Slate Tries to Explain Why “Douche” is an Insult, Fails

Slate’s Brian Palmer recently took readers on a lexicographic journey of the word “douche,” attempting to figure out just why and how the term became an insult.

The problem is, while Palmer makes a nod to female genitalia, he completely passes by the opportunity to analyze the word in its relation to the vagina and instead focuses on its relationship to gender nonconformity.

“The insults douche and douchebag, however, seem to have something to do with gender. Obviously, the physical item to which the word refers is associated with female genitalia. And many of the early epithetical uses refer either to women or to men who behave as women.”

Palmer groups “douche” with “dick” “dillweed” and “dipshit, and then later with “bitch” and “faggot,” seeing it as “a potent way to call someone a jerk” or a way to point out a man’s “failure to conform to gender stereotypes.” While I agree that “douche” or “douchebag” is often used to describe a jerk, I completely disagree that it is used to point out a man’s failure to conform to gender stereotypes. If anything, “douche” usually refers to hyper-masculine jerks, not effeminate ones.

What Palmer completely ignores is the connection between the use of the word “cunt” and “douche.” Both words refer to people who take on the roles traditionally associated with machismo. When I think “douche” and “cunt,” I think Jersey Shore. I think loudness, crassness, superficiality and a disregard for others feelings. When women act like this, they’re called a “cunt” and when men do it, they’re called a “douche.”

However, despite the words being associated with stereotypical macho male behavior, they’re still references to female body parts, not male. A feminist friend of mine in law school attempted to get people to stop using the term douche and start using the terms “boner” or “dick,” stating that a much more appropriate term for a hyper-masculine male would one that actually referenced something masculine.

The terms never stuck. “Boner” was deemed too funny sounding to work as offensive and, while “dick” packs a punch, it’s not nearly as demeaning as “douche” or as degrading as “cunt.” Sensors allow the use of “boner” or “dick” but “douche” and “cunt” (and “pussy” too) are still rarely heard on mainstream television or radio.

In fact, the Slate article may not have mentioned the connection between “douche” and “cunt” precisely because the author knew he could not mention the big, bad C-word.

“Douche” is offensive for the same reason “cunt” is offensive, because we as a society find female genitalia – and anything that refers to it – to be offensive. Feminists have argued this case for years, yet Palmer doesn’t even mention it in his article.

The few women that commented on the article seemed to agree with me that the definition Plamer presented was lacking.

From commenter RedGrrl

“I’m a bit disappointed by the definition in the article above, it seems too vague. I always thought “d*uchebag” was addressed to clueless, insensitive, moronic males. Am I wrong?”

From commenter zoeblaize:

“I’ve always used it to refer to people who seem to have something in common with a douche:
– mostly good for nothing
– sometimes harmful
– make ladies (or people in general) feel bad about themselves”

The men who commented, however, seemed to agree with Palmer. Maybe it’s because they don’t have to deal with douches – both the product and the people – like women do. To women, a douche is something created by society that invades our private space, whereas to men a douche is a lot less invasive, simply an annoying man, a drunken friend or even himself at times. To a man, a douche poses a minor threat but to a woman, both kinds of douches can be severely harmful.

I appreciate what Palmer was trying to do in his analysis of the term “douche,” but I fear he fell short in recognizing the full effect the term has, not only on the person to which it is referring but in relationship to society’s view of men and women as a whole.

About Queerie Bradshaw

Lauren Marie Fleming is a writer, speaker and motivator known for her intimate, informative and often hilarious look at sex, relationships and body-image. Lauren runs the critically-acclaimed QueerieBradshaw.com blog, writes for major news sources including VICE, Nerve, Huffington Post and Curve, and is the author of her memoir Losing It: My Life as a Sex Blogger. In 2013, Lauren founded Frisky Feminist Press (FriskyFeminist.com) as a way to enhance conversations about sexuality through educational guides, online classes and entertaining publications. A law school graduate, Lauren has spoken all over the United States and is internationally recognized for her dynamic, engaging style. In everything she does, Lauren’s goal is to educate, remove stigmas and encourage people to achieve their desires.
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2 Responses to Slate Tries to Explain Why “Douche” is an Insult, Fails

  1. K says:

    Huh. I use “douche” as an insult precisely because of the reasons you mentioned – it is often harmful, invasive, makes me feel bad about a really private and mostly sacred space, makes me feel dirty for liking a vagina that smells and tastes like vagina, and is another tool of the patriarchy trying to control my body and my desires. Men, or people really, who act like that are metaphorical douches. It isn’t because it is related to female anatomy, it is because of what it represents, a threat, to female anatomical autonomy.

    My only hesitation in using it as an insult came when I was actually prescribed a douche by my midwife. Because there is no direct blood flow to the vaginal canal, infections there aren’t generally treatable by oral antibiotics. So while QB will recognize my email addy, the anonymous internet will now find out that I am prone to yeast infections and occasional bouts of bacterial vaginosis. One particularly awful BV infection necessitated the douching of an antimicrobial wash because it goes further up the vag than those creams in a tube. And douching felt every bit invasive and, yeah, humiliating to my feminist self, raised to know the dangers of Summer’s Eve, even though it was a fucking prescription.

    So while others might use douche as an insult because it is “dirty” because of the close relationships vaginas and douches have, I use douche as an insult because they are an insult to my vagina, even when prescribed.

    • QueerieBradshaw says:

      “It isn’t because it is related to female anatomy, it is because of what it represents, a threat, to female anatomical autonomy.”

      That’s a great quote and about sums up the real reason to use douche as an insult.

      Great comment. Thanks for sharing your personal story!

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