White supremacy and neo-Nazism are starting to seem frighteningly ordinary, and it’s not by accident. A society that clearly and firmly rejects hate must insist, again and again, that seeing people groups other than your own as inferior or even subhuman is not normal. It’s outrageous, audacious, appalling, and unacceptable, but never normal.
During one of my recent Twitter forays into cultural anthropology, I discovered, to my alarm, the hashtag #TradWife. Like virtually any hashtag that goes viral, #TradWife represents a real social phenomenon: a reactionary reversion to traditional female gender roles, often laced with white supremacy. Because I’m Jewish and work within Spokane’s Jewish community, I try to keep abreast of current trends in bigotry, including but not limited to anti-Semitism and racism. As inconsequential as #TradWife may seem, I find it painfully symptomatic of the growing normalization of intolerance in this country.
Twitter users attach #TradWife to many kinds of tweets, which is part of its insidious power. A user like @xTrisarahtops, who identifies herself in her profile as “wife / nationalist / all-American girl,” may apply the hashtag to something as mundane as a picture of homemade stew. An account like @whitedatenet, which promotes a website that bills itself as “a dating site for the #AltRight,” might instead tweet a professional-quality photo of a conventionally attractive, traditionally feminine white woman wearing flowers in her hair and lying next to a similarly adorned white baby — presumably mother and child. The caption? “Which man wouldn’t want that…” The hashtags attached to this tweet: #TradFamily, #TradWife, and #AltRight.
The term “alt-right” employs a strategy similar to that of #TradWife and, broadly speaking, of the Trump administration and Breitbart News. All of these entities euphemize hate. Alt-right sounds like a legitimate political movement, perhaps like the tea party. But beneath the banal term hide all sorts of foul ideologies, including anti-Semitism, racism, and misogyny, to name just a few. Such esteemed thinkers as Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts Jr. have insisted that beneath Trump’s lukewarm, lackadaisical condemnations of hate groups lies plenty of evidence that he is, in fact, a white supremacist. That would certainly explain why the president claimed there were “fine people” marching with the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.
Breitbart, for its part, has published all manner of unpleasant articles, some of which are more racist or anti-Semitic than others. Yet unlike, say, The Daily Stormer, Breitbart retains plausible deniability. In the 10,000-ring circus that is today’s online news landscape, Breitbart has convinced untold masses that it’s just another conservative news and commentary site. The internet age has made it all too easy for extremism to disguise itself as something benign and only just a little outside the mainstream.
#TradWife fits the bill: It conceals, then reveals, a multitude of sins. Racism? Check. Icky misogyny? Check. Garden-variety sexism? Check. Slut-shaming? Yep. Pretty much out-and-out white nationalism? Most definitely. Blatant pro-Nazi sentiment? Of course. Confectionary militarism dressed up as childrearing advice? You get the idea.
#TradWife is a wily player in a high-stakes game: normalizing dangerous ways of thinking and being. Freedom of speech gives even fascists the right to spew their venom, but it doesn’t make that venom into lemonade. It’s still poisonous. #TradWife can hide behind cheesy casseroles, homemade soap, and Viking-themed infant knitwear all it wants. Once you see how chummy it is with #WhiteGenocide, the jig is up.
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