By Jessica Sutton.
It’s the bizarre trend which has sparked controversy in Britain and the USA: meet the TradWives, women who pride themselves on “submitting to their husbands like it’s 1959”. One TradWife blogger, Alena Pettitt, describes this ideology as the “New Stepford”, where women should stay home as the perfect housewife, docile, obedient and tireless.
The tricky thing about the rhetoric of these women is that they sprinkle just enough quasi-feminism into their articles and videos to make it a little difficult to pinpoint the issue with their lifestyle. I didn’t let this stop me however, and took it upon myself to take a dive into the wild world of TradWives, and get to the bottom of what these women are all about.
It’s All About Choice, Right?
TradWives principle number 1: This relationship is based on choice. The TradWives insist that what they are doing is staunchly feminist, because they are making a choice. They choose to stay home and be a full-time housewife. And you know what? In isolation, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you want to stay home with your children, as a feminist, I will fight for your right to do that without suffering any disadvantages. I will fight for your right to have your unpaid domestic labour fully valued. There is no problem in principle, in a woman staying home with the children, and a man going to work. Provided the relationship is based on equal respect and equal autonomy and agency as partnered adults. Yet, TradWives make perfectly clear that in their family, one person comes first. The husband and father.
There is no real choice in these TradWives relationships. As another TradWife, Stacey McCall, put it when deciding on holiday: “I quite fancied the Canaries, but my husband was set on Cape Verde. Did I stamp my feet and argue until I got my way? Of course not: we’re going to Cape Verde, it’s booked and I couldn’t be happier.” In this relationship, the deciding vote is always cast by the husband, because “he pays for it all”. These women talk endlessly about choice, but also make it patently clear that they do not have any agency or influence in the relationship outside of how to fold the laundry.
The issue with the TradWives, is not the fact that they want to be housewives. The issue is the intentional and blatant rejection of gender equality and a regression to total submission and dependence on a man. The issue is the fact that these women are pushing misogynist views, cloaked in just enough rhetoric about “choice” to make it seem acceptable in 2020. Let’s take a look at TradWives principle number 2.
A Good Woman Puts Her Man First
One TradWife justified the movement by saying that she was “just giving my husband the lead in things which are more important to him than me”. In almost the same breath, she described how she received an “allowance” from her husband for her housekeeping and her cell-phone.
The language these women use is not that of partnership. It is that of subservience. What is truly bizarre, is they describe their husbands with both paternal and infantile language. Like a strict father, their husbands give them “allowances”, control their every move, police their clothing, and make all family decisions. Pettitt talks of how “let me ask my husband” has become part of her daily vocabulary. The husbands of TradWives have full control of finances, and the freedom to expect a perfect home and a sexually attractive, adoring wife, “in return” for male support: an allowance, “protection”, and attention.
There is an enormous power imbalance in this approach to relationships. The man is given a level of control over the woman and the family which harks back to a time when the wife was the husband’s legal property. Yet, the same women also speak about their husbands as incapable of basic domestic duties. Husbands, it seems, are more helpless than children, and merit more attention. Hence, the following TradWives principle:
Love your children, but not too much.
The key tenet of the TradWives movement is the primacy of the husband. More important than the woman, more important than extended family, and even more important than the children. A memorable phrase from Pettitt’s blog advised her readers to limit the love given to one’s children. “Yes, children are important, love them, nurture them, raise them well, but don’t adore them. The adoration should be kept for your spouse, and witnessed by your children.”
There’s a problem with this which is pretty logical – children are – children. They are inexperienced, vulnerable, unable to care for themselves for many years, and in need of parental protection. A husband, is a grown man. Why exactly does he need more love and care than a baby? Why is he incapable of cleaning his own underpants and loading a dishwasher? Husbands and wives should be partners. She is not his mother.
Relationships are better when the woman keeps house.
TradWives principle 4 tries to portray this lifestyle as the antidote to a failing relationship. Pettitt writes about how she observed her grandparents’ marriage, with “Eddie relaxing in his easy chair in his stay-press trousers, slippers, and pullover watching darts, and rolling cigarettes while Joyce ‘kept house’.” To Pettitt’s young mind, this seemed to be the picture of contentment. She goes on to describe how once she decided to stay home and take on all domestic labour, the arguments in her own relationship went away. It’s funny how arguments stop when one party becomes completely submissive and refuses to argue back!
Another TradWife, Sarah Dunkley, lauds the movement as allowing her to make her husband truly happy – by losing 8 stone and doing elaborate hair and makeup every day. She announces how her husband gleefully feels “he’s got an entirely new wife at home!” I can’t help but wonder how healthy a relationship can be when a husband is thrilled to have their wife become a completely new person.
Further, this view that 1950s era relationships are an ideal to attain, is frankly offensive to the difficult experiences of women who were wives and mothers at that time. A real 1950s housewife had to contend with unreliable contraception, enormous families, no mental health support except electro-shock therapy, and next to no household appliances to aid their unending domestic labour. I highly doubt that Pettitt and Dunkley would find the 1950s so attractive if they were also forced to experience 1950s era feminine healthcare (poor), domestic facilities (minimal), and legal protection (non-existent).
These TradWife relationships “improve” because the woman ceases to put up any opposition to the desires of the man. It’s a better relationship: for the man. But it is an unequal and degrading association which cannot be called a partnership. This leads me to the last, and most worrying TradWives principle:
The perfect woman is beautiful, submissive, and above all, white.
My final concern is the most important – the TradWives movement is associated with Nazi ideology. Much as TradWives influencer Pettitt sweetly insists that she had no idea the trend had dark beginnings, the ideals at the basis of TradWives were heartily embraced by Nazi Germany and continue to be espoused by Neo-Nazis today. White supremacists are particularly interested in this movement, pushing the idea of white women submitting to their husbands, producing white children, and not challenging the status quo. The movement even has its own racially charged memes – contrasting a “Mexican looking”, unattractive, “Liberated Feminist” with the perfect TradWife: a white woman, married with kids in her 20s, dressed modestly, who “loves her family, race, and country in that order…knowledgeable about her European roots”. This is clearly a racist, white supremacist portrayal of the perfect, submissive white woman who prioritises whiteness.
Of course, not everyone involved in the TradWives movement has Nazi leanings. Some, such as Pettitt, are supposedly ignorant of the movement’s problematic associations. Nevertheless, all of Pettitt’s material has a distinct “make Britain great again” flavour which is disconcerting in the current political climate. You have to question the promotion of a movement with strong alt-right, white supremacist, neo-Nazi connections, even in ignorance. These women may want to act innocent and simplistic, but they are not. They must be aware of what message they are portraying through their media, and should be held accountable for the dangers it creates in a world where white supremacists pose an exponentially growing risk.
Feminists fought, and continue to fight, for women like Pettitt to have equal autonomy and agency to their husbands, and these women throw it back in the face of the feminist movement. These women are apologists for gender inequality, and are complicit in white supremacists ideals, as well as the patriarchy’s continued degradation of women. Well, this feminist, is not having it. 1959 was a long time ago and every single woman alive today should be thankful for that fact.
Wake up, ladies.