I’m finding the new trend of tradwife influencers rather distressing.
You know those accounts–that hearken back the 1950s housewife, and espouse a life where the husband brings home the paycheque, makes the decisions, and is in authority of the wife, while she does absolutely everything else? (and I know there are fake tradwife accounts making a ton of money, but I’m thinking of the Christian ones talking about submission and quoting Love & Respect).
But before I get into all of that, a story.
I started blogging in 2008. At the time, “mom blogs” were all the rage–women writing blogs about parenting, booking, organizing, housework, general faith. People were posting pics of their kids, and recipes, and their cleaning routines. They were showing how they taught their kids to do chores. How they homeschooled. How they kept their marriages strong.
These blogs were BIG. The biggest bloggers were getting book contracts. And I was in that group. I knew a lot of them. We sold bundles of resources together. We linked up on each other’s blogs to find new traffic and new friends.
But what I noticed was that the vast majority of them were teaching one-sided submission in marriage, where the secret of a great marriage was in how they deferred to their husband and followed his leadership.
I have always felt that the biblical call was that we follow Jesus while serving each other, and that this call is not gendered. Women do not stop following Jesus once they marry, and we don’t follow Jesus by proxy by following our husbands. We follow the Lord, and then we serve one another.
But I couldn’t say that outright or I’d get blacklisted, so I wrote about what it looked like to follow Jesus as a woman without using submission language–and people often got it.
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Over the years, though, I watched as many of the biggest names in those circles eventually divorced. Many had husbands who left them or had affairs. Many discovered porn use. Or many, like Natalie Hoffman or Alyssa Wakefield or Tia Levings, eventually disclosed that they had been in abusive marriages, and did a total 180.
That latter group I’m still in contact with.
If you were to go back in time and see who was big in the Christian wife space in 2008, I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 50% of them are divorced now.
There is something about the kind of person who chooses to put their life online that is often covering up for deep problems that they don’t want to admit to themselves.
Tia Levings, who came out of a Gothard like marriage, and whose story was included in the documentary Shiny, Happy People, wrote a post last week saying this:
But the truth is, even if I’d wanted birth control, child care, and a career, I couldn’t have had it. I don’t have a college education and I didn’t have access to any of those other options. In addition to home being “my highest call,” “traditional,” “biblical,” and “valued,” staying home was also safe and necessary. Through a series of groomed choices in evangelicalism, home was about the only place I was qualified to be.
So, I saw the benefit of promoting a single-income lifestyle, embracing voluntary poverty and simplicity, traditional values, gardening, homesteading, canning, homeschooling, used clothing, etc. And I wanted my children’s childhood to be happy and nurturing, my husband’s mental state to remain calm, and to uphold the word of God. I would have done this with the same ethos I bring to my work now: an attention to warmth and kindness, research, visual aesthetics, and reason backed with experience. I would have been complicit in converting future perpetuators and perpetrators to the trad wife lifestyle. I would have made pretty memes.
Today’s tradwife influencers are the new mom bloggers.
There’s a raft of them on Instagram and Twitter and Tiktok, promoting the stay at home mom movement, complete with long skirts, baking bread, homeschooling, essential oils, and more.
Not all of it is toxic, of course. Baking is amazing if it’s your thing. Staying at home with your kids can be a tremendous blessing, if you can financially afford it (One of the things I’m most grateful for in my life is that we could).
But so often this is paired with deep patriarchy. Many of today’s tradwife influencers brag about how they’re not really educating their daughters to be anything other than housewives, because that is what God has called them to be. They brag about how they have sex on demand because their job is to satisfy their husbands. They brag about how they obey their husbands.
(Tia does use some strong language, but she is so knowledgeable about this stuff and I really appreciate her attempt to call the Christian community to something better. Hers is a voice worth listening to, and I’m looking forward to her book A Well-Trained Wife).
I’m often asked to call out tradwife influencers.
I get sent their posts on Instagram, and people will say, “can you say something about this? Can you call her out?”
We’ve talked about this as a team, and we do see how dangerous this trend is. These influencers are amassing hundreds of thousands of followers (millions if you add them all together). They are espousing everything that is in the books we are calling out, and even when these books stop selling, these influencers will continue these teachings in a new way.
The problem is that there is a fundamental difference between authors who write toxic stuff and a typical tradwife influencer.
An author is someone who is trying to be a teacher. They have the gravitas of a publishing company behind them, and speaking invitations.
A tradwife influencer often is in her twenties, alone except for her online friends, and just trying to make a living through potential sponsorships.
And, more than likely, in ten years their lives will look very different. We found in our survey for The Great Sex Rescue that couples where the husband makes the final decisions (as the tradwife influencers support) are 7.4 times more likely to divorce. These marriages don’t tend to be stable long-term.
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And since what they’re teaching is not compatible with true intimacy (you can’t be intimate unless you are a real partner, and you can’t be a real partner if only one person’s needs matter in the relationship, and if you feel that you have to give sex on demand), abuse is more common in these marriages too.
But if they were being abused, would they be making these reels and posting this?
Yes, absolutely they would. As Tia Levings said, it’s a way of making sense of what’s going on.
If I’d had social media available to me in the early 2000’s, I’d undoubtedly be using the hashtag, posting photos of my canning, gardening, homeopathy, baking, quiverful-in-a-dress aesthetic. I’d be doing in public exactly what I was doing in private: spit-shining sh** to protect my husband’s secrets and my family’s appearance, so I wouldn’t bring shame on the word of God. The stakes didn’t come any higher than that. My heels could feel the flickering flames of hell. Suddenly housework becomes esteemed and important……
For every good and beautiful truth about eating wholesome meals, using cloth diapers, and reading aloud to children, there’s a shadow of control, shame, and self-denial to the point of annihilation.
And I know from experience that that’s what so many mom bloggers were doing back in the aughts when I started.
When I see a tradwife influencer, I feel such tremendous pity, because I also feel like I’m looking into her future, and it’s not great.
If we were to call out tradwife influencers by name, I feel like we’d be bullies.
Even if they have more followers on Instagram than I do, I’m actually more influential and I have gravitas. And I just can’t be a bully to young women who are in difficult situations that they may not even have had the maturity to freely choose themselves.
So what should we do about tradwife influencers?
A few strategies:
1. Stop following tradwife influencers.
The more you follow, like, comment, the more their engagement goes up. Don’t follow even to watch the train wreck or to laugh at them. Just unfollow.
The way engagement works on social media, the more people engage, the more likely that platform is to show the stuff to other people. So by engaging on it, you spread the content. If you don’t want to do that, unfollow. Tell Instagram, when you see tradwife accounts, “I don’t like things like this.”
2. If you need to comment on tradwife posts, talk to the abuse victim reading.
Don’t be angry, but be compassionate.
I’m glad you look so happy, and I wish you and your family all the best! However, I just have to point out that what you’re advocating for is actually dangerous in most situations. Sex is not something to just be “given on demand”, because you matter too. The obligation sex message you’re teaching is one of the big reasons that evangelical women suffer from sexual pain at twice the rate of the general population. Over 20% of the women reading this post likely experience sexual pain, and I just want to tell them: You matter. God created sex to be for both of you. If you’re feeling pain, please don’t just push through it. See a pelvic floor therapist, and read The Great Sex Rescue!
Something like that.
3. Remember that, if you do comment, you’re more likely commenting to lurkers than the influencer.
You’re unlikely to sway the influencer, but all of those people reading need to be pointed to something healthy. So drop tags of good accounts, or mention good books or podcasts.
(And then, after you do that, unfollow!).
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I’m asking you all to be my army to combat the tradwife influencer trend.
I can’t do it. I can only fight against the teachings, but I can’t beat up on young women who are likely putting up a very strong facade.
I have seen the mommy bloggers on the other side of their husbands’ affairs, abuse, and porn use.
Good men do not want their wives to make themselves invisible and to just serve them. Good men want true partners. So these women aren’t actually married to good men.
So please, unfollow as much as you can, and if something crosses your feed you must comment on, think about what the lurkers need to hear to be given a different perspective, and point them to a good resource or podcast or book before you leave.
And if you know any in real life, check in on them every once in a while, and be there if (or when) it all self-destructs.
What do you think? Why are tradwife influencers so popular? What would get through to them (and their followers?) Let’s talk in the comments!