It’s not particularly fresh news among those who pursue our interests that there is a conservative subculture advocating a rollback of classical gender roles and matrimonial values. The tradwife or “traditional” wife (mostly Internet) subculture is made up of heterosexual males and females advocating old-fashioned values from the past. Some within it aspire toward the fabled golden age of the fifties, while others dream of rustic homesteading set in a more natural environment where laundry, homemaking, and food prep is done the conventional way. There is a strong focus on family and a clear traditional division of labor and responsibilities between husbands and wives. In between the lines of these aspirations lay a solid foundation of patriarchal values, and between those lines further still, a sub-current of female sexual submission and the apparently scandalous enjoyment of male dominance. Scandalous, that is, thanks to today’s progressive standards.
The roots of the trad lifestyle started out some time in the 1950’s and experienced its defining moment in retaliation to the countervailing influence of the sexual revolution in the 1960’s. It enjoyed a rich resurgence over the past fifteen years as conservatism, 50’s nostalgia, a sprinkle of D/s, and the Internet were put into a blender and mixed online. Online we see the tradwife community express itself in #trad, #tradwife, and #tradlife hashtags. The vibes we get from it range from Little House on the Prairie to kinky Stepford wife and everywhere in between. There are Twitter accounts with massive followings, busy podcasts, Instagram and Pinterest pages bristling with decorating tips, popular blogs, and even regular publications, like Evie Magazine (popularly described as “tradcon”), that inform and inspire its readership.
Much of this trend is, naturally, something we at Humbled Females applaud. Considering the trad movement’s tangible popularization between 2014-2016, we know our community had a hand in igniting the spark that got it going online—at least at certain frequencies. At one time not too long ago, Humbled Females, Taken In Hand, and the little-known Submissive Wife project was all there really was online for those so inclined toward getting back to the roots of male authority and female deference and incorporating that into relationships, domestically and sexually—not as weekend slap and tickle, but as real and ongoing lifestyles.
Interestingly enough, many of those in the tradwife movement snub us “perverts” and keep a wide berth in associating with us. While we’d never claim that this subculture owes us its popularity, it’s certainly the case that we were among the first, going as far back as 2005, to organize and speak boldly about the virtues of female submission—that is, beyond latex and religious framing—online. We were also among the first to call out the misandry inherent in feminism back when the term “misandry” didn’t even appear in most spell checkers. Our community predates Paul Elam’s “A Voice for Men” and most of the cottage industry that has subsequently grown around the “manosphere” movement, including Rollo Tomassi and friends, the MGTOW cult, and various pickup artists LARPing the dom role that are all too numerous to mention.
There are no “masters” or dominant husbands here, much less slavish wives. Increasingly, a smug and prudish female-oriented way of thinking and concurring slips into the conversation that sees women more as governesses of their castles sharing humblebrag and home management tips over tea.
But lingering upon this reality isn’t the point of this editorial: we understand that those who think along these lines don’t belong to a homogenous group, and further, that power and sex must often disguise itself in complex cultural trappings that are not always what they seem on the surface. Speak too directly about something core to human nature (like sex), and, for many, it leaves a stale taste in the mouth. Draping patriarchal chauvinism and overt female submission in the fine lineaments of old world nostalgia or far-right Christian ethics, replete with American impressionist art from the likes of Norman Rockwell with all its patriotic ethos, certainly makes it all go down smoother, at least for those who need to keep up appearances. And there are many who do today. We get it.
But therein lies the weakness of the tradwife/tradcon culture: its use of images and concepts borrow from fragments of a conceptualized golden era of the fifties that, in some ways, never was quite as stable as we sometimes tend to idealize. In its effort to court a superposition between tradition and religious fundamentalism, it has assigned sex’s animal contract to the back seat once again and invited in all the old errors that have plagued religiosocial practices that police and obscure sex. It creates room for a sanitized environment—room that can be gamed by individuals with less than savory motives. Most media articles hand waving about the rise of trad discuss its coded language hiding sexist and dangerous male control over women. It’s the usual shtick: the claim it’s a flowery front for saying extreme things really about male dominance and the traditional values of the past—values that kept women submissive. And of course that’s wrong, wrong, wrong—even if the women in this lifestyle choose it of their own volition. But lost upon many of the authors of these editorials, articles, and books lamenting the sexism of the tradwife movement lies the feminine side of the predation therein (surprise, surprise): of how, cumulatively, the various support groups, networks, and online communities that shift and morph in hue subtly turn the purity of the concept behind trad corrupt, how they make it all about the emotional and egotistical needs and demands of women, and of how they cunningly play convention against men under the guise of traditional ethics. We see, increasingly, the familiar problem of religious convention used to guide female thinking into familiar traces and to control and sublimate the powers of husbands based upon scriptural edicts, as well as the usual rhetoric of decency and pride. The busy, flashy, moralistic mass lecturing about domesticity, conservative fashion, and home decorating expects much of the tradwife subculture, but much that’s neither here nor there regarding the deep dive of submission itself of women to men. There are no “masters” or dominant husbands here, much less slavish wives. Increasingly, a smug and prudish female-oriented way of thinking and concurring slips into the conversation that sees women more as governesses of their castles sharing humblebrag and home management tips over tea. Online, the particularly popular ones gifted with a wealth of money and time are more than happy to moralize upon various subjects, tilting the trends of thought in the movement.
The previously mentioned tradcon magazine, Evie, for instance, has taken up moralistic tones about the sexual proclivities of men, namely their enjoyment of pornography. “Don’t Let Social Pressure Make You Settle For A Guy Who Looks At Porn,” the title advises. The subtitle hook follows: “Porn is all over the internet. All it takes is scrolling for a few seconds on Instagram to find something vulgar. No wonder so many men get addicted to porn, and at such a young age. But we can’t let that be an excuse for settling when we date.” Later, the old canard that pornography is harmful and addictive is rolled out, and with it, the claim that men looking at porn while in a relationship are being unfaithful to their partners. A link in the article, leading to another article on Evie Magazine, declares “Why I Think Pornography Should Be Illegal.” Such writings lament the ubiquity of porn and suggest that adding to the optics of half-nude women online by personally posting such pictures on Instagram isn’t helping the supposed addiction problem.
There is a problem here. First, porn hasn’t ever been proven to be “addictive” in the traditional sense, despite how trendy it is in certain circles to think so. Those websites and pseudoscientific support groups online saying otherwise, you will notice, are also hosted by far-right religious organizations. Legitimate research on the topic—more particularly, a meta study—finds scant evidence for actual porn addiction. Instead, they reveal that “mental incongruence”—moral issues with sexual media and sexuality itself—is to blame for causing a loop of dissonance during consumption of sexual media. And this is certainly not unusual in far-right religious circles. It seems to me, then, that challenging sexual stereotypes, breaking down walls of unnecessary stigma about sex, and accepting that men, particularly, enjoy pornography is the correct way to metabolize this unavoidable human behavior, not doubling down on becoming insufferably prudish toward men who might, heaven forbid, “look at it.” And one would think that a woman, if she were sensitive to her man’s needs, would support his sexual desires, taking note of what arouses him, therefore better knowing his sexual mind. But not a shred of this is discussed in any dimension.
Elsewhere, an article on Evie entitled “If You’re A Type-A Woman, Then You Need A Man Who Meets These Requirements” goes on to say, “even the most motivated, decisive woman will wish her husband would take the lead sometimes.” Further, it asserts that “a self-possessed, driven woman will need a man who can take fair criticism without getting upset or deflecting, instead taking her concerns seriously and owning up to his mistakes without making excuses.” But most of all, “she needs a husband whose focus will always center on prioritizing her and their children—even over his friends, job, or family of origin.” The subversion of male authority in these lines needn’t be pointed out, at least on Humbled Females.
In defense of Evie Magazine, it also features an article praising tradwives, saying, “they are the ones who are raising the next generation, they are the ones who selflessly serve to enrich the lives of their husbands and children, and they are the ones who are modeling happy and healthy marriages.” Well done with the expression selflessly serves. Unfortunately, this line drowns in Evie Magazine’s otherwise prissy female-centric tone, even if it does throw in obligatory support for boys and men. The message, overall, feels confused and, at times, contradictory.
Meanwhile, a woman named Caitlin or “Cait” runs a trad website called Mrs. Midwest: A feminine homemaker blogging on women’s issues. In her article entitled “Becoming An Empowered Wife” she had this to say on the obligations of husbands: “Aren’t husbands just SUPPOSED to pay the mortgage, get your oil changed, and pick up after the kids? Aren’t they supposed to try to get along with family and comfort us when we’re down? Well yes. He is beholden to these responsibilities in the same way you may be beholden to looking after the children, breastfeeding, washing laundry, or doing whatever chores are in your wheelhouse.” To be fair, Caitlin says a lot of good things on her blog across several articles, but I wanted to call attention to the material expectations above that typically afflict so many tradwives—the idea that his material support and provision of comfort are responsibilities to which he is beholden, in the same way she may be beholden to “whatever chores are in her wheelhouse,” in turn. That line of thinking is very revealing, I think: this isn’t a submissive female. Throughout Caitlin’s content, one picks up upon a mild material streak in between the lines. While, again, much of her content is agreeable, these subtleties are an example of something very common in the tradwife sub-culture: exchanging child care and stay-at-home domesticity for a gorgeous house, a loving husband who apparently must dote on you and get along splendidly with your family, new furniture, and so forth and so on.
Feminism isn’t necessarily what’s at play here, but the messages and attitudes of several tradwife influencers certainly feel gynocentric.
There are thousands of accounts online in places like Twitter with polished profiles and plenty of things to say—far too many to mention—that are really helpful and uplifting to any woman attempting to get back to the traditional roles of the female. Grace, beauty, domesticity, patience, duty, and domestic competence are lauded. But on the flipside, one also notices some very posh and holier-than-thou attitudes marbled in to such a degree it’s not simply a bug, but a growing feature. And this is where the tradwife subculture shows it’s ugly side. The luxuriating on one’s own traditionalness, the snippy tone taken up with other women (or men) perceived to be beneath the wholesome, holy, and religiopatriotic greatness of certain Internet semi-celebrities online can all be a bit off-putting. For women who are supposed to be getting back to traditional ways of being and doing, one often comes away feeling that they could use a good helping of a little old-fashioned humility themselves. There are times when one has to try hard to see what the difference is, exactly, between the attitudes of some women in this movement and your average earthy feminist. With the encroachment of so many women and men into the tradish sphere, one senses the creep of mainstream attitudes that are not particularly all that remarkable. This seems to be something that always happens when an idea becomes too popular, and the bad tends to game and drive out the good. Along with that comes all the usual double talk and a roundabout tendency to put women up on pedestals, as per usual. Feminism isn’t necessarily what’s at play here, but the messages and attitudes of several tradwife influencers certainly feel gynocentric, celebrating an idealized benevolence in sexism and tradition that serves their agendas.
And where, exactly, are the men’s voices in this community? You find them here and there, nestled like rare flecks of diamonds buried in a volcanic movement largely voiced, visualized, and shaped by women. This singular narration, I contend, is also a problem, for the tradwife is only half of the matrimonial bond. Yet the husbands are almost always suspiciously silent in this subculture—a culture that could desperately use more open male input. Few voices are found.
That aside, a fundamental error should be identified and mindfully avoided: returning to tradition means reconnecting to our ancestral wisdom, not their past errors. There is nothing to say, for instance, that “trad” need be eternally connected to the forces of religious fundamentalism. Many seeking passage on the Mayflower in early America were religious, escaping religious persecution to worship in the way they desired. But it’s also important to remember that not all who made the journey were pilgrims. The so-called “strangers” (passengers who were not part of the religious community) also lived during this time, and were as “trad” as anyone else. So-called strangers have always been among us, living on their own homesteads and farms. Religious faith alone didn’t shape the earliest days of America, or anywhere else, for that matter. An otherwise traditional homesteader who works the land and keeps a wife and children can be agnostic or atheist.
Trad isn’t necessarily about extreme religious conformity and it certainly isn’t about the modern religion of female-centric thinking. If we can have submission without fetish caricatures and feminist activism, we can also have it without the the moralistic extremism that often comes with pretense of sanctitude. Submission—whole and complete—moved by its own force, wherein the thing itself lives, is possible without any cryptic heuristic or glossy alt-lifestyle that’s currently in vogue. A man, a woman, and a home, all encompassed in nature and a will to honor the traditional methods of our ancestors is all that is needed to fulfill the vision in purity.