On Douchebags

Recently, Mr. Belinkie had the brilliant idea of writing a post about that ubiquitous insult, “douchebag,” but he thought I, being the “resident third wave feminist,” should have the honors.

In reality, I hadn’t really thought much about the word until he asked me to write the post, and I hadn’t thought of it in a feminist perspective until he reminded me how I’ve written myself into the “angry feminist” corner of this blog.  Oh well.

But it brought to mind important questions:

1.    What in the world is a douchebag, literally and figuratively?

2.    Where did the word come from and why is it currently so popular?

3.    Should feminists use the word “douchebag” or not in everyday discourse?

The answers to these burning questions below…

This is actually a combination douche and enema bag, a nice reminder that a douche is just an enema-- for your vag!

This is actually a combination douche and enema bag, a nice reminder that a douche is just an enema-- for your vaj!

Douches, if you don’t know, are interesting contraptions that some women stick up their cooters to spray their innards with water, vinegar (ouch), or some chemical solution in the hopes that they can wash away that icky girl smell.  They come in a variety of smells (flavors?), such as Baby Powder, Mountain Breeze, Spring Rain, Island Splash, and Sweet Romance.  I’ve never used one, nor will I for this post, because almost every doctor in the Universe agrees they are very unhealthy and that vaginas, like a good oven or a cat, are self-cleaning.  Douching can actually lead to a less clean vagina, causing infection and other nastiness.

The douche contraption is made of a bag (the “douche bag”) or bottle filled with the cleansing liquid and a hose that goes up your cootch.  There seems to be nothing wrong with this bag except for the fact that it is filled with the liquid of the douche.

But this isn’t how we use the term “douchebag” in common parlance.  A naïve suburban girl, I had never heard the term until I entered college in 2002 and learned to understand its complexities to such a degree that I was able to deliver an verbal dissertation to my mother during Spring break about the differences between a douchebag and a tool.

I didn't make this, but I agree with it.

I didn't make this, but I do agree with it.

To me, a douchebag is an asshole.  A douchebag is almost always a man, particularly an alpha-male or a wannabe alpha-male.  Frat boys tend to lean towards douchey; drunken frat boys almost always cross the line (which I recently learned was called “the Feder-line,” interestingly).  Douchebags may very well be smart, but they act like idiotic assholes who don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves.

According to Urban Dictionary, however, there are two distinct definitions for douchebag:

  • A douchebag usually assumes the form of a hair-gelling pretty-boy but can also be described as an overzealous, pompous, or vexatious asshole that most people wish were killed with a Mortal Kombat fatality.

Oh ho!  Those are two very different definitions.  Both of these people might be assholes, but one is a feminine asshole, and one is a masculine asshole.  One is insulted because he acts like a stereotypical woman/gay man who cares about appearances; the other is insulted because he’s the stereotype of the over-aggressive man.  One is problematic because he’s not masculine enough; the other because he’s too masculine.  Back to that distinction in a moment.

To figure out which is the “correct” definition, we need to go back to the source.  It’s like the old story of the zebra.  Is a zebra white with black stripes or the other way around?  The only way to tell is to look at the source.  A baby zebra is black, so a zebra is black with white stripes.

So, to find out what the true definition of douchebag is, we need to find out where douchebags come from.  What’s the etymology of the insult version of douchebag?  Where did it come from and why do we say it now?

Apparently, douchebag is an olde tyme insult, much like “trollop” or “dingbat.”  The OED says it was first printed in the 1930s and that it was popularized in the 1950s as a term of contempt towards women.

Once called a douchebag in 1954.

Once called a douchebag by her husband in 1954.

Theoretically, then, feminists should not say douchebag, because, like “bitch” or “cunt,” it’s nasty towards the female gender.  Heart of Women’s Space agrees that the link between these terms is fair because “douchebag,” like “bitch and “cunt,” is only insulting because it’s related to women and their inferior plumbing.  This argument definitely gives me pause, because I did make a conscious decision not to use the word “bitch” anymore for that very reason.  I tried to give up “cunt” but ultimately decided to co-opt it with some of my friends in college.  If black people can use the N-word, then we should be able to call each other “cunt muffins” and “my little cuntykins” all we want, right?  Cunt power!  The film, Atonement, I think, also brought back the sexy side to the word “cunt,” which is pretty neat.

I am loath to give up “douchebag,” though, because I had always used it against men who were nasty to women.  I didn’t mean that they were womanly; I meant that they were trying to use their patriarchal nastiness to get play.  Douchebags are guys who take advantage of drunk freshmen at parties and then act all offended when someone accuses them of rape.  Douchebags, in my mind, are assholes who are on the top of the social hierarchy and therefore are allowed to act as douchey as they want.  Amanda Marcotte, feminist extraordinaire of Pandagon, is with me on this one, so I guess I can pull an appeal to authority and win this one.

Let’s go back to physical douchebags for a second.  Are they really associated with women?  Sure, only women use them, as far as I know.  But the fact is that douches are associated more with the patriarchy than with women themselves.  The only reason women ever used douches was to clean themselves so men would like them.  Men didn’t like the “gross” vagina smell, so drug stores started selling douches and advertisements started telling women that if they didn’t clean themselves boys wouldn’t like them.  So here’s my argument:

-Douches=tools of the patriarchy
-Douchebags=patriarchal tools
-“Douchebag”=not offensive to women

So I’m going to continue to call people douchebags.  Proudly.

Incidentally, Gawker claims that the word is overplayed and had a contest to find a replacement term.  See the comments  for some excellent ideas.  I’d say we should just stay away from any terms derived from genitalia altogether, since genitalia are actually pretty great.  “Asshat” seems to be catching on and has a nice image attached to it.  “Cumstain” isn’t bad, because while cum in itself isn’t bad, I don’t think anyone wants a cumstain.  And, of course, we can’t forget about “anus,” because that’s where the poop comes out.

Heh.  Poop.

Back to you, Belinkie.

11 Comments on “On Douchebags”

  1. Matthew Belinkie #

    Well done – I knew I came to the right lady.

    Here’s something that intrigues me – I would guess, if you asked people why they think that “douchebag” is an insult, they would say it’s because this is the bag in which the used, dirty douche is collected. The bag for the POST-douche stuff. This is, as you’ve made clear, not the case. A douchebag is clean and probably smells pretty good.

    So I wonder if the root of the insult isn’t based in a misunderstand of how douching works.

     
  2. Chad McDouche #

    I find all of this to be offensive to my brother douchebags.

    -Chad McDouche
    President, International Broheemhood of Douchebags

     
  3. cushman #

    ::waits patiently for the obvious follow-up post, “on doucheclowns::

     
  4. Gab #

    Are you the only woman on this site, Mlwaski? As has been noted, there is no contact list… And there is no page telling us who each of you are.

    I’m rather fond of “asshat” myself and use it frequently.

    While I do say “bitch” and “douche,” I’m averse to the “c” word. I feel like its origin is too derrogitory to be acceptable. I do NOT think it’s cool for African-Americans to use the “n” word for the same reason, so I’d be a hypocrite if I used the “c” word. I’m Native American, and I don’t like it when other Natives (and of course white people) say the “RS” word. “Indian” isn’t so bad- we call Reservations “Indian Country” and “tribal law” and “Indian law” are more or less synonymous; but “RS” was too mean in its origin for it to be acceptable, in my opinion.

    And I too didn’t know what a douche really was until college, either…

     
  5. mlawski #

    Yeah, I’m the only girl :)

     
  6. mlawski #

    Ha, great Onion article. I actually got in big trouble in Hebrew school by using the word schmuck, but I didn’t understand why. I mean, the word was Jewish-y. Shouldn’t I have been praised for using it?

    This is why I’m an atheist.

     
  7. fenzel #

    Great article!

    I accidentally posted this in a different comment thread, but I’ll shorten it and add it here.

    I think “douchebag” describes a guy who is not sexually desirable to women (or at least to a woman with standards), but who thinks and acts like he is.

    Similarly to how a douche claims that women want to put it in their vaginas when they do not. There are few things that scream “Get away from my vagina, yuck! Unsexy!” like a douche or sex with Sean Hannity.

    And the analogous word on the other gender is “cumdumpster” — except it is much fouler and reflects the double standard — women who have sex with lots of men are sluts, but men who don’t have sex with lots of women are weak.

    And I think the word “douche” is funny because it is a very rare sort of word — a patriarchal word that is yonocentric rather than phallocentric.

    Oh, other words that reinforce the partiarchal double-standards and other rules revolve around female genitalia, but “douchebag” is the rare insult that is on the vagina’s side and lines up with its interests.

    So, there’s an irony to that and a surprise, and it makes people laugh.

    I read the subtext as “Now, like a good man, you’re supposed to have sex with lots of women and be able to control them and treat them like objects. But goddammit, they don’t like you, because you are a douche. So shut up until you can act in a way that makes a vagina happy and want to be around you.”

    A rare, sweet-smelling sentiment from the patriarchy.

     
  8. M Chan #

    in med school we learned that douches can increase your chances of getting a vaginal infection. which is funny, because i’d say most human douchebags also increase your chances of getting an std.

     
  9. Jesswa #

    I also think douche isn’t offensive to women because it’s pretty widely agreed that it’s a stupid, outdated, paranoia-spreading invention based around the stupid, outdated, paranoia-spreading belief that your cooch is nasty. Which is weird, considering that the Cooch has been housing penises and who-knows-what-else since the beginning of time, offering pleasure and the occasional baby, without complaint. It didn’t take long for the fashion and beauty market to grab onto the genital market…

    Guh. It’s creepy. Like one of those air freshener adverts…”No one likes to come home to a stinky vagina – especially if you’re entertaining unexpected guests. Let the clean scent of Mountain Spring into your vaj. Douching doesn’t just cover up bad odours, it eliminates them…”

    Goddammit, some things just aren’t meant to smell like Island Splash!

    - Jesswa

    PS “Cunt” is an awesome word I’m desperate to de-dirty. Cuntastic article, mlawski. ^^

     
  10. mlawski #

    Wow, I’ve never been complimented with the word cuntastic before. It makes me feel all tingly inside. Thanks, Jesswa!