Daddy issues: just a sexist pejorative, or is there a psychological basis?

Hello fellow dopers!

My topic for discussion today is about the term ‘daddy issues’, used in the context of dismissing the sexual lifestyles of certain women. First, I want to make sure that my understanding of the term is consistent with that of most people responding, after which I’d like to discuss (not debate) what the term means to different people, and particularly whether it’s a falsifiable label. Anecdotes and intuitions are more than welcome.

So what are ‘daddy issues’? As I understand it, the term is affixed to a sexually promiscuous woman, particularly if she tends to sleep with older men. The idea is that she is sexually intimate with these men to fill an emotional void caused by the absence of a father growing up. However, I’m not sure if the term would still apply in a situation where she did have a stable father figure growing up. If so, then in my mind the problem of falsifiability comes up: no father is perfect, so promiscuity could be attributed to any deficiency in parenting by the father – i.e. if he had been a good enough dad, she wouldn’t have turned out that way.

So I’m asking if my primary definition is on the level, and also whether the term could apply to women with father figures, or only to women raised by single females?

Finally, and this is more in the strain of a general questions topic, so I can split this up if the mods prefer that, I would like to know if there is any credible contemporary psychological theory to back up the idea that certain behaviors in women are a manifestation of an absent or emotionally unavailable father figure, or if there is merely evidence for a correlation between mental health issues in women and absent fathers.

And again, if you have an anecdote that to you illustrates the essence of daddy issues, feel free to share it.

I don’t think it necessarily means the woman is promiscuous. She could also have a fear of intimacy or something. And I don’t think it’s sexist. I mean, it COULD be used that way, but it doesn’t have to. Of course having a bad or absent father is going to affect people. It definitely affects boys too, but not in all of the same ways.

I agree with Blackberry. I have known many women whom I think of as having “Daddy Issues”, in that I know they have/had strained relationships with their fathers, which explain some of their behaviours, but “promiscuity” was not always, or even usually, involved.

I think of “Daddy Issues” being more “difficulty relating to men”, which might include promiscuity, and might include difficulties with physical intimacy, which is pretty much the opposite problem.

I think it’s mostly a perjorative stereotype because it denies or dismisses the idea that men can have mommy issues, and women can have mommy issues, and men can have daddy issues. Explaining, rationalizing or justifying irrational or irresponsible behavior is probably oversimplifying in most cases. Most of us have issues that relate back to our upbringing, and for many, that can include physically or emotionally unavailable parents. That doesn’t really justify using that as an excuse to go into prostitution as a career option, for example.

I would think that most people entering the sex work trade (stripping, prostitution, etc.) may have parental issues, or they may not; I would think in general the decision is made for economic reasons. When the rent is $1000 and due in three days, there are very few options for most people to acquire that amount of money in that short period of time.

Some people are just sluts for free. So they are looked down upon and judged to have “daddy issues” or mommy issues or whatever, more issues than National Geographic. I’ve known all kinds of slutty people – some have parental issues, some don’t.

Mmm, I definitely know men I would say have daddy issues, but they’re different ones - instead of difficulty relating with men (or relating too much with men), it’s more a “can’t live up to daddy’s standards”.

I think mommy issues exist also, you just hear about them less.

As far as a perjorative, well, the term is derogatory but I don’t think there’s a sexist element to it.

We have a saying around our office, “If it ain’t one thing, it’s your mother.” :smiley:

I don’t think I said if I thought it was a sexist perjorative or not, but I do think it’s a perjorative. I don’t know what I think about that wrt to sexism, but I’m not sure it matters. It’s just a way to stereotype people so one doesn’t have to spend the time and effort getting to know people as unique individuals. Meh, just paint 'em all with the same brush and go on about the bidness.

Daddy issues has nothing to do with being slutty.
To me, it means a girl who can’t hold a job or pay bills. It also usually means said girls have a fucked up sense of priorities. Like say going on a shopping spree instead of getting new tires she so desperately needs on her car.

So to get by in life, they hook up with an older, well off man, that’s willing to take care of her.

I don’t have cites, but my experience in social work with teens, absent fathers and single mothers who were aggressively dating left an impression on some girls that being attractive to the opposite sex was the best path to security and self-worth. That need for male approval and the habit of focusing on making themselves appealing to men at the expense of character and education leaves them pretty vulnerable to manipulation and sensitive to rejection.

My psycho ex’s daddy issues come in the form of a major fear of abandonment, because his dad wasn’t around.

I would agree that saying someone has daddy issues is somewhat offensive, but it’s not really any more offensive than saying someone has any other kind of issues, mommy issues, alcohol/drug issues, emotional issues, whatever. Personally, I wouldn’t use that term because I think it downplays what could be some serious problems, so if anything the offensiveness stems from giving things like problems with intimacy or self-esteem problems a cute name and being dismissive toward it. Another problem is that certain things that often correlate with that could have a completely different cause

I also don’t think it’s inherently sexist as both men and women can have daddy issues, though they will tend to manifest a bit different between the two. I know plenty of men and women that have “daddy issues”. One, for instance, was given the spoiled princess upbringing and their relationship is…odd. I know another who was beaten and she has intimacy problems. I know plenty of men, too, who either failed to live up to their father’s expectations and feel inadequate, or who never felt like their fathers were involved and are aimless, or whose fathers were abusive or absent or whatever and have other problems.

Either way, I’ve heard daddy issues plenty, I’ve heard mommy issues as well, and I can’t say that I’d ever heard it to consistently refer to women who are promiscuous. I would say I’ve probably heard it most often said about women though.

I’ve certainly heard it said that men have “Daddy issues”; they just tend be claimed to be different issues as far as I can tell. “He feels he can’t measure up”, “he feels emotionally disconnected from his father”, that sort of thing.

I’ve had people tell me I have ‘daddy issues’ because throughout my early 20s I had a serious boyfriend who happened to be 16 years older than me. He was not financially well-off, I supported myself by working all that time, and I grew up with a nurturing and engaged father (although he was seriously injured and disabled when I was 15). I’ve never heard anyone say a man had ‘daddy issues’ though I’ve known a ton who do (and plenty with ‘mommy issues’ as well). So yeah… I think it’s sexist, and it seems all you need to have someone say it/assume it is being a woman and having a relationship with someone older.

My boyfriend now, is 6 years younger. I’ve been called a ‘cougar’, although people don’t realize it unless we tell them as we look about the same age. I’m not sure what issues I have that mean all my serious relationships have age differences, but I don’t think it’s either of those :stuck_out_tongue: He’s great but him being younger is a PITA in many ways, for both of us.

Yeah, my husband is 22 years my elder, and I was indeed raised by a single mom (divorced) and I’ve heard a few behind-the-hand-mutterings that I must have “Daddy Issues”*. Only…no one has ever actually detailed what that means. Does he support me? Not financially - I outearn him; he’s on a rather meager disability check. He’s a wonderful house husband, to be sure, and “supports” me by doing the laundry and cooking dinner and picking kids up at school when I can’t fit it into my schedule. Is he dominant in our relationship? Not really. Sometimes I’m bossy, sometimes he is. Do I let him make all the decision? HA! No…

I think sometimes it’s said just because people can’t get their head around why a young, fairly attractive women would fall in love with an older ugly guy. They feel defensive that she isn’t acting in accordance with their view of how things should be, and so decide she must be defective and not worthy of any other relationship anyhow. shrug Not my job to fix their confusion. I can’t explain why I’ve fallen in love with *any *of the people I’ve fallen in love with. And, as Grandma used to say, “All cats are grey in the dark.” All people falling in love act and feel like they’re 16. :wink:
*I’ve also heard, “Drugs or money?” Nope and nope.

Never? For one data point, there was an episode of the hugely successful network TV show, Lost, about a male character, called “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues.”

There, you’ve heard of it now.

I don’t find it to be gendered expression, or used more towards women. It doesn’t inherently indicate issues that express themselves in sexuality, but it can. Since gay males are a small fraction of the population, it applies more rarely to men in its sexual context.

That is simply not true. Saying one sort of person may have one sort of problem in no way whatsoever implies that another sort of person may not have another sort of problem.

Sure it is a negative stereotype, but it is not directed at women in general, but at a particular sort of woman. There is nothing sexist about that, because it says noting about women in general, any more than all the multifarious negative ways we have of talking about various sorts of men who behave badly in one way or another are ways of putting down the male sex as a whole.

As applied to men that is, again, simply not true. It is common for both women and other men to say or imply that certain men’s problems with relationships arise from their being “momma’s boys”. The phrase is slightly different but the implications are equivalent: problems in a child’s relationship with their opposite sex parent are likely to lead to problems with relationships with thee opposite sex later in life. (That may or may not be true, but it is plausible and, more to the point, it treats the sexes more or less equally or symmetrically.)

Well, it actually doesn’t treat the sexes symmetrically. To say a woman has “Daddy issues” can mean a couple different things, but as many previous posters have noted, it often–not to say always, but often-- is used to imply the existence of some kind of elementary defect in her character that is caused explicitly by some sort of sublimated sexual attraction that the woman has towards her father. Needless to say, this is an extremely insulting implication.

Conversely, the term “Mama’s Boy” when used to describe a man may connote that he is effeminate or weak-willed, but does not define his major malfunction in terms of a literally sexual fixation with his own opposite-sex parent. This makes it considerably less offensive. Indeed, it is the kind of child-safe insult freely tossed about on Saturday morning cartoons.

Although they are superficially similar, the fact that the epithet aimed at women carries implications of incestuous sexual perversity that are totally absent in the case of the epithet aimed at men would seem to give lie to your assertion that there is “nothing sexist about that.” On the contrary, both insults derive from classic sexist tropes. Note that “Mama’s Boy” is such a poor excuse for a man only because he has let the childhood dictates of his presumably overprotective and demanding mother turn him into an ineffectual milquetoast.

I feel like it’s one of those terms that is used for so many situations that it’s become essentially meaningless, so yeah, IMHO it’s crossed the line into a pejorative because it’s like a catch all for any dating behavior that’s viewed in a negative light.

One scenario where it’s used a lot doesn’t have to do with older men specifically, but when a woman dates a man who has some behaviors or issues in common with her father. This one kind of makes sense to me, if someone grows up with a particular style of behavior, it’s normal. Even if it’s not a generally positive behavior, you’re still used to it. I once dated a guy (for a while) who was extremely volatile, which is similar in some ways to my father. Even when other people pointed out my boyfriend’s behavior, which was nearly always obnoxious and often downright inappropriate, it really and truly didn’t seem like a bit deal to me AT THE TIME. Eh, so what, that’s how some guys are, right? That’s probably a situation that could be considered a “daddy issue” even though it was more about normalizing an otherwise objectionable behavior than an unresolved issue about my relationship with my own father.

Interesting question.

I do not believe its looked at simply as a sexual promiscuity issue. Usually those kind of issues are deep seeded and fall into the defense mechanism realm of unconscious behavior. The more simplistic view of daddy issues is that some women have difficulty relating on a cognitive and emotional level to most…okay maybe not most but certain men who may act as they would define their father, absent or otherwise to be like or behave. Dad could have been the greatest guy in the world or a total dick what matters is how she defined pops and then applies that belief in the broader sense.

Mommy issues, I would like to think I can explain it in the same manner as above just change a few things around but what comes to mind is a grown male unable to stand as man in the company of men. He lacks individuality, is passive and subdued. When the poop hits fan he runs to mom for protection and guidance.

What strikes me is the connotation of daddy issues, one of working through the grayness of the unknown toward the known and healing from those issues and concerns but for the mommas boy I do not see as a journey, I see it as a way of life.

I have issues with my dad. My mother died when I was 11, he did his best, but he was occasionally physically and verbally abusive. He kicked me out as soon as I turned 18 and we rarely talk.

I’m now engaged to a man who’s 19 years older than me. I don’t see how the two have much to do with each other. If anything, guys my own age who I dated had more similar personalities to my dad, and my current old man is nicer and more stable than most guys I know.

Re the OP’s question of mental health and Daddy issues, I feel that the labeler is likely projecting when he or she sees a younger woman with a much older partner. A preference for a settled, stable partner reflects maturity and good decision making IMHO, as well as an open mind and tolerance for a partner who may not fit the physical ideal of a healthy young woman. Remarking that a viable young woman with an older partner has daddy issues seems more of a way to express regret that she may not be interested or available to a younger suitor rather than having valid insight to her psych.

As far as women with absentee fathers, if those women are either profoundly mistrustful of men, show signs of a fear of abandonment or seek sexual attention from men at large, we might attribute those problems to the missing parent or modeling behavior. Those issues could more fairly be attributed to a missing parent IMHO, and can lead to instability and strife.

I feel “daddy issues” as it is commonly applied reflects more of an observer’s knee jerk reaction to a May December romance, and as a value judgment, isn’t a fair assessment of the young woman’s mental health status. It ought to be applied to women who project unrealistic expectations on male partners or who seek attention from men at the expense of their own stability and self-reliance.