Mrs. Robinson r u trying to seduce me

Glass Delusions

October 23, 2023

I recently re-watched Mike Nichols’ The Graduate (1967) and experienced a very intense response within myself. The iconic film is timeless, delivering a different message to the viewer each time it’s watched. The thing about classic cinema is when you return to a movie, your perception changes based on how much older you’ve grown, life circumstances you’ve been through, and how the world around you has changed. The Graduate is a simple story, but made a striking commentary about coming of age, romance, and liberation and choice when it was released in 1967. The movie was in a cohort of films that left a mark on an impressionable generation dealing with one of the biggest cultural revolutions in history.

Although the story mostly centers on the maturity arc of protagonist Ben Braddock, the plot is catalyzed by the mysterious lonely housewife Mrs. Robinson who seduces Ben early on. Mrs. Robinson drives the motivations, the interventions, and the conflicts that propel Ben’s actions. It is a curious meditation on housewives in a world where reverence for them is waning. If Ben “the Graduate” Braddock is the symbol of a nation graduating out of Old World views and into modernity, then Mrs. Robinson is the pivot point, the site of this transition. The housewife is the figure who represents how and why this cultural shift occurs.

Decades later and we find ourselves at yet another critical junction in American (global) history and the housewife archetype is still a focal point and culture war battlefield. The Trad Wife social media LARP is an interesting niche reactionary movement that has swept the Internet beginning in around 2021. The Internet-native trend finds its origins in the “CottageCore” aesthetic trend that launched during the pandemic. As people were forced into eternal domesticity, the natural wont of people (mostly women and girls) was to beautify the home by adopting quaint, European countryside interior decorating schemes and lifestyle trends. Transforming the quarantine space into a cottage-like hearth allowed people to relax into the delusion that they weren’t compliantly locking themselves in a Covid-safe prison. The adoption of a CottageCore aesthetic gave way to the social media influencers and their followers adopting an actual CottageCore way of life. “If you give a mouse a cookie,” as they say. Mix this aesthetic and lifestyle fad with a larger reactionary movement toward conservatism amongst young people and you get women and girls thinking seriously about the concept of TradWifeism and questioning why we turned against it in the first place.

After Ben Braddock begins his salacious affair with Mrs. Robinson, he learns that her daughter (his peer and later love interest), Elaine Robinson, was the result of a tryst and that Mr. and Mrs. Robinson had a shotgun wedding. Mrs. Robinson makes Ben promise he’ll never take Elaine out and she goes to great lengths to intervene in their burgeoning love story to try and keep them apart. There’s no explicit reason given as to why Mrs. Robinson wants them apart, but my interpretation was always that she didn’t want Elaine succumbing to the same fate as she did. After all, Elaine was raised in a liberated world, and she went to college where she ostensibly was pursuing her own goals outside of being a housewife. It seems as though Mrs. Robinson was trying to look out for her daughter’s freedom (alongside her own complicated feelings of insecurity and whatever else), but she only sabotaged her and pushed her into what would’ve been an unhappy marriage leaving her with no other choice than to runaway with Ben at the very end.

To Trad Wife or not to Trad Wife is an existential question and the options are the boundaries of a swinging pendulum. It was quite clear this move back to traditionalism was coming, for those with eyes to see. But also, can you blame women for being allured to the lifestyle and aesthetic of a Trad Wife? What the Women’s Liberation movement secured for us is the choice between either being totally free and detached from the domestic sphere, or to remain there. Once those options became available, pop culture seized on the moment and made housewives sexy—beginning with Mrs. Robinson. Where pop culture went wrong is forcing women to think the non-housewife option was the superior one no matter what any individual woman actually thought. But that is a topic for another essay.

I do not lament the Trad Wife-cum-Cottage Core trend sweeping the Internet. I do not think it’s a regression for women’s freedom. I think it’s women taking full advantage of the options they were given and to see them freely choosing the Trad Wife lifestyle—whether it’s for the aesthetic, or to explore it as a real and viable option for their life—is cause for celebration. If only Mrs. Robinson had the same attitude.