In Defense of “Douchebag”


Don Hazen has an article up on AlterNet today opposing the use of “douchebag” as an insult. Douchebag, he says, is a sexist term:

I don’t see the increased use of a sexist term related to women sanitizing their vaginas as a mark of progress. The word’s street meaning, as described in the gritty urban dictionary: “The douche bag is a total moron and doesn’t think before he speaks or acts,” makes the gendered meaning all too apparent — and repugnant.

This is an argument I’ve heard before, and one that at least a handful of feminists espouse. But personally, I’m happy to see the douchebag demonized. Unlike a lot of other common insults — “bitch,” “cunt,” “retard,” “fag” — “douchebag” actually insults something that deserves to be insulted. Douching is terrible for women; it can lead to infection and irritation. Even teen magazines will tell you this! Douches exist only because women have been told that our bodies are unclean. Douches, and the bags that reportedly accompany them, are terrible, no-good products. Insulting douches doesn’t insult women — the existence of douches insults women.

The term douchebag, too, is also directed as a certain type of dude. It implies a particular parody of masculinity, or it’s the total smarm-ball. Either way, there seems to be a pretty direct correlation between douchebags and bad behavior toward women. Part of the schtick is being condescending and macho and establishing yourself as an alpha male at the expense of women (who are lesser beings by their very existence, and who exist to prop up the douchebag’s ego), and at the expense of other men. The douchebag is a classist misogynist; he’s notably different from your run-of-the-mill tool or blow-hard. Pick-up artists, for example, are most certainly douchebags.

So I say: Hate the douche. Insult the douche. Mock and vilify the douche. My only request is that when we define “douche,” we no longer use the term “feminine hygeine product.” Ain’t nothing hygenic about it.

Thanks to Adam for the link.

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56 comments for “In Defense of “Douchebag”

  1. Sheelzebub
    November 16, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    A douche is something no woman should ever allow in or near her vagina. I’d say it’s an accurate insult. ;)

  2. chipchop
    November 16, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    I would consider “douche” or “douchebag” a problematic insult if it was used in a way that actually linked it with the product or the idea of vaginas being unclean. If people said, “He was disgusting as a old douchebag” or “You smell like a douche,” then yeah, there’s some woman-hating implications there. But since it isn’t used that way, I don’t think it’s sexist.

  3. Manju
    November 16, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    O man, my first thought as soon as this page loaded was: “Holy Crap! Jill’s about to defend Hannity!”

  4. November 16, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    I don’t know, most people who use the term douchebag don’t mean it in the sense of “it’s something that’s bad for women, so are you, see what I did there” – they mean it in the sense of “it’s something that goes in ‘dirty’ vaginas just like you should”. When a feminist uses that term, they may well mean the former. When a non-feminist uses it or hears it, they really don’t.

  5. November 16, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Excellent! I, too, thought “douchebag” an anti-woman insult. Products of a woman are dirty/filthy/useless, etc. But, you are so right! Douches are horrible things. It’s such a satisfying insult from a sound and feel perspective. I’m delighted to give myself permission to use it and not be offended when I hear it! :-)

  6. Julia F
    November 16, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    I am of a generation that considers “douchebag” to be a sexist term, though I always thought it funny that the bag was the insulting part as it is the nozzle that comes into contact with the “unclean” body part. The bag just hangs there.

    My college-age daughter tells me she never found it sexist because she and her friends thought it referred to a rectal douche.

    • November 16, 2009 at 1:26 pm

      Interestingly enough, Julia, “douche-nozzle” is also a fairly common insult (albeit one that I find personally obnoxious, only because I usually hear it from the mouths of douchebags).

  7. boop
    November 16, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    So while I understand the hate against the douches that are sold to make your vagina smell better (flowers!!), I am a bit turned off by the blanket statement “douche=devil spawn”. When I feel an oncoming yeast infection, doing one or two povidone douches sends it on its merry way. Before anyone suggests it – yogurt has not worked. The other option I have is to go buy monistat or to get prescription from the doctor. The douche is less expensive.
    So less with the frothy hate statements on douches would be nice.

    • November 16, 2009 at 1:33 pm

      Boop, that’s fine if it works for you, but the general consensus in the medical community is that douching can push infection further up into your system, and give you pelvic inflammatory disease (among other serious problems). Douches really serve no medical purpose. Yet 20-40 percent of American women douche regularly, often because of really negative social ideas about vaginal odor or cleanliness (and women who douche tend to have more reproductive health problems than women who don’t). So… yeah, I’m fine continuing frothy hate-statements against them.

  8. laura
    November 16, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    I’d say more than “a handful of feminists” are against ‘douchebag’ as an insult.

    I would agree with Anji on this. First off – I don’t think we want any insult that has to do specifically with women or with men, because it is inherently gendered. So, in my view, that’s a problem.

    Secondly, the argument Anji laid out is right on. The reason its an insult is because its something that goes near vaginas – making it akin to other gendered insults. I highly doubt most people (outside of a few feminists) are viewing it as a bad thing because its bad for women. If you’re arguing that it should be reclaimed with that meaning, that’s a different discussion – but not one it seemed like it was being raised here.

    All this being said, it’s important to not get stuck in language to the exclusion of all else. I’d prefer feminists not use the term, but we have bigger battles to fight.

  9. November 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    They can pry “douchebag” from my cold, dead fingers.

    (I know no one’s going to, but I really needed an excuse to say the above line)

  10. November 16, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Douchebag is my absolute favorite insult. And I use it whenever necessary/appropriate. I also make sure to explain it to anyone who questions my use of the term.

    Glad to see you supporting it Jill!

  11. November 16, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I like the reasoning behind “douche[bag]” as a feminist insult, but I have to agree with Anji: very clever, but it only works f everyone knows that’s what you mean. It’s useful to have an insult I can direct at the deserving in good conscience, but I’m not comfortable with this one.

    Now, I don’t recall when this has been addressed, which I’m sure it has, but what should we take away from a (feminist) man saying “this is misogynist” versus a (feminist) woman saying it?

  12. November 16, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Very cool seeing the other side of terminology.

  13. laura
    November 16, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    My favorite non-gendered insult? Asshole. You might say it lacks the oomph you’re looking for, but I find, with the right tone, its perfect :)

  14. Sid
    November 16, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    “Douchebag” is so 2002.

    • November 16, 2009 at 3:00 pm

      I actually agree. It is not the most creative of insults these days, but it does fit a certain kind of man.

  15. P.T. Smith
    November 16, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    “Douches really serve no medical purpose.”

    My favorite thing I have read today, besides the ten-year-old from Arkansas.

    Words can become dissassociated from their original meanings, and mean something else in a strong enough way that they are basically independant. Douchebag is really pretty much there.

    As for substitutes? There just really aren’t any. It is very specific as to what kind of person is actually considered a douchebag. Asshole doesn’t work. I’m often an asshole, but never a douchebag.

  16. Melinda
    November 16, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    OK, I get the reasoning behind “douche is bad for you.” But ready-made douche solutions to supposedly “clean” the vagina are not the ONLY use of the infamous douchebag. It can also be used (with vinegar, a boric acid solution, or something similar) as a home treatment for a yeast infection or BV. This use of it has no connection to hatred of the natural vagina — the intent being to restore the vagina to its healthy state and pH. And it’s a treatment I’ve heard recommended by doctors and women’s health advocates who would NEVER advocate the traditional douche. So as someone who has used a douchebag with vinegar to treat a yeast infection (it didn’t work for me, but I know it does for some women; pills and creams didn’t work for me either), it kind of rubs me the wrong way to hear fellow feminists demonizing an item that is not always evil or misguided, and praising its use as an insult as a revolutionary, pro-woman way to put someone down.

  17. November 16, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    While I can certainly understand and appreciate Anji’s perspective, I do and have had the same interpretation as Jill for quite some time. Douching is a generally unnecessary intervention (I’ve douched perhaps twice in my entire life), and is generally accepted as doing more harm than good.

    So, yea, I think douche bag should get to stay. It’s perhaps the only commonly believed to be sexist slang term that I actually use myself. I think it would be helpful to educate those who do use the term as a misogynist slur, however.

    “Now, I don’t recall when this has been addressed, which I’m sure it has, but what should we take away from a (feminist) man saying “this is misogynist” versus a (feminist) woman saying it?”

    I’m personally not sure what we should take away from that, exactly. I do feel confident in stating that it is obvious that feminist women’s perspective should be considered as being more valid than a feminist man’s in that particular respect. Women are far more equipped to determine what is or is not sexist than men are.

  18. -Z-
    November 16, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Maybe it’s generational. Women of my mother’s generation and beyond (she’s in her late 50’s) definitely associated douching with female hygiene for quite some time, unfortunately. However, it’s commonly known nowadays in public and medical communities that douche is a TERRIBLE procedure. And terrible for our incredible self-cleaning reproductive organs.

    I use the word Douche aaaalllll the time. It’s the perfect insult and about F’ng time a negative term is applied to something BAD for women’s bodies. I loved this article. Loved it!

    Also, I thought it was amusing that a man decided to speak out against this “sexist” abomination, especially when you don’t hear them complaining about terms like ‘cunt’, ‘whore’, ‘slut’, ‘bitch’, etc. DOUCHEBAG?!?! Avast ye SEXISM!

  19. Linoleum Blownaparte
    November 16, 2009 at 3:44 pm
  20. Sarah
    November 16, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    could this insult be interpreted as reducing a man to nothing more than something to be inserted into a vagina and squirt fluid?

  21. November 16, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    You made such a good argument, but then you said moron.
    You don’t get it do you?

    • November 16, 2009 at 6:26 pm

      Kowalski, you’re right — it’s one of those words I always forget the actual meaning of. Taking it down now.

  22. Seize
    November 16, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Other good ones, though each one has its special nuance, and of course I am open to debate if you think any of these aren’t feminist enough for ya:

    Asshole (a personal favorite)
    Asshat (just imagine a person doing a yoga pose…but sort of…)
    Dickface (roommate suggests; gendered but sort of Dadaist)
    Dickbag (again, kind of surreal)
    Tool (“of the patriarchy” optional)

    You may also choose to get creative, so here are a few popular and non-gendered wildcards: *breath, *bag, shit*, *ass, ass*, *hole, *face, and of course *fuck, fuck*, *fuck* and fuck*fuck are all possibilities.

  23. November 16, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    “Dickface (roommate suggests; gendered but sort of Dadaist)
    Dickbag (again, kind of surreal)”

    I’m not at all comfortable with insults that use words for genitalia, regardless of whether or not it’s male or female genitalia. Not only do I think it’s rather hypocritical to ask men to refrain from using sexist slurs that relate to women’s genitals and then turn around and use insults that demean their genitals, I’m really rather fond of male genitalia. I have no desire to demean penises, or dicks, or cocks.

    There are far more interesting things to do with them, to be perfectly blunt.

  24. Politicalguineapig
    November 16, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Frathole. A combination of fraternity and asshole.

  25. jayinchicago
    November 16, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    it’s the dude with the gelled hair and the popped collar and the jacked arms and the fake tan, pursing his lips and throwing up a peace sign.

    Wow, apparently you can just tell assholes by looking at them. Or, wait…

    • November 16, 2009 at 8:55 pm

      Jayinchicago, I was explaining how, at least n my community, “douchebag” is understood. And yes, sometimes you can tell someone is an asshole just by looking at them. Sometimes you can tell someone is a douchebag by just looking at them. Plenty of douchebags are not, in fact, assholes; yet they remain douchebags. And sometimes you can tell even without engaging them in deep conversation. For example, this guy:

  26. jemand
    November 16, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    I’m along with Julia F except being in the just*out*of*college age group. Douche now is associated with anal douching and enemas and anal sex and messes of that nature. That’s generally the context for the insult. The idea of a douche for a vagina is pretty much never really thought of, except maybe in a historical discussion.

  27. greg
    November 16, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    hell yeah! douchebag is such a perfect term to describe ed-hardy/affliction wearing, ax body spray wearing, fake tan addicted tool. I guess I can see how some people might find it problematic, but come the hell on, really? don’t like it, don’t use it, but the rest of humanity will continue to use the special term to our delight!

  28. Politicalguineapig
    November 16, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    Also, frat rat, and jockstrap would be pretty awesome insults.

  29. November 16, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    Faith, I was thinking about this in the context of “picnic” … but now I’m getting off the subject.

  30. S.A. Small
    November 16, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    @Faith (27):
    As the proud owner of male genitalia, and someone who does not ever, ever use the c-word, I am perfectly okay with people using “dick” and its derivatives as insults. Me and my peers certainly don’t speak for all maledom, but most of us use “dick” pretty freely as a descriptor for unpleasant men and/or their actions (i.e., “dickish” behavior).

    But, your thoughfulness regarding the matter is appreciated. We should all be so considered in our invectives.

  31. Nicole
    November 16, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    Meh. I appreciate your defense of it and I’ve become used to hearing liberals and feminists use it, but you’ll never convince me it’s a non-sexist insult I should embrace with open arms. I wish people would just admit they like the word because it’s a popular insult, it’s fun to say, and it’s become associated with a certain type of annoying bro. I can’t really get onboard with the justifications about it being empowerful and pro-woman. To me it’s still a curse word based on dirty, messy vaginas.

  32. FW
    November 17, 2009 at 1:02 am

    imo, douchebags are in general bad for women, and an insult to women and our genitals, so I personally don’t have a problem calling someone who insults women a douche or douchebag.

  33. November 17, 2009 at 4:44 am

    Nicole, but is it empowerful when I say it while wearing DiorShow mascara? Or do the two cancel each other out?

    • November 17, 2009 at 11:48 am

      I can’t really get onboard with the justifications about it being empowerful and pro-woman. To me it’s still a curse word based on dirty, messy vaginas.

      I don’t think anyone is defending it as being “empowerful.” I’m just saying that I like it as an insult, and that it’s not offensive to women.

      And Natalia, DiorShow is the bestest.

  34. norbizness
    November 17, 2009 at 9:04 am

    In order to strip out all potentially ableist, sexist, heteronormative, and six-other-kinds-of-stuff-I’ve-probably-never-heard of language from insults, all expressions of disgust shall be reduced to the blandest possible phrase: “I am not completely enamored of this person.” Or ‘cockstain.’ Gotta love ‘cockstain.’

  35. November 17, 2009 at 9:13 am

    As I just linked to here from there, I’ll complete the circle by pointing out Language Log’s recent post on the same term, particularly its genealogy and kin. Holy Hades, that’s what scumbag means?!

  36. Siege
    November 17, 2009 at 9:14 am

    It must be in the air or something. I’ve been defending “douchebag” in this way since reading this post on The Rotund. I’ve also been propagating her bon mot that “douchebags don’t belong anywhere near your vagina”–with attribution, of course.

  37. November 17, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I think I would be nominally against using the term, but its acquired definition and connotation has become so perfectly aligned with the helmet hairs, the cock faces, the preening pricks, the smug lugs, the unexamined unctuous ungulates to whom it is now attached, that I must encourage its continued association with said peoples.

  38. GrannyT
    November 17, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Why is ‘fuck’ a swear word? Fucking is fun. If it’s done properly, it’s even better than chocolate. So, using it as a swear word suggests that you need to brush up on your technique, or find a new partner.

    On the other hand, ‘asshat’ is both insulting and funny.

  39. tinfoil hattie
    November 17, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    I don’t see the increased use of a sexist term related to women sanitizing their vaginas as a mark of progress.

    Dear ignorant man: Wome’s vagina’s don’t need to be “sanitized.” Our vaginas are not unsanitary. Furthermore, they’re self-cleaning.

    Ooooh! The icky, icky VAGINA! VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA!!!!

  40. November 17, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Thank you, Jill!

  41. ACG
    November 17, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    I have to agree with norbizness. As much as I would hate to insult anyone with sexist/ableist/racist/heteronormative/other-ist language without thinking, I also have to wonder at what point words shed their historical meaning. In Maria P.’s link, commenters point out words like “scumbag” and “snafu” (and I’ll contribute “jerkwad”) that we use regularly without any consideration to their original definitions, and it’s practically never that anyone knows why they might be objectionable.

    Obviously, that point hasn’t yet come for words like “moron” when people like Kowalski* still feel sensitive about them (or “retard,” which is a word that I desperately, desperately hate). But if 90 percent of the people you might encounter associate the word “douchebag” with tanning-bed tans and Ed Hardy shirts and sunglasses inside and the word has almost entirely gone out of use in terms of personal-care items, is it worth it to rail against something that can also be interpreted like Jill said (and is, for me, a really satisfying insult)?

    *Kowalski, I tried to find some way to say that that didn’t sound dismissive and disrespectful, and I couldn’t think of one, so please know that I didn’t intend for it to sound that way.

  42. P.T. Smith
    November 17, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    @ ACG

    I totally agree with everything you say. I’ve been trying to come to a way of saying the same thing without sounding like a condescending English major. It all depends on how strong each of the multiple meanings of words are. When they are both about as prevelent in modern meaning, and one of those meanings is insulting to people other than the person you mean to insult, don’t use it. But when one meaning has fallen wayyy behind…

  43. November 17, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    “I am not completely enamored of this person.” Or ‘cockstain.’ Gotta love ‘cockstain.’

    … And now I kind of want to make out with you, Norbizness. I mean, uh, “I very much enjoyed your witty comment on this blog thread. I would like to show my appreciation of said witty comment in a completely non-threatening, tactful, polite manner.”

  44. Miriam Heddy
    November 18, 2009 at 10:39 am

    If, as jemand argues, the term “douchebag” is primarily rooted today in images of anal sex and enemas (and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this was the case, as I haven’t seen men using “tampon” as an insult against each other when that would make much more sense), then the power of the insult is in homophobia. And that’s… not very feminist.

    Acc. to the OED, the term came into popularity in ’67, when it meant, “An unattractive coed.” So, setting aside whether the douche is a vaginal or anal one, the shift in the terms meaning from an insult used against women to an insult used against men is rooted in both misogyny and homophobia. To call a man a douche is to call a man an ugly woman.

    And given that, as Jill notes, a fairly large portion of the female population regularly douches (and thus doesn’t recognize vaginas as clean and douches as damaging), and given that we live in a homophobic society in which anal sex is still largely a taboo and part of a slew of homophobic insults aimed against men, it’s hard to see how the word can be used as a feminist insult rather than a feminist’s insult.

    • November 18, 2009 at 11:10 am

      Acc. to the OED, the term came into popularity in ‘67, when it meant, “An unattractive coed.” So, setting aside whether the douche is a vaginal or anal one, the shift in the terms meaning from an insult used against women to an insult used against men is rooted in both misogyny and homophobia. To call a man a douche is to call a man an ugly woman.

      …not really, though. I mean, maybe that’s what some people in 1967 meant, but I have NEVER heard that definition of “douchebag.” And if no one understands it that way anymore, then no, to call a man a douche is not to call a man an ugly woman, anymore than calling a man a “fag” is calling him a pile of sticks.

  45. La BellaDonna
    November 18, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    I, personally, have vented a lot of spleen with the invective “F#cktard”, which can best be defined as someone who is, or who engages in behaviour, that retards/impedes his/her chances of EVER getting laid again.

  46. November 18, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Not so fun times for some of us who are disabled, La BellaDonna.

  47. November 21, 2009 at 2:19 am

    LaBellaDonna: …no. Slurs that draw on the power of “retard” as a pejorative are just about every kind of not ok.

  48. Jbugg
    November 23, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    for those males of us who are neither douche nozzles nor bags, I wish all could see the complete original SNL skit this is just a part of:

  49. Christopher D Coccio
    December 2, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Whatever it may or may not have meant in 1967 (and I don’t know if someone explicitly pointed this out in the comments), nowadays it is strictly an insult to be applied to men. Calling a woman a douchebag, for whatever reason, just doesn’t make sense. “Arrogant little shit” is a good start – a special combination of exaggerated regard for ones own opinions and abilities, impatience with others, who by virtue of their disagreeing with you, are beneath contempt, and the lack of an internal filter which enables you to convey all this to the rest of the world, which, you believe, is grateful to hear it.

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