The D-word

My best friend has long been quick to scold me, in the motherly-yet-not-annoying way that only she can, not to use the word “douchebag” as an insult. Granted, it’s not something I say all the time. But admittedly, it’s a word that slips out sometimes to describe people (usually guys, if I’m being honest) who do something shitty to me or to one of my friends. “Ugh!” says my dear friend, who is normally not a language-policing type. “Don’t use a word that’s related to a woman’s anatomy as an insult.”
I’ll be honest: It’s a word we’re not shy about using on Feministing. A quick search of the archives shows we’ve applied the term “douchebag” to people who have been shitty to us and our friends, Joe Francis, anti-feminists, Joe Francis, John McCain, and, uh, Joe Francis.
I bring all this up because a few weeks ago I read this post at Jezebel, and it reminded me of my best friend’s stance on “douchebag.” But it slipped my mind until I saw this post by Andi on the Bitch Blog: Douchebag lawyer and his douchebag lawsuit: “Feminism violates men’s rights!” (Not to call you out, Andi! Like I said, we do it here, too…)
It’s pretty easy to see why this evolved as an insult. Douchebag is funny because it’s anachronistic. It was a device once promoted for health reasons, but as science has marched on, douching is generally just thought of as an embarrassing (and definitely not-talked-about) product for women who are paranoid about good old-fashioned vagina smells. If we’re honest, we also laugh at it because it grosses us out. (Call it the bro-ish side of some feminists, myself included.) Like Dodai at Jezebel, I’m not calling for a ban on the word. Just asking feminists to think about it a bit more before saying it. To consider whether using “douchebag” as an insult is just another way of saying “everything associated with vaginas is icky!”
And so, here’s a long, rambling rumination on the D-word — and the book that changed my mind about it…


My thoughts on the douchebag began to evolve (ok, I admit I’m kind of snickering as I type this sentence) after I read Mary McCarthy’s The Group. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s about the lives of a handful of women who graduate from Vassar in the early ’30s and pursue life and love in the big city. As one 1964 review put it, “Those who care deeply about the intimate thoughts and habits of the welleducated, upper-crust American female during the exhilarating Roosevelt era have an amusing enough evening ahead with Mary McCarthy’s latest novel.” It was recommended to me by my coworker, who said, “Ann, you would love this book. It has all sorts of retro contraception references.”
And indeed, it opened my eyes to the douchebag and its importance. Along with an early version of the diaphragm (called a “pessary”), it was one of the few options for woman-controlled birth control at that time. Yes, condoms were around. But the pesssary/douchebag combo was kind of the equivalent of the Pill or the NuvaRing at that time:

So it was socially acceptable for “serious” relationships, not for casual sex. The book contains several scenes of young, single women’s trials and tribulations in obtaining their very own pessary and douchebag. Despite all of their privilege — as the previous passage indicates, the main characters are snooty, upper-class, well-educated women– they have to jump through some hoops. After all, it’s the pre-Roe, pre-Griswold era. The characters nervously tell their doctors that they’re engaged, and pray that the doc won’t ask any further questions. This all really resonated with me — and in an odd way, made me see 1930s douchebag-access issues as kind of a historical equivalent to battles we fight over the Pill and emergency contraception today.
And what if a single woman wanted her own birth control method to rely on, rather than keeping her fingers crossed that her partner had (and would use) a condom? She was seen as a slut, of course:

The book also made me feel really sympathetic for women who toughed it out in the bad old days of contraception. I mean, it’s a lot easier to be discreet about a pack of pills than it is a whole douching kit:

I’ll stop myself from rambling on about the book here. But the point is that once I really thought about the douchebag, I started to see it not as a ridiculous insult to be applied to people like Joe Francis, but as a real item that real women once relied upon as part of their reproductive health routine. Yeah, I still think of it as a historical relic, but as one with some serious relevance for reproductive health issues today. This is all in addition to the qualms I raised earlier — that I should really be stopping and thinking for a sec when I find myself using terms associated with women’s bodies as an insult.
To read more about literal douchebags and douche history (ok, again, I’m admittedly kind of cracking up as I type this. I’m not perfect!) head over to the Museum of Menstruation. Also check out this vintage 1928 douche ad.

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50 Comments

  1. Caroline
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I really do not wish to be facetious, but douches are not strictly limited to women, men can partake of an anal douche.
    But, yeah, I don’t think schoolboy humo(u)r on the subject of the body will due out anytime soon. And, this may revoke my feminist credentials, but I giggled through your post.
    Just as I would if it had been about my own favourite insult, ballbag. It can also be good to call people ring pieces. That’s equal opportunities.

  2. Lead Acetate
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I was under the impression that douchebag referred to something that was supposed to help women, but in fact was unnecessary and sometimes harmful. We don’t need to douche, certainly not with Lysol, and it can throw off the natural microbial balance in there leading to yeast infections. So in my mind a douchbag is a smarmy asshole that thinks that being on Girls Gone Wild is a great opportunity for women to be famous.

  3. susanstohelit
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    I’d always heard that douching is actually extremely bad for the vagina, because it flushes out useful bacteria. So by calling a man a douchebag I’m associating him with something that’s bad for women.

  4. spirina
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    This was a very interesting post, Ann.
    While I don’t use the word douchebag, and have long been sort of uncomfortable with it, I am much more okay with people using it than, say, c***, simply because it is a relic, and one that was not healthy for women.
    I didn’t know that it was used as birth control, so that’s actually one more reason that it should be used “thoughtfully” or not at all. (By thoughtfully I mean, with consideration of the historical use of it).
    Just a side note: The mother of a friend of mine, who I have never considered particularly aware of gender issues and feminism, recently reprimanded my friend’s brother (who has an autism spectrum disorder) for saying douchebag. I believe he was quoting a movie or TV show, which he often does. However, she reprimanded him, reminding him that it’s a word that is degrading to women when used as an insult, or something to that effect. It was so encouraging to me to hear her say that, mostly because I honestly never would have expected it from her! It’s nice to see when feminism spreads (although this woman is by no stretch of the imagination an anti-feminist…)

  5. Posted August 20, 2008 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Plus, it’s extra tangy as an insult if you say it the Italian way: dooozzzzhhhhbaaaaaacccccckkkk

  6. Posted August 20, 2008 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I don’t usually say “douchebag” but I do regularly shorten it to “douche.” I’m sticking with what other people said, and it’s an argument I’ve heard feminists use many times — douches are bad for women, and they are a tool of the patriarchy designed to make women afraid of their vaginas and convinced that their dirty, therefore to call someone a douche as an insult is not insulting vaginas but in fact pointing to their harmful nature.
    Also, while douching may have been the best thing they had at the time, it’s a horrible method of birth control, and can actually backfire by pushing semen closer to the cervix. Just a reminder.

  7. Chickensh*tEagle
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    OTOH, asshole, which unlike douchebag should be gender-neutral, also gets used mainly against men. Strange.

  8. Anonymous
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Oh crap, I meant to say “in fat pointing to the harmful nature of douches.” Otherwise it reads like I’m talking about the harmful nature of vaginas. Heh.
    And ChickenshitEagle, I purposely try to use asshole to refer to women and really avoid bitch. Because it should be gender neutral.

  9. Chickensh*tEagle
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Cara — you have my appreciation. :-) As for bitch being gender-specific, that can depend on context. Ah, the joys of English.

  10. Posted August 20, 2008 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    From Shakesville:
    http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2004/10/inside-jokes-faqs-wev.html#click10
    “Why do you use douchebag? Isn’t that sexist?
    Actually, douching was a terribly anti-woman practice designed to make women feel ashamed about their natural body odor. Repeated douching can wash away the lining of the uterus, making it not just pointless but dangerous. So, when one needs a word to describe, say, our pointless and dangerous president, one would be hard-pressed to find a better word than douchebag.”

  11. SueDoc
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    But douchebags *are* icky, as are used tampons and farts and earwax and boogers and that gunk that’s in the corner of your eyes in the morning. Basically anything that comes out of a human body is considered icky, whether it comes out of a vagina or not. “Douchebag” has always seemed to me to be the same as calling someone a “jerk” or a “prick.”

  12. Ann
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I was under the impression that douchebag referred to something that was supposed to help women, but in fact was unnecessary and sometimes harmful. We don’t need to douche, certainly not with Lysol, and it can throw off the natural microbial balance in there leading to yeast infections. So in my mind a douchbag is a smarmy asshole that thinks that being on Girls Gone Wild is a great opportunity for women to be famous.

    This is an argument in favor of using the word as an insult that I tried (and failed!) to articulate in earlier drafts of this post. So thanks for putting it this way.
    Great comments, all. Like I said in the post, just wanted to have a conversation, not demand folks stop using the term.

  13. Holly
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Great post Ann! Really, I loved it. When I was in school I wrote a paper on the history of contraception and abortion and I’m so upset that I completely glossed over the history of douches. Totally fascinating.
    And I really don’t think you can entirely deny that part of the humour/effect of the term ‘douchebag’ at least partly stems from the fact that a dochebag holds what comes out of our icky, icky vaginas. At least for some, and that’s something we should be aware of when we use it. We don’t want Joe Francis to be be sitting there thinking “man, those feminists really burned me with the comparison to vagina stuff”.

  14. Okra
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Finally.
    Hearing gender-aware people joyfully and racuously carol gender-laden insults–Douchebag, yes, but also Bitch and Pussy and a host of others–has never failed to make me cringe. I’ve done a fair bit of cringing while reading Feministing, as Ann points out.
    FeministGal and others who point to the negative history of Douchebag: the argument that it’s okay to use this as an insult because the item itself was not pro-woman is akin to “technical” arguments in favor of racially offensive language: Because, you know, the word ____ “didn’t start out as as an insult and just because it’s been expropriated by racists, doesn’t mean we should cower in fear of using it!”
    There comes a point when the origin and provenance of a word no longer matter. This is the point at which the word is widely recognized as offensive and hurtful to a category of people, and when society–whether “polite” or no–has to decide to just forfeit it altogether.
    Douchebag is one such term.
    We should ask ourselves:
    –When most people (sneering young men, to be sure, but people generally) use the term, are they aware of the douche bag’s history as a product that shamed women into unhealthful “cleansing” practices?
    Most likely not.
    –Even if they are aware, is the little “zing” or “gotcha” moment that arrives after slapping the D-word tag on somone a result of the misogynistic history of the product? That is, does the insult derive its power from a suggestion that “you’re such an odious person; you’re as misogynistic and absurd as the douche-bags of old that hurt women?”
    Most likely not.
    –Is an all-around association with the vagina still considered to be the ultimate put-down? ( “Dude, you’re such a pussy.”)
    I think so.
    – Is the vagina still considered–by men and by women who have been trained to hate the workings of their bodies–unclean, scary, smelly, and kinda gross (especially at certain times of the month, har har)? Is the vagina considered to be all of these things over and above other human body parts?
    I think so.
    Anyway, this is the source of my long-time hatred for the word. When I first heard it used as an insult (only four or fice years ago, but then, I’ve been out of college a fair spell), I had a powerful WTF?? moment. A young woman had used it to describe an obnoxious hotel clerk or waiter or someone.
    I’ll never forget that moment because it was so shocking to me. It was like someone had held up a huge neon sign that said “Women’s vaginas SUCK. You’re associated with the vagina–you’re dreadful beyond a normal level or dread.”

  15. Alara Rogers
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    As long as words like “cum wad” are insults, “douchebag” seems ok to me. We consider what comes out of men’s genitals to be pretty icky and disgusting as well, and as others have pointed out “douchebag” is actually harmful to vaginas.
    I tried, for a while, using “cobag” (short for colostomy bag), as was suggested on some site I visited a lot (it might even have been Daily Kos), but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
    That description of retro birth control is somewhat disturbing. Especially the part about how the guy would successfully get a woman into bed 9 times out of 10 if he saw she had a pessary and douching kit. If that’s accurate, it implies that if a woman was sexually active, she felt some sort of great pressure to be sexually active with just about anyone… or else that men felt they could rape sexually active women with impunity. Or both.

  16. opheliasawake
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I always understood douchebags as a sanitary product that really held no value to women’s health, sometimes (as others have mentioned) endangering it. It was also sold to women who might not be sexually active as a way of cleaning their vagina, which actually didn’t benefit from it, so doesn’t that buy into this idea of vaginas are icky and need to be cleaned? To that point, I have always used the word douchebag to characterize someone as useless and misogynistic because, whether it was [ineffectively] used for birth control or not, that’s what a douchbag is.

  17. opheliasawake
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    I always understood douchebags as a sanitary product that really held no value to women’s health, sometimes (as others have mentioned) endangering it. It was also sold to women who might not be sexually active as a way of cleaning their vagina, which actually didn’t benefit from it, so doesn’t that buy into this idea of vaginas are icky and need to be cleaned? To that point, I have always used the word douchebag to characterize someone as useless and misogynistic because, whether it was [ineffectively] used for birth control or not, that’s what a douchbag is.

  18. Okra
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    AlaraRogers, but “cumwad” is, as you point out, no better, so why use it? Can’t we just make conscious decsions, even if difficult, to avoid insults that are gendered, ethnic-ized, or otherwise Othering?

  19. Logrus
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Caroline:
    Ringpiece is an awesome insult, as is it’s variant “bungpiece” which is a bit more direct. Kevin Smith (the director/writer) has some very colorful insults and I’ve heard him use both “piece” terms.
    Yam-sack is another one, but it’s only insulting contextually since I’m pretty sure it just means scrotum, but then asshole is the same way.

  20. Piato
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry, I love this word, you’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead lips, or mouth, or whatever. The reason it’s so great is because it’s so damn descriptive. If I say, “no I’m not going if he’s coming, he’s an asshole”, all you really get is that I don’t get along with this guy to the point that I can’t stand to be around him, but if you replace “asshole” with “douchebag”, you actually picture Dane Cook. I also call guys “dicks” all the time, which, while not as awesome as “douchebag”, is totally more descriptive than something like “asshole” or “motherfucker”.

  21. Logrus
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    When it comes to English language insults I find I’ve very envious of the British/Irish/Scottish. They seem to get to use, with a degree of impunity, the final-frontier of “dirty words”, and to my ears they usually sound so damn cool when they do it.
    I don’t often use “that word” (and almost never verbally, but mostly in text); not because of it’s anti-woman overtones because nearly all the good insults malign someone along with the intended target, but because I don’t want someone to accidentally get hurt feelings from my use of it. But I do have a few friends who have, in private company, been brave enough to use that word in my presence thus making me feel like it was ok to enjoy using it myself (the topic was Ann Coulter and her comments on the 9/11 widows if I recall correctly).
    Maybe the reason I like that particular word is because it is sort of the last remaining taboo word, or it really could be that people with an Anglo accent say is so damn cool.

  22. Logrus
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Piato: Finally someone who agrees with me about Dane Cook.
    That guy is not funny.

  23. daoist
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    This is a great article and a good reminder that we need not automatically assume the worst when trying to change peoples’ minds.

  24. Femgineer
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I loved this:
    I was under the impression that douchebag referred to something that was supposed to help women, but in fact was unnecessary and sometimes harmful. We don’t need to douche, certainly not with Lysol, and it can throw off the natural microbial balance in there leading to yeast infections. So in my mind a douchbag is a smarmy asshole that thinks that being on Girls Gone Wild is a great opportunity for women to be famous.
    -Lead Acetate
    But as Okra pointed out, most people use “douchebag” having only associated it with the “nasty” vag. So, when friends, aquaintances, or family use the term, I will ask them if they even know what a douche is and why it is bad. And then I will explain why, as a feminist, I use the term.

  25. Posted August 20, 2008 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Logrus: You’ve been hanging out in some horrific social circles if that’s the first confirmation you’ve ever gotten re: Dane Cook.

  26. lolphysics
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I’m with everyone who uses douchebag as an insult. Based on the post, I’m even more convinced. If it was a slut-shaming device, that makes it a great way to put someone down. Also, women had to go through all the trouble of getting one from their doctors and guess what? It doesn’t work. It won’t keep you healthy (just the opposite) and it won’t keep you from getting pregnant.
    On the more general topic of gender based insults: why do people, especially men say “it sucks” or “it blows” to describe something bad? Most guys I know like it when they get a blow job, so those things should be compliments!

  27. Posted August 20, 2008 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post, Ann.
    I also feel uncomfortable using douchebag as an insult. But I do think that the project to make insults less offensive — or only offensive in an appropriate way — is probably doomed. If you sanitize and make safe words like this you rob them of their utility. See Okra’s comment above for an example of how incoherent such efforts are. What use would an insult be if it wasn’t “othering”?
    Obviously this position can be taken too far in either direction, though, and I can’t say I’d be too upset to have douchebag fall back out of vogue.
    But as for it being a sexist pejorative — in this case there’s a handy analog that refutes that idea (at least to some extent): “scumbag”, which refers quite explicitly to a used condom, is in widespread use, and which most people don’t object to on political grounds. I think SueDoc’s got the right take on this: it’s possible to be squeamish without being sexist, isn’t it?

  28. Logrus
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    norbizness:
    Sometimes I’m inclined to agree with you. I really think it’s because he’s good looking more than anything else. Almost everyone I know who likes him is either a female or a gay male, and I’ve actually asked two female friends “What is your favorite joke he does?” neither could actually name a joke, this is after they were both excitedly talking about going to pay money to go see him.
    Being a spastic in tight designer jeans is something I was doing in the 80′s and nobody ever paid me for it.

  29. wax_ghost
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been trying to come up with my own insults. “Ass shirt”, for instance, which came from my husband mishearing a completely innocent statement I made.
    We also turned “boat” into an insult last night when I said that it would be interesting if we insulted people by using the first, most random word we could think of; the first, most random word I could think of at the time was “boat”. It’s all about tone and delivery.
    And The Group is a great book. I thought it was interesting that each woman corresponded with someone that McCarthy actually knew, especially since I was falling in love with Elizabeth Bishop’s work at the time.

  30. Newbomb Turk
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of something the late Molly Ivins wrote about how certain insults are reserved for each gender. When a woman acts irritable, people say “Must be that time of the month”*, but when men act that way, people say “What an asshole!”.
    “Douchebag”, “douche” and “douchecock” are clearly aimed at men (as are “pussy” and “twat”**) far more often than they are used on women. I don’t think it’s misogynistic at all, but a general association between genitalia and something unclean. After all, terms like “prick”, “dick” and “dickhead” are almost always used to describe men.
    * I confess to using this one on a male co-worker. Believe me, he deserves it.
    ** In one web forum I frequent, I use the phrase “one dumb twat” on people (almost all males) -not so much because of distaste for women’s vaginas, but because the words “one-dumb-twat” sound like the beginning of a verse written in iambic pentameter, and that, combined with vulgarity is funny.

  31. Riotbabe
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I understand the points made about how douchebag shouldn’t be used. I used to be offended by its use but now how I look at it is douche is offensive because it is bad for women’s bodies. Douches clean out all of the ‘good’ bacteria persay and lead to infections. And the idea of douching was to keep women ‘clean’ because ya know apparently vaginas are awful and smelly?
    So now that i know how bad douching is I don’t see an issue with using it as an insult any longer.

  32. Manon
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I have yet to hear anyone come up with one good, solid, ringing insult that isn’t “gendered, ethnic-ized, or otherwise Othering” or else, as I’ve seen someone decry “asshole”, loaded with “body shame”.
    As insults go, I think the D-word is about as innocent on that front as you can get. I like Femgineer’s approach of encouraging people to use it in a feminist sense.

  33. ShifterCat
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    “…’scumbag’, which refers quite explicitly to a used condom…”
    I have a bit of trouble believing this, as I’ve never before heard the term “scum” used for “ejaculate”. I’ve always heard “scum” (outside of insults) as a reference to the gross stuff that accumulates around the edges of ponds, sinks, etc. A bag of that stuff would be pretty disgusting, hence “scumbag” as a stronger way of saying “dirtbag”.

  34. Newbomb Turk
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Maybe it was called a “cumbag”, which was later bowdlerized into “scumbag”.

  35. Logrus
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    All the etymology dictionaries I looked at list “scumbag” as being a used condom.

  36. sarah
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    OMG I was laughing so hard at ‘boat’ from one of the commenters above.
    I always thought of douchebag as an insult like many a poster before me, douches are bad for women. I am aware of the fact that other people may not use it in the same way I do, but I can’t police what everyone says 24/7. I like funny insults and that is why I use them.
    I don’t take them all that seriously. However, I would never use the term pussy or anything like that to insult somneone because that screams hatred of vaginas to me.

  37. sarah
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    OMG I was laughing so hard at ‘boat’ from one of the commenters above.
    I always thought of douchebag as an insult like many a poster before me, douches are bad for women. I am aware of the fact that other people may not use it in the same way I do, but I can’t police what everyone says 24/7. I like funny insults and that is why I use them.
    I don’t take them all that seriously. However, I would never use the term pussy or anything like that to insult somneone because that screams hatred of vaginas to me.

  38. The Law Fairy
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm, thanks for the history lesson, Ann! I never realized it was used for birth control.
    But as another fan of the word, I can see how this history could actually also be used as a justification for the word — if a douchebag is birth control, then calling someone a douchebag could be equivalent to calling them birth control — meaning, they’re such a horrendous person no one would want to sleep with them.
    Which is childish, yeah, but not particularly sexist (though it IS kind of heterocentric).
    *shrug* I dunno. I guess my approach these days is more to try and use insults on a gender-equivalent basis, and actually to go out of my way a little bit to switch things up. So, I call a lot of women assholes and a lot of guys “bitches” (although NOT if they’re doing anything at all “girly” — more like if they’re being jerks, like particularly hyper-masculine or something). That sort of thing.
    Also, UGH. Dane Cook. Just, UGH.

  39. RacyT
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    I can’t help but like “douchebag” as an insult; it brings back wistful memories of the first time I read Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins… and I don’t think I can explain that to anyone who hasn’t read it.

  40. Posted August 20, 2008 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Okra, what are you talking about with the history of douches being a harmful vaginal product that shames women’s bodies? I’m talking about today. Just because fewer women use douches today doesn’t mean that they’re 1. not still bad for you 2. promoted often as a vaginal cleansing tool by the uninformed and 3. used to shame women’s bodies. You don’t have to teach people about history, you have to teach them about the present. In other words, the analogy doesn’t work.
    Further, when you call someone a douche, you’re not really calling them icky, are you? The way I use the term, and the way I hear others use it, is to refer to someone who is obnoxious and irritating. Just like douches. I’ve never used it or I believe heard it used in the sense of “ew, that person is gross, they’re a douche.” It’s always “god that guy is annoying, what a douche.”

  41. Logrus
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    RacyT:
    Ahhh how I long for the good ol’ days at the Rubber Rose Ranch, getting bum-fucked by The Chink.

  42. Okra
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    sbma44: My comment was not incoherent.
    Further, your remark about “othering” indicates you did not understand my statement. The person being “Othered” is not, as you misinterpreted, the person at whom the insult is directed. Rather, those being Othered are members of the group being used to denigrate someone. A says to B “you’re a pussy!” and the person being Othered is not B, but those who have pussies, i.e. women. A says to B “You’re retarded!” and the person being Othered is a person with Down’s Syndrome or learning disabilities.
    Cara, I agree that douches having a history of being unhealthy doesn’t preclude them being still unhealthy. My use of the term “history” does not suggest that I find the current use of the product acceptable; I do not.
    Also, although you may not associate douches with ickiness, many members of the general public–including many men I’ve met–do. I’m aware as well that if someone wants to use a term, they will go on using it, regardless of what they know about its etymology or past use or social context.
    Case in point: my sister still uses “gay” as an insult and has been known to use “retarded” even though she has made it clear that she understands the use of them hurts not the person she is insulting, but gay and special needs people. She says that precisely because she knows this, she can be free to use the term “ironically.”
    I disagree with her and with those who would use “douchebag,” but that’s the most I can do; everyone’s entitled to use language the way they see fit.

  43. katemoore
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    I’d argue that a lot of people who use the term ‘douchebag’ don’t even know what one is.
    And really, if you want to find insults that aren’t gendered or othering, you have to get out of the lexicon entirely (all languages’ lexicons, it isn’t just English) and start putting together new plosives or something.

  44. BalletBoy
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    “Scumbag” refers to a condom. Is that anti-male?

  45. Logrus
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    BalletBoy: Depends on how you look at it. Semen has both YX and XX chromosomes usually.

  46. ShifterCat
    Posted August 20, 2008 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Okra: you might want to explain to your sister that very few people will hear her “ironically”. They’ll just hear that she’s the kind of person who thinks that using “gay” or “retarded” as insults is acceptable.

  47. Mama Mia
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Is there an age difference thing going on here? I am 33 and I DESPISE the term douchebag. I also hate scumbag (which I have always known to refer to used condoms). I really don’t think most people are using the term ironically when they use it, because most people just think of it as a generic insult. But when it originated, which really wasn’t that long ago, it clearly was meant to associate the person with uncleanliness and femaleness. To me, that is all I hear, and I am always shocked. It feels just a notch below the c word. To me it is part of a group of words that are commonly used and I don’t understand why- douchebag, scumbag, white trash… people say these things without feeling bad, but I find them all almost as offensive as the n word and the c word.
    Are the people who don’t like it over 3o and the people who don’t mind it under 30? Is it a generational thing? Just curious.
    Oh, and i agree completely with Okra.

  48. Alara Rogers
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    BalletBoy: Depends on how you look at it. Semen has both YX and XX chromosomes usually.
    No, actually, it doesn’t.
    Semen, like all sex cells, contains only *one* sex chromosome — in the case of semen it’s either an X or a Y. If it contains an XX or an XY, it may produce a child with retardation or physical deformities (I know XXY often results in men who are retarded and have some issues that may relate to overproduction of female hormones.)
    So *healthy* semen that can produce healthy, fertile children does not contain YX or XX chromosomes.

  49. Picaflor
    Posted June 6, 2009 at 3:43 am | Permalink

    I’m willing to bet it’s generational. I’m 22, and I never knew “scumbag” referred to a condom. I thought it was derived from pond scum or soap scum. Then again, “scumbag” also implies lechery, in my experience… perhaps because of its etymological relation to semen?
    As for the term “douchebag,” I don’t find it offensive to women, and I don’t think most people in my age group use it in a sexist manner. Instead, it’s used to refer to a cocky/pretentious person with no regard for anyone else (typically a guy). “Douchebags” are also frequently associated with popped collars, aviators, gelled hair, fake tans and polo shirts (see the book “Hot Chicks with Douchebags” for examples).

  50. Picaflor
    Posted June 6, 2009 at 3:50 am | Permalink

    Okay, I just read your comment again and noticed I misread your age before. Not sure there’s a big enough gap to consider our differing opinions as generational, per se. :P
    In any case, I forgot to mention another observation about the use of the term “douchebag” – in my experience, it often refers to a misogynistic guy.

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