Modern Woman or ‘Tradwife’?

Could it be that the workplace and society in general are simply not supportive of women’s efforts and goals?

An eye-opening article in the April 10 edition of the Washington Post, “Tradwives, stay-at-home girlfriends and the dream of feminine leisure,” pointed to a new trend among some young women: returning to the 1950s model of coupling that sees women as traditional wives (“tradwives”) or stay-at-home girlfriends (SAHGs) who do not work — in or outside the home — but instead spend all day in a “life of ease.” Persuaded by social media influencers, these young women have decided to focus on maintaining their youthful appearance, keeping fit, and otherwise pleasing the men in their lives — the couples’ sole breadwinners — rather than engaging in the hard work of pursuing careers or accomplishments of their own.

The article — by Monica Hesse, a gender and society columnist and podcast host for the Post — mentions one academically gifted 16-year-old student who announced to her (appalled) mother that she was eschewing the rigors of college in favor of keeping up her appearance for a future husband who would take care of her.

Why does this seem like a good option? Could it be that the workplace and society in general are simply not supportive of women’s efforts and goals?

It always seemed to me that the feminist movement was wonderful at offering women more opportunities and choices — but less successful in offering balance. So many women have attained the full-time, high-impact, and satisfying careers they desired and deserved, but many have done so without giving up much of anything on the home and child care front — a recipe for frustration and burnout. According to a 2023 Pew study, in heterosexual relationships, even when wives earn as much as their spouses, they still handle most of the family care and housework, leaving their husbands and partners with more leisure time.

Is it any wonder that some of today’s young women are turning away from this arrangement, which seems to call for them to go into deep debt for a higher education; face bias, discrimination, and gender-based harassment in the classroom and workforce (especially in STEM fields); work long hours for less pay; and yet still shoulder most of the chores and family responsibilities?

Yet a return to the restrictive patriarchy of the past is not an acceptable, sustainable — or in many cases, achievable — answer. Hesse mentions a tradwife influencer who learned that keeping up with her social media image was, as it turned out, work. “Even wrapping herself in a retro bubble hadn’t protected her from having to make difficult choices, engage in self-introspection, work hard, live life,” Hesse wrote. “Being a public-facing tradwife turned out to be just as false of a promise as having it all.”

A better solution would be balanced relationships that view home and child care as the equal responsibilities of all parents in the family, regardless of gender, and a society set up to support people in maintaining those responsibilities. Pay equity, affordable health care options, flexible work schedules, accessible child care, and a genuine dedication to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace, in school, and in public life should be the bare minimum we all have a right to expect. It’s the reason SWE continues to advocate for gender parity and equality in engineering and technology fields and inclusive and supportive environments in STEM academics and workplaces. Together we can create a future that offers so many more opportunities for women than the past.

Laurie A. Shuster
Society of Women Engineers

“Tradwives, stay-at-home girlfriends and the dream of feminine leisure,” the Washington Post, April 10, 2024.
In a Growing Share of U.S. Marriages, Husbands and Wives Earn About the Same,” Pew Research Center, April 13, 2023.