Daddy Issues Are No Joke - Why Does Our Culture Mock Abandonment?


Why are daddy issues mocked or fetishized, when they’re a byword for absent, neglectful, or dysfunctional parenting? Daddy issues is an umbrella, unsympathetic term for women who have a complicated or unhealthy relationship with their dad – often because he was physically or emotionally absent. In their adult relationships, girls with daddy issues are shown onscreen (or assumed in real life) to be highly sexual, eager to please, and interested in older men. For these reasons, they’re desired – but also ridiculed, assumed to have no self-respect or to be annoyingly clingy and possessive. When a child does have an absent or neglectful parent, this often results in an insecure attachment style – which is a serious problem to address and work through. So why is this something that, in girls, gets treated as either a turn-on, a joke, or a reason to write someone off as a hopeless cause?

There’s a long history of men fetishizing women with daddy’s issues – because it’s assumed they automatically result in promiscuity and an over-willingness to please men. Meanwhile, this rhetoric diminishes and dismisses these women as people with value. Basically the idea is that they’re good for a low-effort one night stand, but too broken for a long term relationshipOn the whole in pop culture, the girl with “daddy issues” is depicted as a hot mess. Her life is apparently permanently derailed by the loss of her dad, and that sucks for her, but the story is often just using her as a side act for a more well-rounded character, or pitying her and writing her off as a lost cause.

One of modern pop culture’s best examples of fetishizing daddy issues is Harley Quinn, The Joker’s on-again-off-again girlfriend who’s been featured in Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey. We know from the comic books that Harley’s father was the reason she got into psychiatry, as she sought to better understand his neglect and infidelity. And as she begins her relationship with The Joker, she turns this highly dysfunctional male into her new dad figure. Suicide Squad’s marketing popularized images of Harley in her “daddy’s lil’ monster” crop-top, pushing this as a male fantasy. It’s not just the fact that she’s played by extremely beautiful Margot Robbie, but also precisely her wild volatility and unpredictability that is seen as desirable, as it’s code for sexually adventurous or experimental.

Blonde imbues a more tragic tone to Marilyn Monroe’s daddy issues. The fictional Marilyn calls both her husbands “daddy,” and is desperate for the approval of male authority figures – so again the implication is that our culture’s most famous sex symbol only fashioned herself as such a desirable figure because she craved her daddy’s attention. But the result is a very shallow and reductive portrait of how a person with an absent father might act. Blonde essentially suggests that all of Marilyn’s insecurities and future problems stem from growing up without a father, and that she’s forever lacking in confidence and self-worth as a result. It portrays her almost as a baby in an adult’s body, someone who remained forever infantilized because the lack of a father fundamentally arrested her development. Ultimately, this common pop culture understanding of the girl with daddy issues is highly one-dimensional, and pretty insulting.

Euphoria does a better job than most of exploring why and how our culture mistreats girls who show signs of problems with their dad. Cassie (who has textbook daddy issues due to her father’s abandonment) embodies the hot mess archetype in the eyes of her peers. The guys in her school see her as hyper-sexualised, and pursue sex with her, only to slut shame her if she agrees. Her boyfriends push her into taking nudes, or going on camera. All this gets in the way of relationships with guys who do respect her. In the first season, her serious boyfriend McKay defends Cassie against the critiques because he cares about her, but she’s subject to some much character assassination that even McKay sometimes succumbs to seeing her in that light and treats her badly. So in Cassie, we see both sides of this coin clearly – how she’s fetishized as one of the most popular girls in school, but also demonized and publicly shamed as a notorious figure among her peers.