The Issue with “Daddy Issues”
There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.
- Daddy, Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath’s highly controversial poem “Daddy” ends with a tone of desperation as Plath struggles to free herself from her father’s oppressive influence that lingers long after his death. A raw account of negative familial relationships and the everlasting trauma it can leave, this poem, however, stands in stark contrast to the 'quirky' understanding we have of negative father-daughter relationships, or in "cooler" words, Daddy Issues.
Daddy Issues is defined as the “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). Of late, however, the term entangles negative stereotypes about women suffering from such relationships. However, it does not seek to describe the
failings of the male figures that result in such issues. “Daddy Issues” is used to blame women, categorizing them as "easy", keeping the men in their lives off the hook. It is one of the many ways of condemning women for being sexually expressive, wanting more space for themselves than society gives them. In short, the term pokes fun of these women for wanting a better relationship than the one they had with their father, for wanting healthier connections, and feeling real and understandable emotions. This so-called "humor” finds its culmination in the cartoon that was published in Playboy (vol.
25, no. 2) in 1978, thirteen years after Sylvia Plath published her poem “Daddy.”
Pop Culture has a funny way of presenting an extreme psychological intricacy such as Electra complex as amusing. As we earlier read a few lines from Plath's poem, we become aware of the true tragedy of not being able to trust your own father; to seek a better one throughout your lives, and sometimes subconsciously even in your lovers.
Cartoons such as those above reduce something deeply personal into a patriarchal ground for sexual conquests by incels. Women with daddy issues are seen as more forward with their sexual advances and trusting men. Exploited for the same, little is explored of how every eagerness to form a new connection is an opportunity to overwrite their past relationship trauma.
Having been deprived of a father figure they can look up to, exhibiting signs of Electra complex is not a kink restricted to the bedroom; it is a consequence of trauma that
manifests itself in every sphere. Sexualizing the term “daddy” as something you call your boyfriend endearingly and excessively runs the risk of minimizing the gravity of
abusive familial relationships, creating a kink out of it. It further adds another negative layer as by elevating your boyfriend to the status of a father figure, you reinforce an
unequal relationship, immediately rendering yourself with childlike vulnerability.
While obviously kinks, like every other element, are hardly ever separate from our social upbringing, it is worth critically eyeing the sexualization of our childhood and relationship traumas. You understand the tragedy when the first thought that pops when you hear “daddy issues” is not that of difficult fathers but rather of easy and sexually
vulnerable women. You understand the fingers that patriarchy points at its women even with mere words, shielding its men completely.
- Kasturi Dev Choudhury