The insidious rise of "tradwives": A right-wing fantasy is rotting young men's minds

There's serious money in peddling fantasies of female submission online, but it may be exacerbating male loneliness

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published November 27, 2023 6:00AM (EST)

Retro housewife (Getty Images/RichVintage)
Retro housewife (Getty Images/RichVintage)

If the average American were asked what they imagine the priorities of the feminist movement are these days, most people would likely cite concerns like "fighting abortion bans" or "getting justice for sexual violence victims" or boring mainstays like "equal pay for equal work." But if you listen in to the world of right-wing social media influencers, they have a different answer. To them, feminists are single-mindedly obsessed with destroying women who identify as "tradwives." 

"Trad Wives Are Triggering Feminists," according to the YouTube channel for Daily Wire contributor Brett Cooper, who has 3.75 million subscribers. 

Most "tradwives" online are far more #GirlBoss than even the most outspoken feminist.

"Angry Feminist Compares Tradwives to Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists," screams the headline from the YouTube channel for Michael Knowles, a far-right troll with 1.75 million subscribers. 

"This Video Is Triggering All The Feminists," declares the headline of a video defense of tradwives from right-wing grifter Amala Ekpunobi, who has 1.7 million subscribers.

"Tradwife" is internet slang for "traditional wife." It's largely a social media trend of conventionally attractive white women putting out TikToks and videos gushing about the joys of submissive marriage and "modesty," though notably this "modest" clothing often leaves little to the imagination. 

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@esteecwilliams Comment any video ideas you would like to see on my channel ❤️ #ReadySetLift #fyp #tradwife #megawife #homemaker #housewife #makewivesgreatagain #traditionalwife #realhousewivesoftiktok #sandwhichmaker #traditional #newlymarried #wifeytip #obediantwife #traditionalmarriage #americanhousewife ♬ original sound - Estee


It's a neat marketing trick from tradwives to position themselves as a dangerous threat that feminists are desperate to take out. It helps sell the central, lucrative fantasy to credulous audiences: That female submission is a woman's natural desire, one that's being stolen from them by sinister feminist forces. And that you, male viewer, would be gifted with a compliant helpmeet of your very own, if not for those dastardly feminists. But these brave women of YouTube, with their picture-perfect make-up and slender-but-curvy physiques, will stand up to those bitches and restore your birthright: A smoking hot 22-year-old housewife who never talks back, never gets tired, never says "no," and never gains weight, no matter how many children she has. 

By feeding conservative audiences a largely imaginary war with feminists, the tradwives are also pulling off another sleight of hand: distracting from how their content preys upon men, especially young men, by selling them a silly fantasy as reality. In the process, they're contributing to the male loneliness epidemic, by discouraging young men from developing the skills and mindset they need to get a real girlfriend, instead of just subsisting on a steady stream of social media delusions. 

There's been much debate over whether or not porn, especially the ubiquitous online porn of our modern era, is damaging to young men. What this discussion tends to overlook is that there's a huge swath of online material about sex and relationships that presents over-the-top sexist fantasy disguised as reality. Tradwife content is some of the most pernicious. Unlike porn, which positions itself as fantasy, most of the women creating "tradwife" content online claim it's a window into their real lives. Even though, if you ask any real housewives, you'll find few find it necessary to put on a full face of make-up, get a professional blow-out, and don a push-up bra in order to wash dishes. 

@gwenthemilkmaid And *that’s* on getting brainwashed at college ? It’s absolutely insane to me how much I’ve changed over the last 10 years LOL… Just goes to show: no one is ever too far gone ? #femininenotfeminist #tradwife #homesteadmom #conservativewomen #prolife #antiabortion ♬ On the river Avicci - Daniel Burke

No doubt, there's been a robust feminist response to the proliferation of tradwife content online. Most criticisms, however, start with the assumption that the audience for this content is primarily, if not exclusively, female. In some cases, especially with feeds that feature actual housework and cooking tips, that might be true. But many of the videos marketed as "tradwife" have a strong whiff of the male gaze to them. Some shamelessly serve cheesecake, even while pretending at "modesty."

@jasminedinis2 Many masculine men appreciate the allure of feminine women because it often signifies a balance in a relationship ? I found that embracing femininity, not just in clothing but also in my attitude, deepened our connection. It’s important to remember that being a “godly woman” transcends mere appearance, as Proverbs 31:30 reminds us, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” True beauty, as I’ve come to understand it, lies in the inner qualities that reflect a heart guided by faith in Jesus ?? #feminineenergy #stayathomemom #traditionalwife #foryoupage #tradwife ♬ original sound - Jasmine Dinis

Others, like "Classically Abby" by Ben Shapiro's tradwife sister, Abigail Roth, adopt a smug "debate me bro" tone. It cuts against their claims to demure femininity, but definitely appeals to men who are eager to hear a woman ramble on about how feminism is bad. 

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Whatever the demographic makeup of their audiences, the concept of the "tradwife" is damaging to men's psyches. We've heard so much in the media about the "male loneliness epidemic." Much of the focus, thankfully, has been on how toxic masculinity gets in the way of men cultivating platonic friendships with people of any gender. But there's no doubt that part of what is fueling this anxiety is the way many young men seem to be failing at dating. Especially with conservative commentators, porn and video games take the brunt of the blame, along with feminism. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., for instance, has been out there complaining about "more and more men are withdrawing into the enclave of idleness and pornography and video games."

By feeding conservative audiences a largely imaginary war with feminists, the tradwives are also pulling off another sleight of hand: distracting from how their content preys upon men, especially young men, by selling them a silly fantasy as reality.

Hawley offers conservative politics as a solution to male malaise, but in truth, the last thing a young man who is adrift needs is right-wing content. These materials, especially the tradwife videos, teach young men to expect young women to be placid vessels, who exist only to be pretty and to serve. For instance, one video by popular vlogger "Mrs. Midwest" is titled "10 Way to Bless Your MAN!" and has chapters like "Cooking!", "Compliments!" and "Anticipate needs!" The comments on the video suggest that the viewers are unaware that this is not for real, and that flesh-and-blood women are not, in fact, perfectly coiffed sex-robots here to read your mind and fluff your pillows. Young men who mistake this fantasy for reality are going to have a tough time on the dating market. Inevitably, many get angry and disillusioned upon finding out that most women aren't interested in the thankless role of an unpaid maid and sex worker. Unfortunately, when that happens, there's even more right-wing propaganda aimed at them, which blames their frustrations on feminism. An entire industry of right-wing grifters, from Ben Shapiro to Jordan Peterson to Andrew Tate, are making a mint by exploiting young men who are desperate to hear that the problem isn't that they're sexist, it's that women don't like sexism. 

None of which does anything to actually help men. If anything, shotgunning noxious right-wing propaganda causes women to swipe left with haste, something men on conservative forums often complain about. Instead, men would be better served if they had a more realistic view of dating and relationships. Despite what tradwives would have you believe, women have never been happy being treated as second class citizens. What changed wasn't women's brains, but their options. Women, being humans like men, value their independence and their freedom. Once they were allowed to have both, they grabbed their rights and rarely looked back. Learning to like and respect women as they actually are doesn't just make dating easier. It also opens up the possibility of a real relationship with someone who is fun to hang out with, who has stuff in her life to talk about other than washing your underwear. 

The tradwives claiming otherwise on social media are playing a shell game. They sneer at feminists for working, but creating online content is work, and often quite lucrative for those who snag huge fanbases. They deride feminists for having ambition, but of course, building an audience in the competitive world of online influencers requires a striver. They want to sell themselves as humble, but the whole "tradwife" genre is built on being aggressively opinionated — and reaping major rewards, both in terms of attention and money. Most "tradwives" online are far more #GirlBoss than even the most outspoken feminist. Their viewers are just too gullible to know what they're consuming is a toxic fantasy. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Ben Shapiro Chauvinism Commentary Feminists Toxic Masculinity Tradwives