The trouble with tradwives

‘Now tell me what you do for a living’, the Tik Tok begins. It’s from by @justpearlythings, aka Pearl Davis, and is entitled How to marry a high-value man and become a housewife. ‘I love my husband,’ replies Aly Villa (@realfemsapien), lifting her hand to show off her ring. That is her job, she explains, one that has made her become ‘a better human being,’ more ‘feminine’ and—‘shocking—submissive.’ When asked what she would say to women who want to be a housewife, she replies: ‘embrace it!’ She goes on to borrow language commonly associated with careers when exploring how to be a traditional housewife. She explains that, ultimately, it’s just a job you ‘can’t get in the public or private sector’, and that you need a husband to ‘hire you’. This is ‘okay’ because, as Villa justifies, ‘if you think about it, you submit to your boss.’ She says this loudly, as if it’s a joke she’s repeated multiple times as a defence of her lifestyle.

Villa follows many conventions of the tradwife. A tradwife—or TradCath, depending on the Christian denomination—is a genre of online female subculture existing in the same context of the bimbo, cottage core, or femcel aesthetic. It is a subculture that combines aesthetics and ideology to find an identity and community in the online world.

Woman and Home, a magazine for, well, women and the home, defines a tradwife as ‘a 21st century woman who has decided to embrace … conventional gender roles, by ‘submitting’ to their husband … staying at home … and care for the children.’ One of te movement’s pioneers is Alene Kate Petitt, creator of The Darling Academy website. A Brit, Petitt cultivates a nationalistic tradwife identity as a way to express what ‘made Britain great.’ On her site, she claims that a traditional housewife can be broken down into the things it’s not. For example, ‘a traditional woman’s place is not under a man’s feet, but under his wing.’  Petitt resents a lot of labels thrown at the tradwife’s way, including accusations of racism and setting women back, claiming she just wants to ‘respect femininity’, and rejects a lot of what feminism has to offer. Something that many female-centred internet subcultures have in common is a resentment towards the popular feminism of the 2010s.

Tradwives have prepared arguments against the charge that they are reversing years of advances by the women’s movement. Pearl Davis and Aly Villa are based in the US and claim that their traditional housewifery is rooted in a very American brand of conservatism. In a YouTube video entitled The Truth About Female Nature, Villa shares her experience growing up in a ‘single mother situation’ and openly shares, ‘it sucked! … my life probably would have been so different if I had a father in my life’. They complain about how women don’t listen to them, despite Villa’s lived experience. There is truth to this statement, and it can offer a more nuanced explanation as to why some women lean towards these identities. However, the point is immediately undercut by Davis, who claims some single mothers are ‘trapping husbands’ for life and that women who do so deserve carceral punishment—an unsubtle admission of her personal politics.

An ideology that is rooted in an aestheticised perception of the past is bound to veer towards extreme conservatism, yet there is a lack of acknowledgment of the political linkages by individual exponents. In one of her videos, Pettit makes this point explicit: ‘someone even said, ‘this type of housewife was promoted by the Third Reich’ and it’s like, ‘really, I didn’t know that.’ She then laughs, as if to ridicule the notion that subscribing to a tradwife lifestyle could be linked to such a dangerous ideology. However, this lack of acknowledgment only ensures there is no figure that can fight alt-right elephant in the room, whose appearance could have easily been predicted. Pettit’s Instagram exemplifies this dynamic. Her social media is rife with celebrations of the Queen and the British flag, symbols of British Nationalism and colonial living, and celebrations of festivals that look like it’s 1942. Whether or not she was in fact aware of the echoes with Nazism, glorifying traditional values and nationalism is a loud dog whistle to alt-right groups.

Pettit and Villa do openly espouse some right-wing positions on their social media, be it Pettit’s nationalism or Villa’s pro-life post on her Instagram after the overturning of Roe v Wade. Interestingly, however, the main drawcard of their love for tradition and traditional ‘family’ values appears to be the lifestyle, as a reaction to their upbringing and the struggles of the respective single mothers. ‘It was a huge burden on her,’ Pettit says. ‘I didn’t want that same life.’

Pearl Davis appears closer to extreme right-wing online groups. She describes her channel as ‘red-pilling’ feminists, and uses the phrase ‘high-value women’ and ‘high-value men’, both associated with extreme Christian online communities, Andrew Tate, and incels. Red-pilling is a common phrase within white supremacist and anti-feminist subcultures and holds that in order to ‘wake up’ people need to learn that women and liberal politics are oppressing white people, specifically white men. From its beginnings in the darker corners of the internet, it has spread to popular accounts on prominent social media platforms, such as Elon Musk’s. Davis has centred her online brand around this language, and lends evidence to suspicions that this community is a product of the alt-right as opposed to having been merely appropriated by it.

It would too easy to simply exclaim: ‘Of course! The tradwife cannot be liberating.’ Doing so overlooks the broader issues and reduces the trend to a silly little hashtag on Twitter. It is essential to understand instead that the tradwife trend is a response from the culture that we should have expected—an extreme example of the inherent reinforcement of structural ideologies that some online subcultures contribute to.

This response should have been expected when the alt-right became more mainstream. Pettit’s comment about the Third Reich exemplifies this: it is in fascism’s best interest to promote a lifestyle that can help its reproduction among women like Pettit, who—if we are to take her at her word— claim to have no malicious motives. The best people to build a movement are people who ‘had no idea.’ This is especially important to consider since Pettit’s idealisation of the subculture came from a place of understanding of what life can be like within a capitalistic structure when one doesn’t conform to its ideal. She saw what living in England under a single-parent household entailed. It was hard and undesirable. The answer to finding comfort for her was to return to the patriarchal family structure. Because under the system we live in, one can only rebel within the confines of the structure, which is always doomed to fail. So we find comfort in the ways we once were.

The comeback of misogyny of which the tradwife trend is an expression hasn’t occurred in a vacuum. The failures of popular girlboss feminism have left room for the nourishment of the alt-right response. A feminism that aimed to combat patriarchy via capitalism was always doomed to fail, and the misplacement of blame was always going to be the predictable response. Tradwifery is beguiling for the victimised white woman, who suffers under patriarchy but believes that feminism is to blame. Yet it doesn’t help anyone to laugh away the tradwife, or pretend there isn’t some truth to what some women are saying. Because Aly Villa wasn’t wrong: growing up in a low-income single-parent household is difficult, and we all have to submit to our boss anyway.

Chelsea Daniel

Chelsea Daniel is a freelance writer focusing on all things cultural and screen-related. Their works have been published in Antithesis Blog, Farrago and by the Parliament of Victoria. She was a member of the inaugural Parliament Express program.

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  1. I’m a 71 year old guy,now happily married for 31 years, early divorce.. I watch Pearl because I think she causes men and women to think more about relationships and maybe get some ideas on how to nurture a relationship by being nurturing to your partner. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is that the marriage has to be the number one thing. Not your wants, or your partner’s but the marriage.. Sometimes it’s hard to see but I think Pearl points people to being realistic and introspective when building a marriage..

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