Daddy Issues and How Social Media has Misused It
Women are overly sexualised and blamed for their relationship with their fathers, we need to ask why.
Britain And Abuse
The British Office for National Statistics has indeed revealed an increase in reports of domestic abuse since the first lockdown started last March. The Centre for Women’s Justice also reported a 49% increase in calls to domestic abuse helplines. As Britain begins the process of opening up again, we need to be more aware than ever of domestic abuse and how it can show itself.
Partially, the steady increase in domestic abuse reports over the last decade had been due to a greatly improved awareness of what qualifies as abuse, paying more attention to psychological, financial, or overall, invisible examples of abuse. Creating a co-dependent dynamic between the perpetrator and the victim is key to understanding how the cycle of abuse continues. This dynamic is often achieved by exploiting the existing insecurities or past trauma of the victim. Let’s talk about daddy issues…
I lived in a single-mother household when I was growing up. My relationship with my father was turbulent and is now non-existent. He mostly comes up as funny stories for my friends who grew up with a stable, cereal-box family.
I went to a secondary school in South London that was diverse in many ways, so I didn’t feel like an outsider at all. It wasn’t until I started going to a sixth form college in Surrey, and then to a Russell Group university, that I started to feel like it was something that socially cut me off. Whether you have one or two parents around often speaks to your social class and your mentality around money, which can set you apart from others. I struggled emotionally during my early teenage years because of my complicated family life, but I’ve become stronger and happier for it.
Overall, I’m extremely fortunate in this respect. I am happy, healthy, and I can go about my life with ease despite my tempestuous childhood and early adolescence. Some people constantly live with the ramifications of a strained relationship with their father. Some lose a dad that they were close to, some suffer terribly because of their dad’s behaviour, or some just never feel a connection they feel they should have with a parent. Your relationship with your parents forms your expectations of other people and therefore have an immense effect on your own friendships, romantic partnerships, or even the treatment of your own children.
The Changing Image Of Bad Dads
The most televised version of this sort of tension was the classic father-son trope of a kid wanting to play catch on the lawn with the dad who is too busy at the office. But in recent years, the father-daughter dynamic has become a more open discussion on social media. ‘Daddy issues’ is a term passed around Twitter, Tumblr, and Tik Tok to describe a person, usually, a young woman, whose behaviour and mental wellbeing can be explained by a problematic relationship with a father figure.
At first, I thought it was amazing that virtual spaces were being made for women to share their experiences and emotionally connect with others going through similar experiences, or just to learn about people whose lives are different from their own! But we can’t have nice things on social media, can we?
Almost as suddenly as this term was planted in our online vocabulary, it became a tool to chastise women for their sexual behaviour (or lack thereof) or their mental health. ‘Daddy issues’ have been sexualised to a disturbing extent. I think it is a serious shame that this opportunity for empathy and conversation so quickly became yet another way to undermine and diminish the experiences of women.
Let Me Guess… Freud Ruined Everything?
The idea of daddy issues has been prevalent for a long time in psychiatry. Our favourite weirdos, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud developed theories about the ‘Electra Complex’, in which a girl will unconsciously compete with her mother to get closer to her father. This is supposedly a period of psychosexual development in which the child desires to replace the mother as the father’s sexual partner.
This was a temporary period until the girl would eventually adopt the behaviours and morality of her mother, therefore accepting gender roles in society. If something happens to the child that doesn’t allow her fully to repress her unconscious desires, she may fixate on certain behaviours, such as promiscuity or ‘penis envy.’
Funnily enough, this theory is no longer upheld in medical or psychiatric circles. But it provides an origin story to this age-old obsession with sex when discussing a girl’s relationship to her father and its consequences. And it is clear to see how the father-daughter dynamic has been theorised to uphold patriarchal values and behavioural norms in women. So, it is no surprise that we should see this resurgence of the sexualisation of daddy issues.
The Daddy Issues Challenge
Following the popularity of these theories, daddy issues have been a well-explored theme in music, literature, and film, even in the present day. The notorious song, Daddy Issues by The Neighbourhood, actively fetishises the pain that his love interest is going through due to her issues, with lyrics such as “I love that you’ve got daddy issues” or “half of me has disappeared.” I won’t deny that it’s a good song that sticks in my head, but it undeniably romanticises the struggles that come along with family breakdown.
There are also challenges on Tik Tok like the ‘Daddy Issues Check’ that lists off the known effects of a complicated relationship with a father figure such as “falling in love too easily” and “being super clingy.” Of course, being a hopeless romantic or dating older men does not necessarily mean you have daddy issues, but these trends are indicative of what people think are the typical signs of a woman with daddy issues.
Both men and women use daddy issues as a joke to explain a given woman’s attraction to older men, or for their struggles with mental health. Of course, humour is an excellent coping mechanism when used with caution but often, daddy issues are just the butt of the joke. For example, a common insult on Twitter is assuming that someone “probably has daddy issues” or has unresolved trauma, which must be the reason behind their bad opinions or edgy content. People with daddy issues are portrayed as overly emotional, submissive, and terrified of conflict or upsetting someone else.
I Blame The Parents…
On a darker note, I have seen the flat-out hyper-sexualisation of daddy issues, especially towards women. Daddy issues are constantly outlined as a kink or an object of fetishization for the supposed submissiveness of those who suffer from them. Tweets leading to a women’s Only Fans include lines like “I have daddy issues. Can you save me?” and other lines that suggest that daddy issues are not only a sexually desirable trait of a woman but that men will easily respond to the call.
Particularly on Tumblr and Twitter, I see men who are looking for women with daddy issues specifically because of their perceived sexual submissiveness. Consequently, women also aestheticise their daddy issues as a sexually attractive attribute. I’m not one to take too much umbrage with someone’s preferences in the bedroom, but clearly, this can be taken out of proportion. We are seeing a hyper-sexualised notion of daddy issues that sexualises the impact it has on young women, rather than humanising the people who experience them. It’s easy to see how this can easily become an exploitative, reductive treatment of women who have experienced trauma due to their relationship with their father.
In a broader context, what does all this suggest? The idea that a woman can have her experiences, her opinions, and her sex life reduced to the influence of a patriarch in her life is not only sexist, but it is also a deeply invasive insult. It often blames the woman with daddy issues, and not the incompetent father. And can we resolve the issues a woman has developed because of her father by introducing another man to ‘replace’ him? As well as clearly reinforcing patriarchal control over a woman, this is just creepy.
But why should we care about this now? We have known about this trend for months now, so why dissect it when we are already familiar with the online treatment of daddy issues? When the lockdown in the UK started, domestic abuse rates skyrocketed, women being the typical victims of such a crime. Women who could reach out to others such as friends, family, colleagues, and advice centres were suddenly trapped with an abusive partner every hour of every day. Women’s general safety around their partners has plummeted since the lockdown, and this is one way in which an abuser might manipulate their partner: by exploiting their previous traumas or attempting to adopt an inappropriate role for an intimate partner. Reducing a person down to one trauma is not only deeply insulting but also derogatory towards women by suggesting that their worth and who they are can be solely attributed to one man.
So, what is the future of daddy issues that I would like to see? I would like to see an open discourse around daddy issues that is more about the wellbeing of young women rather than the sexual gratification of men. Instead of focusing the conversation on the romanticisation of daddy issues and the idea that a woman’s unpalatable opinions and experiences are down to the impact that a family patriarch has had on a girl, we should have an open dialogue about the very real consequences of family breakdown and prioritise the wellbeing and mental health of women.