“I don’t dream of labor” has become a popular response to the question of what one’s dream job would be. It’s a reasonable response — if I could “do” anything with my life, I’d choose the opportunity to “do” nothing. In an ideal world, I could design my days around reading, going for walks, making food I enjoy and ultimately spending my time on leisure and comfort. I would, as many women on TikTok have described it, live a “soft life.” But according to many detractors, the soft lifestyle is just the oppression of patriarchy and capitalism repackaged. So what is a person supposed to want for themselves, instead?
The popularity of the soft life subgenre comes at a time when women are increasingly seeking a lifestyle that doesn’t involve traditional forms of work. For some, this is paired with a revival of traditional conservative values, such as the “tradwife” ideology that women ought to focus on the home and child-rearing rather than careers. Others like the “stay at home girlfriend” emphasize more of a luxury experience, in which their only responsibility is pleasing a partner who is financially responsible for them. In both cases, critics emphasize the dangers of relying upon a man for survival, and the lack of resources these women will have should their partner’s leave or abuse them. Moreover, both are accused of pushing a regressive, antifeminst message that women don’t need to be self-sufficient or involved in the corporate world. The soft lifestyle, however, appears largely to be its own third category — many of those discussing it on TikTok are indeed housewives or live in luxury funded by a male partner, while others simply encourage “soft” activities emphasizing relaxation. The goal, it seems, is to live as stress-free as possible.
The problem with all of this, however, is that it’s entirely based in fantasy. The soft life, as with the tradwife and its similar categories, requires a certain financial situation in order to be feasible. One is required to either come from wealth, have a financially stable partner or work themselves in order to survive. There is no soft life without money. But what is so wrong with aspiring toward it, anyway? And more importantly, what alternative does anyone really have? If the choice is between desiring a soft life or the corporate hustle, I personally am choosing the soft life, whether it’s real or not.
Motherhood only complicates all of these dynamics further. Raising children and maintaining a home is labor in itself, and rarely is there anything soft about it. Even so, some online do paint parenting as part of the “soft life” in that being a stay-at-home mom is a traditional feminine role, and therefore many who have expressed a desire for it are often called antifeminist, just the same. But again we ought to ask, what is the alternative? Should women who have the opportunity to stay home and perhaps naively brand their motherhood as “soft living” instead choose to work? We have come to associate domesticity writ large with antifeminism and conservatism, something that only restricts us further. When we label a domestic lifestyle as antifeminist, it’s only capitalism and the corporations who’d prefer we devote ourselves to them that benefit.
Of course there are women who are indeed regressive in their politics that use the soft life or housewife label as a bolster. On TikTok, many videos under the hashtag “softlife” do indeed discuss shaping themselves into hyperfeminine, quiet, submissive women so that the men they perceive to be dominant and wealthy will want to wife them. Meanwhile, just as many associate soft living with frequent spa days and trips to the Hermes store. But amid all of this are women, many of whom financially support themselves, who simply want to make their life more comfortable. Often, this is as simple as committing to making their bed every day and spending time outdoors. Surely the energy and time for these acts is a privilege in itself, but we ought to be allowed to want these things without it being some sort of ideological line in the sand. One can be “soft” in their time without pushing a patriarchal agenda, and wishing for a world where one had the option to stay home is no more harmful of a fantasy than that of those who aspire to climb the career ladder. We are all choosing different fantasies of how to live — what else are we supposed to do?
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.