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When tradwife life goes wrong: The cautionary tale of Lauren Southern
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When tradwife life goes wrong: The cautionary tale of Lauren Southern

Whether it’s the man or woman, no one wins in a relationship that is unnaturally lopsided, no matter what the circumstances might be.

So, maybe the whole tradwife lifestyle isn’t so good for women after all.

This is certainly the main takeaway from writer Mary Harrington’s recent essay in UnHerd, which analyzes the story of Lauren Southern, a popular anti-feminist influencer who followed her own advice and became a tradwife — only to be utterly ruined by the experience.

Mutual sacrifice and humility are what will ultimately empower both sexes and make them happy.

At the height of her fame, Southern married at 22 and gave up everything for her husband. The relationship soon became toxic as he grew to be more demanding and abusive. Eventually, they had a child and moved to Australia shortly before officials imposed extreme COVID lockdowns. Depressed and alienated, Southern flew to Canada to visit her family. Her husband divorced her over this, leaving her and her child destitute and living in a cabin in the woods.

Fortunately, by the end of it, she has emerged from the experience happier and stronger.

No doubt, many will interpret Southern’s experience as indisputable proof that the tradwife trend and anti-feminist movement in general are inherently misguided and dangerous. Harrington, herself an expert on feminism, argues that Southern’s misfortunes have more to do with oversimplifying the debate on the feminine ideal: “It seems to me, I tell her, that condensing millennia of religious belief and real-world domestic praxis into viral memes has produced a right-wing gender ideology every bit as over-simplified, dematerialised, and radically disconnected from the complexities of life as the disembodied Left-wing version.”

Online media discourages nuance and instead casts every argument as a battle between unrealistic extremes. In this case, women can either be girlboss feminists or conservative tradwives.

Harrington concludes that women of both the political and cultural left and right need to abandon these extremes, come back to reality, and work on cultivating a deeper understanding of modern femininity. One hopes they can do all this without the hardship and heartbreak that both she and Southern endured.

Far be it from me, a husband and father, to disagree with any of this, much less speak to any woman’s lived experience. Nevertheless, at the risk of being accused of mansplaining, I believe it’s worthwhile to consider how men figure into this equation of modern womanhood.

Doomed to fail

Too often, people have contradictory assumptions about men and their attitudes about modern feminism. On one hand, men are automatically anti-feminists because they are instinctively drawn to the idea of weaker women who want to have babies and stay home. On the other hand, men are also automatic feminists because they are just as instinctively drawn to the idea of obligation-free sex with empowered women who can take care of them. In both cases, the man is essentially a self-interested predator seeking to exploit the opposite sex.

But this is both wrong and unfair. Like most women, most men are neither natural anti-feminists nor feminists, nor are they predators. Men are corrupted and become predators only when they take sides and establish extremes. Put simply, being the spouse of a girlboss or a tradwife is bad for men and turns them into massive jerks.

Southern’s experience is illustrative. However one feels about it, her decision to put her ideas of traditional femininity into practice pressured her husband to embody some form of traditional masculinity. He needed to be the breadwinner and patriarch so that she could be his domestic goddess.

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This is a tall order for any man, and it’s not surprising that Southern’s husband collapsed under the pressure. Here was a beautiful and famous young woman naively relying on his leadership and strength to make her happy and fulfilled. Moreover, he needed to make this fairytale happen in a deeply liberalized, progressive environment that routinely stigmatized traditional values. Not only would he inevitably fall short and fail in some way, but he would also become a pariah living on the margins of what was socially acceptable. Nothing in his education or upbringing prepared him for this.

Thus, it makes sense that he immediately asked Southern to stop posting content online so that he could fit in at his job and be on good terms with his neighbors. It also makes sense that he had fights with his wife, who was likely disoriented and depressed by this radical change in lifestyle.

Furthermore, if there were any hope of saving the marriage, both would have to admit that they failed to live up to their ideals and make some serious changes. Instead, she would “pray by his bed when he was angry with her, hoping that if she gave him grace one more time he’d realise the depth of her love and be kinder,” and he would resolve to become even more controlling and cruel.

Striking the right balance

None of this excuses Southern’s husband, who ends up acting like a loser and coward by abandoning his wife and child. Rather, it’s to show how the unrealistic expectations of being a tradhusband can easily turn an otherwise normal guy into an immature creep. So much of it amounts to roleplaying rather than authentic living and relating.

This was true even in supposedly more traditional times. In his autobiography, former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass argued just how corrosive and harmful the ownership of human beings was to both the slave and the slaveowner. Even in the best of times, the slave would be exploited and abused, and even with the best of people, the slaveowner would turn into a monster. Specifically, he describes one of his owners, a kind woman who had her own business and originally taught Douglass how to read, gradually degenerate into a vicious tyrant because of the newfound power and authority she had as a slaveholder.

Although Harrington largely treats the pitfalls of feminism and anti-feminism as products of online media consumption and thus encourages her readers to reengage with reality, I would also suggest that men and women seek more balance in their romantic relationships, neither submitting to nor overpowering their loved ones.

Whether it’s the man or woman, no one wins in a relationship that is unnaturally lopsided, no matter what the circumstances might be. In my experience, mutual sacrifice and humility are what will ultimately empower both sexes and make them happy.

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Auguste Meyrat

Auguste Meyrat

Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher in the Dallas area. He is the senior editor of the Everyman and has written essays for the Federalist, the American Conservative, and the Imaginative Conservative.