Harrison Butker’s Tradwife Fantasy World Would Be a Disaster

Over the weekend, Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker gave a commencement speech at Benedictine College. He covered a remarkable amount of ground: in just 20 minutes, he attacked IVF, abortion, birth control, Pride Month, Biden, surrogacy, and—in the most viral clip— working women. As he said:

“I want to speak directly to you briefly because I think it is you, the women, who have had the most diabolical lies told to you, how many of you are sitting here now about to cross the stage, and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you’re going to get in your career… But I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world.

I can’t say I was fantasizing about motherhood as a 22-year-old; personally, I wanted to be the kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs.

The “diabolical lie” Butker warns of appears to be the idea that women need a career to be fulfilled. But Butker isn’t upset that women think they can’t be stay-at-home moms; he’s upset that they might not want to be.

Let’s play out what this would actually mean, in practice, if the vast majority of women graduating college listened to Butker’s advice and never joined the workforce. I’m going to set aside the mental health effects on women forced into homemaking—which are well-documented—because I think it’s possible Butker doesn’t care. Instead, I want to look at what this will do for the rest of society.

Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker.

Denny Medley/Reuters

First, the effect on the overall economy. It’s a common misconception that the 1950s housewife is “traditional.” In fact, the model of a stay-at-home wife and working husband was only really common for about 15 years post-WWII, it was far more common for white families, and it coincided with an economic boom time (historian Stephanie Coontz has a book all about this).

There were housewives before and after that time, but the idea that “housewife” is the default profession for women throughout history is just patently false. Women have worked outside the home because women have needed to, and they need to today.

It feels too stupid to even cite statistics on the benefits of women in the workforce, but here we go: in 2014, women’s paid labor accounted for 37 percent of the U.S.’s GDP (excluding work in the home), the IMF estimates that closing the gender gap in labor markets could lift developing economies’ GDP by as much as 23 percent, and women hold 42 percent of our country’s “essential” jobs.

In essence: we need women to work. There are all kinds of jobs that have to be done. Important ones, not, like, being a football player.

Secondly, the effect on individual families. This is complicated because the cost of childcare is so high that some parents get driven out of the workforce, and stay-at-home parents do make valuable (and often underappreciated) financial contributions to their families.

However, in general, single-earner families are worse off financially. For example, the poverty level for families with only one income-earner is about four times that of families with two incomes. Even more egregiously, Butker’s speech addressed college graduates. Among student loan borrowers, the average amount of debt for a college graduate in 2023 is $38,290. If he’s going to tell women not to have jobs, at least have the decency to do it before they’ve put themselves or their households $40k in debt!

Butker addresses in the speech that his own wife has no regrets about her choice not to work; what he doesn’t address is that he makes about $4 million per year.

Kansas City Chiefs place kicker Harrison Butker kicks a field goal against the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium.

Kirby Lee/Reuters

And perhaps Butker is reading this (doubtful, I don’t think he reads), and thinking, “fine, women should stay home unless they need to work.” But it’s not that easy. Women pay a serious financial penalty for taking time out of the workforce; they might not be able to re-enter later on. And to be clear—that’s wrong.

It’s wrong that women pay a penalty for taking time off, or that we don’t have better financial support for families. It should be easier to be a single-income family. Even if it’s factually true, I don’t like the idea that women should join the workforce because they have to, financially.

There’s an extent to which I agree with Butker—if someone’s dream is to be a stay-at-home parent, I believe she (or he) should be able to actualize on it. Where Butker and I differ, though, is that I don’t think one life path can be broadly prescribed; each woman needs to make that decision for herself.

There’s an extent to which Butker agrees with me; I just know it. So many of these men who promote housewives and “traditional” (aka 1950s) values for women and fight policies to empower women professionally know how important it is that women be included in the workforce—they have these women in their own lives. There are too many examples to list, but here are a few: Butker’s own mother is a physicist.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO)—who jumped to Butker’s defense—is married to a lawyer who argued before the Supreme Court that mifepristone should be illegal. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) voted against the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act; his wife is a managing director at Goldman Sachs. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voted against the Equal Pay Act, and his wife served in the cabinets of George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, and his wife is a high-profile activist (and on the side, an accomplished and well-respected proponent of insurrection).

All these men have benefited financially from the working women in their own lives; it’s just other women working that they seem to have a problem with.

Rarely do I feel compelled to speak up for men, but I will here: all men should have the right to spend money their wives earn. The end results of Butker’s worldview aren’t good for women, but they’re not good for anyone else, either. And I think he knows it.