The "tradwife" movement, which looks back to an earlier era of women homemakers, is often seen as a reaction to feminism. The reality is more complexby Catherine Rottenberg and Shani Orgad / February 10, 2020 / Leave a comment
Alena Petitt, a well-known author and lifestyle blogger, has become the British face of the “Tradwife” movement, closely associated with the hashtag #TradWife. The movement harks back to an earlier era, encouraging women to take pleasure in traditional domestic duties while promoting feminine submissiveness, domesticity, and wifehood.
In a BBC clip, Petitt explains that her role is to submit to, serve, and spoil her husband “like it’s 1959.”
Writing on her website, The Darling Academy, she adds that many women crave a “sense of belonging and home and quaintness,” and therefore choose to become homemakers where “husbands must always come first.”
Given its glorification of traditional femininity, the Tradwife movement is often framed in the media as a backlash against feminism. This can been seen in news stories featuring bitter disagreements between feminist critics and women who embrace a tradwife identity.
A choice as much as any
This emphasis on “tradwives vs feminists” is sadly predictable. It fits the all-too-familiar trope of “catfighting” so often characterising conversations about feminist politics in the media. This framing, wittingly or unwittingly, identifies feminism as the problem, ignoring the larger structural issues at stake.
Rather than simply a backlash against feminism, the tradwife phenomenon needs to be understood as a symptom of—as well as a reaction to—the increasing insecurity of our times.
Tradwives often use the language of choice. They describe their decision to step off the treadmill of work as a “true calling” to be homemakers, mothers and wives. But even the most private of choices—like deciding to leave a career and become a full-time housewife—are always made within structural constraints. As one of us (Shani) shows in the book Heading Home, these choices are always shaped by social, cultural, economic and political conditions.
Many of the women in tradwife groups discuss the strain of working in demanding jobs and the difficulty of coming home to, what the American writer Arlie Hochschild has famously called, the second shift. This includes tending to children and household chores, as well as looking after elderly family members.
Petitt herself talks about how in her early twenties she was a driven career woman. Another self-identifying tradwife, Jenny Smith (pseudonym), recounts working long days as a finance administrator before dramatically changing…