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How social media is creating a new ‘ideal housewife’ stereotype

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Hollie Richardson
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Housewives redefined

Cleaning influencers have glamourised domestic labour and created a new “aestheticised housewife ideal” according to new research. Here’s why that’s so worrying…

Mrs Hinch is the Instagram cleaning influencer who boasts nearly 3 million followers. She has built an incredibly successful brand and identity by sharing videos, advice and tips about how to clean your home. Although she is clearly a shrewd business woman, there has been some scrutiny over the suggestion that Hinch glamourises domestic labour

This is because recent research by University College London found “gender norms remain strong” when it comes to household chores, with women doing approximately 16 hours of household chores every week. In comparison, men only do closer to six hours.

Of course, this isn’t down to the Hinch Army. But there has been an undeniable rise in Instagram influencers who promote housework (see also: This Girl Can Organise, Clean Mama and Queen of Clean). In fact, further research now shows that this cohort of influencers are redefining the “new ideal housewife image”.

And that’s not necessarily a positive thing…

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A new study by Magdalena Petersson McIntyre, a researcher at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenbur, has found that the traditional image of the housewife has largely disappeared as an ideal in the 2010s. But, in its place, a new kind of “aestheticised housewife ideal” has reemerged on social media.

“It’s a new identity for what many deduce as the ‘ideal woman’ or ‘housewife,’” says Petersson McIntyre.

“However, this new ‘ideal’ exploits the image of a glamorous housewife by showing it as an entrepreneurship. It also challenges notions of consumption as something passive, rather than production and part of the social economy.”

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She continued: “The traditional feminine housewife role that is mediated through a digital platform is something entirely different than the role devised by the traditional division of labor.

“These bloggers are given the possibility to re-code what it means to be a home-working woman, who is engaged in practices of consumption.”

The study, which was published in the Journal of Cultural Economy, based its outcome on in-depth interviews with influencers or bloggers across 2014 and 2016. It also examined 25 other similar accounts. 

What Petersson McIntyre uncovered was, through the need to generate financial income via ‘likes’ and shares, these women are being forced to develop a persona which is close to their real ego, but not their actual personality.

The essence of these bloggers’ and influencers’ business concept is to spread an image of their lifestyle as one of consumption, marriage, family life, how to dress and home decor.

It reinforces traditional and outdated notions of femininity, by enabling women to engage in practices of care, beautification, and mothering.

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The report also notes that, to have a career as a successful blogger and influencer, you must also share personal experiences. It says that women who take this path have had to talk about things that had previously been considered private in society. It is a movement which is seeing personal trauma demonstrated as triumphs when shared and spread exponentially in social media.

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“The women have had to talk about private things, often in front of a video camera. Because it is precisely these posts that, for example, they feel bad, which results in many likes and comments. Exactly the response that advertisers are demanding and therefore generates income for bloggers,” continues Petersson McIntyre. 

“Using their mobile or computer, an influencer and blogger can measure the financial impact of sharing someone personally, such as feeling unwell or having problems with their weight.

“The new technology has made it possible to understand the boundaries between the personal and the public in new ways.”

“It is a breaking of the boundaries between human and non-human resulting from digital technology, which has re-configured the housewife role by transforming boundaries between intimate and commercial practices.”

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Although it can still be argued that these influencers are independently running successful businesses, this worrying research certainly proves that we need to continue to address gender equality in the home. It also suggests that we need to be fully aware of when to separate the personal and the professional, which is probably harder than it first sounds. 

Images: Getty / Lead image design: Alessia Armenise

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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