Where Feminists And Tradwives Can Agree

The devaluation of care work hurts us all.

Tradwife and Feminist in perspective roles pixelshot, Elina Fairytale, TanyaSid, CadoMaestro | Canva

Editor's Note: This is a part of YourTango's Opinion section where individual authors can provide varying perspectives for wide-ranging political, social, and personal commentary on issues.

There’s a lot of stuff I could say about the tradwife movement. As a progressive feminist who has long been the primary income earner in my home, I feel distinctly uncomfortable seeing any woman ostensibly delight in submitting to her husband or calling for a return to strictly prescribed gender roles.


If you’ve been protecting your mental health by not getting caught up in the latest trending hashtags and have no idea what a “tradwife” is, I heartily commend you. Is the rock you’re hiding under comfortable, and is there any room for me?

Tradwife,” as you may have surmised, is short for “traditional wife,” and the growing tradwife movement calls for a return to an era that sort of existed for some people for a little while about 70 years ago. But unlike 1950s homemakers, modern-day tradwife influencers meticulously document every aspect of their daily lives for all the world to see — except, you know, for all the flurries of scrubbing and arranging and haranguing and arguing that I can only imagine has to go on between their carefully staged videos.


RELATED: Self-Described 'Trad Wife' Did Things The Old-Fashioned Way And Nearly Ruined Her Marriage

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of consuming content from tradwife influencers, I wouldn’t personally recommend it. First, it feels kind of iky. The icky factor, of course, isn’t confined to tradwives, but to all online influencers promoting impossible standards of beauty, perfection, and poise. Then there’s the danger of kind of enjoying tradwife content. I mean, it’s icky, but it’s also kind of entrancing to watch beautiful women in beautiful kitchens cooking beautiful food. I hope I didn’t just lose all my feminist street cred.

To be honest, I haven’t consumed all that much tradwife content because I’m not much of a content consumer — and, you know, I’m busy working and managing my household. But the tidbits I’ve snatched here and there, including the rabbit hole I fell into while doing research for this article, have made me both grimace and want to keep watching.


It’s easy to decry tradwives as antifeminist and to bemoan all the ideas they promote that fly in the face of years and years of hard-fought feminist progress. But what’s more troubling to me than tradwives themselves is the deepening of yet even more divisions between women that hurt us all.

These divisions are by no means new. We could call Phyllis Schlafly, organizer of the STOP ERA campaign in the 1970s, the original tradwife influencer. She and her fellow STOP ERA campaigners were the 1970s antifeminists who decried the shunning of traditional female roles. Half a century later, we still haven’t resolved the tension between acknowledging the vital importance of unpaid care work and the rewards of economic participation.

The various waves of feminism, as a whole, have been far more focused on gaining entry into traditionally male spheres than they have on advocating for the enormous social value of caregiving, sustenance providing, and community building. By no means have we won all the battles we set out to fight, but women have gained more access to financial autonomy and to industries that were once almost exclusively male domains. The fact that I don’t have to assume a male pseudonym for anyone to read my work is a sign that some progress has been made. (The fact that nasty commenters still try to silence me and “put me in my place” is a sign that we still have a ways to go.)

But what’s fallen by the wayside, even if unintentionally, is a fundamental belief that the work those romanticized 1950s homemakers did, and that homemakers today continue to do, is worthy and important — namely, putting care into a safe and nurturing space for our families, feeding our families (and ourselves) nutritious meals made from real food, mending socks and sewing clothes, contributing to the growth and development of our children, volunteering for the PTA, and building community with neighbors.


Female homemakers — whether STOP ERA campaigners, SAHMs, or tradwives — have not been wrong to feel that this particular work has become increasingly devalued by society as a whole. While it has long been deemed less important than Money-Producing Man Work, it seems that feminists, in our understandable desire to broaden our options and participate in the economic and political future of our country, didn’t think through the ramifications of prioritizing paid labor.

If our feminist predecessors had deemed so-called “women’s work” equally valuable, the Women’s Liberation Movement might have focused less on women taking on full-time jobs outside the home and instead fought for all of us to be able to enjoy the advantages of economic and political participation while better balancing the demands of paid and unpaid labor. It would have focused as much on moving men into traditionally female spaces as it focused on moving women into traditionally male ones.

Sure, men do more caregiving and cooking than they used to, but that’s been more by default than by design. Over 50 years later, it continues to be a subject of constant contention amongst working heterosexual co-parents. I, for one, believe that all the domestic labor women have been disproportionately taking on for decades is hugely important. No, I don’t need to vacuum my home multiple times a day or cook four-course meals, but I value the ability to care for a shared space, care for my children, and care for my community. This care work is the lifeblood of the connection we need and crave to feel human. 

And yet, these are the things that always get squeezed into the few hours of the day in which my time, energy, and labor are not being extracted by the so-called “formal” economy. 


RELATED: Former 'Tradwife' Explains The Stark Difference Between That Lifestyle And Being A Stay-At-Home Mom

Who puts love into a safe and nurturing space for my family? Well, I hung up some wall decorations and painted two accent walls when we moved into our home 11 years ago. There is a frantic family pick-up after dinner every night, which usually involves a lot of groaning and sighing. There is occasional grudging yard work, lots of wiping of other people’s urine off the toilet seat (a task accompanied by a steady stream of profanities), and an optimistic to-do tab in a spreadsheet of tasks that will, more likely than not, never get done. Also, we pay a woman $120 once a month to clean our home. I’m ashamed of this; it makes me feel bougie and I don’t like paying anyone to clean up after me. But without her underpaid labor, there would never exist a single hour in any given month during which every room in my house is clean at the same time.

Who contributes to the growth and development of my children? For many years, an underpaid in-home daycare provider was spending more time with my children than I was. Since then, it’s been a slew of underpaid teachers and underpaid after-school program coordinators. My main role has been to transition my children between places and activities — wake them up, get them dressed, take them to daycare/school, take them home, feed them dinner, and put them to bed. Now that they’re older, they can do some of these things for themselves, so my role has evolved into Nag-in-Chief — the one who is keeping them on schedule and making sure they (sort of) clean up their crap.

I recently taught my son a better way to tie his shoes, and he said, “You’re a good teacher” with a hint of surprise, as though this was dawning on him for the first time, as though he couldn’t remember me ever taking the time to teach him anything in his eight years on the planet. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how he learned to tie his shoes in the first place, and the last thing I explicitly remember teaching him was how to pee in the potty. So maybe he’s kind of right about that.


Who feeds my family? Cooking is one of the only so-called “feminine” roles I embrace, mostly because I love eating, but of course, there are many days when I have to rush through it. There are many nights of pizza bagels, many non-recyclable plastic bags purchased of pre-torn lettuce and pre-shredded cheese, many less nutritious shortcuts taken, and many “weeknight dinner” recipes loudly cursed at for their patently false claims that they can be carried out in 30 minutes or less.  Also, we eat takeout probably once a week. I’m not necessarily ashamed of this, but it’s always painful to part with the money, something is inevitably soggy or cold, and I can’t stand all the accompanying waste.

Who mends our socks and sews our clothes? No one mends our socks, ever. Socks with holes linger in the backs of drawers. They are occasionally taken out, tried on, cursed at, and stuffed back into drawers. Now and then, they are collected and disposed of by yours truly, who feels ashamed for contributing mendable things to landfills and for facing such inexplicable paralysis when it comes to threading a needle. As for the people who sew our clothes, they are mostly underpaid brown-skinned women in developing countries, something most of us try not to think too much about.

Who volunteers for the PTA? Not me. But more generous working moms do, and sometimes a working dad here and there. I occasionally show up for PTA events. When I don’t, I feel ashamed.

Who builds community with neighbors? No one. I try. We have a loose network of parents we text with, mostly to try to find out where our children are. It’s great that my kids can independently run around the neighborhood with a few other kids — rare for kids these days, I know — but I still feel far less connected with my neighbors than I’d like to.


In short, as a working mom, I waste lots of resources because I don’t have time not to, I rely on the labor of underpaid women to do the things I don’t have time to do, and I constantly feel guilty for never doing enough.

RELATED: Are White, Middle-Class Women The Unhappiest Mothers?

There’s a rising generation that is looking around and seeing women who feel more embittered than emboldened. More burnt out than galvanized. More ashamed than unapologetic. 

Tradwifery is, in some sense, an acknowledgment that participation in the so-called “formal” economy hasn’t worked out for women exactly as planned. I’m not talking as much about the most popular tradwife influencers themselves — who get rewarded quite handsomely by the economy and likely make quite a lot more money than the husbands they supposedly submit to — but about the millions of people who are following them.

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Tradwifery is a backlash movement, and like so many backlash movements, it’s extreme and kind of scary. But temporarily setting aside the misogyny, religious dogma, and general ickiness, I don’t think we can ignore that there is an allure to a life in which we have the time to properly attend to ourselves, our families, and our communities. As feminists, perhaps we can expend less energy disparaging the movement and more energy understanding its roots and figuring out how we can shift the paradigm to put care work front and center.

Do I think the most radical feminists and the most diehard tradwives can unite around a common vision of an economy focused on care? Probably not. But I think the allure of tradwifery could be diminished if we celebrated care work just as much, if not more, than female Fortune 500 CEOs.


Instead of elevating those who are internalizing patriarchal ideals to gain political and economic power, let’s elevate those who are advocating for four-day workweeks at full pay, who are granting workers ownership of their companies, who aren’t dismissing job applicants with years of unpaid care work on their resumés, and who are reframing our so-called “careers” not as ladders but as meandering journeys with lots of rests and breaks to take care of ourselves, to take care of others, and to be taken care of.

Perhaps even more importantly, we need to bring men into this conversation. We need to talk just as much about empowering men to partake in care work as we talk about empowering women to thrive in the workforce. We need to elevate the voices of male caretakers.

Inside all of us there rages a battle between autonomy and attachment. As feminists, we’ve long fought for autonomy — over our bodies, our finances, and our futures. But the gains we’ve made have come at the expense of attachment — to our families, to our other loved ones, and our communities at large. Tradwives are not only reclaiming the value of attachment but taking it back to the other extreme, sacrificing their autonomy in the name of male submission.

I have to believe we can find a happy medium that honors our right to autonomy without asking us to devalue the care work that all of us need to partake in to be connected and emotionally fulfilled human beings.


RELATED: Former 'Trad Wife' Issues Warning After Being A Submissive Wife Left Her Homeless And Divorced 

Kerala Taylor is an award-winning writer and co-owner of a worker-owned marketing agency. Her weekly stories are dedicated to interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. She writes on Medium and has recently launched a Substack publication Mom, Interrupted.