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'Trad wives' are trending. What does that say about feminism today?

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

You might have come across the term tradwife as you scroll through your feeds.

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ESTEE WILLIAMS: Another thing traditional wives love is aprons because these aprons are, like, our house uniforms. We know when we put those aprons on, we mean business. We are going to get to cooking. We are going to get to cleaning. We are going to scrub this house down.

RASCOE: Tradwife - shorthand for traditional wife - doesn't refer to your ordinary stay-at-home mom. The tradwife is eerily perfect. Her home is spotless. Her makeup is on point. She makes nearly everything from scratch, usually in a perfect dress. In short, she's straight out of a 1950s sitcom. Well, on the one hand, good for her. But on the other, what does her rising profile mean for feminism and women right now? Kathryn Jezer-Morton is a columnist for The Cut, covering family life. Welcome to the show.

KATHRYN JEZER-MORTON: Thank you for having me, Ayesha.

RASCOE: You write that you don't think tradwives pose a threat to feminism. Why do you think that?

JEZER-MORTON: I'm not sure that seeing this kind of content is going to make someone who already feels secure in their feminist identity insecure. I think it might be a little bit of a confusing influence for younger women. I think that might be more where the risk lies. But I think it's more that it divides women among ourselves.

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RASCOE: What do you say to the idea that, I guess, some of these content creators are discouraging women from going to college, saying, you know, maybe you don't need to go to a university. And maybe you don't need to be financially self-sufficient. Is that harmful?

JEZER-MORTON: Definitely. I mean, I think that's a message that - it's so cynical. And especially, you know, in a time where young people are thinking in terms of college is expensive. What's the use of college? There's a lot of talk already about that, and to have this suggestion enter the mix, I think, is really - it's not a good outcome.

RASCOE: Obviously, feminism is about choice. Women who stay home to take care of their families, to take care of their homes - I mean, that's an honorable choice. But it seems like the things with these tradwives - it's not just that they're at home, right? It's that part of what they seem to be selling a little bit is this idea that maybe women don't need to work so hard. Just find you a man who will take care of you.

JEZER-MORTON: Yeah, that's the subtext underneath all of this - is that someone is providing for you financially, and you're in charge of the home. I think that the fact that it makes everything look beautiful might be really the most kind of frustrating and confusing thing about this content because those of us who have done a lot of caregiving know that, like, it's not pretty most of the time.

RASCOE: Well, one thing that stood out to me in some of the videos was that they're making these very in-depth meals, and that's great. But I'm always like, well, where are the kids? - because when I'm just doing anything in my house, and my kids - and a lot of times these women have very young children. My kids are older, and they still are like - every second, they're like, mommy, mommy. Like, I don't even - I'm like, how is this even possible?

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JEZER-MORTON: Right. And so this is what really proves to us that this content is just, like, highly staged.

RASCOE: Have you heard from wives and mothers who say, you know, this is setting unrealistic expectations? - because it - I would imagine for young women who may be wanting to go into this life but also for young men who may think, well, this is what my wife should be doing, right?

JEZER-MORTON: Yeah, I mean, that's a big part of the discourse now is that it's setting unrealistic expectations. But, you know, something else that is disturbing about it to me is that it's very ahistorical. It does represent this kind of strange vision of maybe, like, 1950s housewife life that - it was never like that to begin with. And I think it's worth noting, too, that the women who are doing this kind of performance - they're all white women. You know, Black women, for example, probably wouldn't necessarily feel as easy pretending that it was the 1950s.

RASCOE: Yeah, no, no. I mean, there are some - so I guess you can say most of these women are white. There are some women of color who are engaging in some of this, but it seems like it's harkening back to a time, as you said, which is much more complex than what they're putting on.

JEZER-MORTON: Right. It's a complete fiction, a kind of "Little House On The Prairie" fantasy without any of the violent and kind of disturbing parts of that narrative and making, you know, like, a contemporary fiction out of it.

RASCOE: What do you think about this idea that we're in a time where access to abortion and reproductive health care is no longer guaranteed, and most of these tradwives do seem to be Christian conservatives? Do you think that there's a reason why this content is kind of happening at the same time there's all this talk about, you know, reproductive health care?

JEZER-MORTON: I do wonder about that - the timing of that. Yeah. I think that the success of this content is definitely related to the moment that we're living in.

RASCOE: You know, what about the male counterparts in this? I know in your article you said that, oftentimes, the men aren't necessarily on display. Or they're kind of, like, dressing. They're not necessarily the stars of the content. It's the women. But a lot of these women talk about attracting high-value men. How would you describe the male counterpart to the tradwife? Is it the alpha husband? Or - you know, certainly, that high-value thing comes up all the time. You know, what makes a person high-value?

JEZER-MORTON: Absolutely. I think it has to do with money. For the most part, it has to do with earning power. I suppose there's certainly, like, an appearance aspect - you know, certain body types, certain male stereotypes around attractiveness. And I also think that that's related, too, to the times that we're living through, related to trans rights and, like, a lot of different movements for populations that in conservative - certain conservative circles - like, it feels like a threat, and people are mobilizing. And I think that this kind of super gender-essentialist performance is in some ways a response to that.

RASCOE: That's Kathryn Jezer-Morton, columnist for The Cut. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

JEZER-MORTON: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.