Young women in the ‘aspiring tradwife’ and ‘skull mask e-girl’ communities spread hate and sometimes encourage violence. They are also victims of gendered harassment in their own movements.
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
While most discussion regarding young people’s involvement in hate movements focuses on teenage boys, teenage girls are not immune to being groomed and recruited.
The hateful ideologies held by teenage girls are often the same as those held by teenage boys – Groyper-style Canada First “paleoconservative” white nationalism, for example. However, the roles that young women embody and the specific online subcultures they gather in are often gender-specific and they face more abuse than boys and young men from members of their own movements. Despite the frequent gendered harassment in these spaces, girls and young women are active participants in fascist movements.
It is important for supportive adults to understand the archetypes and subcultures that attract teenage girls to hate movements. This article will discuss two – the “aspiring tradwife” and the “skull mask e-girl.”
They refer to themselves in a variety of ways – “aspiring tradwife,” “helpmeet in training,” and “traditional teenager.” These girls, some as young as 12 and 13 years old, base their personalities on extremely rigid gender roles and fantasize about a future life of homemaking, childbearing, and submitting to their someday husbands.
Not all aspiring tradwives are white nationalists, or even Christian fundamentalists. In researching this article, we found several racialized teenage girls running social media accounts dedicated to traditional femininity and gender roles, including Muslims and pagans. However, the ‘tradwife’ movement’s traditionalism puts it in constant, direct proximity to other reactionary ideologies, such as white nationalism, antisemitism, and anti-2SLGBTQ+ hate.
The tradwife milieu frequently prescribes that these girls get married young (ideally in their late teens or early 20s) to older (ideally by 10 to 15 years) men. One blogger, who claims to have a digital audience of 50,000 readers, followers, and subscribers, compares this age gap to saints Mary and Joseph (parents of Jesus), and other biblical figures, and makes outrageous claims about sex-based neurological differences – “Women generally mature faster than men, approximately 10 to 12 years faster, psychologically and emotionally.”
One TikTok influencer who regularly creates short videos promoting anti-feminism, anti-liberalism, and the tradwife ideology to her followers has expressed support for women losing the right to vote in a video which has been viewed almost 37,000 times. Another of her videos – which boasts 31,000 views – shares images of other women such as white nationalist Lana Lokteff, Lauren Southern, and the fictional character Serena Joy from The Handmaid’s Tale alongside text which reads, “Why do you think you as a woman can have these views?”
Another video from this influencer includes a montage of white babies being born, alongside images of European architecture and culture, with hashtags invoking both WW2 and Germany.
The milieu’s obsession with fertility and reproduction is often a foothold for white nationalism. In 2019, white nationalist tradwife Ayla Stewart issued the “white baby challenge”: “As a mother of six, I challenge families to have as many white babies as I have contributed.”
Julia Ebner, through years-long undercover research, found that “Taken in Hand (TiH) is the preferred relationship model of Trad Wives.” In TiH (also sometimes known as “Christian domestic discipline” or CDD) relationship, the husband is understood to be endowed with an inherent – and in the case of CDD, divine – right to exact corporal punishment on his wife for not sufficiently submitting to his will. There is no current formal research on the frequency of these relationships; in 2013, The Daily Beast estimated adherents numbered in the low thousands.
One of the most alarming aspects of the online aspiring tradwife milieu is the network’s overlap with adult men seeking these Christian domestic discipline and/or overtly sexual BDSM relationships. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network found “traditional femininity” Instagram accounts belonging to girls as young as 12, who were being followed by people with these apparent intentions. We also found dozens of “traditional femininity” Instagram accounts explicitly run by teenagers, with every single one followed by older men who frequently shared far-right content.
These dynamics are extremely alarming given that we know that girls and women in far-right movements are almost inevitably subject to abuse. The aspiring tradwife community’s romanticization of significant age gaps, and its enthusiastic endorsement of unequal power dynamics as not only innate, but a matter of morality, carries the potential to exacerbate the likelihood of abuse.
Skull Mask “E-Girls”
The aspiring tradwife sphere is probably the most well known entry point for young women into far-right ideologies, but it is by no means the only one. Accounts belonging to young women wearing the instantly recognizable half-skull neck gaiter normally associated with neo-Nazi terrorist networks like Atomwaffen and The Base litter Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest. These young women – who sometimes self identify as “e-girls,” described by Vox as “hip young people whose defining qualities are that they are hot and online” – are even harder to ideologically pin down than their peers.
Irony poisoning is the process in which people – particularly youths – are exposed to so much hateful content couched in detachment-based humour and irony that it eventually ceases to shock them, and they may adopt these views unironically.
One Canadian influencer who lives in rural Ontario operates numerous social media channels replete with slurs and dehumanizing language aimed at Black and Jewish people. In one post she shares images of a young child learning how to draw swastikas during homeschool alongside another image of a child digging a hole with the caption “Gone dig me a hole. Gone dig me a hole. Gone put a commie in it.” In one she is sieg heiling behind a campfire, while another post has her sieg heiling in front of her children, as they play on a swing set.
The aesthetic of the skull mask e-girl community is at the forefront. On Pinterest, young women pin images of WW2 Nazi Germany and hate symbols such as the sonnenrad, interspersed with images of luxury cars and designer handbags.
The skull mask e-girl milieu layers the “irony-laced” e-girl subculture on top of the already irony-poisoned grooming and recruitment process of young people into hate movements. This in turn produces a genre of (mostly) TikTok accounts in which teenage girls perform the aesthetics of neo-Nazism, to an audience of boys and men who follow and interact with their content, often leaving derogatory comments.
As we discuss in our toolkit and workshops, some of the most extreme neo-Nazis we have encountered in our research have been teenage girls. Their posts suggest this is because they often feel a need to prove themselves to the cause, and to boys and men who inherently undervalue their existence or question their sincerity. For example, the meme of immediately accusing all siege mask e-girls of being “feds”: either federal agents themselves, or people who provocatively post in order to gain the attention of law enforcement. This pushes the girls and young women to go to further lengths to prove they belong.
Alice Cutter, once a key member of the British neo-Nazi terrorist group National Action; Riley Williams, the sieg-heiling thief of Nancy Pelosi’s laptop during the January 6th insurrection; and attempted mass murderer Lindsay Souvannarath; while not teenagers, are examples of the potential extremity of young women in fascism, and their centrality to the larger movement.
These skull mask e-girls are active participants in fascism, and enthusiastic perpetrators of hate and violence, while simultaneously being incredibly vulnerable to extreme abuse. The Iron March legacy network has been linked to numerous instances of sexual abuse against children, and to the sexual assault and torture of young women members within the network.
- At the same time as fascist teenage girls and young women have been responsible for acts of terrorism, grooming and recruiting others into the movement, producing propaganda, and inciting others to self-harm, they are, as a result of the violent misogyny inherent to fascism, almost inevitably subject to abuse.
The way that teenage girls engage with fascism online is heavily wrapped up in aesthetics. Sometimes these aesthetics can be signifiers for very different subcultures. For example, there is tremendous overlap between the aesthetics of the aspiring tradwives, and the “cottagecore” community - a whimsical aesthetic which features old-fashioned clothing and lifestyles, and which has been taken up in particular by queer girls and women.
Therefore, context is critical and it is important to pay attention to how she is talking about these aesthetics, as well as how she talks about her peers who don’t share it:
- Does she demean or shame her peers for dressing less modestly?
- Does she characterize her aesthetic and extracurricular (i.e homemaking-type hobbies) as a matter of moral obligation or gender essentialism, as opposed to general interests?
- Have her plans for the future changed significantly? Has she abandoned interests or goals that are less stereotypically feminine?
- Does she demean or shame her peers for dressing less modestly?
A teenage girl’s embrace of a new aesthetic, on its own, is not a cause for concern. An exception to this is the skullmask, which the Online Hate Research and Education Project categorizes as a contextual hate symbol.
Given the skull mask’s association with a particularly violent and extreme form of fascism, we encourage caring adults to inquire with young people they see wearing or using it about their motivations for doing so, and to inform them of its associations with neo-Nazism — they may sincerely not be aware of what messages they may be sending by wearing it.
We know that for caring adults, navigating the waters of teenage girls’ potential involvement in hate movements can be hard, due in large part to a lack of understanding of the particular gendered dynamics of their grooming and recruitment. We’re here to help. If there’s a young person in your life who this article reminds you of, please reach out to us at [email protected], and we can help you unpack what you’re seeing, and explore next steps.