- TikTok’s trad wives are using the social platform to promote a return to traditional values.
- Many of the women espouse either a 1950s aesthetic or promote biblical ideology — or both.
- The trend has taken off post-COVID as women struggled to balance work and family life.
Estee C. Williams, 24, has a few strategies to make her homemaking fun. In a TikTok video she posted in June of this year with the caption “Forever romanticizing my life #housewife #tradwife,” she lists little things she does that make her stay-at-home wife status more pleasurable: always wearing makeup, listening to music while cleaning, wearing cute house dresses, and taking candle-lit baths.
Williams self-identifies as a trad wife, which she defines — also in a TikTok video — as “a woman who chooses to live a more traditional life with ultra-traditional gender roles.” This lifestyle is a return to a model of the family that was common in the 1950s: the husband goes out to work, and the wife stays home to do domestic work. Williams says trad wives aren’t attempting to dismantle women’s right to work but that this is a choice made by individual women who believe a wife’s role is to be a homemaker.
“I chose the trad lifestyle because I believe that women have drifted far from our roots,” Williams, who lives in Virginia with her husband Conner, told Insider. “For me, the hustle culture was not appealing. Being a wife, mom, making delicious home-cooked meals for my family, and keeping up a warm, inviting home is what truly spoke to me.”
The lifestyle Williams chose and her eagerness to showcase it on the internet is part of a larger trend of American women making trad wife content. Portraying their lives as tranquil, aesthetically pleasing, and unburdened by paid work, trad wives position themselves as against hustle culture and burnout — offering a return to traditional roles as a solution to the overwork of women. The hashtag #tradwife has more than 96 million views, and thousands of users have incorporated some version of the term in their user name.
“I believe working is good for many women, but [working outside the home] is also the cause of burnout for mothers,” Williams said. “I choose to promote this lifestyle to showcase the fulfillment this lifestyle gives.”
But critics of trad wife discourse say it promotes a “nostalgia and glamorization for what they say is the past but is an American that has never existed.” They recommend that current trad wives speak to women who were wives in the 1950s to find out what it was really like.
Anger and dissatisfaction are pushing polarization in a post-COVID era
Statistics show that women are more likely to be burned out than men, largely because of the unpaid domestic work they do in addition to their paid jobs. The disparity became even more pronounced during the global pandemic: In September 2020, a record 860,000 women quit their jobs in the US compared to just over 200,000 men. At the time, experts attributed this to women leaving their jobs to take over childrearing, homeschooling, and family health management.
As such, there is truth to Williams’ perspective on the overwork of women. According to research, taking on the double burden of work in and outside the home has contributed to poor overall mental health for women in the workforce.
While Williams says she doesn’t have anything against women who work outside the home, some trad wives believe feminism is to blame for women walking away from their roles as wives and mothers. Deborah Etienne, data analyst and researcher at the marketing analytics firm Brandwatch who has been tracking the trend for the last year, says, “many trad wives reject feminism, claiming it has destroyed everything.”
According to Whitman College sociologist Michelle Janning, trad wife content is heavily influenced by the current political polarization in the US. “We can see the pendulum shifting back and forth, and a greater difference between political views while young people are emerging into adulthood and trying to figure out who they are in this crazy landscape of anger and dissatisfaction.”
Janning thinks the collective loss of control society experienced during the pandemic might have pushed some women back inside the home. “As a sociologist, I would say, when people collectively feel like there’s not a lot of control in the world, you cling to something familiar, and concrete because it might be comfortable,” she told Insider. In short, if working outside the home is exhausting for women, returning to a time when they only worked inside the home might seem like the answer to some.
But Janning cautions against tying the trad wife trend to a single cause. Some trad wives might create content because they want to promote old-fashioned values, while others might use it to perpetuate white supremacist and conservative views. (As an aside, while reporting this story, a trad wife I reached out to told me: “We chose this lifestyle because it is what God commands of us. I pray that you repent and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord forever and ever. Amen.”)
That’s created something of a rift in the community. Until recently, Madison Dastrup, who posts on Instagram and TikTok under the handle @thereservedwife, identified as a trad wife. But in a September TikTok, she explained that she no longer associates with the term.
“While I still consider myself traditional, and I still hold on to those traditional values, I do not associate myself with the trad wife community. Of course, with all things, you are going to have extremists on every little corner of the internet,” she said. “The extremists in the trad wife community really just started taking over the entire movement as a whole.”
Dastrup said the group condoned white supremacy and rape in marriage and “things I don’t agree with whatsoever.”
What is ‘work’ anyway?
Making viral content and getting social media views is a legitimate career path for many, which begs the question: does TikTok count as “working outside the home?” This complicates “anti-work” trad wife content, since creating content is a kind of work and can be lucrative.
“Social media influencing is a career trajectory,” Janning said. “It could be that they’re not selling a product but selling a version of themselves, and their husband will be getting the sponsorship. It’s a contradiction: their job is to tell people they don’t have a job.”
For Etienne, it’s important to emphasize that, while these conversations are happening online every few months, they’re much smaller than media reports about trad wives have led the public to believe. “While we can see that debate and discourse within this particular conversation are very polarized, it’s important to remember that in the grand scheme of the internet, this discussion is very small.”
Still, the conversation between trad wives gets at the heart of some of the most relevant issues for women in 2022 — burnout, domestic work, childrearing, and traditional femininity — which might explain why the conversation between trad wives and feminists keeps coming back to the timeline.
Janning points to female socialization that determines the role of women as mothers and homemakers. “We’re all wrapped up in the gender system that is telling women this is actually a choice when it’s not,” Janning said. “It’s less of a choice than maybe we think it is.”