The Daddy’s Girl Trope - Why Our Culture Fetishizes Her

In our culture, the father/daughter relationship is a romance. And the ‘daddy’s girl’ is seen through the rose-colored glasses of a father who never wants her to grow up. Onscreen, she’s an idealized – but stunted – version of femininity, one who’s focused on pleasing and getting praise for doing whatever her dad approves of. The dynamic appears in adulthood as a kind of role play: with the daughter as an infantilized, helpless innocent, and the father her heroic savior.


In our culture, the father/daughter relationship is a romance. And the ‘daddy’s girl’ is seen through the rose-colored glasses of a father who never wants her to grow up. So who is the Daddy’s Girl figure onscreen?

She’s an idealized – but stunted– version of femininity – one who’s focused on pleasing, and getting praise for doing whatever her dad approves of.

Molly Castle: “I went with law enforcement, Detective Beckett already said it’s cool if I volunteer down at the station.”

Richard Castle: “Oh well as a member of the NYPD volunteer squad I’d be happy to show you the ropes.” - Castle

She wants to be taken care of, and as an adult, might seek a partner who substitutes for her father figure as a provider.

She’s stuck in a child-like state. Even when she comes off as a mature adult in other contexts, she tends to revert to a youthful passivity when she’s around her father or other authoritative, male figures.

At the same time, she’s highly sexualizeda male fantasy of passive sweetness mixed with sexual voraciousness.

When it comes to actual parenting, a recent study showed that to this day, while a mother’s role revolves predominantly around caring, fathers get to be more involved in play. In the daddy’s girl, this dynamic persists in adulthood as a kind of role play: with the daughter as an infantilized, helpless innocent, and the father her heroic savior.

Howard: “She’ll be ok! I’m taking Tala into town. This dentist glues teeth!”

Tala: “I love you Daddy!” - Palm Springs

Here’s our take on the daddy’s girl, and what happens if she doesn’t outgrow seeing her dad as the greatest guy in the world.

Daddy’s Princess

The daddy’s little princess character is an example of arrested development, stuck between girlhood and womanhood. While these characters often rebel against and assert independence with their mothers, with their fathers they stay in a child-like state. Often, this has a lot to do with daddy’s money

Mona-Lisa Saperstein: “I love you Daddy.”

Dr. Lu Saperstein: “I love you too Angel.”

Mona-Lisa Saperstain: “Money please!” - Parks and Recreation

The rich princess version of the daddy’s girl upholds a very traditional, old fashioned view of the family, where the mother is the caregiver, and the father is the provider. In this framework, the father’s value is his cash value.

And if the adult daddy’s princess doesn’t want to grow out of her role, she simply replaces the parental provider with a partner who’ll keep enabling the lifestyle she enjoys. We often see how this model gets adopted in progressional spaces. In Parks and Recreation, Mona-Lisa Saperstein applies this formula to Tom Haverford, only seeing him as a potential partner when he starts to assert his authority over her, and then immediately turning to him for financial support

Tom Haverford: “We’re together now.”

Mona-Lisa Saperstein: “Hey bitch, I need to borrow some money to do something that is none of your damn beeswax.” - Parks and Recreation

In 30 Rock, NBC executive Jack Donaghy sees his protegee Liz as someone he can mold and mentor, in the absence of any children of his own. And The Dropout explores how young Elizabeth Holmes filled her Theranos board with prestigious older male mentors and investors, whose “fatherly” affection for Holmes led them to both romanticize her and want to help or protect her.

Countless stories illustrate to us that remaining in this child-like state of deference toward a male provider ultimately stunts the growth of the daddy’s girl. In Friends, Rachel and her sisters all begin as daddy’s girls, and with her wedding to Barry in the series’ pilot, Rachel is on track to fill her father’s role with her new husband.

Monica: “Cmon, you can’t live off your parents your whole life.”

Rachel: “I know that, that’s why I was getting married.” - Friends

When she runs out on her wedding and emancipates herself from this future, it’s painful, but ultimately what she needs is to mature into her own skin. Later in the series, we see a glaring contrast between mature, professionally successful Rachel and her sisters who’ve continued to be spoiled, baby-ish rich girls.

Even Rachel’s mom reveals that she regrets choosing the limiting “daddy’s girl” life, and she envies the freedoms her daughter enjoys as a woman standing on her own two feet.

Sandra Green: “No offense to your dad, sweetie, but I was thinking there might be more.” - Friends

Ultimately, the daddy’s girl needs to leave her father figure behind to reach her full potential. But what if that’s easier said than done?

The Electra Complex

A lot of daddy’s girl narratives are linked to Carl Jung’s idea of the Electra Complex – in which the daughter grows hostile toward the mother and develops a quasi-sexual attraction toward the father. In coming-of-age films about the daddy’s girl, we often meet her on the cusp of breaking away from the father and overcoming her Electra Complex.

Ariel: “I’m sixteen years old, I’m not a child.”

King Triton: “Don’t you take that tone of voice with me young lady.” - The Little Mermaid

This separating from the father is mirrored by a sexual awakening. In Dirty Dancing, Baby begins the movie with a childish worship of her father, but when she begins to fall for dance instructor Johnny, she transfers her previous feelings for her father onto her new beau. This leads to conflict with her dad, which is finally resolved through the father-daughter relationship reforming with slightly more distance, as the father bestows his approval on her daughter’s new partner.

In Say Anything, Diane’s father is even more explicitly the gatekeeper of her daughter’s affections. And this makes Lloyd’s and Diane’s courtship difficult, as Lloyd basically has to break up an existing relationship. In the end, what acts as the catalyst for the couple getting together and Diane overcoming her electra complex, is her father letting her down by embezzling money, and effectively being taken away from her.

Diane: “My father’s guilty, he lied to me, he lied to everybody. I just left home. I need you.” - Say Anything

Veronica on Riverdale has a similar dynamic with her father – while she starts out as a classic ”daddy’s girl,” learning of her father’s misdeeds requires her to separate more from him, if she wants to mature into a good person.

At the start of The Little Mermaid, Ariel is the apple of her dad’s eye, so her journey toward a happily ever after with Prince Eric requires a fairly traumatic severing from her father’s world. She has to willfully disobey her dad and incur his disapproval and wrath before he finally lets her go

King Triton: “Then I guess there’s just one problem left.”

Sebastian: “And what’s that, Your Majesty?”

King Triton: “How much I’m going to miss her” - The Little Mermaid

In a number of these stories, the maternal figure has actually died, so there’s a gap in the family unit that needs to be filled. In To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean’s relationship with her father has a sweet, romantic quality because they’re bonded in grief — so her father dotes on Lara Jean, while Lara Jean and her sisters play a maternal role within the house.

In Emma, and its 90s update Clueless, the Daddy’s Princess character even more explicitly tries to step into her deceased mother’s shoes and take care of her dad.

Cher: “Daddy, you need your vitamin C… And don’t try sneaking out of the office. Dr. Lovett’s coming by to give you a flu shot.” - Clueless

But she’s really play-acting a maturity beyond her years and still has a lot of growing up to do. Finding a serious love interest who challenges her helps her move beyond this sheltered initial state and become a more fully realized adult.

Meanwhile, in other stories, tension comes when there’s something that prevents the Electra Complex from being overcome, or when the romantic partner feels too similar to the father. Monica’s relationship with Richard in Friends feels uncomfortable at first because Richard is her dad’s friend, someone who knew Monica when she was a child.

Judy Geller: “It seems your daughter and Richard are something of an item.”

Jack Geller: “That’s impossible, he’s got a twinkie in the city.” - Friends

And any unusually close adult dad-and-daughter relationship may instinctively make some of us a little uncomfortable

When this is taken to an extreme, it becomes horrifying. The climaxes of Old Boy and Audition both speak to this — In Old Boy, the revenge-seeking Oh Dae-Su has been inadvertently tricked into a relationship with his daughter, while in Audition, violent Asami lures in older men who court her because of her innocent, child-like qualities. In Orphan, this is even more explicit – the film’s monster is a psychopathic woman who disguises herself as a child and gets herself into adoptive families to kill the mother and seduce the father.

Dr. Varava: “She’s dangerously ill. Violent. She’s killed seven people that we know of.” - Orphan

But the real reason these stories are so unsettling is because they play with an existing discomfort and push the boundaries of what’s acceptable.

The Daddy Meme

The sexualization of daddy’s girl comes from a fantasy of a submissive woman who treats her man as her hero.

Max: “I think it’s really great to support females, particularly female entrepreneurs.”

Danielle: “Cool, great.” - Shiva Baby

Today, this old-fashioned power dynamic is less prominent but it still holds a certain power and appeal for people – so more and more, the daddy’s girl is getting embraced with a tongue-and-cheek tone. In queer communities, ‘daddy’’s often a name given to the more dominant partner in a relationship, and now daddy – or even zaddy – has become a general term of endearment for hot actors and celebrities.

Eve Peyser argues that this memeification of ‘daddy’ is laced with irony: “A grown woman says daddy with intention, self-assurance, and lots of cynicism. We claimed “daddy” as our own, which allows us to gently mock the patriarchal structures we’re playing into.”

Arguably one of the knock on effects of this has been the rise of sugar daddies and sugar babies, where the relationship is viewed as almost entirely transactional, but nonetheless enjoyable. The modern Daddy’s Girl appeal also can be seen in the Harley Quinn/Joker relationship – Harley’s Suicide Squad costume features a shirt reading “Daddy’s Lil Monster.”

All this can still veer into territory that makes people uncomfortable. Fifty Shades’ relationship dynamics have garnered a lot of criticism over the years. And while in Suicide Squad the “daddy’s lil monster” aesthetic was played for sex appeal, the follow-up Birds of Prey made a statement about Harley’s need to get out of her toxic relationship with Joker.

Harley Quinn: “I lost all sense of who I was. I only had eyes for Puddin.” - Birds of Prey

In Shiva Baby, a college student ventures into the world of online sugar daddies but finds the experience more disempowering than she expected. And Cassie on Euphoria is a textbook example of how being too hung up on a daddy fantasy – especially if your real dad is absent or neglectful – can make a young woman insecure and too vulnerable to attention from guys she sees as a father substitute.

In real life, Megan Fox received backlash when people found out she referred to her partner, Machine Gun Kelly, using that term. Fox said, “I was being celebrated as being a feminist until I had the nerve to call my boyfriend, ‘Daddy.’”

Megan Fox: “I was like whatever you say, daddy, whatever daddy says.”

But that case – where it was clearly a mutual love language between Fox and Kelly – speaks to how, overall, there’s growing acceptance that this dynamic can be a female fantasy too, and there’s nothing wrong with it if everyone’s into it.


So much of our culture operates on the ‘great man’ theory of history, where male archetypes are transformed into these mythic, heroic creations. And arguably, there’s no greater male archetype than the father. So in a sense, women are conditioned to fall in love with them. However, in cultural depictions of the daddy’s girl, leaving this hero worship behind becomes an important, even necessary step. To become her own woman, she can’t be defined by the power dynamic she was born into – she has to take charge herself.

Harley Quinn: “I had to find a new identity. A new me.” - Birds of Prey


Warren, J.D. “Fathers Are Happier Parents Than Mothers, New Study Shows.” UC Riverside News, 30 Jan. 2019

Legg, Timothy J. “What Is the Electra Complex?” Healthline, 13 Feb. 2019

Borge, Jonathan. “Why Are Your Friends Calling Hot Guys Daddy?” Instyle, 23 Oct. 2017

Dewey, Caitlin. “What is the ‘Daddy’ Meme, and Why Are Actual Adults Fighting About It?” The Washington Post, 22 Aug. 2016

Maddick, Emily. “Megan Fox is GLAMOUR’s April Cover Star: ‘Me Just Being Free and Having Fun with How I Am is Very Provocative for People’.” Glamour, 26 Apr. 2022

Chendra, Kerry. “The Great Man Theory of Leadership.” Very Well Mind, 17 Sep. 2020