Mention the word “tradwife” and you might imagine the 1950s archetype: A “traditional wife” in a dress and an apron, smiling at her husband and three kids while presenting a gleaming beef roast at the dinner table, pleased as ever in her domestic domain.
For a swath of right-wing American men, that image is part of a fantasy of how things “used to be,” in the good ol’ days before antifa and Black Lives Matter and feminist YouTubers ruined everything. The tradwife symbolizes stability — at least for those who imagine social change as an attack on their identity and being. It is the “submissive and breedable” meme, made unironic by chauvinism. It is, ultimately, a hatred of women going their own way.
Which made it all the more surprising when Mariel Cooksey began noticing the Gen Z women and girls actively repping the tradwife aesthetic and lifestyle online. Cooksey, a researcher at the Institute for Research on Male Supremacy, decided to study why and how this rhetoric spreads, and found that teen girls are being attracted to the movement thanks to an evolution in how tradwife ideas are marketed and presented.
Anti-feminist women rising at various moments to support male-led movements is nothing new (see: the Ku Klux Klan). But the blend of Gen Z online culture and old-world patriarchal beliefs is harder to parse. Cooksey describes it as a pyramid scheme, with influencers able to tap into a much broader group of women, looking for counterculture in an increasingly chaotic world. “This isn’t the same phenomenon as MAGA girls, and ironically, you see some Gen Z tradwife accounts posting critically about them. Because even Trump Republicanism has modern feminism in it — women are running for Congress, you know?” Cooksey explains. “Instead, these young women are filling a niche that’s a counterpart of young male extremism in the far right.”
On the surface, identifying as a tradwife doesn’t necessarily mean you align with white nationalism or other extremist political views. But the overlap in rhetoric and the whiteness of the movement is stark, and Cooksey tells me that some tradwife influencers are explicit in their sharing of extremist ideas, with personalities like Ayla Stewart (aka “Wife With A Purpose”) and Caitlin Huber (“Mrs. Midwest”) interacting openly with white nationalist accounts.
Consider it the next chapter in the story of how the alt-right has given way to niche subcultures that repackage the same toxic ideas on masculinity, gender roles, “family values” and the need for patriarchy. This isn’t just a response to modern feminism — tradwife influencers are at the intersection of white and male supremacy in America, rooted in a theory that order will return to society if women submit to men and support the family while ignoring everything else.
That such old-school conservative beliefs are being held up as counterculture by Gen Z women and girls is another sign of fascism creep. I recently sat down with Cooksey for a conversation on what’s different about this version of tradwife idealism, the ways in which young women are attracted to it as a form of online counterculture and why it needs to be studied.
When did you start to investigate how some of these right-wing, deeply misogynistic ideas are gaining traction with young women again?
I graduated with my master’s in December and a large part of my thesis was the relationship between the alt-right and Christianity, and how newer Gen Z offshoots are branching out from alt-right culture over the last five, six years. It’s young people who swear they’re not part of the alt-right, but have undeniable roots in it, like the American Identity Movement or Nick Fuentes and the Groypers. These are groups that are oriented at the “campus level,” under the age of 25, generally. I’ve been keeping an eye on this cohort for a long time.
It occured to me that the female side of this movement isn’t brought into the fold a lot because, for instance, the Groypers are very exclusionary toward women. Ultra misogynistic. Yet they have these expectations for how they want their future wives and families to look. And I wondered how these incel overtones would work in relationships. Of course there’s the fundamentalists — Fundy influencers — but they tend to be older, married and more focused on a conservative Christian view. So where would younger girls fit in? And what kind of content are they putting out?
What’s the history of this subculture, and why is the Gen Z approach so different?
The idea of tradwife has been around forever. In the strictest sense, it would be a stay-at-home mom, who only takes care of the kids and the house, never the money or even politics. But Gen Z is changing the imagery around these ideas in a very modern way.
One example is a girl I call “Sarah” in my article. She’s very in tune with counterculture aesthetics online. She’s got bleached hair, sparkly Nike Airs, black nails, Hello Kitty, almost a new-goth look. So she’s very much in teen-girl pop culture, but she also goes to the Groyper conventions. She is actively participating in far-right events and spreading that in between her non-political content.
I also came across a TikTok called Trad Wife Hype House, which is now deleted, unfortunately. But it was a typical goldmine of teenage girls, 16 at the youngest, who had clearly been raised religiously in working-class households. But they were selling pro-fascist politics and talking points, and no one seems to understand the impact this has.
So it’s obvious that there is a way for these women to have their cake and eat it too — they’re doing TikTok dances to popular songs. They’re still showing off their cute dresses. But they’re also trying to be fundamentalists and selling authoritarian ideas on why things used to be better back in the day.
Why is this appealing to younger women in today’s cultural climate?
What I’ve noticed in the TikTok content I’ve seen is that the girls are increasingly suspicious of this corporate type of Lean In feminism, to get systemically overworked and underpaid, and be taken away from caring for their kids. I mean, I get it — my mom was like that too.
This is my own opinion, but I’m convinced that Gen Z is affected by the fear of collapse. And dreaming about being a tradwife is kind of a response to the worst-case scenario. Like, ‘Everything will be okay if I have a military husband and my nine children in a lovely cottage, away from the mess.’ Obviously, there’s several steps of logic missing in that. So ultimately, it’s a coping mechanism. The idea that simpler is better — and I don’t have to run on the hamster wheel anymore.
It’s also clear, by the way, that these young women are very aware of the men who are part of the incel far-right. You see in the content and the comments that the girls see those kinds of men as misogynist assholes. They’re looking for an authoritarian, hyper-masculine figure who still respects them and their autonomy. It’s a weird kind of cognitive dissonance.
Why is this a problematic evolution of far-right culture, rather than just a niche that exists for clout?
It does beg the question of how much of it is just for attention. There’s no real way for us to know on the other side of the screen. It’s very possible that, like a lot of young men, they’ll grow out of these right-wing ideas. But the pipeline makes a real difference. You start on a TikTok, and you can end up reading a blog on Biblical womanhood really fast. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of the Gen Z girls I’ve seen posting tradwife content have come from fundamentalist Christian backgrounds, or from being Republicans.
As long as white supremacist groups have been happening, women have played a specific role in them. Women have played this sympathetic sort of role, trying to make white nationalist groups more approachable and normal. I don’t think that effect has changed much since the 1960s, and it’s still dangerous today. I don’t want to knock any woman who wants a certain lifestyle, closer to their kids and home. It’s only when white nationalism and white supremacy creep in that it becomes a problem. And it has.
How do we tackle some of the root causes of this mindset and the way it ultimately supports toxic men?
A common factor is the internalized misogyny in the way they talk about womanhood and themselves. We know how women are conditioned to give value to themselves based on the male gaze, and sometimes, another woman getting in the way of that is a threat. It’s a tale as old as time, and we saw this kind of anti-feminist response in the past.
But the “tradwives” I’ve been following are really young, so it’s a little bit of a different story, too. Their experience is intertwined with, unfortunately, the stress and drama that a lot of teenage girls go through. Ideally, you grow out of it as you find your own identity and path later in life. The trouble is, it shows a lot of gaps in modern-day feminism: It’s not intersectional enough, it’s not inclusive enough, it’s not anti-capitalist enough. And young women are slipping through the cracks and finding themselves learning a toxic kind of womanhood — one that supports patriarchal power and competes for masculine attention and calls it freedom.
Richard Spencer was right when he said his goal for the alt-right was to shift the Overton window and normalize these fascist ideas. He was right — and now we see, especially with social media algorithms, how it’s one click and you’re down a rabbit hole. But to be clear, tradwives and other “red-pilled” women are a much smaller demographic than young men who are part of the far-right today. Ironically, that’s because there’s just more support and cultural spaces for young men in the far right. It’s always been exclusionary to women. But that only adds to the feeling of tradwifing as counterculture.