27 September 2023

The real problem with the stay-at-home girlfriend trend

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Maggie Zhou* says the most worrying thing about the stay-at-home girlfriend trend is the normalisation of financial dependence on one’s partner.

Tickling our voyeuristic sides has never been easier in the digital age.

With a few taps on a phone screen, you can find out what someone had for breakfast, who they’re dating, what they’re reading and where they’ve been that day.

Thanks to apps like BeReal and trends like photo dumps, we’re afforded a closer, more intimate look at a person’s digital life.

Through GRWMs, vlogs and routine videos (think ‘that girl’ and the ‘5-to-9 routine’ trend), people’s days are set to upbeat music and condensed down to 60-second, hyper-productive 9:16 videos.

While some of these trends promote capitalism’s impossible standards and feel like an extension of girl boss culture, other trends lean the opposite way entirely.

Take TikTok’s stay-at-home girlfriend trend.

“This trend is where one partner in a relationship with no children stays home and their job is to look after the partner that goes to work,” Laura Henshaw, Aussie influencer and cofounder of Keep It Cleaner, explains on TikTok.

These videos take viewers along for the day.

Tasks usually involve cooking for their partner, cleaning and tidying the home, exercising and running errands.

It’s a content series that has gotten many TikTokers fired up — exclamations about how staying at home isn’t a real job, that it’s unfeminist and backwards fill up comment sections on the app.

But just as we know that fulfilment doesn’t purely come from career or childrearing, we know that women should have the choice to be homemakers.

There is, however, another insidious side effect to the stay-at-home girlfriend trend: the normalisation of financial dependence on one’s partner.

“It may look really glamorous, but it is actually really dangerous… because it means that the person who stays home is very likely to have zero financial independence,” Henshaw says.

Codependency in relationships can be tough to spot; the line between interdependency and codependency is difficult to draw but an important one to consider.

“Codependency is really about one person being reliant on another to the point of being controlled or manipulated by that person,” relationship therapist Vera Eck previously told R29.

“Like how an alcoholic is dependent on a substance, the codependent is dependent on the person and their relationship.”

When finances get pulled into the equation, it makes leaving a relationship all the more difficult.

According to the 2016 Senate report, one in three Australian women retire with no super balance at all.

The number of Australian women who experience homelessness is also drastically on the rise.

“Having zero financial independence in a relationship is one of the key contributors to financial abuse,” continues Henshaw.

“If you don’t have financial independence, that means if you are in an abusive relationship or relationship where you are not happy, it is very hard for you to leave because you don’t have any money.”

“As a family lawyer I see this every day,” replied TikTokker Chelsea Ramm.

“[I’m] on maternity leave [and] I’m doing post-graduate study and staying involved in professional committees so I don’t fall behind while out of the workplace,” TikTokker Emma Marie also added.

Fear of financial instability and anxiety about one’s future is already a reality for so many Australian women.

Hiked-up RBA rates and the rising cost of living are only exacerbating this.

It might be fun to daydream about a morning routine where your only priorities are to make green juice and a latte for your beau, but that’s not feasible for most of us.

Instead, financial literacy is what we’re choosing to be dependent on.

*Maggie Zhou is a lifestyle and culture writer with a focus on sustainability and race at Refinery29.

This article first appeared at refinery29.com.

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