At first glance, Sarah (not her real name) is your average, social-media-savvy, Generation Z girl. Her Instagram account is typical of a “Zoomer” feminine aesthetic: inspired by the alternative, colorful style of late 1990s/early 2000s counterculture fashion, her page is full of sparkles, Hello Kitties, black-painted nails, and a photo of her Nike Airs.
What you wouldn’t be able to discern at first glance is Sarah’s far-right political leanings. Supported by a follower count of over 17,000, her TikTok account provides her a substantial platform to spread her gospel of right-wing, anti-feminist, and anti–LGBTQ rhetoric. Mixed in with her lip-syncing videos about boys and her favorite bands, she comments frequently on the degeneracy of feminism, repeats racist stereotypes about Black men, jokes about killing liberals, and shames White people who criticize their own race.
Sarah isn’t alone. She’s part of a growing group of teenage girls and young women who fully embrace the misogynistic talking points of the Far Right. On any given day you’ll find them on TikTok preaching a “hip-to-be-square” lifestyle: modest, often zealously religious, and purposefully restricted. In their videos and on their Twitter accounts, between posting fashion inspiration and memes, they fantasize explicitly about the mythical post-war Americana of the mid-20th century, which they envision as full of Aryan nuclear families and blonde, Tupperware-touting women who are submissive to their husbands.
The online trend Sarah is part of is known as “tradwifery”: a movement that’s part aesthetic and part ideology, encouraging women to embrace supposedly feminine characteristics like chastity and submissiveness, and trade feminist empowerment for a patriarchal vision of gender norms. In some circles, being a tradwife—short for “traditional wife”—also means being a fundamentalist Christian, and accepting that women shouldn’t work, shouldn’t have the right to vote, and should fully submit to their husbands and their faith to live a happy life of homemaking.
Emerging as an online movement around the 2016 election and the rise of the Alt Right, the first generation of tradwives, dominated by Millennial housewives and mothers, is older than Sarah. The most popular tradwife influencers have a large audience, with the largest 10-15 accounts having tens of thousands of followers on Instagram and YouTube. These influencers use their platforms to guide “red pilled” women, teaching them how to cast off the chains of modern feminism and embrace traditionalism. While traditionalist, gender restrictive roles for women have been prevalent in right-wing religious groups for centuries, the tradwife movement is a uniquely social-media-based movement, defined by contemporary marketing strategies and social clout. Popular influencers will often post YouTube videos giving advice on how to make your husband happy, how to express femininity in a “God Honoring” way, and general criticisms of feminism to their numerous subscribers.
While not all tradwives associate with White supremacist politics—and not all are Christian fundamentalists—the movement offers an elegant solution for women seeking acceptance in White nationalist factions. Some popular tradwife influencers are explicit in their connection to far-right ideas, using their platforms to disseminate White supremacist propaganda. Social media personalities Ayla Stewart (aka “Wife With A Purpose”) and Caitlin Huber (aka “Mrs. Midwest”) both follow and interact with White nationalist accounts online. Stewart in particular has spread White supremacist ideas such as “replacement theory,” the conspiratorial belief that White people are being systematically replaced by non-White immigrants. More prominent influencers, including Huber, are more circumspect in their political associations, following White supremacist and neonazi accounts on Instagram but not explicitly repeating pro-White propaganda.
But with the rise of new social platforms like TikTok, which generally appeal to a younger demographic, the movement is poised to spread as a new generation of girls are introduced to #tradlife. Generation Z—those born after 1996 and colloquially known as “Zoomers”—is a cohort of internet natives. Scarcely aware of a pre-internet reality, they were raised in the “Lean In” era of feminism and are immersed in a constant stream of web information. They also statistically skew more progressive, are less intent on fixed gender roles, and are more ethnically diverse and queerer than most generations before them. But amid this overall trend of greater progressivism, a subsection of far-right Gen Z women is mounting its own social media backlash. Within this world, women and girls, sometimes as young as 16, are amassing tens of thousands of views on TikTok by presenting themselves as aspiring tradwives, lip-syncing or dancing to trending rap or pop music as they disparage women’s rights, quote the Bible, and muse about the modest outfits they’ll wear and the meals they’ll cook once they’ve married.
Zoomers’ foray into tradwifery signals a massive change in the movement. Not only is this ideology becoming more mainstream with younger, Right-leaning female audiences, it’s becoming integrated into Gen Z internet culture, taking on timely cultural trends, political views, and concepts of gender. Tradwifery is a complicated movement, entangled in a difficult history of patriarchal religiosity, racism, and misogyny, but aspiring Zoomer tradwives are actively simplifying it, transforming tradwife ideology into fun, musical video bites, easily digested by their followers in 30 seconds or less.
While much research into the Far Right has focused on young men’s radicalization into White supremacist and White nationalist groups, considerably less attention has been paid to the radicalization process of modern-day teenage girls. But just as young men have been lured into the far-right pipeline by edgy meme culture and red pill rhetoric, trad girls may be crafting their own domestic wing of the movement, one like at a time.
The Generational Backlash to Feminism
Understanding the draw of tradwifery requires first understanding the historical and cultural context in which Generation Z has come of age, particularly in regard to feminism and gender roles.
A certain strand of third wave feminism, which took hold in the U.S. in the early 2010s, popularized “individualistic careerism feminism” or what we’ve come to know as corporate feminism or #girlboss culture. This version of feminism was epitomized by works like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book, Lean In, which focused more on individual women pursuing corporate success over systemic critiques of gender bias at work. This style of corporate feminism was criticized for prioritizing capitalistic success for elite, primarily White women intent on competing with male colleagues at the expense of broader group solidarity, intersectionalism, and racial justice.
Corporate feminism also paid little attention to the first wave dream of domestic revolution. In pursuit of financial independence and social equality, material feminist leaders in the 19th and early 20th centuries believed that women would need to socialize housework and childcare in order to manage both work and domestic life and thus campaigned for the creation of “housewife cooperatives,” day-care centers, community kitchens, and dining halls that would be run by paid female domestic workers. In theory, employing collective or communal mothering in order to give women working in other fields a chance to progress in their careers was a good idea. In practice, these ideas were implemented in a system of racial capitalism, leading to the contradictions of this ideology being resolved by employing (and underpaying) working class and poor women of color.
We are now in the fourth wave of U.S. feminism—a movement progressively more focused on diversity, intersectionalism, queerness, and openness about sexual violence and assault than earlier waves. But for all these positive steps, many women have been failed by the compromises of modern feminism and late-stage capitalism, unable to find a workable solution for the quandary of work-life balance. Gen Z girls have watched their working mothers lean into unequal workplaces only to earn less money in a capitalist system that also devalues their domestic workload.
At the same time, the Far Right has renewed its old backlash fight against feminism, warning that working women empowered by feminism are stunting their children’s growth and tearing the traditional family structure apart. As academic Angela Nagle explains in her book Kill All Normies, this argument debuted at the height of second wave feminism in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, when conservative anti-feminists like Phyllis Schlafly battled the Equal Rights Amendment on the grounds that women’s equality would “destroy the US family, moral restraints and tradition.” Backlash leaders in Schlafly’s era celebrated traditional gender roles for women as the backbone of the nation, honoring domestic labor and childbearing as vital work in the service of preserving tradition and a conservative status quo. Fifty years later, the Far Right has reaffirmed that message and make explicit its racial agenda as well: that White women embracing #tradlife is the key to saving the “White race.” 
And so, today, young women trying to gain access to male-dominated far-right circles encounter an endless stream of anti-feminist rhetoric, and often proudly embrace the label. On female-exclusive right-wing Reddit forums like r/RedPillWomen, they echo far-right talking points about women’s sexual value or biological duties, and how feminism doesn’t liberate women but diverts them from their true calling as mothers and wives. In the mid-2010s, Alt Right social media influencers Lauren Southern and Lana Lokteff recruited women by framing their choice to reject feminism and join the Far Right as an act of empowerment, leaving behind the “false consciousness” of liberalism, equal rights, and anti-racism.
Perhaps affected by their own experience with working mothers or simply influenced by far-right talking points, aspiring Gen Z tradwives often echo the same anti-feminist, anti-work, and pro-family sentiments. Yet, despite these claims, aspiring tradwives on TikTok also unknowingly repeat feminist rhetoric: openly promoting gender equality in relationship decision-making; pushing back against objectification and over-sexualization of women, particularly of under-age girls; and criticizing the porn industry for normalizing sexual violence and aggression against women. Much like Schlafly in the ‘70s, today’s anti-feminist tradwives use the victories of feminism to undermine the very movement that fought for them to have such agency. And as young, mostly unmarried people in middle-class America—where many aspects of basic gender equality are taken for granted—their advocacy is mostly risk-free, allowing them to push back against liberal convention and modernity without much threat of facing danger or oppression themselves. Tradwifery, as the technologized, aestheticized movement it has become, offers a perfect gateway for teenage women to experiment with anti-feminist right-wing and far-right politics from the safety of their parents’ homes.
Increasingly Complicated Gender Roles and Relationships
Another important factor for aspiring Gen Z tradwives is the promise of a fulfilling, traditionalist relationship. In response to their generational peers’ widespread acceptance of queerness and gender non-conformity, tradwife influencers often conspicuously push back by aggressively romanticizing heterosexuality and heteronormative gender roles. As Miranda Christou, a senior fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, details in her article “#TradWives: Sexism as Gateway to White Supremacy,” words like “tradition” and “traditional” invoke notions of heritage and nationalism, even if, as she adds, these traditions are merely “frozen moments in history arbitrarily chosen from the cultural repertoire as ‘the’ authentic expression of the national collective.” For tradwives, that means their depiction of tradition in TikTok videos tends to glamorize a mythical post-war 1950s Americana, populated by White, often blonde, nuclear families sitting around the fire, eating dinner, or attending church. As Christou surmises, these mythical portrayals also serve as “coded language on demographic panics,” harkening back to a time when the American identity was primarily White, conservative, and heterosexual, and making an implicit call to restore that status quo.
These videos paint a clear picture: traditionalist Gen Z women are dreaming of a perfect marriage in a culturally conservative world, untouched by queerness, immigration, and progressivism. In these fantasies they are adored homemakers, respected and cared for, financially and emotionally, by traditionally masculine men—men who are wealthy, fertile, handsome, and strong, but also tender, kind, and cognizant of their needs.
In reality, gender dynamics are shifting quickly for Generation Z; particularly in liberal-leaning groups, more Gen Z men are ditching traditional notions of manliness in favor of a more empathetic vision of their gender identity, with about half of the Gen Z population agreeing that traditional gender norms and gender labels are outdated. This is in tandem with a noticeable uptick in self-identified fluidity, with 41 percent of polled Zoomers from Western countries identifying as “neutral” in terms of their position “on the spectrum of masculinity and femininity.”
This evolving vision of masculinity has caused intense backlash among far-right Gen Z men. Young male White nationalists have begun putting enormous stock in supporting and identifying with male chauvinism and aggressive heterosexuality, attempting to distance themselves from what they perceive to be their generation’s degeneracy. Women-bashing and slut-shaming as a way to assert dominance is nearly ubiquitous in Zoomer Christian paleoconservative and White nationalist circles. There, the general attitude toward women can be summed up by America First leader Nick Fuentes’ unofficial mantra: “no e-girls, never!” (E-girls is a slang term for teenage girl influencers with a cute, anime-inspired aesthetic.) Young far-right groups like Fuentes’ base—commonly known as Groypers—typically exclude women and girls. Fuentes has also openly argued that “women cannot be red pilled,” and thus cannot be part of the movement; or, as he more succinctly put it, “my ideology is fuck women.”
While Fuentes’ sentiment cannot be applied to all young paleoconservatives, his viewpoint (and his popularity among Gen Z White nationalists) could be indicative of the Far Right’s evolving gender relations. If women are no longer able to participate in the Far Right—even in gender segregated spheres like the r/RedPillWomen forum—the traditional symbiotic relationship between men and women in White nationalist movements could be changing. As Kathleen Belew, author of Bring the War Home, recounts in her chapter “Race War and White Women,” women’s activism has always been crucial to the success of White supremacist groups, strengthening social and familial bonds within the movements and providing more attractive spokespeople for White supremacist positions on female sexuality, “race-mixing,” and abortion. But if the Groypers’ female-exclusionary trend continues or spreads, it may represent a pattern where both far-right men and women share the same desire for a traditionalist, heteronormative relationship, but have diametrically opposed expectations for what that looks like, leaving them unable to relate to one another.
The Fear of Collapse
The last, and often underrepresented, factor drawing Gen Z women to tradwifery is the fear of imminent collapse. Collapse, as an all-encompassing term, includes mass displacement, economic depression, food scarcity as agricultural production fails, political upheaval, the end of non-renewable resources, disease, war, and irremediable climate change. Eco-anxiety in particular is common, with many Zoomers and Millennials feeling that climate change has robbed them of their future before they’ve had a chance to enjoy it. In the wake of such gloomy prospects, many young people have replaced fantasies of flashy, consumptive lifestyles with a romanticized vision of agrarian life known as “cottagecore,” dreaming of finding a stable microclimate in which they can own a house, grow their own food, and live a happy life.
The anger and helplessness young people feel about collapse is justified by current trends, but it also makes them vulnerable to dangerous movements that want to help them make sense of this downward spiral. As Dr. Eviane Leidig, a researcher on the Far Right, gender, and online radicalization, explains in a 2020 Impakter article, “From Incels to Tradwives,” young men and women are attracted to far-right ideologies because “these extreme movements simplify an increasingly complex world, one that is easy to retreat into through chat rooms and algorithmic recommendations. The nostalgia for a mythic past in which gender norms are dictated by a clear division of labor, or the reinforcement of social status according to biological masculinity and femininity, becomes appealing.”In short, the trad movements may be displacing the anxiety young people feel about collapse onto anxieties about relationship and gender.
In the case of aspiring tradwives, the homespun lifestyle they seek inadvertently promotes this necessary civilization-wide return to a less consumptive lifestyle. In fact, many of the far-right religiopolitical ideologies Gen Z tradwives appear to align with include elements of communitarianism and the return to a simpler life. There is even a small subsection of cottagecore adherents (albeit more Left-leaning) who identify as anarcho-primitivists or “anprims,” advocating for the dismantling of industrialized civilization in order to return to a more eco-conscious hunter-gatherer style of society.
Of course, from a White nationalist point of view, the return to a rural lifestyle makes obvious connections to colonization and frontierism, harkening back to cultural beliefs like Manifest Destiny and racial “civilizing” as a justification for European expansion. The Gen Z tradwife vision of cottagecore is not eco-minded or diverse, but rather a knowing nod to the White supremacist politics that governed American conservationism for over a century—the same politics that fought to preserve nature for the sole enjoyment of White Americans. As student journalist Claire Ollivain writes in a piece on “Cottagecore, Colonialism, and the Far-Right,” the line between “Blood and Soil” Volkism and cottagecore has already blurred online, with some speculating that the Far Right may be “exploiting [cottagecore] as a recruitment base targeting people who already accept ‘white, westernized beliefs about nature.’” This phenomenon is reflected in TikTok tradwife content with videos displaying various images of White heteronormative families exploring nature and enjoying an agrarian lifestyle.
As such, tradwifery strongly appeals to White supremacist accelerationists who welcome the collapse of society in order to return to a White-dominated, patriarchal status quo. Annie Kelly, a PhD student who researches White supremacist women, told me in an interview that many Far Rightists welcome societal breakdown because they believe that the outcome of such a collapse will serve as a lesson to hard-headed feminists who refused to embrace their own inferiority and will thus suffer without the protection of a man. By embracing the sectarian politics and rigid relationship structures of a fundamentalist lifestyle, aspiring tradwives presume they can not only expect to receive such male protection in a dangerous future but are also freed from the burden of participating in an increasingly complicated globalist society right now. Perhaps in the face of enormous uncertainty about the future and their role as women in it, aspiring teenage tradwives may see this protection as a promising alternative.
Our modern world is a difficult one for young women, particularly for those entering adulthood and trying to navigate their worth in a highly technologized, oversaturated social media market constantly bombarding them with information about acceptable femininity and their place in society. For some Gen Z women, tradwifery offers a simple offline solution; regardless of how racist, misogynistic, and extremist these spaces may appear to outsiders, it’s clear that the comforting, nostalgic aesthetics of the modern Far Right is speaking to these aspiring tradwives. If we are to re-route the next generation of underage women away from this toxic lifestyle, we need to reflect on the unfinished work in our own politics, fully embracing and acknowledging the fear of collapse and the failure of modern feminism to support those women who want to choose an alternative path.
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