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You may laugh at tradwives, but therein lies a hidden truth

Mary McCarthy


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‘Tradwife’: Attitudes towards women’s work and family roles have changed dramatically over the past 40 years

‘Tradwife’: Attitudes towards women’s work and family roles have changed dramatically over the past 40 years

‘Tradwife’: Attitudes towards women’s work and family roles have changed dramatically over the past 40 years

Are there many Irish tradwives out there? I don't mean women mad for the fiddle, I'm talking about submissive types, dissatisfied with modern life, happy working at home and leaving all the big decisions to their husbands.

When I read about this #tradwives trend, my first thought was this is the media trying to stoke up imaginary mummy wars.

I could not name one woman who hankered after a return to the patriarchal structures. I had tradwifes neatly boxed off as a very niche scene in the US and the UK.

That is until my partner joked that, actually, I was a bit tradwife myself, having jacked in the working world for a decade to stay at home looking after the children, and were there not a good few women at the school who did this?

And it seems there are, with the latest Central Statistics Office figures highlighting this fact: the rate of women in the workforce in Ireland remains lower than the EU average and there are fewer women than men working in Ireland, with this gap widening much further when they have children.

Why is this, when there has never been more effort to ensure parity between men and women on pay and opportunities in the workforce?

Is there some kind of an underground tradwife scene going on? Not with the super-conservative connotations you see on Twitter but a quiet opting out - maybe not forever, but for a spell anyway.

If you had told me in my 20s that I would spend my entire 30s at home scrubbing, I would have laughed into my soy latte.

But when I had children I found I was unable to hand them over to someone else.

We were living abroad for the first three years - so that was my excuse.

When I got back to Ireland, I spent park dates with friends on maternity leave frowning into mobiles at work emails, I saw my sister's tears when, with two kids aged under two, her boss told her she had to attend conference calls with US headquarters at 5.45pm.

I saw the lack of time and the inability to savour the moment because there were always a zillion things to think about.

And I figured I was not up for it. Besides, I would have been more or less working to pay the crèche.

With home life, my focus was smoother. If the school announced a training day or everyone came down with chickenpox, it wasn't an issue. Because you don't have any pressing plans, you can accommodate last- minute changes. You rarely feel life is whizzing by and that one day they are on the swings, the next they are heading off to their transition year ball.

If you have a baby who won't sleep at night you can take a cosy morning nap together, you can spend all morning cooking dinner, you don't need to fret about looking polished - it's not quite nipping down to the school in a fleecy onesie but you can if you want to.

Yet, like everything that matters in life, it's never clear-cut. There are many negatives.

The obvious one is poverty. For every stay-at-homer tearing around in a Canada Goose jacket and a Range Rover, there will be many more anxiously mentally counting up the bill in Lidl.

As a direct consequence of not working for 10 years we are still renting - try buying a house in Dublin on a civil servant's income and I'll tell you you're dreaming.

Was this selfish of me? Yes, most probably. It also meant my partner had to take on the stress of being the breadwinner.

Unlike the tradwives' partners, he would have booted me out the door to work long ago. And unlike the tradwives, I never once got a wife 'bonus', though I would have happily accepted one.

Other downsides are how you can feel isolated, the repetition, the boredom of playgrounds, kids not being always reasonable when they want more 'Peppa Pig' or take off their nappy in the post office.

When I was not working, I was constantly asked when was I going to "get back out there". I did feel at times I was letting the sisterhood down and that I had zero ambition. Yet I was perfectly content as I felt my time was more valuably spent looking after my children.

While I don't believe life was better for women in the past, these tradwives have one thing right and that is that there is a satisfaction which comes with working at home that gets a bit lost amid all the chat about gender pay gaps, women on boards and so on.

Attitudes towards women's work and family roles have changed dramatically over the past 40 years. In 1981, 55pc of women classified themselves as working looking after the home and family, and now the majority work.

Yet, there are still many who don't and in the last census 15pc of women classified themselves this way. I suspect next year we won't see much difference.

Now that I work part-time, the bigger ones are in school and I leave my three-year-old son with the most lovely crèche workers imaginable - they are truly the unsung heroes of Irish economic growth.

I am happy with the decisions I made and no tracker mortgage or job title that I might have now would make me reconsider.

There is no binary mother-worker identity.

Some decades maybe you are full-time, others part-time, or maybe you choose voluntary and unpaid work in the home.

Tradwives, with their wilful, nostalgic embrace of conservative gender roles, are easy to laugh at but their message has a truth in it.

It is that many women still prefer to stay home - and, I imagine, no amount of flexible working, rising wages or career opportunities will change this.

Irish Independent