However, while for the most part men have long had the freedom to choose the direction in which their life goes, it’s taken protests, struggles and unrelenting determination for women to get the same choice, and in some areas, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Therefore, women reverting to so-called ‘traditional’ ways of life, as with the ‘TradWife’ movement, isn’t something we should encourage. ‘Traditional’ values, in this case, refer to a time when women were typically expected to stay at home and care for a husband and kids, rather than having the freedom to choose how to live their own life.
TradWives, aka ‘traditional’ wives, is a term adopted by certain women who choose not to work for an employer, but instead make it their job to care for their home, their husband and their kids.
TradWives are, for all intents and purposes, housewives, which is a perfectly good lifestyle to lead. However, where most modern marriages are based on equality, TradWives choose to live by old-fashioned values in which the husband is considered the head of the household.
Describing her day-to-day life and what she enjoys about it, Hannah said:
I’ve worked as a student, in hospitality, in admin, in the legal industry and at home. Easily the hardest yet most rewarding work I’ve ever done has been at home.
There’s something about being your own boss, and being propelled by love for your family, that makes you want to give it your absolute best, every single day.
I ‘fill my time’ by playing with and educating our toddler, keeping our toddler alive, preparing food, general house work, errands, music, some art and some writing.
Hannah, who is currently pregnant, went on to describe her typical day, explaining it involves playing with her toddler and taking him for a walk or a swim, tidying the house, doing chores, running errands such as food shopping or going to the doctors, cleaning up and preparing dinner.
Depending on when her husband gets home, Hannah will bathe and put to bed her toddler either with or without her partner, before having dinner – which she prepared – with him.
For Hannah, the term TradWife refers to a woman who is married to a man, and whose marriage ‘works on the basis of traditional values’, meaning family is the priority, as well as ‘gender roles’.
Hannah believes ‘traditional gender roles’ are determined by sex; for instance, women can give birth, therefore their role in the relationship would be to have babies and create a family and a home. Men, on the other hand, ‘provide the resources’ so the women can fulfil their role.
The TradWife said these gender roles are dynamic and change over time, explaining that right now her young children rely on her more than anyone else in the world, but when the youngsters become less dependent her ‘role will change’ to suit her family.
Immediately, giving in to the idea of ‘gender roles’ is something to be avoided. A woman’s womb shouldn’t determine her path in life, and it in no way indicates an ability to nurture.
April Harris, a lifestyle expert from Berkshire, pointed out that caring for others ‘isn’t a solely feminine trait’.
Speaking to UNILAD, she explained:
When I look at how my husband nurtured our family and how he cared for our parents in the last days of their lives, I see a nurturing nature that is neither masculine nor feminine, it’s simply humanity at its best.
April is herself a housewife, though she strongly distances herself from the TradWife trend. She gave up her job when her son was born and she and her husband realized they would have been worse off financially if she went back to work and had to pay for childcare.
Fortunately, April enjoyed being a housewife, though she said it wasn’t something that came naturally. Rather, it’s a role she’s ‘grown into’.
For TradWives, the ‘traditional’ way of life is based on decades past, when men were the breadwinners and therefore in charge, while women were expected to stay home to cook, clean and care for children rather than work.
Hannah reiterated this sentiment, telling UNILAD she ‘submit[s] to [her] husband as the head of the household’ in order to follow through with the family’s ‘mission’ of creating a happy, loving marriage and family.
Having a mission to create a happy home and family is a wonderful one that most housewives, and indeed most people, strive for. However, it’s the language the TradWife uses here that is the problem. In an equal relationship, one party should not be ‘submitting’ to the other for any reason; doing so suggests one person has more power or control than the other.
Though their ‘mission’ is a shared one, Hannah said her husband falls into the role of ‘head of the household’ because, ‘biologically’, he is ‘the protector and the provider first and foremost’.
I’m happy to be under his care and protection, especially while pregnant, breastfeeding and with young children (i.e. vulnerable). It’s hard enough to tie my own shoelaces while pregnant let alone fend off a robber in the night.
My children find refuge under my wing; I want to find refuge under my husband’s. It’s comforting, it’s secure, I’m loved, I’m safe. I like not feeling like the weight of the world is on my shoulders when he’s with me.
I must point out; Hannah did not give up work when she married her husband. She worked as a lawyer until giving birth to her first child, at which point she decided to put her career ‘on pause’.
However, Hannah still classed herself as a TradWife before she had children, and she and her husband agreed that when the time came, her focus would be on being a mother.
Though she submits to her husband as the head of the household, Hannah emphasised she and her husband have a ‘deep, mutual respect for the work each other does’, and pointed out that, although they have different roles in the family, they are of equal value.
Undoubtedly, leaving a job to focus on raising children is a fantastic choice, but adopting a ‘submissive’ role while doing so is problematic.
University academics Javier García Oliva and Helen Hall spoke to UNILAD about where this idea of ‘traditional’ values comes from, pointing out how ‘advocates for the TradWife movement often gloss over the lack of choice and oppression with which many women lived’.
In the 50s there was a strong assumption that a woman’s primary goal would be to become a wife and mother. Female education still reflected this, for instance, many schools did not allow girls to study subjects like chemistry or physics in any depth.
Any career which a woman might have was expected to take second place to their main task of finding a husband – a lot of employers expected or even required women to resign if they got married.
In short, ‘wife and mother’ was the box into which women were required to fit.
Oliva and Hall continued:
Opting to do something of your own free will, and having the ability to change your mind whenever you want to do so, is not at all the same thing as being forced to live with a situation.
Sadly, many women in the 1950s had to tolerate years of physical, sexual or emotional abuse because leaving a husband might lead to a life of poverty and social shame. Even women in happy marriages may sometimes have felt bored or frustrated, but were unable to pursue other talents or interests.
Air-brushing out this aspect of the past is dangerous.
April, who describes herself on her website as ‘The 21st Century Housewife’, challenged the idea of ‘female submission’, describing it as ‘one of the last vestiges of the patriarchal society that belongs in the past’.
For the respect of our foremothers who fought so hard for women’s suffrage and our right to choose, for the sake of ourselves and even more so for the sake of our daughters, we need to move forward into a future where men and women work together as equals for our mutual benefit.
Anne Stormont, a retired teacher who was born in the 50s, witnessed firsthand how expectations of women have been challenged over the years.
Anne has been an advocate for women’s rights throughout her life, and has experienced the ways women have been treated as less valuable than men. She told UNILAD that, though she was too young to participate in the first Women’s Liberation marches fifty years ago, at the time she was ‘aware of changes that were needed and would be coming.’
Anne fought for her sister to be allowed in the football team, which had been exclusive to boys at the time, and challenged a high school teacher who ‘refused to engage’ with his female students because, in his words, ‘girls had no need to do maths’.
Once at work, Anne lobbied her employer to allow female teachers to wear trousers, and when she was denied she wore them anyway, even though it led to her being reprimanded.
Speaking about how old-fashioned ways of life are being adopted for the TradWife trend today, Anne said:
I suspect… there’s a misplaced sort of ‘faux’ nostalgia for the ‘old’ days of the 1950s when the world was supposedly a ‘better’ place – and that one of the reasons for it being ‘better’ was that women knew their place.
I would like to reiterate here that becoming a housewife is a perfectly good lifestyle choice; in my opinion, feminism means absolute equality and being free to choose any role you want in life.
With that in mind, however, it is interesting to note that Hannah does not consider herself a feminist.
Rather, Hannah believes feminism ‘devalues the inherent qualities of being a woman’; that it ‘likens femininity to weakness; touts ‘success’ to mean ‘career’; encourages sexism against men; fails to recognise the complementary roles of men and women; and utilises double standards when addressing the poor treatment of men vs. women.’
Hannah does believe men and women should have the same rights under law, and while she does not consider the sexes to be equal she considers them to be of ‘equal value’, each with our own strengths and weaknesses.
Having been part of the push for feminism, Anne – a women’s rights advocate – argued that feminism does not devalue being a woman, but, on the contrary, it ‘ensures that to be female is not a disadvantage’.
It is educational, vigilant and protective. It’s a positive movement standing up for what is right and for the right of women to choose their own path.
To reject feminism is to reject a woman’s right to be all she can be – to the benefit of all of us, regardless of gender.
In challenging the TradWife trend, Hannah believes the logic of the feminist movement ‘breaks down’, because becoming a TradWife is a choice, which is what feminism is all about.
She pointed out:
Rather than respect the choice to become a TradWife, feminists say [being a TradWife] undermines the progress of the feminist movement.
It’s easy to see where Hannah is coming from, and the majority of the interviewees I have referred to throughout this article agree that becoming a TradWife is a choice, for which the women involved should not be judged.
The point here is not to judge the choice to become a housewife – Hannah told UNILAD that being a wife and mother is ‘just as valuable as pursuing a career’, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Rather, I want to shine light on the flaws that come with embracing a ‘traditional’ version of the role. Ultimately, wanting to return to a point in time when women did not have as many choices is demonstrative of internalised misogyny.
The TradWife movement appears to be re-embracing the patriarchal society, which is very much of the past. The idea that women are designed for one role and one role only simply because of their gender strikes me as absolutely archaic.
We have finally managed to bring about the positive change that offers us and our daughters a choice of what to do with our lives. [As a] worst case scenario… the TradWife trend could encourage misogyny, something that we are still working on eliminating today.
In order to embrace the belief everyone should be able to choose their own path, we need to disregard the idea that sex informs our place in life; an idea the TradWife movement is built on.
The TradWife label, like its inspirations, should be left in the past.