The phrase “daddy issues” often gets thrown around as a cultural joke or a meme. Maybe it rubs you the wrong way, and maybe you can’t even explain why. If that sounds familiar, allow me to help you put your finger on it. Check out this week's podcast episode featuring my amazing colleague, Tanesha (Fecund Maiden), and keep scrolling for the blog post!
All my life I’ve known femmes, women, girls, and trans & nonbinary folks whose dads hit them, abandoned them, judged them, molested them, molested their friends, and made them feel like shit about themselves; unfortunately, this is a common experience for many feminized people in our society. As if that’s not enough, these same femmes, women, girls, and trans & nonbinary folks often bear the stigma of having “daddy issues”, which is used as a blanket term to dismiss any social, mental, or emotional struggles they may face throughout their lives. Depressed? Daddy issues. Eating disorder? Daddy issues. Victim of violence or abuse? Must be those daddy issues.
In our culture, one of the fastest ways to dismiss the humanity and individuality of sex workers is to claim we all have daddy issues, and that’s how we ended up in the industry (it’s also often used to explain why femmes, nonbinary folks, transmasculine people, and masculine-of-center people are queer–the idea being that our queerness is a sickness or deviation resulting from a broken relationship with our fathers). “Daddy issues'' is a masculine ego-stroking device rooted in the self-obsession of misogyny, and it robs people perceived as “feminine” of our agency, power, and ability to self-define.
To insist that “daddy issues” are THE reason anyone ends up in the sex industry is arrogant, reductive, and anti-femme.
These two words condense the abhorrent behavior of violent, abusive, and useless men into a palatable phrase so common that it has become benign. Furthermore, these words are used to blame and judge the feminine/feminized children of those men, forcing them, rather than their fathers/sperm donors, to bear the social stigma and its consequences. It’s maddening, often for those who, although they may have a selfish, abusive, or absent father figure, still feel empowered or neutral about being a sex worker. It’s also maddening for people like me, whose fathers or masculine caregivers support us and love us no matter what.
If you are someone who personally uses the term “daddy issues” to describe your own reality, I’m not trying to take that away from you; it’s your right to use it to self-contextualize. What we must carve away from our collective psyche, though, is the urge to define other people this way. When we chalk up an individual’s struggles to “daddy issues”, against their explicit consent, we make assumptions about how and why they are struggling.
The “daddy issues” trope, linguistically and psychologically, serves the same function as “boys will be boys”. It is what is known as a “thought-terminating cliché”, which is a language technique employed to end an argument without the use of logic or critical thinking. Commonly invoked by cult leaders/members, abusers, and their victims, thought-terminating clichés help cement oppressive structures in place, because they serve as a way to bypass any power struggles that may be present, which are often complex and nuanced. Some other examples of thought-terminating clichés would include statements like “let’s agree to disagree”, “that’s just the way it is”, or “stop being so negative”, when you try to have conversations about topics such as racism, trans rights, partner abuse, sexual assault, etc. The earliest known use of this phrase is from Robert Jay Lifton’s 1961 book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, but many contemporary psychologists and cult experts, like Drs. Janja Lalich, Steven Hassan, and Rachel Bernstein, as well as linguists, such as Amanda Montell, and anti-abuse activists, like Sarah Edmonson and Nippy Ames, are working to educate the public about the dangers and prevalence of this phenomenon.
If someone ever tries to accuse you of having “daddy issues” as a way to dismiss your feelings, experiences, or complexity, here are a few ways you could respond:
If they still try to push back after your initial response, you could say something like, “We can’t have this conversation if you don’t trust that I am the authority on my own experience.”
I hope you never have to defend yourself in this way, but if you do, may these tools serve you and protect you.
With my love,
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