The Electra Complex and Daddy’s Girl

My mother used to call me daddy’s girl. I became aware of what she meant by this that long summer when I was seven and it seems sometimes as if I have spent my whole life looking back into the garden of my childhood when I lost my innocence.

It was unusually hot that year and I was in childish bliss running across the warm grass and jumping in the inflatable paddling pool. Father, in shorts and an old straw hat, was trimming the roses. Every time I emptied the water jumping in, he would stop, turn on the tap, and refill the pool with the hose.

I have no idea why I removed my bathing suit, unless the desire to be naked was coded in my genes, a need to be free, to reveal, to assert that feminine instinct sacrificed in the Garden of Eden.

My giggling was contagious. Father was laughing as he chased me with the hose, spraying me as I ran squealing in circles until I caught sight of Mother approaching in hurried steps along the crazy-paving path. She wasn’t smiling. She was carrying a white towel in which she snatched me up mid-step.

‘That’s quite enough of that,’ she cried, and carried me back to the house. As she rubbed me dry, I saw my reflection as our eyes met. ‘So, who’s the little daddy’s girl?’ she then said.

I stopped wriggling and, at that moment, as if I’d been struck by a revelation, I was aware on a subconscious level that I was competing with my mother for my father’s affections, and, as a little girl, running around the garden naked was in some way both improper and provocative.

Electra Complex & Jung

It was decades before I learned that the daddy’s girl drama in the garden that summer followed what Carl Gustav Jung called the Electra Complex, a girl’s psychological competition with her mother to possess of her father, the first stage of our sexual awakening.

This sense of being rivals starts when a girl becomes conscious of herself as female, herself as both an independent and sexual being. Jung divides sexual awareness into five stages: 1) oral, 2) anal, 3) phallic, 4) latent, 5) genital. Girls pass through these phases from age three to puberty, the positive resolution of the Electra Complex being, in psychoanalytic theory, a girl developing a mature sexual role and, finally, identification with her mother.

The Electra Complex has largely been consumed by Sigmund Freud’s theories on the Oedipus Complex. Freud proposes that girls resolve their mother fixation through penis envy, boys through castration anxiety. Adults who remain stuck in the Electra and Oedipal stages of psychosexual maturity might be considered a daddy’s girl or a mummy’s boy, made apparent when you pick a partner who resembles your dad and your brother picks a girl just like mom.

As the names of these complexes indicate, there’s nothing new in sexual confusion. Poor Oedipus we learn in Oedipus Rex, Sophocles’s play about fate and free will (c 429 BC), murdered his father, then married and had an incestuous relationship with his own mother. So distraught was Oedipus when he found out, he blinded himself by ripping out his own eyes.

As for Electra, she was born to give name to the Electra Complex. When her father, King Agamemnon, returned from the Trojan War, his wife, Clytemnestra, was not a happy bunny. She persuaded her lover, Aegisthus, to help her kill her husband. In Clytemnestra’s defence, Agamemnon had himself returned from Troy with a new lover, the fortune-teller Cassandra, who had given birth to his twin sons, certainly a provocation, but no excuse for the plotters to do away with the King.

When the news reached her, Electra was incensed. With the help of her brother, Orestes, she hired some assassins and did away with Clytemnestra, her mother, as well as Aegisthus. Electra spent the rest of her life hanging around her father’s tomb, while the two great playwrights of the day, Sophocles and Euripides, set about writing tragedies about her life.

The term ‘daddy’s girl’ has become popular in fetish and BDSM fiction. She’s the girl in the rabbit mask crawling on all fours with a cat-o’-nine-tails in her teeth, an image for me that defines the difference between porn and erotica.

In pornography, daddy’s girl submits to domination. In erotica, she’s nobody’s girl and submits only to her own whims and desires. Porn is a blunt axe. Erotica is subtle, elusive, literary.