"Someone who counts": Exploring father-daughter relationships when the daughter is living with a facial difference

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Pileggi, Victoria A.

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University of Guelph


Research on gender and its implications for the provision of care has burgeoned in the last thirty years; however, explorations of the intersection of gender and disability on caregiving remain limited. This dissertation reports on a feminist disability studies and post-structuralist research study examining father-daughter relationships across a diversity of ethnocultural and class backgrounds in contemporary anglo-western contexts when the daughter is living with a facial difference. Specifically, it explores the way fathers and daughters experience their relationship with one another, how the relationship contributes to the identity formation and transformation of both parties, and the re/production and subversion of gendered models of care within the relationship when the daughter is living with a congenital facial difference. Ten young women (age 16-33) and eight fathers (age 38-74) were interviewed. Both fathers and daughters relied on three dominant discourses in constructing the meanings they made of their relationship, namely: mothers are more proficient caregivers, fathers know best, and gendered silence. These three discourses subsequently informed and were informed by a central dynamic characterizing father-daughter relationships that may be described as “precarious closeness”: the fragile, tentative and unstable intimacy forged between fathers and daughters in postfeminist neoliberal times that is facilitated and complicated by a host of social, economic, political and developmental forces. Although participants spoke of facial difference in their interviews, gender surfaced as more central and critical to daughters’ and fathers’ conceptualizations of their relationship. Together, these discursive and relational themes may have an influence on the way our society understands gender, bodies, families, and care, with particular implications for family scholarship, social policy, the education system, and disability advocacy.



facial difference, fatherhood, women, poststructuralism, feminist disability studies, father-daughter relationship