The Douchebag Counterargument

Sometimes, it alarms me that my job is to teach critical thinking to others,

what with my own significant deficiencies as a critical thinker.

I mean, I’m still shocked that Roseanne and Tom Arnold didn’t work out.  And then there’s that whole much-too-recently-made connection between sunflower seeds and sunflowers. It seems one comes from the other.

Good thing I remember my belly getting really big and then some pushing and moaning, or I’d look at my kids and assume they’re the result of neglecting to fold the laundry for two weeks.  Thanks to the whole belly growing and moaning stuff, though, I’m well aware that the kids came out of me and that they got inside of me when Keebler elves tiptoed out of their hollow tree at night and sprinkled crumbs from Chips Deluxe Mini-Rainbow Chocolate Chip cookies into my belly button when I was sleeping.

Anyhow, the comments on my previous “slang” post reminded me of how unquestioningly I trip through life; specifically, it was a complete surprise to read that the word douchebag has been regarded as misogynistic.  I never before had thought about douchebag as being linked to a soft rain on a country lane on a summer’s eve and thereby an emblem of womanhood.  In other words, I had never before really thought about either the douche or the bag part of douchebag, probably because douching feels so “thing of the past” to my frame of reference.

Thanks to your comments, I did think.  About douchebag.  No, not Girls Gone Wild‘s Joe Francis.  The word douchebag. I thought about the word, mind cranking with every step, as I went down into the basement to get a water pitcher from the storage pantry but then suddenly found myself cleaning up toys and ninja costumes and considering, for entirely too long, the options on a shelf of snow boots before heading back upstairs, looking at the kitchen counter, and thinking, “Hey, I need to go downstairs and get a water pitcher.”

I was thinking about douchebag when Groom came upstairs one afternoon to announce, “I just made some brown rice and sauteed some kale and onions with soy and sesame sauce, if you want some for lunch.  I had a craving.”

True story.  I know.

Propelled by the gusto of my stomach engine, I trotted down to the kitchen and, chatting away with Himself, I loaded up my plate and num-nummed my way through sunlit conversation.

An hour later, out for a run, I wondered why I was so damn hungry already.  Then, and only then, did I realize I’d had a plate of kale and onions but had forgotten the rice. Groom had said “rice-kale-onions” in one breath, and that meant they were in the same pan, right?  He should have used a two-tiered one-pan/one-pot breath to indicate that I needed to serve myself from both, yes?  So my hunger was his fault? We are agreed?  When I accosted him later with the accusation that he’d made me hungry by not making sure I took rice, that easygoing bastard merely replied, “Huh.  I just figured you were trying to stay away from carbs today or something. I don’t ask anymore.”

I thought about douchebag as I watched the construction crew next door take down their ladders and scaffolding, having finally received the just consequence of a sacking after spending too many months dicking around and acting like it takes three guys to light one cigarette and all three guys to support the smoking of that 52-minute cigarette (this, on the days when anyone showed up at all).  In this case, douchebag sprang to mind as a direct association of what my eyes were viewing–because, holy hell, what a passle of dinkwads them fellas were, taking thousands of dollars from the neighbors just to leave the exterior of their house exposed to the elements, windows covered with brown paper, as winter begins its ominous descent.

Even as they packed up their equipment, Dinkwad Passle seemed confused about what was happening to them, seemed bewildered about why accepting the equivalent of a year’s salary in Turkey to stand around and smoke 84 hours on the rare days they visited their work site somehow disappointed the homeowners.

I expect to see Passle of Dinkwads at the community college one day.

And when they walk into my classroom, it will become clear that Dipskittle Jocelyn is, in fact, equipped to pass on at least a few critical thinking skills to these lads.  It’s all relative, and I’m pretty sure continued faith in Roseanne and Tom Arnold trumps inability to spot a box of nails in the back of a pick-up truck.  So, Dinkwads, let’s do it.  Let’s try to learn to think.

Good job scratching your heads, boys.  I’ll just leave you there, mining for scalp flakes and wondering where all the nails went, and move in to my own head space.

For me, the process of figuring out my thinking about douchebag began, as most thinking does in Jocelyn’s Modrrrun Age, with an airing of every passing thought to my husband followed by a trip to the Magic Google Machine.

When I told Groomy of the objectionable nature of the douchebag, he said, “Callers on Dan Savage’s podcast have been addressing this recently, arguing that it’s not a sexist bit of slang in an era when douching is most often carried out by people preparing for anal intercourse.  If anything, douchebag is a slur against Rear Entry-ites.”

Bowing low and kissing his hand, which tasted faintly of onions, I backed away and bolted to the computer to do further research.  Here is what I mined:

At Throw Grammar from the Train, blogger Jan Freeman tackles, in an essay called “The Pejoration of ‘Douchebag’,” the history and impact of the word in question.  It’s a very interesting and informative analysis, as is the subsequent discussion in the comments.

A commenter named Kelle wrote:

I and plenty of other women have taken to using “douchebag” or “douchehound” and the like as insults without finding that useage misogynistic. The reason is that douching is not actually good for women, it causes irritation and infection of a system which has no need for it and they have traditionally been used to make women feel that their natural bodies were something to be ashamed of. Therefore, douche-based insults are perfectly appropriate to apply to jackasses who are displaying their misogyny.

Kelle’s idea is explored in more detail in an article at a site called Feministe.  A writer there named Jill wrote “In Defense of ‘Douchebag‘,” noting that the slang douchebag actually takes the idea of the douche and puts it in its place:

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.

A commenter on this post points out an important piece of information:

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.

As Groomy indicated, too, this same idea has surfaced on Dan Savage’s podcast; this blogger at Sound of Rain notes:

People have been calling for the retirement of this word for well over a year now, to no avail. I love it because it’s fun to say and reminds me of my East Coast childhood, when we used it all the time (without having any idea what it really meant). Plus, it fills the gap nicely between “slightly annoying guy” and “total assh**e”.

However, I’ve read various comments around the internet about how the term douchebag is sexist, because it’s used to degrade a man by referring to him as an object used only by women.

As Dan Savage pointed out in a recent podcast (number 154), anyone interested in receiving anal penetration with a minimum of santorum uses them for enemas, though I suppose in that case the term would be enema bag. Not a bad pejorative in itself, now that I think of it, being non-gendered and associated with unwanted poo. It’s not as satisfying to say, though.

But my argument is different. I haven’t seen anyone else point this out, so I will gallantly step up:

The vagina is self-cleaning and self-regulating. Douching is not only unnecessary to the health of the vagina, it can in fact throw off its natural floral balance, and also interferes with the vagina’s ability to keep its delicate tissue moist and happy. Douching is also completely ineffective in the prevention of pregnancy and disease, two other bullsh** reasons women used to be told we need to douche.

Thus, a douchebag is a guy who is unnecessary, useless, and possibly harmful to women. Therefore it’s quite appropriate to say, for example, that Tucker Max is a douchebag.

————————————–

So there.  Everyone gets to be right! Douchebag has been regarded as misogynistic; douchebag has been regarded as an apt summary of the misogynists themselves. It boils down to personal preference. From this linguistic controversy, there have emerged three things I know for sure:

1) I’m pretty sure that if I ever decided to go back to graduate school, I’d be itching to tackle the topic of “the origins of slang.”  However, if I went back to graduate school, I’d have to do something with Dinkwad Passle–I couldn’t leave them there in the classroom, scratching at their scalps while I hied off to scratch my own semantic itch; they’d be dead in a week, once their smokes ran out–and the prospect of toting a crew of dinkwad douchebags into my Syntactic Theory II class pretty much squelches all desire to even enroll in the first place;

2) If my mother is reading this post, she’s completely aghast, having just learned of rectal douching before anal sex.  Please, please, Mom, don’t click on the “santorum” link above. You’re 76 now. Some things are best left unclicked.  Don’t you hear your cross-stitch calling?  Heed that call, Jocelyn’s Mom.  Go make a pretty angel with metallic threads now, and leave the santorum to the youngsters;

3) If nothing else comes out of this whole line of inquiry, I’ve also recently learned that a scumbag is a condom.  I was too busy thinking Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett should still be together to ever register that scum is semen.

 

 

Seriously, Mom.  You have to stop reading now.


Comments

The Douchebag Counterargument — 37 Comments

  1. That was delightful.

    You know, I’d never assumed that the term “douchebag” was insulting to women, even while knowing that the act of douching, itself, IS.

    Thanks for writing — and eloquently! — about what needs to be examined. Critical thinking skills? Intact!

    Pearl

  2. Wonderful!! Following you through the labyrinth that is your mind is as entertaining as it is instructive. I owe you one, Jocelyn, for having liberated me from the cringe-making after-effects of hearing douchebag at least three times daily when in the company of my offspring, and especially my daughter. I am spared hearing it here in France and have been relieved about that, although there is much, much worse, I suspect. But now I think I can, if not embrace it for personal use, at least dump the vestiges of faint shame I had associated with it.

    Such a brilliant essay. I wondered if you’d lost your way in the kitchen at lunch, but you roared back on track and left me stunned and admiring, the former in part because I can’t believe I ever interpreted this word as an insult. Hell, did I say I wouldn’t use it?
    I loved your trio of conclusions and especially the nod to your mother. And as for scumbag – who knew???

    Now that I’ve read it all again, I appreciate the whole thing doubly. Is this the face you show your students? Poor them, if you feel you have to keep it hidden.

  3. I have been eddicated again by My Friend Jocelyn. Douchebag is a perfectly acceptable pejorative applicable to those males who deserve it. Scumbag is a used condom. Got it. And thanks for the trip through your mental day!

  4. I get all that, but I still disagree. And I’ll tell you why: The vast majority of people aren’t calling someone else a douchebag with the awareness that the vagina is a self-cleaning organ and douching is not only unnecessary but also potentially damaging. I think since women are still less powerful than men (financially, and so on), it’s meant as a perjorative because it’s something associated with women applied to men to show how distasteful their behavior is. It seems not much different than calling a man a pussy (Gah! that’s a word I would never say out loud) or a man saying another man cried like a little girl. So I would still argue that it is indeed misogynistic. And I think until the gender imbalance disappears – in whatever eon that might happen – it behooves us to be careful not to use insults whose power originated in the disdain for women.

    (And BTW, yes, I’m aware I’m the same person who posted those signs about decoding women’s speech. But that was one of my metaphor posts, as I was silently processing a very difficult relationship issue.)

      • Forceful? Maybe – you can’t ever get tone in writing, but if I’d been saying it to you it wouldn’t sound so much forceful as thinking aloud-like. Dickwad, I guess it just hit me what that actually is – the contents of a scumbag? But I’d be less troubled by that word, again for power imbalance reasons.

        • Your words came across, definitely, as forceful. That’s a good thing–like you knew your mind and were comfortable with expressing it. I was left thinking you’d be a convincing candidate, if you ever considered running for office.

    • I only wish I still had my mom’s card, sent to me freshman year of college, remonstrating me for a letter home that had used the word “pee.” Her reply detailed a long list of acceptable replacements for the word “pee” (haha! look at me using it twice here!), including “wet.” You two should, indeed, get together and cross-stitch.

      For me, I like the raw unshieldedness of the occasional BAM word that doesn’t seem to fit. I like to speak in relatively elevated fashion and then drive home my point with a bit of unpolished vernacular.

  5. Well, there’s critical thinking and there’s overthinking. I say if you use words in an offhand manner, so what? If you overthink every possible angle of every word and the history of those words going back to the time of Ptolemy, then it’s you, not the user of the word that is giving that word some sort of mystical evil power. I’ve been trying to find replacements for my two favorite words because certain groups find them highly offensive. What am I supposed to say, “Man that’s so “stray,’ what are you ‘redheaded?'” People use “fat” and “old” all the time and I don’t take offense unless someone were to look right at me and say, “You are fat and old.” Well, no, I’d probably just laugh.

  6. i think pejoratives in general say a lot about the given culture of origination. a couple of years ago i read a post from a german blogger talking about how americans use all sorts of sexual terms as our worst forms of pejoratives. fuck being the most widespread and then all the various terms for genitalia applied to people or in the case of douchebag or scumbag and apparatus designed for use on the genitals. she found it perplexing because sex is good and pleasurable and life-giving and builds bonds of intimacy in a healthy relationship. she went on to say that in the german language words associated with excrement are considered the worst pejoratives and that seemed to make sense because let’s face it. shit is pretty gross. useful as a fertilizer but not something folks want on their carpets or faces and hey….it even leads to rectal douching, which i am sorry sounds ridiculously euphemistic to me. it’s an enema, folks.

    anyway, all that to say i tend to agree with what secret agent woman said.

    • I like this point about how pejoratives reveal a culture’s greatest hang-ups. We are so damn Puritanical in this country that it makes sense sex would be the basis of the most negative insults.

      I completely get the argument you and Citizen support; however, for me, there’s something about letting the language evolve away from its origins that I’m able to go with. I really like and want to know how a phrase or word came into being, but I don’t need to hold it to its origins when its usage has moved on. Anyhow, great discussion!

  7. I’ll have to read this again since my brain went into overload at this:
    I just made some brown rice and sauteed some kale and onions with soy and sesame sauce, if you want some for lunch. I had a craving.

    Groom craves kale, onions and rice?!?! Really?

    The mind boggles, and boggles and boggles some more. And then my brain explodes.

  8. I stand with your mother on being enlightened to the trend of, um, rectal douching. Although I do know what santorum is because I am a addicted viewer of the Daily Show and Mr. Stewart is responsible in his duties to eddicate the ‘Merican public on such things. ;D

    I agree with you about words not being tied to their origins. The only language that doesn’t constantly change and morph into something slightly different is a dead one. I get a kick of how relentlessly alive and squirmy our own descriptive language is.

  9. Oh, poor Mother, who herself was raised by a lovely and loving Mother who thought she was still in the Victorian Age in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and beyond. I enjoy being couth, but I understand that there is no such word; it only comes in the negative sense as in “uncouth.” Sigh.

    • Mom: What’s heartening are all the commenters (of a younger generation) who share your sensibility! You are not alone, nor, as a standard bearer, are you anything resembling “poor.”

      I’m actually with you, in some ways, although my overall sensibility is less refined than yours. Despite all this dribble about the “douchebag,” it’s not really a word I use more than twice a year. I just don’t have much need for it.

  10. Loved the post. Loved it. Understand the concerns about the misogynistic origins, but also agree with accommodating the evolution of language. AND the “we are WAY too uptight part.” Finally, also enjoy tossing a juicy “fuck” into conversation every now and then. Keeps everyone on their toes.

  11. In my vocabulary – I use the word “jerk” on a regular basis, (but only about the very dumbest, meanest, or unaware) and then only a few times a year as I try not to be in the presence of that sort of person. It may be my “douchebag” substitute… but it doesn’t make my mouth hurt. (or brain.)

    • …and I’m sure your use of “jerk” comes from the idea of a soda jerk or, um, beef jerky, right, Mom? Because I’m pretty sure when you use that word, you’re not thinking about its associated meaning with what “excited” men and boys do to, erm, relax. ‘Cause if we’re playing this game where we look at the origins of our pejoratives, then you might have to consider what you’re really saying when you call someone a “jerk”!

      I’m left feeling, with this whole subject, that anyone applying a negative term simply has to accept negative words rarely come from “couth” places.

  12. Hmmm. Whoops! I overlooked the possible origin of “jerk.” (Actually, I was a few decades into my life when I learned the term to which you refer.!!!!! I’ve been told fairly often that I have lived a sheltered life.)
    I’m deciding now to substitute the word “drip” for my label of those whom I think are low-down, terrible, douche-bags.
    (I must go to the library immediately to look up the origins of “drip.”)

  13. Not to be a non-gender-specific rinsing apparatus or anything, but, uh, are guys welcome here? :)

    I think I’ll listen to some Lyle Lovett whilst I wait…

  14. Joselyn! I read this post over a week ago and I meant to come and type a response… So I clicked on that santorum ~shudder~ and the thing that scares me the most is that over 35000 people LIKED IT ON FACEBOOK. What the!!! This world is a crazy crazy place. :) Thanks for stopping by my blog! I missed you while you were gone :)

  15. Holy crap! I occasionally drop the f-bomb, and I am a (gasp) cross stitcher.
    Two worlds have just collided like butt cheeks after a poop. Whamo!
    Because in your world, Jocelyn, one either uses words like douchebag, or one does needlework, but not both. Well, have I got news for you. Sometimes when I miss a stitch or break a thread…..I yell: Douchebag! (or scumbag, where appropriate).
    And….I’m not a grandmother. (I do have cat, but whatever. They own the place and I am just the litter scooper). Furthermore, if vaginas had teeth then douching would be more appropriate (and dentists chairs would have to be slightly reconfigured), so it’s really TEETH that are dirty, and we should all be yelling, ‘Mouthwash!’, ‘Flossroll!’, or ‘Spinbrush!’

    • Kathryn, you are a hoot. I did my first cross stitches in my early twenties, and I can swear like a mo-fo, so I promise I am able to see, em, The Full Cross-Stitcher, at any age.

      Let’s start a tooth-related subcategory of pejoratives, ‘k? On that note, “Floss You!”

          • ‘Efferdent!’, she replied. And then,
            ‘Molar Flosser!’, she tossed out, as an afterthought.
            (and then two worlds collided again, and she screamed, ‘Efferdenting Mo Flo!’, but by now the room had emptied, and the only witness was the janitor, an embittered man named Arturo, with a chronic flatulence condition and a wife with a lisp.)

          • Somehow, I’m left with the impression (get it? I’m very punny with my orthodontia humor) that you and I are soulmates, Kathryn. Take that, swish it around for a few, and let the hose suck it out.

          • If you can even BE a soulmate with a Canatheist, eh? We’ll continue this convo in future posts. Brace yourself (get it?) for more immature humour.

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