as Estee Williams - emulate the aesthetics of the housewives of the 50s and 60s. They wear super makeup, hair, and wear pin-up dresses. “Get ready for your husband,” Williams tells her followers. Others – more aligned with “Christian modesty” – use a more sober and natural look and recommend “modest outfits” to their followers, which include long dresses and ruffled aprons.
Although their styles may vary, the content is very similar. Vintage filters. Emotional music. Women who cook artisanal food for their families. Super young mothers who lovingly play with their children and hug their husbands. Sweet and soft voices explain in voiceover how feminism and “modern cultural values” seek to distance women from their true divine and supreme vocation, the one that they choose to pursue, which is to take care of their children and household chores exclusively.
But who are these tradwives and what is behind this movement? “Social networks and globalization have contributed to this expanding. But deep down it is a very classist and white discourse, of cisheterosexual women from more or less privileged classes, who live in privileged territories, mainly the US and Great Britain, and who basically can afford not to work," explains Maddalena Fedele. from the Faculty of Information and Audiovisual Media, expert in gender, youth and social networks.
She considers that this “idealization of the past” can be explained in part as a conservative response to advances in equality and as a way of finding some security in a context of crisis, wars, generalized uncertainty and in the face of a labor market that is hostile, especially to young women. “It is also a reaction to a failure in the conciliation system. A woman who wants to be a mother, a partner and a worker has it very difficult. But not everyone can afford not to work,” she says.
“An unreal idea is transmitted. Not everyone can afford to have one of the parents stay at home taking care of the children and cooking, and we should think about why there is such a movement towards women and not towards men. Furthermore, these women can not only afford not to work outside the home, but also have houses, decorations, clothing and food looks that not everyone can access. This distorts reality and creates a false ideal of motherhood,” says gender expert María Gijón.
“Social networks amplify it, but this is something of a few women of a certain socioeconomic level and status, in which his economic contribution makes this approach to life possible,” agrees the professor of the Department of Sociology of the UAB and researcher at the Center for Sociological Studies on Daily Life and Work-QUIT, Vicent Borràs Català.
For the sociologist, “this is evidence of the failure of conciliation, which is the great demand of middle class women incorporated into the labor market. They want to be super professionals and super mothers. Some say, why do I want to be superwoman, if I live badly? But of course, how is she going to return to her house and the traditional mythical model if she doesn't have a husband who earns a lot of money? This is not something working class women can do. If they don't go out to work, their house doesn't work."
“Men have not entered the house to the same extent that women have left it. Many of us have seen ourselves with a double burden, family and work. Added to this is the burden of the perfect woman, of the myth of the superwoman, promoted by social networks. This 'I come home and take care of the children' thing is a reaction to that and should worry us," says María Gijón.
“Society wants me to work 9-5 for someone…What they don't know is that my husband works for me,” says the text of a video by influencer Estee Williams, accompanied by an emoji of a winking face. “But you also work, you make these TikToks,” a user comments in another of her videos.
“We have to take into account the monetization dynamics of social networks. These perfect housewives are doing business with their videos,” says Maddalena Fedele. For the UB expert, “There will be people who believe in these values, lock themselves in their house and are not explaining it on social networks. But here there is a logic of idealized construction of the self through self-representation on the networks, in addition to seeking this 'become an entrepreneur of yourself'. “They are setting up their own business, something perhaps surprisingly contrary to the ‘traditional wives’ values that they claim to embody, but in line with a certain logic of contrast, which exists on social networks.”
The more polarizing a post generates, the more interaction it will probably have. “The more clicks and the more comments, the more the content moves. The content of these influencers is simple, extremely aesthetic and curated, and at the same time very controversial, because they identify feminism and equality as something terrible that must be avoided and they even blame it for so many changes and problems, in contrast to a ideal past where women took care of the house and things were much better,” explains Fedele.
“I don't want a job. I don't want to be a corporate girl. I don't want to ascend. I don't want to be a boss. I don't want to do any of that. I don't want to be the breadwinner. Do you know what I want to do? I want to be in home. I want to cook. I want to clean. I want to do the shopping. I want to be making brownies. I want to be cooking dinner. Making homemade meals every night, almost every night,” influencer Jasmine Darke (@jasminedinis), from Australia, narrates in a voice-over in a video with some 6.3 million views, which shows different sequences of her with her daughter small.
“Do not underestimate the void that your absence would leave,” Darke says in another post, in which she demands that mothers stay at home with their children. “In the hustle and bustle of modern life, the demands of work and other obligations often take us away from our little ones. “Children depend on the calming and tender qualities that mothers naturally possess,” she says.
Although she encourages her followers not to work to dedicate themselves to their children and she vindicates the fact that she chooses not to do so, Darke seems to run - or, at least, be the face of - a profitable business. She not only creates and publishes content at least once a day. Her account also includes a blog, an Amazon store, and she also has an ebook for sale, where she explains how she managed to go “from 3,000 to 30,000 followers in less than six months as a housewife.”
Megan Wilson (@wilsonfamilyhomestead) is another example of how being a tradwife can be big business. She lives on a farm in Montana (USA), she is 24 years old, has three children (and another on the way). Her Instagram account is part of a much larger structure. She has a podcast, an Amazon store and a website where she offers an ebook of home remedies, a course to clean the house naturally, which costs about $95 and sells various handmade products. Additionally, she has a YouTube account and one on Patreon, all under subscription.
The profiles of tradwives may not only be fueling profitable businesses, but also pushing the interests of extremist ideologies, whether they are aware of it or not. “In The Handmaid's Tale, the movement that establishes the dictatorship is made up in part of women who claim their place in the home. It is incredible how sometimes reality surpasses fiction,” laments Maddalena Fedele. For those who have seen the series, it is not difficult to imagine many of these tradwives as wives of Gilead. The big difference is that, in this case, they share their ideas and document their daily lives on Instagram and TikTok.
Noelle Cook-Bouton is researching white women's involvement in extreme online movements and is currently writing a book about the women who took part in the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, which she plans to publish next year .
“Women have always been essential in the dissemination of right-wing ideas, but social networks have really contributed to the generalization of these messages. “Much of the online tradwive movement is in spaces like TikTok and Instagram,” says Cook-Bouton, noting that “the link between those who identify as tradwives and the broader trad movement, which is part of the right-wing ideology and White supremacy is the imposition of traditional gender roles and Christian 'values'. “The majority of these accounts are run by white women, and at the heart of the movement is ‘white identity’ and the preservation of Western heritage, ‘God-given’ rights and the ‘natural’ order of things.”
According to the expert, the messages of these accounts can be more or less explicit: “These influencers soften extreme ideas through carefully selected images that celebrate motherhood, cooking and domestic bliss. Their messages focus on femininity, morality, and cultural ideals of women. “These accounts rely heavily on aesthetics, which helps hide the more insidious messages.”
Other accounts, says Cook-Bouton, are more open and use symbols and hashtags to spread their extremism. An example is the hashtag “revolt against the modern world,” which “is the title of a book published in 1932 by the openly fascist, racist, traditionalist and misogynist Italian, Julius Evola,” he explains. Cook-Bouton and notes: “He believed that women were meant to live their lives in 'pure feminine nature' as mothers and wives and that a woman's true greatness lies in her ability to accept man as more than just a ' mere husband or lover, but as her lord.'”
As Cook-Bouton has observed, there are many reasons why a woman may choose to be a tradwife. “For some, she is an expression of biblical womanhood. For others, it is an artisanal business that provides them with income thanks to a large number of followers and selling their “dream” to other people, through supplements and workshops. Sometimes, twenty-something tradwives point out the failure of feminism and resort to their own mother's experience of the stressful balance between paid work and the domestic workload," she summarizes and assures: "The only thing they have in common “All of these types of stories is a firmly anti-feminist message that unashamedly celebrates patriarchy and male domination.”
Estee Williams doesn't go to the gym without her husband or go out alone at night. “I always notify him where I'm going and I let him know when I arrive,” she says, clarifying that she is not a control mechanism, but rather a security one. Neither she nor her husband have friends of the opposite sex. As a housewife, her duty is to keep the house clean, always have hot food prepared for her husband, and create a “welcoming environment.” He, in his role as household provider, “Doesn't have to lift a finger. No cleaning or cooking required. There are times when he helps me because he wants to, but he doesn't have to,” she explains. In addition, she has “the last word” in financial decisions. “If I want to make an extra or larger purchase, I always go to him first. If his answer is no, then it is no,” says the influencer in a video.
“I am a Christian wife, so I believe in submission to my husband. And that includes our finances and our purchasing budget. Does that mean he controls everything I buy? No. But he gives me a structure, a budget, and I do my best to find options that fit it,” explains the influencer Anneliese (@feminine_not_feminis), who is 25 years old and has already been married for five years. . She also offers advice to her followers on how to be a good wife. “Service and sacrifice”, “Submission”, “Christian modesty”, “Work at home”, are some of the titles that appear in the “guides” section of her Instagram profile.
There are messages that give chills. “Just because you're "not in the mood" doesn't mean it's okay to deprive your husband of sex (...) Once you get married you no longer have authority over your own body. You also belong to your husband. And the Bible commands us not to deprive each other,” reads the text of one of Megan Wilson's posts, with an image of her and her husband hugging her from behind her.
Most of these influencers respond to hate and criticism in the same way: “It's my choice.” After all, isn't feminism about that? About women being able to choose? “The myth of free choice is a more sophisticated way that patriarchy finds to react to social advances. It is no longer that the man tells the woman to stay at home but it is the woman who decides and this is sold as empowerment. Free choice is not about staying at home and losing all your rights, because that has consequences,” says María Gijón.
For her, “if this movement proposed that social and economic value be given and that work at home be remunerated, it would be a very positive advance. But that is not the objective. What they say is: 'I stay at home and my work doesn't need to be paid because I do it for love. “This places us in a position of subordination, relegating us to the domestic space and reproductive functions, while it places men in the public space, in a productive role where they can assume power and responsibility.”
“This model places the woman in a position of dependence on her husband and in the place of an object, which represents her status. If he can have this beautiful and impeccable woman at home, it is because he can provide for her. Furthermore, it is the perfect excuse for him not to take care of any household chores,” explains Vicent Borràs. Finally, the expert indicates, “in Spain, for example, where more than half of marriages separate, what would happen to these women? Because they depend economically and symbolically on their husband.”
Although they may seem subtle - says María Gijón - "it is important to confront these messages, because they are permeating the younger generations, adolescents who can take it as a reference for the woman they want to become or, in their case, , of the woman they aspire to have as a partner.”
“What worries me most is the effect that these careful, beautiful and perfect content in audiovisual terms may have on the followers, because what they are selling is an aesthetic idealization of that life of a housewife, which in truth is a construction, an artifice that may not correspond to reality, or at least to the reality of the majority," says Maddalena Fedele.
Noelle Cook-Bouton agrees that it is not a move to be taken lightly: “Three years ago, when I started looking at these accounts, most people I knew were not familiar with the term tradwife. Today it is not like that. What we could still consider a marginal movement has entered the mainstream thanks to social networks. So, although it is not the new trend, it is an idea that social networks have helped to soften and make more acceptable.”