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Dangerous trend “Tradwives”: Bye-bye feminism – back to old gender roles?
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Dangerous trend “Tradwives”: Bye-bye feminism – back to old gender roles?

Kinga Bartczak
Gefährlicher Trend Tradwives-Artikelbild

They call themselves“Tradwives” (= Traditional Wives) or “Stay at Home Wives, Moms & Girlfriends” and when I first stumbled across them on social media, I thought they were just harmless influencers embodying a regressive image of women. The pictures and videos appear idyllic and symbolize a romanticized housewife’s life. So far, so unproblematic. But behind the feel-good backdrop of petticoats and home-made baked goods, you quickly realize the true intention behind the political self-branding taking place here. To be precise, it is a perfidious way of hiding anti-feminist ideas behind well-placed, aesthetically professional content. Devin Proctor’s research paper“The #Tradwife Persona and the Rise of Radicalized Domesticity” from Elon University offers an exciting insight with practical examples.

A counter-movement to the supposedly “overambitious and frustrated career woman”

To clear up a possible misunderstanding right away: The above-mentioned content creators are not women who want to be absorbed in their role as mothers and housewives, as Olivia Giovetti pointed out in her article: “How #tradwife myths impact the most vulnerable women around the world. What the social media trend gets wrong about gender equality” and says: “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spend more time with your family or less time at work – or even opting out of the latter entirely in order to focus on the former. There’s also a difference between mums who stay at home and work with their partner to find balance and equality within their relationship, and #momfluencers who turn their stay-at-home lifestyle into a small industry.”

Feminism itself, which some influencers in this movement proclaim to be the “enemy”, is in no way opposed to the image of the “housewife”. Rather, he demands that care work should even receive the appropriate (monetary) recognition, as Silvia Federici, one of the most important representatives of the international “Wages for Housework” campaign, proclaimed in the USA in the early 1970s. The women described, however, tend to follow a nostalgic, romanticized, traditional narrative that not only strives for a completely regressive distribution of roles, but also sees this as the only path to (inner) freedom.

In her opinion, feminism has not produced any real achievements; on the contrary, it has turned women into slaves of a dual role distribution. In addition to the roles intended for them (housewife, mother, wife), new roles have been added to their working lives (specialists and executives, managers, board members, politicians, etc.), as they are now required to earn their own money. This paints a distorted picture of the frustrated and constantly overwhelmed modern woman, to which the response is a reactionary gender image. In this way, the content creators diametrically oppose the relaxed and balanced housewife with the feminist image of the (financially) independent but completely overburdened “career woman”, creating a political framing that lacks any logic or causality.

Feminism leads to inequality?

The tradwives justify their attitude by saying that they are completely comfortable with “one” role, that they like to spoil and care for their husbands, that they feel completely equal to them and in no way disadvantaged.

Considering the countless gaps(gender pay gap, gender data gap, gender investment gap, gender care gap, gender pension gap, etc.) that continue to exist in the 21st century and the unspeakable approach of negating or trivializing the structural discrimination of women and marginalized groups – is dangerous. 

Anyone who continues to believe at this point that the women described are just isolated, “crazy” retro fans will be proven wrong, as I was some time ago: Under hashtags such as #FemininityNotFeminism, #homemaker, #stayathomemom, #housewife, #propatriarchy, traditionalmomlife #HousewifeAndHomemaker or #traditionalgenderroles these influencers are also conquering the youth and living rooms of the younger generations of women (i.e. Generation Z and Generation Alpha) and, under the guise of traditional values (e.g. marriage, family, “femininity”, the man as provider/the woman as caring and modest partner and housewife, etc.), are conveying to them a one-dimensional and backward-looking ideology that women’s rights activists have been trying to counteract for decades.

Strategic infiltration: social media as the perfect manipulation platform

But what is the actual manipulation strategy behind the movement described and how far-reaching is it? Sophia Marie Sykes also shows that social media has a decisive influence here in her academic work“More than a housewife’: tradwives: the influencers of right-wing extremism”.” from Massey University, Aotearoa New Zealand. It says: “As an alive and growing ecosystem, Tradwife culture offers women distinct norms for action, and actively works to grow reach through nuanced techniques of influencer marketing and online radicalization.” I have brought along four types of strategy that are particularly striking in this context.

Strategy 1: Expanding your own sphere of influence 

The influencers also use hashtags such as #feminism, #feminism, #patriarchy, #womenempowerment, #vegetarianism or #equality to create the impression that the image of women they embody is a new kind of feminism. The modern woman has freed herself from the constraints of (working) society and thus found her way back to herself and her true purpose and femininity. The American psychologist Mark Travers wrote about this in his article“A Psychologist Explains The Dangers Of The ‘Tradwife’ Movement” in Forbes magazine:

By repeatedly displaying aesthetic content associated with feminine identity, home and family, these influencers create a powerful visual narrative that resonates with a wide audience.

A nice side effect: by using the hashtag #feminism, these women also reach personalities (like me) who are otherwise far removed from their filter bubble. Through so-called“network intimacy“, a strategy that all influencers use, they also build a close relationship with their followers by telling personal stories and thus inviting viewers to become part of their world view and to recognize the supposed advantages of this and, at best, to adapt it themselves.

Strategy 2: Coaches, esotericism, spirituality and femininity

If you belong to the Boomer or Y generations, you might think that it’s not worth confronting this dangerous trend because it doesn’t affect you. However, Tradwife messages are also hidden behind other marketing strategies.

Have you ever heard of “femininity coaches”, archetypes, feminine energy, high value women (as a counterpart to alpha males) or spiritual femininity? The hashtags: #FemininityNotFeminism, #feminineenergy, #spiritualfeminism or #femininespirituality are strongly associated with these movements and used as a message to oppose feminism. This suppresses the “natural” femininity of women by forcing people read as female into “non-gendered” roles in which, in the worst case, they even adopt “male” attributes and behaviors. If there are any misunderstandings about what is meant by “masculine” or “feminine” attributes, I would ask you to imagine a stereotypical 50s commercial in which these are clearly described.

Please note the following at this point: Women who are professionally active in the above-mentioned fields or who are critical of feminism and its beliefs are not across the board The opposite is true: a constructive examination of the movement, its representatives, its development and the developments that are still required is actually to be welcomed.

Only through discourse can we establish a feminism that benefits all people, not just a few. 

The only thing that is pointed out here is the stereotyping that still prevails in some cases in these professional fields, which defies the current state of research. For example, “typically female” and “typically male” character traits are identified and applied to the topic of “leadership”, although it should now be common consensus that the gender-stereotypical perception of leadership assumes “that the differences between men and women in terms of their leadership qualities arise primarily in the ‘eye of the beholder’. This is because the same behaviors of both genders are judged differently due to gender-stereotype-led perceptions,” says Aleksandra Kuzmanovic in her thesis on “Gender role stereotypes in personnel selection.”

Strategy 3: Ideological testimonials & supposed experts 

This is where my absolute favorite story comes into play, which I could “bingewatch” on platforms like TikTok and Instagram and which never lets me get tired: The eternal story of the reformed hardcore feminist. If you’re bored at this point, you should urgently search for the hashtag #exfeminist and get out some popcorn. The story is quickly told: 

We see a young woman, looking friendly and with an important message in her luggage, because she wants to tell her viewers about her arduous journey as a feminist and, above all, about the liberation of this “ideology”. An older picture from the photo album is usually shown. Now the person concerned reports on her supposed “blossoming” after waking up from the feminist nightmare. Take additional narratives that are completely plucked out of the air, combine them with a beautifully gruesome youth story and et voilà: You get a catharsis experience that ancient scholars could not have described better. The women in these videos reverse the historical events about women’s right to self-determination by framing them politically, as described above, and making them a burden for women. Structural discrimination, sexism, violence in any form and misogyny are trivialized or negated.

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According to these women, these events only came about with feminism and are propagated by it. We women and all other marginalized groups are therefore not being structurally discriminated against, but are only talking ourselves into these circumstances. Cécile Simmons, researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, also points out that the mostly latently hidden messages are not immediately obvious to the “scrolling community” in the Euronews Culture Interviewer “Meet the trad wives: the anti-feminist influencers calling for traditional values” clearly: “Some trad wives are good at using coded-language and specific hashtags which creates a danger of a white nationalist ideology being used under the guise of a mainstream aesthetic.”

Simmons also describes the fact that this movement is also very active in recruiting “fellow campaigners”, which brings us to the point of monetization. She says in the same interview: “I have interacted with these trad wives and I was told I could be taught how to make money from home. There is an element of recruiting other people into this lifestyle by saying its a viable economic choice.”

Strategy 4: Monetization

If you haven’t already broken your virtual tie by this point, I would like to add a strategic highlight, because of course it always comes down to one thing in the end – money. Let’s talk about the commercialization of these anti-feminism campaigns. In the end, it’s better to do it in the context of a specially developed femininity coaching course, with the free “Feminine Energy Guide” in hand or simply dressed in a petticoat and lying on the sofa, ranting about the evil feminists who went to prison for our rights and overcame the greatest resistance under unspeakable repression. “It’s their own fault”, these women might think, after all, nobody asked them to do it, right? 

Reprehensible double standards

Photo: Jason Briscoe – unsplash

I asked myself the following about these influencers, coaches and creators: 

“We stand in the tradition of all the women who came before us and we protect our rights for all the people who come after us.”

Perhaps I have triggered some feelings of incomprehension, confusion, anger or, I hope, drive and passion with this post, because: Resistance is forming.

The actions of these women have not gone unnoticed and I am glad to see and read that it is not being made into a “women’s issue” again. Many personalities from the LGBTQIA* movement recognize the danger of this narrative, which is glorified here, and many men are also outraged by the eternal role of the “breadwinner” in which they are cast. Incidentally, I have not covered both groups here with the attention they would have deserved, as this would have been a separate article.

We should be on an equal footing as partners, professionally, academically, socially, economically and politically, because this is the only way to create a society in which everyone has the freedom to live as they wish, even (and especially) if it is a traditional model. However, this is not compatible with a highly manipulative ulterior motive that seeks to undo rights that have already been acquired and thus initiate a regression in society as a whole.

How do we manage to resist this unspeakable trend?

Well, the first step has been taken. Anyone who has read this far has been sensitized, informed and perhaps even activated. That’s already a skill in the world of doomscrolling – so thanks for the attention!

What we also need:

  1. Media literacy is the magic word here. It must be taught in school how the correct handling of sources, facts, contextualization (or de-contextualization) and fake news works and how to decipher codes/narratives with which platforms and people in the public sphere work on all channels, from television to the press to social media. See also: “Real men” and “true femininity”? Confronting anti-feminism in the classroom by Mareike Fenja Bauer
  2. We need constructive articles, videos and posts that need to be liked, shared and spread to counter these anti-feminist narratives. The strategies mentioned above are increasingly being extended to people who would not previously describe themselves as “anti-feminist”, but who can identify with the supposed experiences of these content creators. An exciting insight into the movement can be found in the Tagesschau, the Frankfurter Rundschau or Zeit online, for example.
  3. Above all, we need people who oppose this Tradwife movement by correcting supposed “facts”, educating people and working tirelessly against the spread of these “opinion pieces” that present themselves as supposedly journalistic formats or as personal stories that convey the “truth”.

Important notes

  • Proof: Anyone who would have liked to see account names, pictures or screenshots of the influencers, coaches or content creators described will unfortunately be disappointed. This article is not about defaming specific accounts, but about raising general awareness. However, if you are looking for evidence for what I have written here, all you need to do is follow the hashtags, links and references I have described in the article and you will find some examples. However, please bear in mind that not all people who use the selected hashtags in their posts and videos belong to the movement described or can be labeled as anti-feminist! On the Internet, it is always important to differentiate, take a closer look, check and ultimately make a sensible assessment. All those who use their content to educate, to form personal opinions or to stimulate an appreciative discourse are explicitly not described and meant here.
  • Gender-equitable language: In some passages/headings, the generic masculine or generic feminine was deliberately used. This has been done with reference to the groups specifically mentioned here (e.g. with regard to misogynists or with reference to the influencers who support the Tradwife movement). Of course, there are also women and other genders who could be described as misogynistic in their behavior or men and other genders who run complementary accounts to the tradwives, in which a “male-dominated, traditional and patriarchal image of men” is propagated, sometimes found under the hashtags
    #oldfashioned or #traditionalguy.

Explanation of terms

  • Feminism is a “generic term for various movements that advocate equal rights, self-determination and freedom for all genders, especially women, and against sexism, for example by striving for a fundamental change in social norms (e.g. the traditional distribution of roles) and patriarchal culture.” (Source: Duden)
  • Antifeminism refers to social movements or social, political, religious and academic currents that are organized against feminism. Antifeminism is directed against feminist concerns, such as the elimination of sexism, the implementation of equal rights or the strengthening of female self-determination.” (Source: Amadeu Antonio Foundation)
  • “White Supremacy is the ideology that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions of white people people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, views and actions. White supremacy permeates our culture, institutions and relationships. It is a self-perpetuating system that fuels the colonialism, exploitation, oppression, injustice and brutality experienced by people of color. A culture of white supremacy sustains itself by excluding people of color.” (Source: University of Cologne)

About the author

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Kinga Bartczak advises, coaches and writes on female empowerment, new work culture, organizational development, systemic coaching and personal branding. She is also the managing director of UnternehmerRebellen GmbH and publisher of the FemalExperts magazine .

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