‘Tradwives’: Everything You Wanted to Know, but Were Afraid to Ask

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

TikTok creator Lilly Gaddis’ use of the n-word and other racist comments in a video got her fired from her job at a home health-care company this week, making headlines around the country.

Gaddis, 23, is a self-described “tradwife”—a growing social media trend of women who take on what they see as their traditional gender role (i.e. cooking, cleaning, and taking care of their kids.) Gaddis deleted her TikTok, so it's unclear whether her content met the “tradwife” bar, but it has undeniably piqued interest in the term.

‘Trad-Wife’ TikToker Axed From Job After Casually Saying N-Word

So what exactly is a tradwife, and why on earth do we have to keep hearing about them? Allow us to explain.

What is a tradwife?

We’ll allow popular tradwife creator Estee Williams to start us off here. According to a video posted to Williams’ TikTok, which has more than 1.7 million views, a tradwife is “a woman who chooses to live a more traditional life with ultra-traditional gender roles.”

“So the man goes outside the house, works, provides for the family,” she explains. “The woman stays home and she’s the homemaker.”

Take a spin through some other tradwife TikTok and you’ll see that the content is fairly repetitive: Tradwives cook—always from scratch—clean, buy groceries (or grow them on their farms), and dress up for their husbands. They also ostensibly raise their children, though the actual child-rearing is rarely seen on screen. (One could argue that’s because tradwife content isn’t about being a homemaker at all, but about men’s fantasies about having subservient wives, but we don’t have time for that here.)

Some tradwives choose to do this for religious reasons, while others do so out of political ideology. (One of the most popular tradwife creators is Abby Roth, the sister of conservative media darling Ben Shapiro.) But the core of being a tradwife is not why you do it, but how you do it: happily, willingly, and most importantly, evangelistically. The mission of tradwife content is not just to entertain, but to sell viewers on a simple, bucolic version of life that is somehow both care-free and deeply fulfilling. The overarching message to women is: Wasn’t life more fun before you had to think?

How did tradwives become a thing?

It’s hard to say when, exactly, tradwives started trending, but Google searches for the term started picking up in 2020, when everyone was trapped indoors and many city dwellers suddenly started baking sourdough and dreaming of a country home.

The New Yorker pinpoints Instagram influencer Alena Kate Pettitt as the OG tradwife—or as they call her, “one of the earliest and best known” of the genre. Pettitt literally wrote the book on tradwife-dom: a 333-page guidebook called Ladies Like Us that she self-published in 2016, after quitting her job to raise her child and converting to Pentecostalism.

“There is nothing wrong with the dream you had as a six-year-old,” Pettitt writes in the book, “wanting to be wooed, to wear girlish and feminine things, marry your true love, bake pies, raise babies and live happily ever after.”

The book was so popular that in 2019 she published another one, called English Etiquette, and in 2020 was interviewed by the BBC while ironing her husband’s shirts and standing in her kitchen. Not long after, copy-cats started popping up across social media. The tradwife trend had gone mainstream.

Who are the most popular tradwives?

The undeniable queen of the tradwives is Hannah Neeleman, a Juilliard-trained ballet dancer turned farmer and mother of eight with more than 9 million followers on Instagram. Neelman’s videos show her milking cows, feeding her family home-made meals (a recent choice was home-made stew and freshly baked bread, perfectly scored with a leaf pattern on top), and occasionally dancing ballet—all while looking ethereally gorgeous in braided pigtails and the slightest hint of makeup. Oh, and she was recently crowned Mrs. America. Of course, all this perfection might be aided by her seemingly unlimited resources—Neeleman just happens to be married to Daniel Neeleman, the millionaire son of the founder of JetBlue.

Another contender for the tradwife crown is Williams, who boasts significantly fewer followers (just 193,5000 on TikTok) but a seemingly relentless dedication to the cause. Williams is the Betty Draper of tradwife TikTok, appearing exclusively in full makeup, curled hair, and with either a pout or a plastered-on smile.

Her content is less slice-of-life and more self-help guide, with videos like “How to dress feminine in the gym” and “Tips to attract a masculine man.” While most tradwife content creators tend to avoid explicit mention of politics, Williams recently came out as a Trump supporter in a TikTok video where she lip-synched the words: “She does what she wants, and she looks cool doing it.” Her followers were thrilled.

Other popular tradwife influencers include Jasmine Dinis, who makes highly religious content, and Swinarton, aka “Gwen The Milkmaid” who pivoted from making OnlyFans content to making lunch for her husband. (Some commentators have suggested that tradwife content is inherently pornographic, because it offers men unrealistic fantasies about women. As for if there is actual porn about it, well, see Rule 34.)

The uber-popular creator Nara Smith (7.6 million followers on TikTok) is also often lumped in with the tradwives for her family-centric content that frequently revolves around her making complex recipes from scratch. She gets tradwife points deducted, however, for having a thriving career outside the home as a model.

What is the criticism of tradwives?

The criticism of the genre is so familiar now it barely needs repeating: Tradwives promote a limited, retrogressive vision of what women can be, posing a setback to the last 100 years of progress in getting women to be seen as men’s equals, rather than their support staff. As “Fair Play” author Eve Rodsky put it to CNBC, "tradwives are the definition of patriarchy—there’s nothing new here.”

Of course, there are those who argue that tradwives aren’t hurting anyone but themselves, and even those who say choosing to stay at home is its own form of feminism—just another way for women to exercise their agency.

But there have also been criticisms of the genre from inside the movement itself. Pettitt, the original tradwife influencer, told the New Yorker she had grown disillusioned with the movement, saying it had “become its own monster.”

Lauren Southern, a former conservative influencer, sat for a profile earlier this year called “How My Tradlife Turned Toxic,” in which she describes her former husband as abusive and her “traditional” marriage as ““hell on earth.”

Writing for USA Today, Elizabeth Grace Matthew—a self-described “conservative Catholic mom”—offered one of the most searing critiques of the movement, pointing out how financially out of reach it is for most American women.

“The curation of a ‘trad wife’ identity among increasing numbers of my fellow mothers raising similarly traditional families troubles me because it unhelpfully pigeonholes our cultural conceptions of both sexes,” she wrote. “The idea that a woman’s place is always in the home is out of touch for everyone except a small cadre of wealthy and overwhelmingly white elites.”

What’s next after tradwives?

If anything is inevitable about modern life, it’s that the internet will think of new ways to tell women how to live their lives. Last summer already saw the rise of women intermittent fasting and taking cold plunges alongside their “Huberman husbands,” and there’s already a “Liver Queen” to the raw-meat-eating “Liver King.” What’s next? Colonizer space wives on Mars? Women who talk like AI chatbots? Only the future—and the algorithm—knows.

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