Donning elaborate dresses, fastening an apron around their waist, and popping in their finest pearl earrings (or at least some iteration of pearls) for another round of household chores or cooking, more and more young women are following in the footsteps of the quintessential mid-century housewife thanks to the latest TikTok trend.
But while some women are eager to shirk all the hustle and bustle of today’s corporate world and channel Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver, others are none too happy with the trend.
“The new trend for submissive women has a dark heart and history,” reads one headline from The Guardian.
An article from Hypebae slapped the videos as “disturbing,” writing “[they] typically feature a cis straight white women, longing for the ’50s – an era where some women could opt out of participate in the corporate working world and be stay-at-home mothers instead.”
And a third from Grazia magazine accused the trend of “romanticizing an era where sexism and racism ruled.”
But those following the trend tell a different story.
A trad wife, short for traditional wife, according to TikToker Estee Williams, is “a woman who prefers to take a traditional or ultra-traditional role in marriage, including the beliefs that a woman’s place is in the home.”
While these women channel the structure of a stereotypical 1950s household in which the husband goes to work while their wives stay home to cook, clean, and care for any children, those behind the trend say it’s so much more – particularly in the age of burnout and struggles to maintain a work-life balance in the post-COVID age.
“It doesn’t mean that we are trying to take away what women fought for,” Williams said in a TikTok video from September. “There are a lot of people trying to make this a sinister thing or put some other, darker meaning behind the term ‘trad wife.’ Nobody is doing that.
“No trad wife TikToker is saying every woman’s place is in their home. We, as individuals are just choosing to be homemakers. That’s all.”
Williams argues that being a trad wife is not a movement but rather a lifestyle.
She also, in her September TikTok, argued that those behind the lifestyle don’t see women as less important than men just because they are submissive to their husbands.
Other videos aligning with the #tradwife hashtag show women baking, sweeping floors, and trying on mid-century-style dresses as they rave about the liberating transition from their old way of life to their new one. Others focus on the biblical implications of being a homemaker and how being a trad wife allows them to fulfill the role.
But even some who keep traditional values say the community is, in some ways, becoming problematic.
TikToker Madison Dastrup, who formerly aligned with trad wife lifestyle, said it grew too problematic for her after “extremists” hijacked the community.
“I got my start on TikTok by making trad wife content and videos… however, I do not consider myself a trad wife anymore. I don’t associate myself with that 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.”
Dastrup, a stay-at-home mom of two, said extremists within the community tried to lean in on certain bigoted views, including White supremacy.
“Of course, with all things, you’re going to have extremists on every little corner of the internet… and the extremists within the trad wife community really just started taking over the entire community as a whole, condoning White supremacy and the r-word [marital rape] that I will not say because TikTok will take my video down… the r-word in marriage.
“Things like that, I do not agree with whatsoever.”
Other women who self-describe as “traditional” or somewhat traditional agreed with Dastrup, with one writing, “I’m just a wife. I hold some traditional values some not so traditional. I don’t care for boxes.”