Women who identify as tradwives typically stay at home to cook and clean, while their husbands serve as the sole financial providers of the household. Many of these women also believe in submitting to their husbands. (Illustration by Kate Brennan)

Before Estee Williams’ husband gets home from work, there are a few tasks she must complete. First, she touches up her hair and makeup. Then, she whips up a homemade dinner. Finally, she makes sure the house is tidy, with no chores left unfinished. The ultimate goal is to make sure her husband “does not have to lift a finger while he’s home.” 

No, this is not a woman from the 1950s, though it sure seems like it. Williams and countless other American women identify as “tradwives” (short for “traditional wives”) – married women who adhere to strict gender roles. Upon visiting their not-so-modest corner of social media (TikTok videos tagged with #tradwife have amassed 250 million views), one finds a buffet of content ranging from cake recipes to far-right commentary. In one video set to classical piano music, a woman named Grace Sandusky makes a man a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and is rewarded with an engagement ring. In another video, a woman named Bernadine Bluntly claims that feminism and the LGBTQ movement are part of the “depopulation agenda.”

With their house dresses and cheerful tenors, these women bear resemblance to protagonists of films such as “Don’t Worry Darling” and “The Stepford Wives,” in which women are tricked into subservience by men who fear equality. But there’s one alarming difference – unlike the women in these films, the real-life tradwives are in on the scheme. 

It may seem easy at first to underestimate the influence of women who wear “Sandwich Maker” t-shirts – until one hears the ideals of these women parroted on presidential debate stages. Like many elements of conservative American culture, the tradwife movement has burgeoned from a niche internet trend into a very present demographic that has squeezed its way into the nationwide rhetoric on gender politics.

“Make Men Masculine Again” 

The push for women to abandon their career aspirations can be traced to a general fear among men that they’re losing power, according to Rachael Robnett, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“Men are feeling increasingly disenfranchised, especially within the United States, as they see women make inroads into the workplace, and they see women securing leadership positions,” she said. “So if you’re a group that’s traditionally held power…most groups are not going to willingly let go of that power.”

In a 2018 Fox News segment, Tucker Carlson expressed concerns over women outnumbering men in higher education and questioned why universities have women’s studies departments “whose core goal is to attack male power.” Four years later, he raised alarm over decreasing testosterone levels in American men in his documentary “The End of Men.” 

“This is a reflection of an unfounded concern about women somehow taking over the world,” Robnett said.

The answer to this chaos, conservatives say, is to forge a renaissance for masculinity. The idea has reverberated everywhere, from editor Will Witt’s “Make Men Masculine Again” lecture at the University of Denver to Republican Senator Josh Hawley’s recent book, “Manhood: What America Needs.” One video from PragerU – which was approved this year to be shown in Florida schools – claims “it took masculinity to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II.”

Now, the other side of the coin: what to do with women. In a separate PragerU video, women are taught to embrace femininity with pointers like: “make yourself pretty,” “master the art of makeup,” “stay grateful” and – with the cadence of a finishing school teacher – “just try smiling.”

The tradwives, who have mastered these skills, point to feminism as the cause of national discord, with many calling out the movement for shaming women who prioritize families over careers. One content creator, a self-proclaimed “future wife” who goes by the username The Pretty Conservative, frequently uses the hashtags #feminismiscancer and #femininenotfeminist. 

To top it all off, a significant number of tradwives also suggest that their domestic lifestyle is not only an answer to a problematic “girlboss” culture, but their biblically assigned place in the world.

Rooted in Religion

One image that circulates among tradwife social media accounts depicts three umbrellas stacked to represent a hierarchy: God at the top, the husband in the middle, then the wife at the bottom. The anti-feminist ideas held by tradwives are packaged in the way lots of ideas – anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ – are packaged: as a religious imperative. 

Republican presidential candidates are well aware of this, and have used evangelical values to court members of the quickly growing Christian nationalist movement. At the Faith and Freedom Coalition Gala in June, former President Donald Trump direly warned attendees that “our country is going to hell,” then marketed himself as the solution: “No president has ever fought for Christians as hard as I have.” Meanwhile, Florida governor Ron DeSantis promised to create new “divisions of conscience and religious freedom” during a speech at the Pray Vote Stand summit in September. 

Both have painted a picture of a country where religious freedom and core values are under attack, in order to create an enemy – from educators who support LGBTQ+ rights, to pro-choice people who are “murdering” babies to feminists who have destroyed Western family values. Women, they declare, must fight back against the liberal agenda – which has, without a hint of self-awareness as to the melodrama, been likened to the work of Satan.

“[The tradwife movement] draws on and mobilizes the fear of moral decline – often equated with feminism – and calls women back into what is represented as an ‘older’ or ‘original’ way of doing gender and marriage,” said Sarah Kornfield, an affiliate professor of women’s and gender studies at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Rose-Tinted Glasses

The dreamy, Americana-inspired images populating tradwife social media are reminiscent of the checker print tablecloths, sleigh rides and Thanksgiving dinners we see in Normal Rockwell illustrations. The movement attempts to evoke the mid-century boom in which men were back from war, women off the production line and back in the kitchen, families woven together by a ribbon of euphoric, dizzy patriotism. 

It’s this nostalgia that red-capped Trump supporters are after with the slogan “Make America Great Again.” While Trump frequently references the manufacturing boom of the 1940s and 1950s, his nostalgia for the era stretches far beyond economics. He regularly makes public comments favoring old-fashioned gender roles – one example being his promise in 2020 to women at a Michigan rally: “We’re getting your husbands back to work.”

But the oversimplified mid-century gender dynamics do not translate to our world today, and perhaps never fit into their own time period as seamlessly as many like to believe. “Women were in this role where they didn’t have power or agency,” said Robnett, the UNLV professor. “People thought they were nice, but people also thought that they didn’t bring any skills to the table.”

Not that they’ve ever had many seats at the table to begin with. Even today, 53% of Americans say there are too few women in high political office, according to data from the Pew Research Center. “We need women in the room to make sure that issues that disparately impact women get onto the radar of those who are making laws and engaging in legislation,” Robnett said. 

One tradwife blogger named Lori Alexander – known online as “The Transformed Wife” – recently published a blog post titled “Do Women Need a Voice?” (Spoiler: she concludes that they do not.) “Women’s voices have caused far more destruction than anything good,” she writes. 

And that, right there, is the bullseye of the tradwife movement. 

“It’s an explicit relinquishing of power,” said Robnett. “I’m not surprised to see men who are concerned about power and manhood supporting the tradwives movement, because this is explicitly a movement that’s giving them power.”

Plus, they don’t have to lift a finger when they get home. ◼