Pale, uncanny loaves / Connected and dissociated

Confusingly asymmetrical, bizarre-looking rolls, haphazardly sprinkled with sesame and poppy seeds
Screenshot: YouTube

Today: Anna Merlan, author of REPUBLIC OF LIES: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power; and Shuja Haider, senior editor at The Nation.

Issue No. 77

The Tradwives Are Making Incredibly Weird Bread
Anna Merlan

A Market of the Senses
Shuja Haider

The Tradwives Are Making Incredibly Weird Bread

by Anna Merlan

Much has been said and written about the tradwife, a variety of extremely online influencer dedicated to propping up her iPhone and filming herself doing traditionally gendered labor: baking, cooking, flower-arranging, Bible-bedazzling, and, lovingly and with endless patience, cleaning up after her husband and children. The tradwives are constantly in the kitchen, either making a meal or doing something pleasingly pointless, like polishing an already-spotless marble counter; for reasons of nurturing symbolism and aesthetics, they are also, constantly, making bread. 

Less, though—perhaps too little—has been said about the fact that the bread itself is often extremely weird: malformed, underbaked, overworked, and, in general, a fine bit of metaphor for the phenomenon of tradwifery itself. 

TikTok screenshot of a pair of hands in silicone gloves holding a pale loaf with an inexplicably perforated crust. It's captioned: "I've never fed my kids a PB&J sandwich... "
A tradwife loaf that appears to have been attacked by an icepick

One might reasonably ask why I even care about this; I too find myself asking the same question. Nonetheless, there may be a familial reason: when my family got to this country, landing with all the other Jews on the Lower East Side, the women went to work in sweatshops, and the men in bakeries. There’s a photo of a great or great-great grandfather posing next to the horse-drawn wagon in which he used to deliver bread. I am an enthusiastic amateur home baker; my mom taught me when I was young, I dabbled for most of my life, and during the height of the pandemic, like everyone else, I got really into sourdough and never stopped. 

This is the kind of origin story that would be useful for a tradwife; many of them supply instead a kind of conversion narrative, wherein they grew up with Industrial Commercial Loveless Food and also Feminism, before discovering a better way to be. The first prominent online tradwife, Ayla Stewart, contributed some unsubtle racial undertones to the performance, speaking often about preserving “her” white “culture” before huffily going offline when people noticed. Submitting to their husbands and also baking for them are intricately entwined in the tradwife mythos; the whole thing is such a perfect troll that it drives near-infinite engagement. It’s almost inevitable, then, that you’ll land on their content if you’re a woman, or someone who clicks on recipes ever. This is why, I suppose, I started getting served video after video on Instagram of women making the strangest loaves imaginable.

It’s a paywall, but a small one

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