What Is a ‘High-Value Woman’ and Why Does the Internet Want Me to Be One?

TikTok's algorithm recently sent me down a rabbit hole of misogyny disguised as empowerment, and I think we need to talk about it.

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Stacy Lee Kong

Sep 23 2022

11 mins read

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<p>Image: Shutterstock</p>

‎This week, the internet has been talking about cheating, especially in cishet relationships, a lot. Between Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine (allegedly) cheating on Behati Prinsloo (a former Victoria’s Secret model) and Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka cheating on Nia Long (Nia Long!!!!), my feeds have been dominated by memes—mostly at Levine’s expense, which I’m personally here for—and shock that women like that could get cheated on. The unspoken assumption is that these women are so great, so valuable, that their partners would never betray them. Leaving aside the fact that cheating doesn’t work like that, it made me think about a TikTok rabbit hole that I unintentionally got sucked into recently.

A few weeks ago, in a moment of curiosity/weakness, I watched one of those tarot readings where the content creator says, “no hashtags, no caption; if you see this it’s meant for you,” which I guess is true, though that’s because of a highly data-driven algorithm, not fate, but whatever. I was in the midst of a post-vacation anxiety storm and was obviously in exactly the right state of mind to believe a witchy twentysomething who promised she had spiritual insider information that everything would work out. And, the app could definitely tell, because next thing I knew, my fyp had been taken over by more tarot card readings, plus all manner of astrology-related content, those ridiculous videos that promise to tell you the first initial of the person who’s thinking about you (always A, which was a bit of a mystery until I remembered that three of my best friends’ names start with A, which is probably the best-case scenario for who’s thinking about me, tbh 😂) and many, many videos about harnessing my ‘feminine energy.’

From there, it was a very short journey to the extremely problematic land of #highvaluewomen, a hashtag that has upwards of 200 million views on the platform, despite perpetuating super regressive ideas about how women should behave. At first, I didn’t realize how troubling this content was because it blended right in with the rest of the pseudo-spiritual empowerment inspo that TikTok had (embarrassingly) gleaned that I wanted. It was only when I opened the app the next day, by that point in a far better state of mind, that I realized how weird the messaging was.

What is a “high-value woman” anyway?  

According to Refinery29, which wrote about this phenomenon back in April, “high-value dating is an ideology that pushes for women to position themselves in a way that attracts the interest of high value (read: usually high-earning and successful) men. According to modern social media users, today's answer to Prince Charming is a ‘high-value man’: someone who is self-confident, takes good care of themselves and is financially stable.”

‎(Typing the words ‘high-value woman’ and ‘high-value man’ are making me feel extremely icky, so I’m just going to pause here so we can all acknowledge that all people have equal value, okay? That’s just basic human rights—it doesn’t matter how much money someone does or does not have, whether they fit into the entrenched, Eurocentric beauty ideals that dominate our society or how productive they can be on any given day, every single person in the world has value simply by virtue of existing. Cool? Cool.)

Sadly, the concept of high-value dating isn’t actually new. As the R29 article points out, 2002’s Why Men Love Bitches and 1995’s The Rules both recommend cis women who want to date cis men follow a few simple rules to attract the object of their desire (and yes, I am using the word object very deliberately): just adhere to those extremely restrictive beauty ideals, minimize your own needs, desires, accomplishments, interests and even emotions as much as possible, and treat him like you don’t really care in order to manipulate him into paying attention to you.

The TikTok update of these ideas uses the language of empowerment, not manipulation—ostensibly, it’s about setting boundaries and loving yourself enough not to date someone who’s not good for you just because you want validation or affection—but it still tells women who want to attract a decent partner that they should conform to restrictive ideas about femininity and make themselves physically, emotionally and/or professionally smaller. It still requires women to toe the line between sexual attractiveness (v. important) and sexual availability (“men don’t marry sluts!”). And, it still classifies men as desirable or undesirable based on largely superficial criteria that are more about toxic masculinity than about what actually makes a good partner. The idea that, in cishet relationships, men must provide for their partners and/or there can only be one provider in a relationship comes along with antiquated power dynamics that aren’t good for anyone.

‎There are obviously so many problems with this advice. Prioritizing physical beauty is always going to be weird because it plays into existing inequalities in our society—people who are considered physically attractive are perceived as more valuable, and they receive benefits based on that valuation, including landing more job interviews, getting hired more often, advancing faster and making more money than people who aren’t. And of course racialized, disabled, fat, poor, trans and/or queer people are less likely to be perceived as attractive or experience pretty privilege, regardless of how symmetrical their faces are.

Telling women to prioritize wealth in their partners while simultaneously downplaying their own professional accomplishments feels like a throwback to the days when (white) women’s careers were considered a diverting pastime prior to marriage, or a hobby during marriage, instead of meaningful and rewarding parts of our lives. (The nostalgic idea that the 1950s were an era of domestic glamour and “uninterrupted, healthful, intergenerational harmony” is not terribly accurate, nor is it intersectional; Black women, for example, have always worked outside their homes.) And I hope I’m not the only one who gets a visceral feeling of disgust about anything that advises people to shrink themselves for someone else’s benefit.

But here’s what I hadn’t thought of until this week: how common these ideas are, even off TikTok. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of comments and tweets that I’ve seen in the past few days about how the poster can’t believe Levine and Udoka cheated on those women. It’s the same conversation we had about Beyoncé, post-Lemonade, or about any number of famous women whose partners were unfaithful. And it depends on the exact same premise as the high-value woman: that some women are worth more than others.

It's giving tradwife

These regressive ideas about femininity and relationships are part of a larger eco-system of ideologies that claim to be feminist, with varying degrees of accuracy. Gen Z has embraced the term—and aesthetic—of the archetypical bimbo and shaped it into an intersectional, radical leftist ideology that does seem pretty feminist, actually. But can we talk about how closely the ideology of the high-value woman mirrors the ideology of tradwives? In case you’ve managed to avoid learning about that extremely irritating internet subculture, ‘tradwife’ is short for ‘traditional wife’ and it refers to a subset of influencers who glamorize homemaking and housewifery, classifying it as true liberation in order to criticize modern feminism, all while presenting an aesthetic straight out of the 1950s—or at least, a pop culture imagining of the ‘50s, à la Pleasantville. (Accessories include lipstick, pearls, heels and aprons, not to mention a gang of blond-haired, blue-eyed children.)

‎Of course, the act of doing household labour is not anti-feminist, nor is wanting to opt out of capitalism. It’s the message that women specifically should behave according to very old, very rigid rules that exist solely to control them. As Mariel Cooksey explained for social justice-focused research group Political Research Associates, this movement is “part aesthetic and part ideology, encouraging women to embrace supposedly feminine characteristics like chastity and submissiveness, and trade feminist empowerment for a patriarchal vision of gender norms.” Which sounds a lot like what high-value women are supposed to do, right?

But wait, it gets worse. Tradwives are almost always white, which makes sense because the movement has its roots in the white supremacist online spaces of the mid-2010s. Of course, back then, there were relatively few of these influencers “extol[ling] the virtues of staying at home, submitting to male leadership and bearing lots of children,” as academic Annie Kelly explained in the New York Times in 2018. Now? The message has been sanitized, thanks in part to their “deliberately hyperfeminine aesthetics [which Kelly says were] constructed precisely to mask the authoritarianism of their ideology,” and the hashtag has exploded in popularity. (It has been viewed 85 million times on TikTok.)

The worst part is, these ideas are being presented as feminism instead of what they *really* are: patriarchy

Can I say with 100% certainty that there’s a high-value woman to tradwife to alt-right ideology pipeline? I cannot. But they certainly feel like part of the same conversation, to me at least. Both philosophies claim to offer women a surefire strategy for getting what they want, and both assume it knows what that is: love, validation, security, safety and a family. Both position themselves as liberating, or sometimes even feminist, in the case of the high-value woman. And both actually ask women to become complicit in their own oppression.

Also, I’d just like to state for the record here that it’s wild to see two seemingly popular movements that tell women their goal should be political disenfranchisement, financial dependence on someone else and a hyperfixation on their appearance right now, at the same time that reproductive rights are under attack in the U.S. and the Johnny Depp libel case showcased just how quickly people can forget about progressive cultural movements.

‎Or maybe it makes perfect sense to see these ideas bubble up now. Prominent feminists are worried about a backlash to the progress we’ve made over the past few decades, and as Twitter user @HormonalJew pointed out back in May, “the whole ‘stop working and become a housewife’ wave is a worrying sign of growing anti-feminist reaction, like the criminalization of trans healthcare, abortion, and even the anti-MeToo JD/AH trial media cycle. All signal mass restrictions on women’s public lives and autonomy… Impossible to read this as anything but lazy sugarcoating of forcing women to depend upon a man—whether by depriving them of financial autonomy or denying them avenues to escape or mandating that they carry his baby.”

To be fair, I don’t think everyone who’s expressing shock that Long and Prinsloo were cheated on believe women should be submissive and prioritize a man’s desires over her own (I mean, hopefully they don’t!!!). But it is worth thinking about how that idea relates to, and even exists on the same spectrum as, the high-value woman and tradwife philosophies. I mean, they’re all about perceiving some women as more valuable than others, right? And that is the first step to all sorts of oppression.


And Did You Hear About…

How celebrities are using diabetes drug Ozempic for weight loss.

On Canada Project’s excellent breakdown of the protests in Iran after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

The dark side of appearing on Ellen according to singer Greyson Chance, who was invited on the talk show after going viral at age 12 for his school talent show performance of “Paparazzi.”

Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds talking about what it was like to have pregnancy complications pre-Roe v. Wade. (Spoiler: Horrific.)

The news that Adnan Syed’s conviction in the murder of his former girlfriend, Hae-Min Lee, was overturned. Syed was the subject of true crime podcast Serial’s first season, and Buzzfeed just published a really insightful piece on its cultural legacy. (Related: New York magazine’s smart analysis of its business impact.)

Bonus: This Twitter thread of Rihanna’s best streetwear looks.

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Nia Long
Behati Prinsloo
Adam Levine
Ime Udoka
TikTok