The case against douchebag

Posted in Being a Feminist, Language by Dizzy on March 31, 2009

I’ll be honest, I love saying douchebag. I love the way it sounds, the way it stings. I love that there’s a punchy insulting word for a completely self-unaware fool who doesn’t know shit about what he’s talking about but tries REALLY HARD to seem like he does. It’s about freakin time.

I had long refused to go anywhere near that word for obvious reasons, but then I noticed feminists were using it in their blogs. Some commenters responded with genuine confusion about it, to which supporters posited the following argument (as I understood it): a real vagina-cleansing douchebag is a literal, physical patriarchical tool, so calling a dude a douchebag is really the same as calling him a tool except with loads more ironic feminist derision.

There were some words about reclaiming and such that I willfully didn’t grok, but that didn’t matter cuz I was sold. Douchebag had been feminist-sanctioned! I could say it and not feel like a total hypocrite! W000t!

So after work one night I was with a group of my cool co-workers at a pizza place talking about this guy who had gotten fired that day for essentially being a complete effin tool. Seriously, if ever there was a human that deserved to be called a douchebag, this guy was it.

And I did it. For the first time since my feminist awakening I called someone a douchebag. Out loud. In mixed company. I felt pretty cool for a second as I felt it out – the word came out with confidence and power and at exactly the right moment – but then I got a little sick to my stomach and I felt my face get red.  What did I just do? The woman next to me gave me an odd look – one that I have since interpreted as disapproving and confused.

I immediately wanted to explain why it was okay for me to say it,  as in “No, no, it’s okay, I’m a feminist! I’m allowed!” but I realized that would require a dinner monologue about dirty vaginas and the patriarchy. No one was in the mood for that, not even me.  I just wanted to tell funny stories about the dude that got fired.

So the moment had to pass without context or explanation.  None of them were ever the wiser about the tool argument.  They just thought I was someone who, like most of the world, feminizes as insult.

I’m not.  Today a woman at work asked this guy if he was a girl because he wanted paper towels to clean barbeque sauce off his pork ribbed fingers.  I kicked her in the back of the shin out of reflex.  Hard. She yelped and I felt bad for resorting to violence.  But whatever.

When someone around me calls someone else a pussy or a bitch or they make some tired old gender generalization, they very often look at me right away to see how I’m gonna react and then either apologize to me before or after I say
Hey!” or ask why they shouldn’t say that.  Which is weird to me, really, but I am truly comforted that my presence, at the very least, makes people (those that know me at all, anyway) recognize sexist language when they hear it.

So much of the world’s mysogny is expressed so very non-chalantly in modern language.  Recognizing and not using the words that ultimately hurt women is a small thing we can do to fight this ugly bloody battle against us.  The words we choose to use when we talk to each other is the very easiest thing we can change about ourselves as we get prepped for smashing this shit up.

All of us here know what a douchebag represents.  Yes, it’s a tool of the patriarchy in every sense of the word.  But getting comfortable with the douche insult and its derivatives in the feminist sphere inevitably results in comfort with it in the non-feminist world, and people generally aren’t privy to the whole feminist take on the term.  Calling an Australian politician a douchebag in the comments of IBTP is one thing,  but out-feminists calling people douchebags in the company of folks who haven’t come around yet isn’t exactly going to do anything to bring the world closer to treating women as the human beings that we are.

I would bet that it makes those folks think that, holy crap, even feminists don’t have a problem with insulting someone by connecting them to a soiled vagina.  Unless the feminist name-caller can fully stop and explain the douchebag-tool connection and why other feminists have embraced it – which is, let’s face it, not typically an appropriate turn to a conversation – then she has only further contributed, perhaps even more significantly, to the mysgony that we battle against.

So I’m done with that word, and that’s that.


14 Responses

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  1. Emily WK said, on April 1, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Wait, other non-enlightened people think that calling someone a douchebag means calling them a soiled vagina?

    Am I naive for not really understanding how that follows at all?

  2. Jaecen said, on April 3, 2009 at 1:38 am

    Highly parsed reactions, like your treatment of “douchebag”, are a major component of why I continue to deny the validity of feminism. That word has entered common parlance as an insult because it is a widely understood reference to something considered distasteful; it’s no different than “asswipe” or “scumbag” or any of a number of masculine or neuter terms. You chose to revile the word because it involved women specifically; you didn’t seem to take issue with “tool”. You (plural, feminists) actively infer implied misogyny in any term derived from or target at females, and then claim that, because the inferred misogyny was not conscious, it is evidence of systemic patriarchism in society.

    The truth about language is that it is shared and historical. Just because a surprising portion of English terms and expressions are derived from the Bible does not mean that you’re trying to proselytize everyone. Accordingly, much of the Enlish language is based around women.

    I imagine that a movement with a vital concern would not be so focused on finding insult to validate itself.

    • Dizzy said, on April 3, 2009 at 7:06 pm

      Oh, Jaecen. Typically in this situation I would make ruthless fun of your arguments, tell you to piss off, and then ban your IP, but since I know you and like you in real life I will begrudgingly show you more respect than you showed me with that comment. I’m just going to tell you how I feel about what you wrote and leave it at that.

      I do not engage with people, especially in this space, who proudly “deny the validity of feminism” and think that feminists made up this whole patriarchy thing. That is a delusional worldview that is way beyond just wrong and maddening – it’s dangerous. It scares the crap out of me. You will never, ever come anywhere close to convincing me that your arguments against feminism have any merit whatsoever, so there is no need to try ever again. I wrote more about this here.

      I don’t know what it’s like to go through life not internalizing the millions of messages I’ve gotten about woman’s place and purpose as man-servicer, but I’m guessing that it very often results in this privileged notion that women feeling alienated and attacked by their culture is a matter of choice on their part and little more than an academic theory that can be picked apart and refuted. I do not experience feminism as an argument I need to validate.

      Coming onto a distinctly feminist blog and telling the writer that feminists don’t understand how the world really works, but you do, is incredibly obnoxious and I don’t tolerate it here. Please, by all means, keep reading and posting provocative, reasonable arguments when you have them, but stop yourself before declaring that feminists have no vital concerns just because I write about something you think is trivial. That’s ludicrous.

  3. DiggaSlidwell said, on April 3, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Dizzy, I’m sorry for your loss.

    Jaecen, good luck with that denying of the validity of feminism stuff.

  4. Sita said, on April 4, 2009 at 11:38 am

    I would ask Jaecen how s/he explains away violence against women and rape and the gender gap in wages and the representation of women as fucktoys or dead mothers rather than full characters in most of western lit, film, tv, etc, but I’m sure that has something to do with the historical nature of language or something clever. I might also ask hir to explain why men feel “castrated” by having a female partner who earns more money or why they have to dominate to feel like a man – you know the things about patriarchy that hurt men, which feminism explains too. But wevs, jaecen has an answer for all of it, I’m sure.

    Wow, if you “question the validity of feminism” you just don’t have your eyes open, or it benefits you a lot not to see patriarch, or both.

  5. SKM said, on April 6, 2009 at 7:38 am

    I am truly comforted that my presence, at the very least, makes people (those that know me at all, anyway) recognize sexist language when they hear it.

    Yeah, I’d count that as a victory!

    And, I don’t call people “douchebag” either, for reasons similar to yours. Though I certainly understand the case for douchebag. And it sure is a fun word to type.

    Your reply to Jaecen was a model of knowledge-dropping restraint. Great work.

  6. SnowdropExplodes said, on April 30, 2009 at 2:39 am

    Hmm. I certainly see the problems with the word that you highlight, but personally I’d always taken it as an insult to be referring specifically to an anal douche (as a synonym for enema), the coded insult then being “you’re nothing more than a bag of watered-down shit”.

  7. Mayya said, on May 2, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    As always, one feminist does not stand for/represent all other feminists. I personally do not approve of the word as an insult – I understand the intention, but there are also valid reasons for a person using a douche that have nothing to do with patriarchy – the negative aspects of using the phrase outweigh the benefits, IMO. I’m rather iffy about the the concept of reclaiming words also – “nigger” or “cunt” being the best examples. If a word is so damned bad that you can’t even say it in public, it’s hard to believe that it’s somehow “empowering,” that people who call each other that word don’t absorb the entire oeuvre of hatred it represents.

    @Jaecen: lol your a idiot.

  8. george oliver said, on May 20, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    as another pro-feminist male… i think that your points are well taken, however we need to be careful when reclaiming words that do not intend a negative affect on our bodies but those of women. all i’m saying is that its different for you and i to say douchebag, than it is for a female bodies person.


  9. Alex Weatherup said, on July 8, 2009 at 1:40 am

    I always have asked people how they would describe a douchebag to someone that’s never heard the term before i.e. dutch people. The best answer I’ve gotten was someone what exhausts trends. Which, for the average twenty-two year old person that is using the term douche, seems to fit pretty well.

    I’ve never made the physical patriarchal connection that links the “tool” to the tool, most likely because I’ve never really had to. Calling someone a douchebag to me pretty much just means they are or were acting in a dense simpleminded douchebaggy way. Though I am happy I read your article and do like the connection.

    Agreed Jaecen is… mistaken, you seem to forget that it doesn’t matter if the origin of the word has no connection to the reason it pisses people off. It STILL pisses people off, and if people, feminists or otherwise, feel there is a connection from the term douchebag to women then there is. I say douche, and will continue to say it, I refrain from saying certain things around certain people, and I don’t say things that make ME uncomfortable for the same reason.

    There might not be a standard of taste, but kindness and respect go hand in hand with true intelligence.

  10. Holly said, on July 15, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    very convincing analysis. I have been sparing in my use of the term “douchebag,” but I think I’ll swear it off for good after reading this.

  11. Phil said, on December 17, 2010 at 2:52 am

    I can’t believe you kicked someone for suggesting an implication you didn’t like. Why not slash her mouth with a broken coke bottle? I bet she’d never say another word. The fact that everyone around you is terrified to say anything because of the way you might react should suggest to you that maybe you’re reactions are to aggressive. Again I am reading about how all men are monsters. People say anything they like around me; if I disagree I tell them so. I don’t pummel them.

    • Dizzy said, on April 1, 2011 at 9:42 pm

      Oh Phil, you rascal, trying to improve my feminism like that. Strangely enough, I did end up slashing someone with a coke bottle the very next day!

      So anyway, let’s talk about me…I’m far from terrifying. No one upon no one is terrified of me. I think that they like me and don’t want me to be offended by something they say. I’m ok with their concern about that. It means something is happening.

  12. Late-comer said, on May 17, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    I have no idea if anyone will see this incredibly late comment, but I’m getting my thoughts out of my head so whatever.

    I use the phrase douchebag all the time, as do my friends. I can tell you for a fact that we don’t know its “historical patriarchal significance” and I’d wager than I’m being conservative (haha) when I say that the vast majority of people at the very least have never made any sort of connection in their minds even unconsciously between the use of the word douchebag and apparently something (oppressively) used to clean a vagina. I’m not going to claim that your “radical feminism” has caused you to misunderstand the point I’m about to make.

    Language is fluid and organic. If people don’t know or care where a word came from, it doesn’t matter, except to people who insist it does. It’s not that it’s “your problem”, you have full liscence to run around like a grammar maximum (oh that’s not offensive?) And tell people “you’re using your words wrong!” But that’s about it.

    In regards to your hitting someone for saying a word that you dislike but they would not be even looked at strangely by the population at large, first of all I assume you felt guilty and said sorry and felt at least a little disturbed that this was your reaction. I’m sure that you have friends and they like you, but from what you’ve said they don’t much like the side of you that cannot tolerate things that offend you but were not meant as such. Of course discuss with them why you think they shouldn’t say certain things or why they make you feel the way you do. If they will not change and you can’t take it, stop being friends with them. You CANNOT bully them into submission through physical violence. We have a right to free speech (as people mind you, that wasn’t an appeal to ‘merica).

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