Tradwife this, trad woman that. The glorification of the “traditional woman” was once something you mostly saw in incel spaces, but a recent column published by SBS Insight has ignited debate about whether women “secretly wish” they were “trad women”, but are now just as repressed as women of the past — this time by modern feminism. Sigh. Buckle up because we have a LOT to unpack.
Kelsey Thom, 24, has riled up the internet with opinion piece for SBS in which she promotes the “trad woman” lifestyle.
Titled “I’m a trad woman. I think other women secretly wish they were too”, the article promotes the “traditional woman” lifestyle, where women “revert” back to their traditional roles of housekeeping, cooking, child-birthing and looking pretty for their husbands. Part of the trad lifestyle involves “vetting” potential partners rigorously, and not “chasing” or “hunting down” a man. Essentially, trad women apparently have superior standards to other women (which, if you’re familiar with the misogyny of the “untouchable woman” trend, probably feels really icky).
Kelsey justifies her choice to be a “trad woman” by stating her respect for mothers (“After all, we’re the ones who are raising and birthing the next generation”) and her love for helping others. Importantly, she notes that holding down a full-time job can make it impossible to enjoy these tasks (true). So, her answer is to become a “traditional woman” and offer these services to a man who can take care of her financially in return, in a similar dynamic to marriages of the 50s and 60s. Everyone wins, right?
A lot of what Kelsey (and other trad women or tradwives) want aren’t necessarily problematic on their own: part of believing in modern day feminism is believing in the right to choose a relationship dynamic that works for you, and if they prefer homemaking, that’s their choice! But, interestingly, right after making these assertions, Kelsey notes that she *does* work, and she’s going to study for a career she is pursuing, and she has a savings plan. So… she’s a woman doing it all anyway, which is exactly what she was advocating against?
That confusing point aside, some claims made in Kelsey’s article and Tradwife ideology in general are ignorant at best, downright false info at worst, and that’s what we’re here to unpack.
“In traditional belief systems, women are respected, cherished and revered just for being women,” Kelsey wrote.
“It’s not about ‘what does she bring to the table?’ Because she’s already bringing value just by being a woman in the first place, respected as a creator of life and seen as the key difference between what makes a house and a home.
“As a result, women are listened to and their opinions respected, especially among spiritual and religious traditional men who acknowledge ‘women’s intuition’.”
It seems being a tradwife is tied to being able to birth a child, which immediately excludes trans women who were assigned male at birth, and also any women who have fertility issues that prevent them from falling pregnant.
But notions of transmisogyny aside, Kelsey’s article also seems to unwittingly open up a pretty dated can of worms regarding who gets to be a woman. Her recollection of whatever golden age for women Kelsey is referring to is questionable at best, disingenuous at worst. Who men have taken seriously in the past depends on who you ask, but it largely hasn’t included women, and specifically women of colour.
Feminist writer Clementine Ford said it in a pretty accessible way in an illuminating comment on SBS’s social media post.
“Women didn’t flock to the home in between 1950 and 1965 because they desperately yearned for domestic responsibility; they returned to the home because the return of wartime servicemen meant they no longer had jobs,” she wrote.
“It wasn’t ‘women’ as a monolithic group who did this — it was middle class white women, whose political gains and increased education posed a threat to patriarchal structures of power of power.”
Aaaaand this is where, inevitably, race is brought into the conversation around the Trad Woman — because guess what? What is considered the ideal woman is actually deeply rooted in racist notions of “femininity”.
“Trad Wife ideology is inherently white supremacist, because it elevates a certain type of women to the ‘protected’ role of wife and mother, while maintaining the race and class barriers that keep of women of colour in low paid, physically demanding roles,” Ford wrote.
I know, I know, we were talking about gender roles — how did we jump to white supremacy?
In the West, femininity and womanhood has been gatekept historically and today to only be inclusive of upper middle class women, specifically white women. Women of colour, and specifically Black women, were denied “womanhood” for a long time, and we’re still seeing this today — check out this story about a Black woman being barred from a sports competition because she was considered too “masculine” (what remains unspoken is that this masculinity is in comparison to white women).
I mean, it’s telling that even the aesthetic we associate with the Tradwife — white women with blonde bombshell curls — embodies a look that isn’t inclusive of WOC.
Ruby Hamad‘s White Tears Brown Scars tracks the insidious intersection between race and gender in history (and how it directly ties into this idea of the traditional [read: white] housewife), and is a pretty important read if you want to get across this issue.
“The peculiar logic of Eurocentrism was fuelled by the rise of scientific racism in the nineteenth century, which regarded true differentiation of the sexes as a status that had only been achieved by the more highly developed white Europeans,” Hamad wrote in her book.
“Although brown and black bodies were designated male and female, the science promoted by the American School of Evolution regarded sex difference as a racial characteristic and argued that only white European-derived people had evolved to the point of having distinctly separate male and female brains and dispositions.”
“Only white men were Man and only white women were Woman. For hundreds of years, excluding women of colour from womanhood has been key to maintaining this racial hierarchy.”
Honestly, that whole book is a banger. Get to it!
But look, I get it, Kelsey probably isn’t aware of the politics of womanhood and its racial history. Fair enough, not many people are.
It’s times like this where I have to say: you can want a relationship with old school gender dynamics *without* claiming that lifestyle is liberatory for all women, or that it is somehow superior to others. If you are going to speak publicly about your choices and push the Tradwife lifestyle, it’s probably a good idea to fact check your claims first.