Feminists today are highly concerned with language and its implications. I’m sure I’ll get a ton of Internet flack just for typing that sentence. The feminist community takes words very seriously.
On the one hand, it makes sense; if I’m full of piss and vinegar, I only want to offend an individual who deserves it. That doesn’t include entire marginalized groups.
On the other hand, almost everything deemed super-offensive in our culture is also super-problematic and insulting to entire marginalized groups.
Here at Everyday Feminism, we advise respectful discourse with the aim to uplift and educate one another. We’re aiming to improve your normal, day-to-day lives.
But if I’m going to be human and imperfect and slip up every once in a while, I’d at least like to do it in a quasi-feminist way.
So what word can I use to describe that sonofabitch from my hometown when the guy’s mother is actually a very nice lady, and I don’t use the word “bitch” as an insult to women?
No, really. I love using the word “douchebag” (and its many variations) as an insult. And I do not believe it’s misogynistic that the word “douchebag” is offensive.
In fact, I’d venture to say it’s sexist that douches exist in the first place.
A douche is supposed to clean out the vagina. You know what else is supposed to clean out the vagina?
So—wait—why do douches exist again?
Recap time: Douches are obsolete. Douches thrive on insecurity. Douches can be harmful. Sound like anyone you know?
Have you ever used Lysol cleaning solution? Have you ever had the urge to mix it with water and shoot it into your vagina?
No, seriously. People did that.
In the early 20th century, the Lysol company put watered-down household cleaner into a bag, attached a tube to it, and told women they should aim it into their hoo-has to keep their husbands and prevent pregnancy.
The logic behind the advertisements was usually that the smell of a woman’s vagina was the downfall of all intimacy in her marriage, which is melodramatic at best, and problematic at worst.
Did the Lysol douches work to mask the ever-dreaded “fishy” smell? Maybe for a little while, if you prefer the scent of straight-up chemicals. Not to mention, a vagina irritated from douching doesn’t exactly smell like roses, either.
See also: Douching after penis-in-vagina sex didn’t prevent pregnancy in the 1930s, and it still doesn’t today.
Douches are still made, because there is still a demand for them.
The douches of today are no longer manufactured by the same people who bring us air deodorizers and toilet bowl cleaner. Nowadays, your standard, generic douche formula is comprised of water, spermicide (pointless!), citric acid, preservatives, and fragrance.
Some people won’t even eat food with preservatives or use soap with fragrances. But somehow it’s a good idea to put that stuff into a vagina?
Still, many women believe that douching will keep their vagina clean or cure any abnormal feelings or smells. Whether this is because of a lack of education or the persistence of cultural myths, I can’t really say for certain.
The social pressure about smelly vaginas still exists, without a doubt. Almost a century after the first Lysol douches, you can still hear people gross out or giggle over the idea of a smelly vagina. Just last week, I overheard a guy telling his buddies about some woman who, according to him, needs to “Douche that shit.”
Whatever the reason, women who feel vaginal irritation or pain are squirting harmful chemicals into their vaginas instead of seeing a doctor or getting an STD test. This can further irritate the vagina as well as mask the symptoms of a potentially larger issue, such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.
So, basically, douching can cause problems, exacerbate problems, and hide even more serious problems.
Douchebags are more trouble than they are worth. Literally and metaphorically speaking.
Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the word “douchebag” only makes an impact because it is vagina-adjacent and related to “Dirty Women.” Come to think of it, there are lots of vagina-related insults: twat, pussy, beef curtains, slit, cum dumpster, cunt.
I’m sure you can think of more, but I don’t have enough coffee or patience to keep looking for them.
The point is, there are some pretty graphic, silencing ways to essentially say a person is a vagina.
In fact, many people are taught that “cunt” is the worst thing you can ever call someone.
Get ready for my pathetic attempt at an Eve Ensler moment: Cunts are vaginas. I like my vagina, and I like other people’s vaginas.
Vaginas are not foolish, conniving, cowardly, weak, degrading, disgusting, all-consuming, or evil. Sometimes people who happen to have vaginas also have those qualities, but personality traits aren’t assigned with genitalia.
Those implications are created by society, not by a body part.
Don’t worry, Men’s Rights Activists and Devil’s Advocates of the Internet! I know that penises have their fair share of insults too: dick, chode, prick, and (of course) anything implying that a penis is small.
Are penises inherently careless, inconsiderate, disgusting, egotistical, self-serving, hurtful, or indicative of someone’s worth? Absolutely not! I’ve given, like, three and a half mediocre blowjobs, and even I can tell you that much.
Oh, and there are the sexual-act-based-insults like “cocksucker” and “carpet-muncher” that range from homophobic to misogynist to weird-power-struggle and back.
While genital and sex-act insults are both pretty immature and rude, I have a serious question to ask. What would get more of a response from you: “You’re a dick” or “You’re a cunt?”
That’s what I thought.
“Cunt” is taboo, edgy, and for the most part, verboten. “Dick” gets thrown around playfully and often.
If someone calls you a cunt (and they’re not reclaiming the word or obviously joking around), they are abandoning all social graces to try to hurt you.
Again, though, are vaginas really that bad?
I’ve said the word “vagina” about twenty-eight times in this piece so far.
Is it offensive? No. It’s a body part. Vagina vagina vagina.
The difference with douchebags is this: Literal douchebags, in reality, are harmful and pointless.
They only continue to exist as a product because of long-ingrained weirdness toward women and people with vaginas.
If actual douchebags are bad to begin with, calling a person a douchebag is an extended metaphor. You can pretend that it’s sophisticated if you want. I know I do.
Variations on a Douche
Since douches and douchebags don’t serve a real purpose, I find it fun to say portmanteaus with the word “douche” in them.
What’s more pointless than a douche? A douchecanoe. What’s even stupider than a douchecanoe? A doucherocket. And so on, and so forth.
If I call you a douchebag (or any variation), it probably means:
- I think you’re useless to my life.
- You hurt me.
- You strike me as a misogynist.
- Your behavior seems to thrive off other people’s insecurities.
- And you probably aren’t doing my vagina any favors either.
In the feminist community and beyond, it is important to finesse and wield that power in an effective way.
Am I saying that you should yell at the next awful person you encounter and call them a douchebag? Not exactly.
Think about the words you use and their origins.
It doesn’t have to be an academic buzzkill ordeal. I used the phrase “cum dumpster” in this piece, for crying out loud!
All I’m asking is that we take a second to examine the words and phrases we say and write.
And don’t be a douchebag about it.
Maddie McClouskey is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s a twenty-something lesbian in New York City and currently writes weekly dating advice pieces for the LGBTQ event app and website SheSeekOnline and was a regular contributor to the sexuality and feminism site ToughxCookies. When she’s not writing articles about gayness, she’s performing stand-up comedy, singing show tunes to her girlfriend and dog against their will, or making up jokes for Twitter @SoundofMaddie. Read her articles here.