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.
I saw some good friends the other day, a married couple that I adore and haven’t seen in a while. They introduced me to their parents/in-laws and announced to the mother that I was also a feminist. Mother explained that she was active in the early stages of the movement, I gave her the fight-the-man fist salute and joked about the non-existent special handshake of the feminist club. It was all very light-hearted and perfectly fine, these people are absolutely lovely, but it did get me thinking.
It’s not like this woman and I both went to Cornell or are from the same small Idaho town. No, we just both believe that women are not the sexy supporting characters that leave the real business of life to men or that child-rearing is the sole reason for our existence.
I think I have a hard time understanding why any sane and humane person out there wouldn’t be a feminist, so it’s always weird to be singled out as one by people that I consider sane and humane.
I’ve decided that the next time I get introduced as a feminist to a group of strangers, I’m gonna ask the introducer why they’re not. Should be interesting. Hope I don’t get beat up.
Oh dear GAWD, please tell me they didn’t just follow Michelle Obama’s speech with “Isn’t She Lovely” and then a little quip from satellite hubby saying that she looked cute.
Way to turn a powerful, inspiring woman into a harmless, silly, weak, pretty little statue, all in the blink of an eye. Nice job.
I can understand the need among the oppressed to reclaim words that dominant groups have historically used to subjugate them. The idea makes sense to me, whether or not it’s a word I would use myself or have any right to use or even have an opinion about.
I really like the word cunt. Yeah, I’d like to reclaim it. I think has a nice ring to it and it seems to describe the anatomy better than any other word I can think of. (Holly wrote the best post I have ever read on the subject here. Give it a read.) And I really resent the idea that a word that was initially intended to describe the female genitalia has become just about worst thing you could call a person. What’s so bad about a cunt, anyway? I rather adore mine, to tell you the truth. It gives me much pleasure and I think it’s kinda cute.
I could talk here about Jane Fonda’s recent media debacle, the one where she uttered what is apparently the most offensive word in the English language on national television and had a major network apologizing on her behalf in about 3 minutes flat, even though she was reciting the title of a feminist monologue she performed and not, in fact, calling Katie Couric a cunt. I could talk about that, but I won’t.
Instead, I’ll talk about the Kings of SF, a group of intelligent, on top of their shit, progressive-minded folks in the San Francisco, a city where the Democratic mayor is on the far, far right of the local political spectrum and the measures that the activist groups manage to get on the ballot every election are some of the most sensible, inclusive, humane, planet-friendly ideas you’ve ever heard of. Seriously, San Francisco progressives know what’s up and they’re working their asses off every day trying to make their City a model for the change that’s possible in the world. Hats off, my friends.
So anyway, these good people put together a blog last November chronicling local progressive events and news and started off their journey with a well-intentioned introduction to what the Kings of SF are all about.
We all are. Guys, girls, women, men, transitioning, questioning. We know the word “king” is tied to gender and patriarchy and power and all of that messy stuff, but that’s not what we’re about. We want to redefine the “king” in “Kings of SF” as an inclusive, progressive compliment that we pay to our friends and mentors and idols. Anyone can be the King of SF. It’s about those “top of the world” moments….
Help us in reclaiming the words “king” and “chivalry.” In modern San Francisco, the idea of reserving these words for a single gender or orientation is so passé. All of us who believe in the idea of San Francisco are kings, and we aim to prove our royalty everyday through our chivalry towards our fellow kings.
…King me, motherfucker.
I understand the sentiment and I applaud the rationale behind it, but I take issue with idea that it’s possible to reclaim a word that has never been used to subjugate the holder of the title. In this case it’s quite the opposite.
From what I understand, reclaiming a word is an attempt to remove its oppressive power by using it in a way that encourages a sense of community instead of hate. What that means to me is that it’s impossible to reclaim a word that was never used to denigrate the object of the insult in the first place.
So aside from all that messy stuff about words that qualify for reclamation and words that don’t, what I think interests me most here is why is the word they chose to reclaim is so damned male. Why not attempt to gender-neutralize a title that describes female leaders? Imagine this:
We want to redefine the “queen” in “Queens of SF” as an inclusive, progressive compliment that we pay to our friends and mentors and idols. Anyone can be the Queen of SF. It’s about those “top of the world” moments….
Yeah, that’ s why. Because titles for women leaders of anything are so rich with femaleness, there’s no way to use them without sounding like a women’s or a gay rights group. I imagine it’s hard to attract a young straight male population to a group whose very title appears to exclude their own demographic (aw, poor dudes), but if you’re gonna get all crazy with this reclaiming shit and you wanna be really progressive, then do something a little different with this. Do something crazy, even.
King? Pfffft. Whatever. Anyone can gender-neutralize a male word. Make your City the only city in the world where a title that has historically described a woman is applied to both men and women, gay and straight, without it being an insult.
Now there’s a challenge. Good luck Kings!
I’m in the kitchen washing dishes (!) and making dinner (!) and my teenager is in the living room watching the TV. A movie promo comes on and I hear these words: (in deep man voice)
“There comes a time in every man’s life when… ”
Take your pick: He must choose between good and evil. He must stand up and be counted. He must learn the meaning of redemption. He feels the need to make a difference in the world. Whatever.
Now let’s imagine for a second that the TV says: (in a woman’s voice, of course)
“There comes a time in every woman’s life when…”
No really, close your eyes and imagine hearing those words, and then try to hear the rest of the sentence.
Sure as shit ain’t you ain’t gonna be hearing the word redemption, I’ll tell you what. Experiences like that are way too human and serious to be the purview of women. No, when we hear this one it’s usually a personal cleansing cloth commercial or a shitty romantic comedy promo and the sentence always ends with something related to a wedding, fine jewelry, someone else’s’ precocious children, giving up a lucrative career, a bad boyfriend, getting old, or body odor.
Women are such funny little creatures, aren’t they? They’re all so exactly alike, so removed from the real business of life, so obsessed with stupid girly things.
(That is, of course, until they realize the important of sacrificing themselves for others and accepting change instead of making it. Duh.)
The bottom line, once again: Women are women and men are human. The male experience is the human experience. The female experience is not only specific to females, it is entirely insignificant.
And here’s what I say to that:
My blog has of late been inundated with critical comments from folks who think that feminism is sexist and that feminists are kinda dumb. They tell me that they’re right and I’m wrong, declare my blog a pointless waste of time, and proudly claim that I’ve proven their arguments about feminism because I don’t engage them in a healthy discussion about how brainless and robotic feminists are. Aha! They say. Gotcha!
I am obviously under no obligation to respond to the criticism levied at feminism on my blog, what with me being my own actual thinking person and not, in fact, the press secretary for the international feminist club trying to take over the world, but I have to admit to being mildly titillated by all these attacks on feminism based on what I write here.
It would be justifiable to dismiss it all as part of the feminist backlash/product of male privilege and move on, and it may very well be those things, but I also think that there’s something way off about the whole thing and I want to figure out what it is. Maybe there’s a fundamental misunderstanding at work here?
Flimsy and unsupported endlessly-regurgitated hypotheses, psycho-socio-jargon, ideological rhetoric, dominant feminist discourse, sense of intellectual superiority, lens of theory. All phrases used in critical comments about me and, directly or implicitly, all feminists.
Hmmm. It appears that my blog (and many like it) has become akin to an intro women’s studies class where a few tardy, unprepared, dialogue-dominating, self-righteous freshman boys, who are taking it in order to get what they think will be an easy A and to sharpen their debate skills, only listen to female voices in anticipation of finding a faulty theoretical argument to attack and use against them.
So first of all, what the hell is the dominant feminist discourse? Can someone point me to the Wikipedia article on this? I really have no idea what they’re talking about. Wait, now that I think of it, I’m not sure I know what most of those things mean. Ideological rhetoric? Lens of theory? Psycho-social jargon? What the fuck? None of those things mean anything to me. You wanna talk about jargon? Well that’s just about the most jargony jargon I ever heard! So who’s regurgitating what now?
Hey, I think we’re on to something here. Perhaps the Freshmen, as I will call them, think feminism is just a debate topic. An academic exercise. A set of well-defined theories, held uniformly by all of it proponents, for them to intellectually process and refute. And I’m getting the sense that they think women experience it that way too.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I experience feminism through my revulsion to popular misogyny. When I see a beer commercial about a man’s inner struggle with his hot blonde twins in bikinis fantasy versus his naggy brunette girlfriend reality, I don’t think about it, I feel it. When I watch 37 trailers to upcoming movies and don’t see a single one about a woman, I don’t immediately come up with “regurgitated” rhetoric that explains it, I feel it first. When I hear a CNN newscaster tell me about the sexual history of a rape victim, my heart beats fast and my tummy hurts.
This has nothing to do with intellectual processing, everything to do with my aversion to being instructed to hate myself and my refusal to accept that women are peripheral to the human experience. Feminist theories on gender and patriarchy have given me the ability and the language needed to put it all into perspective, but the raw, unfiltered physical reaction I have to such messages, along with the resounding ‘Fuck Yeah!’ feeling I get when someone voices a frustration that I haven’t been able to put words to – those are the things that make me a feminist.
This is why it’s hard for me to respond with any measure of understanding to the men who come at me, guns a-blazing, ready to debate feminism as if it’s a fun little academic exercise, all rife with “you’re all the same” declarations. I don’t respond well to those attacks because I don’t understand feminism or misogyny as theoretical in nature.
Misogyny is my enemy, men are not, and telling whomever will listen that it’s rampant and painful, in a time when its many manifestations are vehemently denied as being harmful, is how I’ve chosen to participate in the battle against it. Denigrating me for that is a fantastic waste of time.
Funny thing. I’ve noticed that the men who come on to feminist blogs to argue about how men have rights too and how feminists are woefully misguided about the true nature of women – these men very often have obviously male names. They make it clear, if not within their comments, then with their handles, that they’re men.
I wonder, if these guys want to actually engage in meaningful dialogue about feminist ideas, as they claim they do, why do they feel the need to make it clear from the get go that they’re men?
Could it be that they assume from a lifetime of male privilege that they have a right, an obligation even, to interrupt women, announce their manhood, and expect full attention? That any discussion among women is not legitimate until a man is there to guide the conversational journey? That what they say has more weight and is inherently more important that anything a woman has to say? That women joyfully welcome the wisdom of the male perspective on whatever topic is at hand?
Or are they hoping that the feminists will quickly see that one of the “enemy” is in their midst and then attack whatever he says (because he’s a man, of course, and not because he’s saying ridiculous and ignorant things), thereby giving him all the proof he needs to support his argument that feminists are a bunch of hateful irrational hags that viciously slander the kind-hearted men who only want to help them become better people?
I’m the HR person where I work and I must say, I am completely appalled at the number of people who apply for a job with a cover letter that begins “Dear Gentlemen” or “Dear Sirs.”
I mean seriously. We’re a good 40 years beyond that, aren’t we? Basic common sense people. If you’re so ignorant that you think only men would be in a position to be reading your resume OR you think that Gentleman is still an appropriate default professional greeting, then there is really no place for you in the technology industry.
The greeting you chose for your letter tells me that your tech skills are very likely to be wildly outdated and your cross-gender communication in the office will be really awful. Your unwillingness to either accept that a woman might be in a position of authority over you or to adapt to changing times makes you unfit for this business. Any business, really.
Just retire, buddy. You’re done. Go buy a house on the river and a Winnebago and enjoy the time off.