Can We Kill The Phrase "Daddy Issues?"

As a twenty-something woman who tends to date older men (early 40s being the norm, not an exception), I’m no stranger to the knee-jerk accusation of “daddy issues.” This reaction intensifies when they discover that my father was 20 years older than my mother. Then they find out he is currently dead and their brains explode with the implications of what this did to my precious and tender female psyche.

Super mature, guys.

My experiences are by no means unique. The quickest and easiest way to shut down a woman’s sexual interests and kinks, as well as any opinions she might express, is to declare her hysterical and possessing of “daddy issues.” Daddy issues are the cornerstone of modern patriarchy manifesting in a variety of fun ways.

A recent study in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences rebuffs the notion of daddy issues with regards to women dating older men, suggesting no difference in attachment styles. Despite this, the stereotype is rampant.

A quick google search yields results from Urban Dictionary–which may not be scholarly but often takes a disturbingly accurate temperature of our cultural neuroses–that psychoanalyze women and pity the men in their lives.

“Whenever a female has a fucked up relationship with her father, or absence of a father figure during her childhood, it tends to spill into any adult relationship they embark on, usually to the chagrin of any poor male in their life.”

Or if she, in the words of one delightful Urban Dictionary contributor, acts “slutily or whoreificly.” Or has dyed hair, is loud, is depressed, dates older men, denies compliments, accepts compliments, is a tease, isn’t a tease, or is breathing.

Take a gander at the always trustworthy beta-male bible for misogynistic bilge, Return of Kings, and their “5 Signs A Girl Has Daddy Issues” which needs to be thrown out with the day-old milk. Kinks and sexual quirks ring in at number one, followed by other gems like “is delusionally overly-confident.” Read: is confident.

Daddy issues, in other words, is a convenient avatar for rebuffing a woman expressing opinions or desires in any way.

Look at every sexual interest of Barney Stinson’s from How I Met Your Mother. We, the viewers, are meant to disparage but laugh lovingly at his antics and hope for the day he falls madly in love and gets into a nice, heteronormative and monogamous marriage. Barney himself expounds ad nauseam on why a woman with daddy issues is an ideal one stand, because of her resulting desperation for paternal approval. Implicit is that his pile of women are meant to be disparaged, for having such deep-seated issues that she would actually sleep with a cad.

His main love interest gets a pass because while she may have daddy issues, at least she drinks scotch and talks like a man. Yet nobody on the show is wondering at any possible repressed gay urges (and resulting internalized homophobia) that might prompt Barney’s interest in a woman he likes because she “acts like a man.” Why? Because we drill deep into women’s mental complexes and make shit up in a way that we don’t do nearly as often with men.

The most on-the-nose example of such cultural pathologizing is when a woman calls a man “daddy.” While there are no useful statistics on the commonality of this kink, it pops up so regularly in porn, reddit and Tumblr that it’s almost mundane. From simple cries of “daddy” during sex to full-on age or incest play involving props and costumes, the daddy/daughter industrial complex is alive and thriving.

The cultural sexism here is not in women calling male partners “daddy” but in the response from said partners and from people outside the sexual relationship in question. Incest fantasies do not mean an interest in actual incest, just as calling your partner “baby” does not suggest pedophilia.

Rather, they’re a common twist on the even more encompassing umbrella of BDSM. Nevertheless, women who shriek “daddy” in bed get stamped with “daddy issues” and are relegated to the realm of “kinky freak you should never take home to mom.” Or worse, to dad.

A recent Broadly article attempted to get at the psychological roots of this kink in women. A daunting, if not impossible task since the origins of human kinks have baffled experts for decades. But sure, go ahead and try.

The rudeness came in the author’s response to communities of consenting women and men who engage in consenting age and incest play, unrelated to their real fathers and daughters. “This grosses me out more than if they wanted to fuck their dad,” wrote the author, “but that’s probably just because my personal fetish is being respected as an adult.”

Way to patronize the women, ignore (and implicitly forgive), the men, and generally condescend to an entire group of adults doing what they want with other adults.

The irony is that women who practice their daddy kink are generally just fine with it. Dulcinea Pitagora, a license sex positive therapist who caters to kink, poly, and LGBTQ clients, tells BTRtoday that she has worked with numerous clients who practice incest and/or age play in their sexual relationships and none of them were in therapy for those kinks.

“There are certainly people who come to therapy because they’re having problems with their fetish or kink,” she says of this and other kinks, but it’s “because they feel bad, society tells them they shouldn’t have it, that they shouldn’t be kinky, and they internalize that.”

This is true of kink in general, not just incest and age play and not just women. But when asked if we tend to pathologize women for this kink more than men, Pitagora agrees that it happens both in and out of the kink community.

The often liberating aspect of the kink scene is that there is more open and honest discussion before and after sex. It’s necessary, since “there are so many interests that need to be negotiated,” explains Pitagora, in a way that doesn’t force people outside kink circles to talk (though they should, we all should).

That said, kinky people are people like anyone else, another “cross-section of society,” Pitagora says.

“People think they’re this certain kind of person, that they dress and act a certain way. But it’s anyone. What goes along with being anyone is that the majority of people, since we live in a misogynist, paternalistic society, have internalized those messages. The kink community is the same way.” While there tends to be more honesty and more “subversion,” as she calls it, of society assumptions, those assumptions are still present.

“The phrase “daddy issues” is all over the kink community,” she confirms. “People are going to automatically make a lot of assumptions that aren’t true. We all live in the same world and in the same culture that brainwashes us. It’s internalized heterosexism and it’s really hard to escape from.”

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