Life&Style’s Jenny Cooper argues that the fetishisation of daddy issues can be a damaging stereotype of sexualisation, and advocates for a change in perception
Does fetishising daddy issues prey on women who may be more susceptible to problematic relationships with men, and is there a way to reclaim this?
The Urban Dictionary defines daddy issues as ‘when a girl has a messed up relationship with her dad […] as a result the girl might be attracted to older men, or men with anger issues if her father was an angry man, and sometimes will stay in an abusive relationship because it would feel just like home.’ This definition of daddy issues depicts the stereotypical way in which they manifest – women having complicated sexual relationships with men. However, this seems inherently tied to the subordination of women in sex and toxic relationships, and it is hard to see how daddy issues could be liberating.
The sexualisation of daddy issues is clear when we look at the way they are fetishised within popular culture. We need only look at songs like: ‘Daddy Issues,’ by The Neighbourhood; ‘Daddy Issues,’ by Demi Lovato; and also the marketing of Lana Del Ray to see examples of systemic sexualisation of daddy issues. Each musician portrays a woman’s experience of daddy issues as a site of sexual interest for men. This leads to women with daddy issues being idealised as sexual entities, something that is further exacerbated by the distinct lack of discussions about the effects of daddy issues away from how they manifest in the sexual lives of women.
Furthermore, daddy issues are glamorised on social media – most notably Tumblr. This is evidenced by the ‘pale grunge’ aesthetic that peaked in popularity in the mid 2010s. The aesthetic focused heavily on daddy issues, aiming to portray daddy issues in a positive light, as something desirable. This created a strange juxtaposition where the ‘pale grunge’ aesthetic became a safe-space for female liberation and open discussions surrounding daddy issues, whilst simultaneously offering another place to fetishise daddy issues – specifically effecting young women.
Still, conceiving of daddy issues as an area of sexual exploration may be liberating for women, as they are able to use traumatic events in their lives as a way to explore themselves. References to daddy issues in popular culture helps to free women in this way, removing the stigma surrounding daddy issues. Notwithstanding, discussions concerning daddy issues on social media may make women feel less isolated from others. They will be able to understand that a distant father is not the result of their own short-comings, but rather is a problem which is out of their control.
However, this conclusion is too quick. Although the glamorisation of daddy issues may contribute to liberation on an individual basis, I still feel that there is something questionable when we fetishise this as a society. It appears problematic that we only focus and glamorise women’s experiences of daddy issues. More specifically, how they manifest sexually, as it creates a skewed view that only women are affected by daddy issues and explore this sexually. Men with daddy issues often behave more aggressively and have emotional distance from others. Some of these issues may be resolved by including men (as victims) within the narrative of daddy issues. Men could also benefit from the representation of daddy issues within popular culture, as it would open up space for conversations.
It is a consequence of women’s position within society that we fetishise their experiences of daddy issues. Women are inherently seen as objects for the sexual gratification of men, and daddy issues are seemingly used as another vehicle to perpetuate this. Therefore, by romanticising ‘bad dads’ and daddy issues we sustain a damaging view of women; encouraging another form of sexism.
Moreover, the glamorisation of daddy issues can leave women in vulnerable positions. Young and vulnerable women may be encouraged to adopt the sexualisation of daddy issues as it is depicted as ‘sexy’ and ‘cool.’ In turn, this could lead to them continually developing relationships with toxic men. Returning to the description offered by Urban Dictionary, it appears difficult to see how women can truly reclaim situations that inherently place them in dangerous, damaging positions of subordination.
Daddy issues are often seen as attractive, as men are able to ‘fix damaged goods’ by dating women with daddy issues. Daddy issues can also act as an opportunity for the men who are exploitative to treat a woman with less respect than is deserved. These men may feel justified and as though they can ‘forgive’ themselves for their bad behaviour, as women with daddy issues are used to men leaving or treating them unfairly. Therefore, they are less likely to speak up against mistreatment.
Thus, justifying the fetishisation of daddy issues is tricky. There can be serious good that come from its glamorisation – it allows women to discuss issues that affect a major proportion of society and thus creates community ties and allows women the opportunity to view their trauma in a different light.
However, it is hard to truly reclaim daddy issues. This is because the male gaze and current social climate makes it hard for women to have the ability and space to reclaim their issues. It is hard for women to be liberated by daddy issues, as fetishising them risks encouraging dangerous behaviour amongst young women. So, it is not a surprise that, although the experience of ‘bad dads’ is a widespread phenomenon, society focuses is on how it presents sexually amongst women. This fetishisation is a way to prey on women who may be more susceptible to poor male treatment and thus it cannot be truly liberating for women.
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