What We Talk About When We Talk About “Daddy Issues”

“Daddy Issues — 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.” — Urban Dictionary

I used to watch How I Met Your Mother. I was in college and was experimenting with all sorts of new things like bad sitcoms and deep fried foods (RIP, Deep Fried Mac and Cheese). In the show Neil Patrick Harris plays the last straight role he will ever be cast in, a parody of pick up artists named Barney Stinson. Barney Stinson likes sluts because they put out. He likes women, specifically, with Daddy Issues because they are allegedly wilder in bed and their “damage” makes them hotter to him. He prioritizes men espousing the philosophy of the Bro Code building on the phrase “broes before hoes.” He is comic relief in this show and the laughtrack is liberally employed every time he opens his mouth. Not to critique the golden treasure that is Neil Patrick Harris but Barney Stinson is a monster and the collective cast judges women who sleep with Barney because if they are tricked by his elaborate schemes, clearly they were asking for it for being stupid enough to sleep with Barney.

I realize that the reason Barney Stinson worked as a gimmick was because we found a campy, lithe, queer man non-threatening and that’s a whole OTHER essay on how queer men are used against women, but Barney Stinson always bothered me. Maybe it’s the phenomenon of cutting too close to the bone; Barney Stinson was the sort of man who would try to prey on me, try to control me, poke at me to see what I would do and then call it a social experiment. Barney Stinson wouldn’t hire me. Barney Stinson wouldn’t listen to me. Barney Stinson wouldn’t ever be my ally.

“Words Related to Daddy Issues — Slut, Sluts” — Urban Dictionary

When people say Daddy Issues they are overwhelmingly referring to women. And it’s a cutting move to comment on their value. Women with Daddy Issues have a greater likelihood to be “sluts” according to male sociological analysis (and zero data). Sluts, by definition, are promiscuous women and according to the bowels of the internet promiscuity can mean a woman who has had between 0–10 partners and any number after that strips you of your humanity all together. According to men, women with Daddy Issues seek male company because their goal is to earn male approval because their fathers were absent or awful. Male deflection of responsibility is so profound that if a woman has had a terrible father, it reflects poorly on her and not on her father.

It also puts the fulcrum of female sexual desire or sexual inhibition around abuse and trauma. Only broken women enjoy or want sex.

“Daddy issues in a woman can be a man’s best friend. And also the worst. On the one hand, meeting a girl with a fucked up relationship with her father can mean a modest, docile, dynamo-in-the-sack who’ll come over to your house on short notice to have rough sex and bake cookies for you afterward. On the other hand, it can signal that you’re about to embark on a clusterfuck rollercoaster ride with a head case — that’ll likely end with the cops coming to your house, you having to repaint your car, or having to call Verizon Wireless to block a number from reaching your ‘handset.’ Whether she’s the product of an absentee father she’s constantly looking to replace or some transparently Freudian princess complex, you should know how to recognize a girl with daddy issues.” — Return of Kings

Daddy Issues has prime real estate on the long list of excuses men give themselves to not respect women in any context from the workforce to romance. Men constantly want to opt out of seeing women as people or acknowledging that the experiences women have at the hands of men. That’s not their problem. Not All Men. When women say they don’t deserve something, a man is always there to tell them that they do, like rape or harassment. You want to opt out of being hunted? Never leave your house and wear a suit made of knives! Take some responsibility!

When women say they deserve something like equal pay and opportunity, men are there with cherry picked data informing women they are whiners. From being “too much” to “too sensitive” to “too revealing” to “too clingy” to “too needy” the things that women can be to alienate male respect are so vast that it’s a miracle they sink so low to sleep with us. Glad the sex drive was invented or men would have single-handedly discontinued the human race.

Then there is the sexual component of this particular label. The hopeful nature of Daddy Issues and the piece that Barney Stinson is so hungrily preying on is that because a woman was mistreated by her father, they will be spectacular in bed (for the guy). This is never really given into detail but from the snippets it’s generally a condemnation of women who bottom or submit during kinky sex. She is never more orgasmic, more engaged, or more genuinely interested in the sex — she is performing male fantasy in order to plead for his approval instead of consenting and enjoying herself. She’s not having this kind of spectacular sex because she wants it, she’s doing it to feel human closeness which men get to withhold and mock her for expecting. Male entitlement extends to the body autonomy of women and the right to be completely unavailable, emotionally or otherwise, to them.

This is a sexual standard of masculinity — denying women. Now when a woman “denies” a man by not being interested, she is depriving him from what he is owed, hence why men complain about the “friendzone” or being a “Nice Guy.” Women are never entitled to emotional investment. It’s an artifice that a man must fake in order to achieve sex, the ultimate goal. Except it isn’t. Men require women to do their emotional processing and labor for them, throwing their feelings at women and expecting them to bear the weight. When mentioning the emotional labor that they require, they inform women to stop complaining. Emotional labor is their place and it shall not be compensated and will be used against them later. Male bosses flood their female employees with their feelings and then pay them less and don’t promote them. Male partners expect the women in their life to baby and cater to them, doting on them and working around their feelings.

When trouble comes to town
And men like me come around
Oh, my daddy said shoot — Beyonce, Daddy Lessons

Men are the first to warn you to not trust them and then mock women for listening. Men are incensed that women move to the other side of the street, lamenting that they aren’t “scary.” Fathers warn daughters to never trust men because men only want one thing from them. Fathers want better men for their daughters than they were to their mothers and yet they don’t put any effort into making better men.

I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
When all I wanted was to be good
To do everything in truth — Martha Wainwright, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole

The truth of the matter is that all women have Daddy Issues. We live in Patriarchy. We resent male authority figures because they never fight for us. They never serve us. They never mentor us. They pat us on the head. They sexualize us. They prey on us and call us sluts. They seek us out because they want to know what they can get out of us. And the meager protection they offer comes with paternalistic chastising, warnings against being too desirable or too tempting rather than telling men they are not entitled to the affections of women. Women aren’t even entitled to personal safety.

Patriarchy is the ultimate Deadbeat Dad. He constantly controls the environment and yet abandons women at every turn, using them as scapegoats for ruining the lives of men by filing rape or domestic violence charges or for being bitter liars. Patriarchy doesn’t understand why he has to pay child support. Why he has to be an active member of the family. Why he has to connect or respect women. Why trigger warnings are important or why feminism is necessary. No, Patriarchy doesn’t trust women. Women are tricky. Women trap. Women are cunning.

The status of women is defined by the man they belong to, the role of mother, sister, wife. After being told that the best advantage a woman can have in life is to marry rich, women are gold digging whores because they are arguably negotiating for a higher salary. Men prescribe the value of sex and then are furious when women try to monetize or control it.

“Sexual aggressiveness is listed as a the first symptom of daddy issues, excessive flirting the second, and clinginess the last, all of these comprising the holy triumvirate of characteristics you do not want to see yourself dealing with in a girlfriend. “ — You Don’t Have Daddy Issues but Your Piece of Shit Father Might

Sometimes we have shitty fathers. There is a larger narrative here. One where everyone is failed by gender roles. There is no reason for “Daddy Issues” to be gendered. Doing so only makes the emotional impact of a traumatic or neglectful parenting relationship about virginity and sex appeal.

I was told my whole life that in order for a man to love me it was by being frail. By not knowing I’m beautiful or powerful. When I am powerful it is synonymous with “not needing a man.” Male power is never sifted through that lens.

I am told to improve the men in my life. I am told to make them better. That their victories were somehow my goal. To help them win.

They were never told to make me a better woman.

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