Trigger warning: domestic abuse, trauma, mentions of rape
Disclaimer: I am not shaming anyone’s sexual preferences if both party members are consenting adults. The problem I discuss here isn’t with the sexualization of the word “daddy” and I don’t want it to come across as if I am making it about that. The problem is the people digging into the meaning behind it when they have no right to get involved in that way.
Daddy Issues: “The result of a messed up relationship with one’s father, or having an absent father. Results in younger women chasing older men and even seeking maltreatment in some cases” (Urban Dictionary 2017).
It’s one thing for someone to joke about their own trauma, in this case using the phrase “daddy issues” about themselves as a way of coping with humor. It can be a harmless joke if the person directly affected starts it. I’m in full support of “reclaiming” the phrase. However, that is something that can only be done by the group themselves. Here is a list of reasons why those outside of the affected group should stop using the phrase.
1. It makes assumptions and desensitizes people to trauma
Teenage girls are already facing scrutiny in their daily lives purely because they are girls. There’s no need to add to the list of things they critique about themselves. The drawing of conclusions about a woman’s sexual preferences and emotional issues from limited knowledge of her relationship with her father is a big, harmful reach. It’s not only infuriating to be lumped into a category like this, but also damaging.
As someone who has dealt with complicated relationships with father figures on multiple occasions, it makes me sick to think that I am judged based on it. It makes us not want to open up about our history. If we think that you aren’t going to actually listen, but rather look at us differently and assume you know what we’re talking about, we aren’t going to want to seek your help or support. Further, we are going to question others’ help and support and wonder if they are secretly judging us as well.
Using the phrase normalizes trauma with one’s father to the point that girls feel like these aren’t valid reasons to be upset. I can’t tell you how many times I was talking about my issues with my biological father and got told by someone that they understood because they had heard it before.
There comes the point where “daddy issues” becomes “trendy.” It is so broad and widely used that the listener to these affected individuals stops paying attention, starts assuming they already know all the details and that all cases are the same. It’s clear when someone shuts down and tunes you out, even those who claim to be there for you, and it’s usually somewhere around the phrase, “I don’t have a great relationship with my dad.”
2. It pushes blame onto the wrong person
Since when did we start blaming the daughter for having an absent or abusive father? Children don’t ask to be born and have no control over what impact their birth has on their parents’ lives. Why has a biological father abandoning or abusing his daughter become an issue that she is now carrying as “baggage” when she was the one who was wronged? Why are we more concerned with labeling her so that others know she’s “complicated” rather than helping her with what she is going through?
Losing a father in any sort of way is traumatic enough but being told that you will have problems because of it later on in life is just adding to the pain. When you’re told that you have “issues” of any sort, you’re going to feel as though you are in the wrong. Telling these girls that there is something wrong with them sets them up for a dangerous cycle of negative thinking towards themselves over a situation that they had no control over. Stop blaming the wrong people. Start holding the men accountable.
3. It sexualizes women (and specifically young girls)
I didn’t think I would ever have to say this. Still, it is harmful and disgusting to try and find connections between someone’s trauma and sex life unless you are the person in question or a licensed professional who was brought in by them for that specific purpose. Why are we normalizing the idea of invading women’s, and specifically young girl’s privacy? Women are already sexualized at alarming rates.
What a woman does in the bedroom is no one else’s business. And if someone is in the bedroom with her, it’s none of their business why she does what she does. Her sleeping with someone isn’t permission to dig into her personal life and slap a diagnosis on her.
Going even further, the idea behind the phrase brings young girls into the discussion of sex and relationships in a very disturbing way. It creates the image that these girls without a good relationship with their father are seeking a romantic one with an older man to, in some way, “replace” him.
That should never be assumed about anyone, but especially not about a child. And for the men that are claiming to enjoy the fact that their partner is seeking something because of her trauma, it is fetishizing children, and it is gross. It should never, EVER be acceptable for a man to claim that he is looking for a girl with “daddy issues.”
4. It sets women up for toxic relationships
If you refer back to the definition at the beginning of this article, you will see that it also mentions a correlation between a woman’s relationship with her father and her “seeking maltreatment” in future relationships. This alludes to the fact that women who are abused by their father will seek that from a partner.
Why are we putting the idea in abusers’ heads that daughters of absent or abusive fathers are more likely to “seek out” abusive relationships? That only gives them an idea of who to prey on and does nothing helpful for the women being spoken about. Are we really going to expose an entire group of people and their trauma, making them a bigger target for abusers to use a specific and problematic phrase? No. Pick a different piece of slang to obsess over.
Another big issue is that it suggests that the victim of abuse is “seeking out” the treatment and completely ignores the fact that the abuser is the one responsible. There are at least two parties involved in abuse and the one at fault is not the victim. This is yet another way of casually stating the incorrect and sexist “she was asking for it” argument that is thrown around in the context of rape cases.
Although I don’t think we should jump to conclusions about all women who have abusive fathers, it is possible that someone wouldn’t notice a problem with the way a partner was mistreating them as quickly as others as a result of being used to their parents treating them in that way. For example, a woman may be more hesitant to see a problem with abusive tendencies in her relationship if she experienced them from her father in the past. However, if this were to occur, it should be handled by a therapist and not fetishized through slang on the internet.
5. It reinforces the idea that we all need a father
Not everyone needs a dad. Some kids are raised by two moms. Some are raised by one mom. Some are raised by their grandparents or siblings or cousins or someone unrelated to them. Many variables deviate from the old picture of what a family looks like. No family is the same, and the lack of a father doesn’t in any way make the other members less worthy or loved. It doesn’t make them any less of a family.
If a single mother is raising a young girl, why is everyone’s automatic reaction that she will be scarred by her “daddy issues?” Why isn’t “mommy issues” a popular saying? Is it because men are still considered the head of the house and seen as having more of an impact on their children?
We need to stop defining women by their relationships to men. Very rarely are men defined with their relationships to women, unless the women are being treated as objects or conquests and the man is being praised for it. So why do we have to deal with it? A woman is more than her trauma, her history, her past. If a father leaves his family, it should be considered an issue for him. It should be a loss for him. Not the ones who stayed strong throughout the mess.
A letter to said girls and everyone else reading
To the teenage girls out there already battling a million wars, I’m sorry that a cowardly man is getting off free while you are stuck with the repercussions of his life choices. I’m sorry that no one labels him as having “daughter issues” and asks if he likes younger girls as a result of his past. I’m sorry that his every move isn’t being attributed back to him hurting you. I’m sorry that you are already being labeled about so many other things. I’m sorry that you were made to believe that you have to prove who you are to everyone around you. It’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to want change. You deserve better.
To everyone else, we have to do better. There’s no question there. We need to start truly being there for our girls; stop defending all of our problematic actions just because it was “a joke.” We need to start listening and validating their struggles instead of categorizing them as “trendy.” We need to stop making these girls feel like the biggest thing they need to worry about when their father leaves them is if it will affect their dating life in the future. We need to stop making someone who is already feeling abandoned question whether she is the reason that he left or treated her a certain way. These girls don’t need any more criticism or negative attention. They just need us to be better.
To the absent and abusive fathers that never deserved the daughters they were given, I promise you that it was always more your loss than it was hers. Despite everything you did to her, despite every challenge you threw at her, she persevered. She is strong. She is brave. She is beautiful. All with no thanks to you. All despite you. She doesn’t have daddy issues, you have daughter issues.