Vicky Mochama is a contributing columnist for The Globe and Mail.
One does get quite tired of living through history.
So last week, as I felt the world moving too fast, too recklessly, I investigated the “trad” vibe, which is as much a social-media-driven movement with fascist undertones as it is an aesthetic about sundresses and flower crowns. Trad subscribers think of themselves as harkening back to the artisanal past, back when men were men, cities were farmers’ fields and a woman’s place was in the kitchen.
TikTok’s trad wives are typically women in their 30s and 40s who ascribe to a philosophy of traditional values, like ironing for your man, cooking for your man and having your man’s babies, so that you can then iron and cook for them, too. Whether they’re just disappointed in feminism’s promises or they’re outright rejecting it, the F-word – and its insistence on equal pay for equal work – is persona non grata in trad households. They don’t want to work for The Man; they prefer to work for one specific man. (Presumably staging, shooting and editing content for social-media companies doesn’t count as that dreaded equal labour.)
Certainly, there are nuances worth exploring – some trad wives are farm wives, but not all farm wives are trad wives, for example – but if you’ve read this far, the important thing to know is that a number of young white women think the patriarchy is actually quite pretty.
Rifling through trad TikToks, though, I moved quickly from unsurprised-but-annoyed to annoyed-yet-inspired. Some trad women have innovated on the archetype. They’re calling themselves stay-at-home girlfriends: instead of the shackles of marriages and careers, they can enjoy the precarity of being a girlfriend who does housework instead.
This is why, after a lot of thinking, consulting and research, I’ve made a decision. Inspired by the stay-at-home girlfriends and the trad movement, I’ll be spending the looming recession (and, indeed, the next/current pandemic) as a Husband.
I had a taste of the liberatory potential of Husbandom last week when I sat down for dinner. I simply sat in my chair and waited to be served. I wasn’t at a dinner or a restaurant; I was at my house. My sister was still setting the table!
I watched her do that for a little while, and as I did, a raw energy coursed through me. What was this new power? I had just seated myself like a lord, like some fifth Earl of Wessex – or, as I call them, Husbands. It felt great, and there were no consequences.
Now, maybe you have a good Husband who does everything, including setting the table. Congrats. But there is still evidence that gender imbalances remain rampant, even – or especially – during a crisis.
A 2010 Pew Research report found that although marriage once benefited women economically, the “gains associated with marriage have been greater for men than for women” in recent decades. In an economic downturn, a 2016 study in Demography journal found that men in heterosexual marriages tend to become more controlling, as they did in the Great Recession of 2008. History also showed they can be more difficult to live with, as was the case during the Great Depression.
In a study of rural Zimbabwe in the 1990s, researchers found that droughts led to a decline in the nutritional status of women, but not of men. And typically, one of the final steps before a family enters poverty, gender scholar Naila Kabeer wrote in 2015, is for men to abscond: “Able-bodied, male earners were often the first to abandon the family unit, leaving women to look after the very young and the very old.”
I promise this isn’t just misandry. It’s so much more than that. First of all, I love men. Men are some of my favourite people. I can even name a few.
Still, why is that, in this modern age of talking devices, self-driving car crashes and women having their own bank accounts, can only men be Husbands? It’s practically anti-feminist to insist on traditional definitions like “a husband is a married man.” Webster? Collins? Thesaurus? All men!
This effort to bend gender and queer heteronormativity isn’t just about me. And I’m not just saying this because I’m still paying off several grand in student loans that I used to learn that I am, in fact, bending gender and queering heteronormativity. It’s about the millions of girls who are dreaming of being the first woman president, the first woman to head NATO, or the first woman to be Chief DigiPriest of the Western Plains – only to open their eyes and see an unyielding wall of men.
For too long, men have ruled alone. That is changing. In 2025, NASA is hoping to put a woman on the moon. A whole woman.
If we must live through history, let’s do one better. Let a woman – me – become the first woman Husband.