Trad Life

Trad Life

I find the trad people fascinating, and as such I really enjoyed this New Yorker piece which is mostly about one of the OG trad people, Alena Pettitt, a woman from Cheltenham(?!) which is curious as I'd really thought of it mostly as an American thing prior to this. I found I had a fair bit of sympathy for her: she seems to be have been done over by a bruising childhood and a stressful career in London media and just wanted a nice home and a happy, vaguely old-fashioned family. This would not be my preference, but I don't find it inherently objectionable.

The rest of it is almost entirely vibes-based, and one's sympathy begins to be eroded by all the crumpets-and-teacups etiquette books and "the msm is cancelling traditionalism" posturing. I find myself reminded of Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-feminism campaigner whose inarguable skill at campaigning and organising seemed to refute the words coming out of her mouth. This is the really frustrating thing, the circle that can never really be squared: if you're hearing about a trad wife in a New Yorker article then they do not actually live that lifestyle, because they have a job, one of the most modern you can imagine—influencer.

Pettitt's journey into influencerhood as told by the article is interesting because she was there before the 'rules' of trad influencerhood had been established (or possibly she just didn't have that terrifying Nose For Content that big influencers have) so it took her a while to realise "oh I should dress like an idealised sexy pin-up rather than being real and wearing jeans and a t-shirt". She realises she's caught in the net and is alienating people who are goths or gay or disabled and want to be housewives but don't fit the aesthetic, and this upsets her. This rang true to me; growing up religious in the British countryside, I've known a lot of small-c conservatives who might not be particularly attuned to what signals they're sending to marginalised folks but who are fundamentally good, nice people who aren't out to upset anyone.

The conclusion to the piece is that Pettitt has renounced influencing, deleted Instagram and retreated into what seems to me to be actual present-day tradness: being normal, living her life in the real world, not avoiding films for their presumed political valences and not posting everything on Instagram for numbers. She says that her son's going to secondary school soon and she might open a coffee shop, and is disillusioned with the "superficial, fetishized farce" of tradness. Feels like the right move to me, honestly, and Freddie has covered this: the basic problem with the trads is that you can't choose to be premodern because the act of choosing is inherently postmodern. Real tradness isn't forging your own countercultural path and imitating the ways of the past, it's going with the flow, and you can choose to do that.

Something the piece doesn't really emphasise as much as I'd like, though, is that all the brand-building prior to the Turn To Normality—the blogging and media appearances et al—seem to be facilitated (at least initially) by the fact that her husband clearly earns enough money that she can do all the chores and then choose to spend a load of time talking about being trad on the internet. I can't help but think of the contrast with my own family here. My mum stopped working to look after me when I was born. This was not 'tradness'.  She then worked part-time when my brother and I were in primary education, and full-time (at a school, so her hours would mostly overlap with ours) when we were in secondary education. This was not a rejection of 'tradness'. It was because my dad earned more money and childcare (and living!) in this country is expensive. I'm sure there were cultural expectations and scripts and stuff that went into it, but really, for most people, it's the money! Your domestic situation is largely dictated by the capabilities and requirements of the household overall.

Having a male-breadwinner household—which, reading the article, seems to be the main material thing Pettitt's advocating for here (other than a submit-to-your-husband thing that, being honest, reads more like a lowkey fetish to me than anything)—is a situation that describes nearly three quarters of UK households. (That's as of 2020, and the trend is obviously toward more female breadwinners but I doubt the number have flipped entirely in the last 4 years.) This is possibly where the London media career thing comes in, as if that's your social milieu, you're more likely to have people asking you when you're going back to work after having your kid, but I find myself asking what exactly it is that she was fighting against at the time she was giving interviews to the media on the subject. If you feel judged by your friends for your lifestyle choice, maybe the problem is your friends?

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