I want to preface this by saying that I’m not angry at the person who said this. I’m angry at the society that makes saying it okay. Frankly, I had never really thought about how insulting the term “daddy issues” is until after he said it.
Why is it okay to reduce women with absent or abusive fathers to broken children with “daddy issues”? Just the phrase alone is so insulting, and for some reason, we’re only allowed to insult women with it. Think about it. You are friends with a man with an addiction to alcohol. He says he and his father don’t have a very good relationship, and he thinks that is a contributing factor to his alcohol addiction. You understand that. His behavior makes sense, even if it’s unacceptable. You and he both know that he’s not a slave to his trauma, but sometimes he slips because he is in psychological pain. He gets drunk and says something rude to you. What do you do?
Well, you certainly don’t dismiss his behavior with a wave of your hand, roll of your eyes, and a voice full of mockery saying “well, he has [airquotes] daddy issues.” Frankly, that would get you slapped in a great many scenarios. Why? Because you’re minimizing his trauma. It’s saying “your trauma is nothing to get worked up about, you’re just being dramatic.”
It’s okay, socially, to minimize women’s trauma. I don’t know why this is the case. Perhaps because there’s a persistent (and false) cultural belief that women are weak and become traumatized over things not worth being traumatized over. Maybe it’s because psychiatry has a history of oppressing women’s mental and emotional lives through accusations of hysteria. Or, more controversially, because in modern days, we like to slap the terrifying and hopeless label of “borderline” on any woman with symptoms of complex trauma, feed her too much medication, and warn her family and loved ones that she’s going to be impossible. Any way you spin it, it comes down to infantilizing women experiencing psychological pain.
Mental health conditions, including trauma, are still a gendered issue. Men are discouraged from help-seeking, told to be strong, and expected to resort to drinking and using to cope rather than to be vulnerable. Women are shuffled into hospitals for being hysterical (or now, borderline), reduced to helpless little children who can’t help but to act “crazy” because of their “daddy issues,” and expected to dull themselves with excessive psychiatric drugs rather than be treated holistically when they are vulnerable.
Any way you spin it, it’s about infantilization. We associate trauma, emotional pain, and mental illness with helplessness, weaknesses, and being “damaged” rather than natural, if unfortunate, events in the human experience. We tell men to suck it up so they aren’t babies and we tell women to lie down and accept their fates because they’re incapable of moving beyond being children. It’s absurd, given what we now know about mental illness. Psychological pain happens to people of all ages, sexes, gender identities, races, religions, socioeconomic statuses, occupations, geographies, health statuses, and personalities. Dismissing anyone’s pain with sarcastic remarks about “daddy issues” is ignorant.
Let’s repeat that.
Dismissing anyone’s pain with sarcastic remarks about “daddy issues” is ignorant.
For context, “daddy issues” was said in a literature class when discussing Sylvia Plath.