Like any normal person who is most definitely not chronically online, I spent Father’s Day sending my Abu a WhatsApp gif and a Layers cake (minus the lizard) before scrolling through Twitter and liking whatever everyone was posting to celebrate the day. I was in the middle of rigging a Twitter poll that decided who the best TV show sitcom Dad was between Phil Dunphy from Modern Family and Gerry from Derry Girls (Spoiler: It’s Phil. If you think it’s anyone else, please know that you’re wrong) when my finger stopped over a screenshot someone had posted in the comments.
Text: Food for thought: How does the father-daughter relationship trope maintain heteronomativity & disempower daughters
The context of the Tweet that accompanied this screenshot was that it didn’t matter who the best sitcom Dad was; all these shows perpetuated a trope where the father-daughter dynamic enforced heteronormative norms onto the viewers. Now, I know what you’re thinking. What a miserable Tweet to post in response to something so harmless. I agree.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Often, when you recall father-daughter tropes in media, you either think of the most gut-wrenching dynamics to exist (daughters growing up to be caretakers of their ill fathers, daughters growing up without their fathers, daughters who witnessed their fathers pass away) or the most wholesome tropes (daddy’s girls, daughters whose first love was their father, daughters who have healthy relationships with their fathers). Personally, I find a lot of these extremely heartwarming (my favorite father-daughter dynamics are from Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo and Modern Family). However, when you dissect it, the trope of “Daddy’s Girl” segways to some implications we may be too blind to notice.
We all know our favorite psychologist, Sigmund Freud. His Electra Complex defines the trope of Daddy’s Girl a little too well. He states that adolescent girls in their phallic stage of development (3-5 years of age) usually develop subconscious sexual feelings towards their fathers as they are the parent of the opposite sex. This usually results in intense feelings of jealousy of the same-sex parent due to their actual existing intimacy with their fathers.
My personal qualms with Freud aside, I cannot deny that existing media plays into his theory very well. Daddy’s Girl will illustrate a daughter whose first love is their father and who wants to be married to him (Ye-Jin from Good Bad Mother, Lilly from Modern Family). Fathers are parents. They do not exist to be “pre-boyfriends” or placeholders for them. I find it extremely cute and wholesome, but when the same thing is repeated repeatedly, one should start raising some eyebrows. Whenever these TV shows usually show a father doing something amazing for their daughters, it is usually framed under the lens of them doing something the daughter wishes her boyfriend would do for her. This could include the common trope of fathers spoiling their daughters so that she knows that “no man will ever be good enough for her” or won’t be “too impressed with whatever average thing her future boyfriend will ever do for her.” While at first glance, this seems totally harmless, it perpetuates society’s views on gender as a binary, which does not allow room for queerness. These also contribute to norms that make patriarchal assumptions about their children and their future relationships. Father-daughter relationships framed as a prelude for girlfriend-boyfriend relationships enforce a heternormative concept that only allows for opposite-sex attraction to exist. I do not think this is too much of a concern, and I do not think these existing tropes will harm every daughter. However, I do think these blurred boundaries set up a narrative that explores gender stereotypes and patriarchy.
I do think there is a larger conversation to be had about this. This could stem from how societies and cultures have historically regarded women as property with their “purity” and “dignity” safeguarded by their fathers until they are given off to men to be married to, but that is something to explore with proper research. What do you think about the Daddy’s Girl trope? Do you think there exist significant problems with it for it to be considered a cause of concern? Or do you think this is simply a reach? I’d love to discuss!
(Here’s my favorite edit of Phil Dunphy from Modern Family as a parting gift. I wish I could send him a Layers cake too)