This week I’ve watched dozens of videos showing the picturesque lives of the ‘Stay At Home Girlfriend’. You might be imagining these as grainy black-and-white tapes I’ve fished out of some library archive — Fifties propaganda for future stay-at-home wives — but in reality it’s a current trend spawning thousands of viral videos across social media. The hashtag has had nearly 200 million views, has been used 165 million times and raised alarm bells among sane, rational people.
The videos show mostly white, young, child-free women taking their followers through a day in their life as a ‘Stay at Home Girlfriend’. They’re all beautifully shot and peaceful, with soft narration over serene music like the kind used to calm you down in a doctor’s waiting room.
Let me paint the scene: a typical video shows a young woman waking up leisurely, stretching languorously and opening the blinds. She makes herself a green smoothie, carefully works through a 12-step skincare routine before beginning the day’s activities — usually some combination of Pilates, journaling, cooking, and shopping for designer items with wads of cash left by their other halves. One video by
@asshliciouss with nearly half a million views starts with a boyfriend leaving money so that she can pay off her credit cards, while another video begins with a young woman saying: “I got all my household duties done nice and early so he decided to take me out today” and Stay At Home Fiancee @septoctnov has made the lifestyle her entire brand. Influencers like @haleyybaylee have also shared parody videos, called things like ‘A Day in the Life of a Stay At Home Billionaire Girlfriend’, to her 2.4 million TikTok followers.
Now imagine you’re watching these videos as you sit in your 25th Zoom meeting of the day or covered in baby vomit, surrounded by screaming kids at home. Who wouldn’t be drawn into thinking that this beautiful easy-breezy life looks like a dreamy alternative? “I would literally sacrifice my first-born child for the opportunity to be a stay-at-home girlfriend right now,” writes one Twitter user. When you take into account the fact that women aged between 13 and 24 are the biggest users of TikTok in the UK (making up 25 per cent), the influence of these videos can be damaging.
“These types of videos and trends can absolutely influence children and adolescents to want the same,” says child psychologist Dr Pierre Court. “Adolescence, unlike other stages of life, can be a time uniquely attuned to identity formation and striving for ‘authenticity’. Young people may not be fully able to critically analyse what they are seeing and the reality of what these relationships can be like in practice.”
As a fervent feminist, the videos give me a Stepford Wives-style chill: the life presented, while aesthetically pleasing, looks painfully empty and subservient. Perhaps I’m projecting — after all, feminism isn’t about every woman being forced to have high-powered jobs or live the way I deem most desirable, but about having the ability to choose the path you want. My problem with this type of content is that it glamorises a lifestyle which may have been a choice for them but for many is not.
“There is nothing wrong with staying at home, but making this a ‘trend’ is not focussing on the choices or the barriers women might face in the workplace or even the social, cultural and political aspects of staying at home,” says behavioural scientist Professor Pragya Agarwal. “It is basically just white middle-class women pretending housework is a walk in the park and further diminishing the invisible labour in maintaining a household.”
There is also a problem with the fact that these videos don’t show stay-at-home wives but girlfriends. I’m not a huge advocate of marriage — I’ve been with my partner for 13 years and never felt the need to walk down the aisle — but if you want to be a ‘stay at home’ anything, there is at least some security in being a wife. “Despite the common belief that couples who live together have the same legal rights as married couples, this is actually not the case,” says Ashley Le Core, a senior associate at Stowe Family Law. “There is no such thing as a common-law marriage in the eyes of the law, and legal rights are not guaranteed just because someone lives in the home of someone else.”
As a wife whether you contribute financially or not, just by being married you have legal rights to your partner’s property and assets, but as a girlfriend you have no such security. “This potentially leaves women very vulnerable, should the relationships break down, as they can easily find themselves with no rights to stay in their home, no income to speak of, and no access to potential equity in the property, however long the couple have lived together.”
Yet what makes this trend so potentially misleading to impressionable eyes is that, while the videos promote a lifestyle that is both an inaccurate depiction of the work it takes to run a house and one that can leave women vulnerable, the very premise is shaky at best. Some of the most popular videos shared and seen on social media do not show ‘Stay At Home Girlfriends’ at all, the women in these videos are often influencers getting paid to advertise to their followers. They appear as jobless girlfriends when in fact the video itself is the job. Californian Kendel Kay was one of the first to have a ‘Stay At Home Girlfriend’ video go viral (it’s now been watched over 12 million times) and while she may work from home and have a highly paid boyfriend, she also has more than 435,000 followers on Instagram. Her boyfriend may subsidise her lifestyle but I guarantee that if they broke up she’d be just fine — the same cannot be guaranteed for all the young girls who may follow her influence.