A “Tradwife” Discovers the Anti-Feminist Lifestyle Is Miserable and Oppressive

A horrendous alt-right influencer who encouraged “traditional” gender roles realized that practicing what she preached made her feel enslaved.

Lauren Southern is one of the alt-right’s nastier pieces of work, a troll who tells white people there is a plot to replace them with immigrants who will undermine the foundations of civilization and who is prone to doing repugnant, idiotic things like handing out flyers that say “Allah is gay,” or saying Hitler “fawned over Muslims more sycophantically than Justin Trudeau.” She is something of a specialist in anti-Muslim bigotry. Southern insists she is not a racist, but even the conservative Times of London seemed skeptical of that, saying after an interview that “Southern flatly denies being racist or even far right, then ends our conversation by predicting a race war and quoting Enoch Powell.” An Atlantic profile (please, for the love of God, stop profiling these people) followed her as she interviewed desperate refugees and then cherry-picked their stories to portray them as opportunistic, in order to whip up public animosity toward them, while she herself “[raked] in considerable cash” from the effort. 

I therefore find it hard to muster much, or any, sympathy for any troubles in Southern’s life. Perhaps if she stopped actively using that life to hurt others, it would be easier for me to care after she herself had been hurt. But, without presenting her as in any way a sympathetic figure, I do think that comments she has made recently are useful in buttressing the case in favor of the very “woke social justice ideology” she has dedicated her life to eradicating. 

Speaking to UnHerd, Southern recounts how embracing the traditional conservative view of marriage made her life entirely miserable. Southern aimed to be what is called a “tradwife,” essentially the “1950s appliance commercial” vision of a woman as a homemaker. Women should, in this conception, exhaust themselves performing uncompensated labor around the house by cleaning, cooking, taking care of the kids, etc. The husband’s job is to “provide” and give orders. According to UnHerd, Southern, who once recorded a video called “Why I Am Not A Feminist,” decided to get married and embrace the “nurturing, feminine, domestic role promoted by Right-wing traditionalists.” As the article explains: 

There were warning signs from early on. “If I ever disagreed with him in any capacity he’d just disappear, for days at a time. I remember there were nights where he’d call me worthless and pathetic, then get in this car and leave.” But she didn’t see them, thanks to the simplified anti-feminist ideology she’d absorbed and promoted: “I had this delusional view of relationships: that only women could be the ones that make or break them, and men can do no wrong.” So she didn’t spot the red flags, even as they grew more extreme. “He’d lock me out of the house. I remember having to knock on the neighbour’s door on rainy nights, because he’d get upset and drive off without unlocking the house. It was very strange, to go from being this public figure on stage with people clapping, to the girl crying, knocking on someone’s door with no home to get into, being abandoned with a baby.” […] “I believed I had a certain role in my relationship,” she told me. “And it was to be the more submissive one that supports my husband’s dreams.” Then, thousands of miles from friends and family, she reports becoming “the closest thing to a modern day, Western slave.” With no income of her own, she had to do everything: “The lawns, the house, the cooking, the baby care, his university homework. And I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have any support. There was no help changing diapers, there was no help waking up in the night with the baby. I’d still have to get up, to make breakfast before work. I’d be shaking and nervous, for fear I’m gonna get yelled at.” Then he’d berate her for spending all her time on tasks other than earning money: “I was told daily that I was worthless, pathetic. Deadweight. All you do is sit around and take care of the baby and do chores.” When Covid shut down all real-world public life, her situation became “hell on earth.” It was, she said, “the only time in my life where I idealised dying.” […] She thought, she told me, that “as long as I put on the high heels and the lipstick when my husband comes home, as long as I cook the best meal, as long as I’m always submissive, and say yes, sir, whatever you want, things will go fantastic.” And if it’s not fantastic? The listicle version of traditionalism would just say she should make more effort.

So, essentially: Southern swallowed an ideology that says women should be treated as their husband’s property and that their interests are subordinate to those of the male breadwinner. Then her husband treated her as a piece of property, whose interests were subordinate to his own. This turned out to feel like being enslaved, because slavery is when people treat other people as property. I think most people would be surprised that Southern was surprised. She signed up for patriarchy, she experienced patriarchy, and it turns out that being a woman under a system of patriarchy is fucking miserable, because people like to have control over their own lives, and being a servant isn’t fun. It turns out that Betty Friedan was onto something about the inner desperation of the housewife. Maybe feminism had some good points after all!

I have seen conservatives respond to Southern’s sad tale by saying that the problem here isn’t the “traditional conception of marriage,” but simply the fact that Southern had a rotten husband, an asshole who treated her like dirt. The “traditional conception of marriage” imposes obligations on the husband as well, and he is supposed to take care of, and not abuse, his wife. These critics will insist there are no wider lessons to be drawn here about conservative ideology itself, which, in their view, remains sound. 

But it’s clear that many of the problems Southern faced were precisely because she tried to adhere to conservative ideology. She thought she had to suffer in a bad marriage because she believed this was her job as a woman. Conservatives might insist that an abusive marriage is not what they have in mind, but when someone is in an abusive marriage, encouraging them to be submissive means encouraging them to rationalize the awful things that are happening to them. Furthermore, the ideology said that she should be okay with her husband not wanting her to work. This is exactly her role in their ideal system. She was indeed supposed to put her husband’s dreams ahead of hers, because in a patriarchy, marriage is not an equal partnership but is led by the husband. Southern’s misery came about in very large part because of the expected imbalance of power that is built into “traditional marriage.” Her husband took seriously the idea that his interests were more important than hers and that he didn’t have to listen to her as much as she listened to him. Yes, he was an asshole, but he was also an asshole who had a theory explaining why he didn’t need to treat his wife as an equal. 

I don’t want to laugh at Southern, even though she could have been spared her ordeal if she’d spent even a small amount of time reading and listening to feminists rather than contemptuously mocking them. She is still pushing bigoted talking points, and I don’t even know how seriously to take her latest revelation, since she is a known provocateur. But her escape from her disastrous “traditional” marriage is a major vindication of the activists who have spent centuries fighting for women’s equality, and evidence that perhaps people like her should think twice before treating feminism as a pox on society.  

Even more importantly, perhaps Southern should use this experience to become more humble about other aspects of her ideology, too. She espoused an ideology that sounded fine (women should enjoy enslavement), but then experienced the consequences of the ideology firsthand, and it turned out enslavement wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Maybe this will make her more moderate on issues of gender justice. But what about issues where she hasn’t ended up seeing what it was like to be the victim? Maybe if she could spend a few years as a desperate refugee from a Muslim country, she’d be less inclined to spread toxic stereotypes about the Islamic world. But so far, her revelations seem essentially selfish: she’s learned that her ideology was bad for her, but not how it’s bad for people who are very different from her. 

The conservative worldview is fundamentally cruel. It makes the lives of immigrants, LGBTQ people, poor people, and women far worse by stripping away the basic human rights necessary for a good life. We have seen, through Lauren Southern’s horrendous marriage, how this happens in the home, where patriarchy means one person gets to ride roughshod over the other person’s desires, needs, and interests, and women end up telling themselves that their unhappiness is The Way Things Ought To Be. I hope those on the right not only realize that the “trad wife” concept has been rejected for good reason, but that many of their other ideas are similarly horrible, at least when you’re in the role of the person who lacks power. 

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