What Do Tradwives Have to Do With Democracy?

If we don’t act now, the tradwives and the men who love them will win

This excerpt originally appeared on Jill.substack.com, a newsletter from journalist, lawyer and author Jill Filipovic.

At no time in modern American history has democracy felt so imperiled. We are staring down an election in which a self-styled authoritarian has been clear about his plans to disregard democratic processes, in which a series of far-right activists have published a roadmap to help him do it, and before which the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to unprecedented and unpunished presidential criminality. And a big part of this anti-democratic movement, like so many others around the world, has been misogyny and the fetishization of a return to a patriarchal, male-led culture.

Emily Amick, lawyer and former counsel to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and New York Times bestselling author and Betches Media cofounder Sami Sage, have a new book out this week exploring all of this—and what average citizens can do to make a difference. I’m thrilled to share an excerpt below, and you can pick up Democracy in Retrograde wherever books are sold.

(Courtesy of Betches Media)

The following is an excerpt from Democracy in Retrograde: How to Make Changes Big and Small in Our Country and in Our Lives by Emily Amick and Sami Sage.

When Donald Trump took the debate stage dodged the question about how he would handle helping families pay for childcare in America, my women friends were righteously pissed off. I was also served a series of conservative memes on Instagram saying that the government wouldn’t need to pay for childcare if women just stayed home. Friends told me they saw the same kind of content that night, many for the first time. 

When Harrison Butker took the stage at Benedictine College and told the crowd that women are on the receiving end of “diabolical lies” about their ability to find fulfillment in the professional sphere, rather than fulfilling their vocation in the home, there was a righteous uproar from nearly every woman I know.

It wasn’t just about Harrison. It wasn’t just about Trump. It was about the endless stream of tradwife content we’ve been receiving online—posts admonishing us for feeding our children food not grown by our own two hands, calls to turn over financial decision-making to our husbands, posts with millions of likes exhorting women’s only role as that of a mother. 

I received hundreds of messages talking about how these viral videos are the harbinger of the downfall of democracy and women’s rights.

And yet the very same people who get so angry about the Harrison Butkers and the tradwives have also told me they are so burnt out on politics they are checking out this election cycle because they have totally lost hope.

Too many people I know are great at a private DM, or whispering to someone whom they know already agree with them, but are unwilling to speak publicly or take action. And if that continues, the Butkers and the #tradwives and (more importantly) the well-resourced conservative movements behind them that want to take away women’s agency and rights … are going to win. And it will be our fault too.

Women have a decision to make this year, and it’s between tapping out or tapping in. … I hope that we all chose to tap in. For democracy. For our daughters. And for ourselves. 

The kinds of conservative forces behind Butker and the tradwives are good at tapping into young women’s insecurities and desires in a way that those on the left are not. At the recent Turning Point USA young women’s leadership conference, sundress-bedecked “cute-servatives” flooded Barbie-pink rooms to strategize about how to win the “culture wars.” (“At home!” they all cheered in unison!) 

Attendees at the conservative Turning Point People’s Convention on June 16, 2024, at Huntington Place in Detroit. (Jeff Kowalsky / AFP via Getty Images)

Last year their leader, Alex Clark, said that the most important thing about the conference was that she convinced women to go off birth control. This year, the stakes were bigger, better and pinker. Leading up to the event, their socials were sprinkled with beautiful hand drawn pastoral scenes calling on the attendees to “embrace tradition.” The political organizations publicly posted a Valentine’s Day card that said, “Buy me chickens and tell me you don’t trust the government.” 

The tradwife movement is more than just eye-catching images of open land, barefoot kids, chickens, and sourdough perfectly cultivated for an Instagram grid. It’s a cultural movement to influence young women to willingly check out of the workforce and give up their rights and agency.

And if progressives are too “burnt out” to check back in, these forces will win the culture war and the political movements to take away birth control, end no-fault divorce and take away a woman’s choice whether to go through with an unwanted pregnancy.

#Tradwives, those social media influencers who dress like Donna Reed and Betty Draper and bake goodies in their gorgeous kitchens for their millions of viewers on Instagram, preach that happiness can be found through homesteading, homeschooling and leaning into your role as mother, as opposed to leaning into the working world. These images are intensely compelling and regularly go viral because they are aesthetically pleasing and targeted to young women desperate for the path of least resistance in a country that doesn’t support them nearly enough. 

This is about creating a narrative around what makes women happy, convincing women that only if we give up our decision-making power to men and step into our role as wife and mother, we will be truly happy.

The Tradwife, or Traditional Wife, is an online female persona that’s been resurrected by influencers of late. (Screenshots from TikTok)

Tradwives don’t exist without the broader context of the political, cultural and legal changes happening in our society. They are being orchestrated by a political movement that understands the power of a culture war to build a voting block. 

Stringent gender norms, hatred of non-heteronormative sexuality, idealization of a fictionalized history of whitewashed family life in America mix together with a toxic soup of rage baited masculinity, growing income inequality, lack of parental support and a media environment where aesthetics reign supreme to build a powerful point of the spear. 

This is about creating a narrative around what makes women happy, convincing women that only if we give up our decision-making power to men and step into our role as wife and mother, we will be truly happy. And growing the amount of people who believe that and support politicians who are trying to restrict democracy and turn back the clock on our rights. 

It’s the Serena Joys espousing the role of traditional womanhood and ushering in our own subjugation. 

And it is working. I speak to young women every day who tell me they are exhausted and burnt out by politics. They tell me they are “sitting this one out,” when it comes to voting. They tell me they believe they were fed a lie about the virtues of feminism and that maybe they would be happier if they just found a man to support them.

Even some of my smartest friends—highly educated women who have voted in every election since they were 18—have thrown up their hands and said they don’t even see a point of engaging any more because it all feels hopeless. 

Sure, there is outrage when a speech by someone like Harrison Butker goes viral as he espouses his belief that a woman’s highest virtue is serving her family as a wife and mother. But that isn’t action. 

And if the women who want to protect our ability to make our own choices about our lives throw up our hands and give into the hopelessness … then we will see the tradwives and the Harrison Butkers continue to influence more and more young people and their politics. Women will continue to lose their rights and their agency. It is already happening.

Republicans have blocked the Right to Contraception Act in 12 states and in the Senate. The tradwives and their ilk have been moving the Overton window, so that one day, politicians can move to actually restricting access to contraception. And it will be framed as doing a favor for women, not the draconian measure to restrict healthcare options that it will be. 

Women have a decision to make this year, and it’s between tapping out or tapping in.  The thing about tapping out is that it’s not without consequence—it’s a decision to give up your agency to people who want you to lose your rights. So I hope that we all chose to tap in. For democracy. For our daughters. And for ourselves. 

You can pick up a copy of Democracy in Retrograde now from wherever books are sold (we always recommend your favorite local bookstore). You can also follow Emily Amick and Sami Sage on Instagram.

Up next:

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About , and

Jill Filipovic is a New York-based writer, lawyer and author of OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind and The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness. A weekly columnist for CNN and a 2019 New America Future of War fellow, she is also a former contributing opinion writer to The New York Times and a former columnist for The Guardian. She writes at jill.substack.com and holds writing workshops and retreats around the world.
Sami Sage is a co-founder and chief creative officer of Betches Media.
Emily Amick is a lawyer, journalist, and political analyst who served as counsel to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. She created @EmilyinYourPhone to give people her insider insight into the political process and help them find ways they can take action.